"Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted," the first film made for children to hit theaters in months, was the No. 1 movie at the box office this weekend.
The animated 3-D picture benefited from the recent dearth of family-friendly movies at the multiplex, opening with a healthy $60.4 million, according to an estimate from distributor Paramount Pictures. The last movie directed at young audiences was April's "The Pirates! Band of Misfits," and it flopped domestically with just $28.8 million.
But there was also something for adult moviegoers at the cinema this weekend: "Prometheus," Ridley Scott's R-rated science-fiction epic. Playing in 862 fewer theaters than "Madagascar 3," Scott's 3-D film opened with a strong $50 million.
The strong ticket sales jump-started the box office after weeks of lackluster business. While big-budget summer films such as "Snow White and the Huntsman" and "Men in Black 3" had solid opening weekends, those films did not have to go up against any other big new movies upon their release. As a result of the strong receipts for "Madagascar 3" and "Prometheus," ticket sales were up 29 percent compared with the same weekend in 2011.
The third installment in the PG-rated "Madagascar" franchise follows the beloved pack of Central Park Zoo animals to Europe, where they join a traveling circus. The movie debuted slightly behind the last entry in the series, "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa," which opened with $63.1 million in 2008 and ultimately collected $603.9 million worldwide. DreamWorks Animation spent roughly $145 million to produce the third film.
Like its predecessors, "Madagascar 3" was received positively by audiences, who this weekend gave the film an average grade of A, according to market research firm CinemaScore. That's the highest grade any movie in the franchise has ever received. The film also skewed younger than most of DreamWorks' films, as 28 percent of those who saw it were kids younger than 12. Like many family films, pricier 3-D tickets weren't an especially popular option, as only about 45 percent of the film's business came from the format.
DreamWorks has yet to determine whether it will go ahead with a fourth "Madagascar" film, said Anne Globe, the studio's head of worldwide marketing. Either way, the franchise will continue to live on in various iterations, as "Madagascar" has already spawned a television series on Nickelodeon, "The Penguins of Madagascar," and has tie-ins at theme parks around the world.
"This movie has a tremendous number of beloved characters," Globe responded when asked about the success of the series. "But this time, we introduced several new elements and sent them through a new landscape with Europe, so there was lots of fun new material."
"Madagascar 3" did very well abroad this weekend, grossing $75.5 million from 28 foreign markets. Moviegoers in Russia were the most enthusiastic international audience, as the picture collected $16.5 million there and had the biggest opening day ever in the country's history Thursday.
"Prometheus," which stars Charlize Theron, Michael Fassbender and Noomi Rapace and which cost Fox about $130 million to make after tax credits, centers on a group of scientists who are trying to figure out the origins of the human race. Those who saw the film -- a 57 percent male crowd -- assigned it an average grade of B. Likely because of its R rating, the movie attracted an older audience, 64 percent of whom were over the age of 25. About 54 percent of the film's patrons opted to shell out a few extra bucks to see the movie in 3-D.
The movie marks the best opening for director Scott in more than a decade, since his 2001 thriller "Hannibal" started off with $58 million. In recent years, the filmmaker has struggled to replicate the success of that film and 2000's "Gladiator," as movies such as 2005's "Kingdom of Heaven" and 2008's "Body of Lies" never topped the $50 million mark at the domestic box office.
Overseas, "Prometheus" opened last weekend and has since grossed $91.5 million abroad. This weekend, the movie collected $39.2 million from 50 foreign countries, performing best in Australia and the United Kingdom. The film has yet to open in a few major international markets, including Brazil and Japan.
Lionsgate's "The Hunger Games," meanwhile, crossed the $400 million milestone at the domestic box office over the weekend. After more than 11 weeks in release, the teen adventure movie grossed an additional $1.1 million this weekend, raising its total in the U.S. to $400.3 million. It's the second-highest-grossing movie of the year in the U.S., trailing more than $100 million behind "The Avengers."