"Maleficent" casts box office spell with $70M debut

Angelina Jolie in "Maleficent." Disney

Disney's "Maleficent" took hold of the box office in its debut weekend, conjuring up a scary-good $70 million and giving Angelina Jolie the biggest opener of her career.

The PG-rated fantasy beat forecasts to easily top all films over the weekend, according to studio estimates Sunday. Though "Maleficent" was early on considered a risky endeavor for Disney that might turn away family audiences by retelling "Sleeping Beauty" from the villain's perspective, the film emerged as a hit largely because of the draw of Jolie.

Star power has been increasingly elusive in modern Hollywood, where name-brand concepts often rule the box-office. But Jolie, in her first live-action starring role in years, drove interest for "Maleficent" and earned praise from critics, even as the film itself received lackluster reviews.

"It's a unique thing," said Dave Hollis, head of distribution for Disney. "Her star power transcends borders and genre."

Seth MacFarlane's Western comedy "A Million Ways to Die in the West" was out-gunned by "Maleficent." The R-rated Universal release opened in third place with a tepid $17.1 million despite a starry cast of Liam Neeson, Charlize Theron and Amanda Seyfried. By contrast, MacFarlane's "Ted" (for which he's making a sequel) opened with $54.4 million in 2012.

Last weekend's top film, Fox's big-budget mutant sequel "X-Men: Days of Future Past," dropped to second with $32.6 million. It's a somewhat steep decline for "Days of Future Past," but the film made $95.6 million internationally in its second week, good enough to push its global cumulative total past $500 million already.

But "Maleficent" dominated the marketplace, which has seen female-leading films continually challenge the much-disputed but still prevalent notion that male stars fuel the box office.

"The whole movie kind of rises and sets on her performance," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior analyst for box-office tracker Rentrak. "The concept is the character. The character is completely linked to the person playing that role."

Next weekend will bring a battle between Shailene Woodley in the young adult novel adaptation "The Fault in Our Stars" and Tom Cruise in the sci-fi thriller "Edge of Tomorrow." ''Edge of Tomorrow" got a jump on its North America release, taking in $20 million in 28 countries over the weekend.

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