(Reuters) - "Snow White and the Huntsman" broke the spell of lackluster performances by many big-budget films this summer season at movie theaters, grabbing $56.3 million in its first weekend to top "Men in Black 3," according to studio estimates on Sunday.
The film, a dark and sometimes violent take on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, collected an additional $39.3 million in 45 international markets where it also opened this weekend.
The solid debut led Universal Pictures' "Snow White" to escape the fate of "Battleship," also distributed by Universal, and Warner Bros' vampire film "Dark Shadows," both of which fell victim to blockbuster "The Avengers."
"I'm very happy about it. The uniqueness of the campaign from the get-go made (the film) stand out as not just the quintessential fairy tale; it was telling a very different story," Nikki Rocco, president of domestic distribution at Universal Pictures, told Reuters.
"Men in Black 3," which opened last week, collected $29.3 million in ticket sales in U.S. and Canadian theaters to fall to the No. 2 position on U.S. and Canadian box office charts.
Starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones as black-suited secret agents, together again for the first time since 2002, "MIB 3" ticket sales slipped by 58 percent from its opening weekend. It has collected $274.6 million in overseas markets since its release.
"Snow White and the Huntsman," which starred Kristen Stewart from box office hit "The Twilight Saga" vampire films, Oscar-winner Charlize Theron and Chris Hemsworth from "The Avengers," is the second film this year inspired by the classic fairy tale.
In March, "Mirror Mirror," starring Julia Roberts as the evil queen, failed to gain large audiences with $18 million on its first weekend and $62 million in domestic ticket sales.
Producers of that film rushed to beat "Snow White and the Huntsman" to the screen, changing their opening date from June to March.
"The filmmakers, producers and the talent knew how different this film would be. We had no concern whatsoever," said Rocco. "Mirror Mirror" was ... targeted to little girls. They tried to make a comedy of it. That's not what we were intending to do."
Hollywood experts had predicted that "Snow White and the Huntsman" would open with a relatively paltry $35 million in ticket sales, according to Paul Dergarabedian, president of the box office division of Hollywood.com.
The film, which was made for $170 million, needed $42 million in ticket sales over the weekend to break-even, according to analyst Tony Wible, managing director of Janney Montgomery Scott.
A film generally completes its run with three times its opening weekend gross, and its studio gets about half the ticket sales revenue. A film also generates revenue from home video and other sales after its theatrical run.
In its fifth week in theaters, "The Avengers" collection of Marvel superheros continued to flex its muscles, earning $20.3 million and taking the third position.
The film has taken in $552.7 million in domestic sales, so far, making it the third best-selling film in history, surpassing "The Dark Knight" and behind only "Avatar" and "Titanic"."
Internationally, it has collected $1.4 billion, pulling ahead of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2," and behind only "Avatar" and "Titanic" among movies with the largest worldwide ticket totals, according to Box Office Mojo.
"Battleship" continued to list at box offices, collecting $4.8 million and taking fourth on weekend charts. Produced for $209 million, the special effects-laden film starring Liam Neeson and singer Rihanna has grossed $290.1 million in worldwide ticket sales.
"The Dictator, starring Sacha Baron Cohen as the heavily bearded, fictional despot Admiral General Aladeen, was fifth, commanding $4.7 million in its third week in theaters.
Sony Corp's movie studio released "Men in Black 3." "The Avengers" was distributed by Walt Disney Co's Marvel Studios. Time Warner Inc'sWarner Bros. studios distributed "Dark Shadows." "Snow White and the Huntsman" and "Battleship" were released by Universal Studios, a unit of Comcast Corp. Viacom Inc'sParamount Studios distributed "The Dictator."
Reporting By Piya Sinha-Roy and Ron Grover; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Cynthia Osterman