"The Lego Movie" clicked with moviegoers, assembling an exceptional $69.1 million debut at the weekend box office, according to studio estimates.
The better-than-expected result made the Warner Bros. collaboration with the Danish toy company easily the biggest hit of the year so far. A sequel is already in development for the 3D animated film, digitally drawn to mimic a world composed entirely of Lego bricks.
The film has drawn raves from critics, earning a 95 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Co-directors and co-writers Phil Lord and Chris Miller ("21 Jump Street," ''Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs") gave the film a playful tone to capture the whimsy of a child playing in a box of Legos. Characters are largely voiced by comic actors like Will Ferrell and Chris Pratt.
The film marks the biggest animation hit for Warner Bros., a studio that despite popular live-action franchises has struggled to develop animated hits on par with other studios.
"I can't imagine this not turning into a long-term franchise," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for box-office tracker Rentrak. "This is such a runaway success that Warner Bros is now a major player in the animated genre."
Dan Fellman, head of distribution for Warner Bros., said the film, made with a production budget of $60 million, resounded because of the popularity of the Lego brand. This is the first feature film for the toy company. Fellow toy-maker Hasbro has seen mixed results since the launch of the "Transformers" franchise, which was followed by "G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra" and the notorious flop "Battleship."
George Clooney's World War II caper "The Monuments Men" opened in second place with $22.7 million. Reviews have been weak for the based-on-a-true-story tale about the mission to retrieve artwork stolen by the Nazis.
The Sony Pictures film was postponed from a Dec. 25 release because, Clooney then said, more time was needed to finish the visual effects. Clooney served as director, co-writer, producer and star on the film.
"The Monuments Men," based on the nonfiction book by Robert Edsel and Brett Witter, was particularly popular with older moviegoers, with 75 percent of its audience aged 35 and older.
"It's right where we hoped to be," said Rory Bruer, head of distribution for Sony. "There's a lot of love for George and the ensemble cast."
Sliding to third was the cop comedy "Ride Along," with Kevin Hart and Ice Cube. After three straight weeks atop the box office, the Universal film earned $9.4 million.
The Weinstein Co.'s bid for a young adult franchise, "Vampire Academy," opened poorly with just $4.1 million. The PG-13 film, based on Richelle Mead's young adult novels, is about mortal vampires at a boarding school.
Before opening in North America next weekend, Sony's "RoboCop" took in $20.2 million overseas.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Rentrak. Where available, latest international numbers are also included. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.
for more features.