(AP) LOS ANGELES - Circus animals and space beasts have lifted Hollywood to a huge weekend.
The cuddly critters of "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted" led the weekend with a $60.4 million debut domestically, followed by a big opening for Ridley Scott's alien saga "Prometheus" at No. 2 with $50 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.
DreamWorks Animation's "Madagascar 3" was the family favorite for the weekend, reuniting voice stars Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Jada Pinkett Smith and David Schwimmer as the zoo animals continue their travels by joining a circus.
"Madagascar 3" outdid the $47.2 million debut of the 2005 original, though it came in behind the $63.1 million opening of the first sequel, 2008's "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa." "Europe's Most Wanted" had the added benefit of today's higher ticket prices and a bump from fans who caught 3-D shows, which cost a few dollars more than 2-D screenings.
Still, fans remain loyal to the franchise, and "Madagascar 3" received generally better reviews than the previous two installments.
"It's the beloved characters and their comic adventures. And `Madagascar 3' is critically the best-reviewed of the franchise. Both audiences and critics really love this one the most," said Anne Globe, head of marketing for DreamWorks Animation.
"Madagascar 3" also took in $75.5 million internationally for a worldwide debut of $135.9 million.
"Prometheus," from 20th Century Fox, stars Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender and Charlize Theron in an offshoot of director's Scott's 1979 sci-fi horror tale "Alien." "Prometheus" did big business despite an R rating, which can limit a movie's audience since fans under 17 must see it with an adult.
Conventional wisdom is that action films should come in with a PG-13 rating to cast the widest net possible for its audience.
"A $50 million weekend disproves that rule, for sure," said Chris Aronson, head of distribution for 20th Century Fox. "This movie is so special. It's visually stunning, great storytelling as Ridley is known for. It's Ridley Scott's vision. I'm an unabashed fan of the movie, and the performance at the box office bears that out."
The movie added $39.2 million overseas, bringing its international total to $91.5 million and its worldwide take to $141.5 million since it began rolling out in some markets a week earlier.
The one-two punch of "Madagascar 3" and "Prometheus" lifted Hollywood out of an early dip in summer-season revenue. After three-straight weekends of declining receipts, domestic business totaled $177 million, up 29 percent from the same weekend last year, when "Super 8" led with $35.5 million, according to box-office tracker Hollywood.com.
"It has to do with the variety of movies in the marketplace," said Hollywood.com analyst Paul Dergarabedian. "This is a perfectly programmed summer weekend with a PG-rated animated family film combined with an R-rated, intense sci-fi movie."
The previous weekend's top draw, Universal's "Snow White & the Huntsman," slipped to third-place with $23 million, raising its domestic total to $98.5 million.
Sony's "Men in Black 3" finished fourth with $13.5 million, putting its domestic receipts at $135.5 million.
The superhero smash "The Avengers," from Disney's Marvel Studios, was No. 5 with $10.8 million, lifting its domestic total to $571.9 million. The year's top-grossing film, "The Avengers" added $7.8 million overseas, raising its international haul to $824.4 million and its worldwide revenue to just under $1.4 billion.
Lionsgate's "The Hunger Games," No. 2 on this year's box-office chart, took in $1.1 million to cross the $400 million mark. Its domestic total stands at $400.3 million, and the film has taken in nearly $650 million worldwide.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Hollywood.com. Where available, latest international numbers are also included. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.
1. "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted," $60.4 million ($75.5 million)
2. "Prometheus," $50 million ($39.2 million international)
3. "Snow White & the Huntsman," $23 million ($24.6 million international)
4. "Men in Black 3," $13.5 million ($38.3 million international)
5. "The Avengers," $10.8 million ($7.8 million international)
6. "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," $3.2 million
7. "What to Expect When You're Expecting," $2.7 million
8. "Battleship," $2.3 million.
9. "The Dictator," $2.2 million ($4.9 million international)
10. "Moonrise Kingdom," $1.6 million.