LOS ANGELES - "Thor" kicked off the summer movie season by smashing the competition at the box office with a $66 million opening weekend.
The 3-D action picture from Paramount, based on the Marvel comic, was by far the No. 1 movie, according to Sunday studio estimates.
Australian actor Chris Hemsworth stars as the arrogant god of thunder who's sent down to Earth as punishment. It was directed by Kenneth Branagh, best known for making films based on Shakespeare plays such an epic "Hamlet," and featured a supporting cast that included Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman and Stellan Skarsgard.
In second place was a holdover from last week, the car-racing sequel "Fast Five" from Universal Pictures. It made $32.5 million for a total of nearly $140 million in just 10 days.
Although the opening for "Thor" wasn't as enormous as those of other superhero movies, it still exceeded studio expectations, which were around $55 million. It was the third-highest opening for a Marvel franchise launch, behind "Spider-Man," which made $115 million in 2002, and "Iron Man," which made $98.6 million in 2008.
Don Harris, Paramount's executive vice president for distribution, thought the film held appeal for both men and women; 37 percent of the audience was female.
"Chris Hemsworth looks like he's going to be a movie star," Harris said. "Kenneth Branagh made a very smart movie, and the idea that the man who's most closely identified with Shakespeare is making a Marvel superhero movie, I always thought was pretty interesting. Audiences connected with the Natalie Portman relationship, between her character and Thor. The movie looks spectacular on the screen. It was fun, and it's a big, epic movie."
Hollywood.com box office analyst Paul Dergarabedian thought "Thor" had a pretty respectable opening given that it's a lesser-known comic book title.
"Expectations always get wildly overblown with superhero movies a superhero movie has the biggest opening weekend of all time: `The Dark Knight,"' Dergarabedian said of the hit in the Batman franchise. "Expectations are always extremely high, especially on the first weekend in May, which is traditionally a huge weekend."
"It may have a solid hold," he added. "Sometimes it's not just about opening weekend. Sometimes it's about playability."
The next big competition for "Thor" comes in two weeks, on May 20, with the opening of "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," the fourth film in the blockbuster Disney franchise. On Memorial Day weekend come the sequels "The Hangover Part II" from Warner Bros. and "Kung Fu Panda 2" from Paramount.
Opening in a close third and fourth place were two wedding-themed movies, both of which served as counter-programming to the effects-laden spectacles in theaters.
"Jumping the Broom" from TriStar Pictures came in third with $13.7 million, higher than studio expectations, which were around $10 million. Angela Bassett and Loretta Devine star as the mothers of two families that clash as they're about to be united in their children's marriage.
In fourth place was the Warner Bros. romantic drama "Something Borrowed," based on the Emily Giffin best-seller, which made about $13.2 million. Ginnifer Goodwin stars as a lawyer who realizes she's in love with the fiancDe of her best friend, played by Kate Hudson.
In limited release, Summit Entertainment's "The Beaver," starring Mel Gibson as a depressed man who communicates through a beaver hand puppet, made $104,000 at 22 theaters. Directed by and co-starring Jodie Foster, the dramedy marks Gibson's first major role since a series of off-screen rants and scandals tarnished his reputation. It expands nationwide May 20.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Hollywood.com. Final figures will be released Monday.
1. "Thor," $66 million.
2. "Fast Five," $32.5 million.
3. "Jumping the Broom," $13.7 million.
4. "Something Borrowed," $13.2 million.
5. "Rio," $8.2 million.
6. "Water for Elephants," $5.6 million.
7. "Tyler Perry's Madea's Big Happy Family," $3.9 million.
8. "Prom," $2.4 million.
9. "Soul Surfer," $2.1 million.
10. "Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil," $1.9 million