In a battle of summer movie heroes, Captain America topped Harry Potter this weekend at the box office.
Paramount Pictures' "Captain America: The First Avenger" opened at No. 1 with $65.8 million, according to Sunday studio estimates. The Marvel Comics superhero adventure sets up next summer's all-star blockbuster "The Avengers."
Warner Bros.' "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2," the eighth and final installment in the boy-wizard franchise, dropped to the second spot. It made just over $48 million in its second weekend for a domestic total of $274.1 million.
Don Harris, head of distribution for Paramount, said "Captain America" exceeded expectations. He figured it would do the same sort of business as "X-Men: First Class," which opened with $55.1 million in June.
"It looked to me, when I saw the marketing on the movie and then saw 'Captain America,' like a throwback movie. It reminded me a little bit of 'Raiders of the Lost Ark.' It had a little bit of a 'Raiders' feel to it, which is one of the best movies of all time," Harris said. "People embrace the look of the character. The character is a little bit like Iron Man -- he didn't have a lot of special weapons to himself, he just was a pretty interesting character.
"For it to be the fifth of five superhero movies for the summer, it looks like we got to save the best for last," he said.
Internationally, "Captain America: The First Avenger" opened only in Italy with $2.8 million. It will begin playing in 23 international markets next weekend, including the United Kingdom, Russia, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Australia and Korea.
"Harry Potter" dropped 72 percent from its record-setting opening of $169.2 million last weekend. That was expected, though: Even Warner Bros. executives acknowledged that these movies are front-loaded in terms of audience turn-out.
And as box-office analyst Paul Dergarabedian of Hollywood.com pointed out, this final "Potter" picture made $43 million in its first midnight showings alone.
"`Harry Potter' did what it's going to do," Dergarabedian said. "Even trying to keep up with that pace, that level, is really tough."
The strong showing of "Captain America" made sense, he said. Every superhero movie that's come out this year has opened at No. 1.
"The general consensus was that it was a pretty good movie," Dergarabedian said of "Captain America," which scored 73 percent positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. "Being the week of Comic-Con, I don't know, maybe that many fan-boys in one place affected the box office. Maybe people had comic books on the brain, superheroes on the brain."
The week's other big release, "Friends With Benefits" from Sony Screen Gems, opened at No. 3 with $18.5 million. The romantic comedy stars Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis as friends who try to maintain a strictly physical relationship. The extremely similar "No Strings Attached," starring Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman, debuted in January with $19.7 million.
Opening in limited release, "Another Earth" made $78,413 on four screens in New York and Los Angeles. The Fox Searchlight sci-fi romance stars William Mapother and Brit Marling as strangers whose lives intersect after a deadly car crash.
Meanwhile, the 3-D "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" became the highest-grossing movie ever distributed by Paramount Pictures International. It crossed the half-billion-dollar mark with $62 million from 60 worldwide markets this weekend. Its cumulative overseas gross now stands at $556.6 million.
Domestically, the third "Transformers" movie made $12 million this weekend for a domestic total of $325.8 million.
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. "Captain America: The First Avenger," $65.8 million ($2.8 million international).
2. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2," $48 million ($121.3 million international).
3. "Friends With Benefits," $18.5 million.
4. "Transformers: Dark of the Moon," $12 million ($62 million international).
5. "Horrible Bosses," $11.7 million.
6. "Zookeeper," $8.7 million.
7. "Cars 2," $5.7 million ($17.7 million international).
8. "Winnie the Pooh," $5.1 million.
9. "Bad Teacher," $2.6 million.
10. "Midnight in Paris," $1.9 million.