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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "Fast & Furious," the fourth film in Universal Pictures' hot-rodding franchise, raced to the top spot at the worldwide box office as movie fans with a need for speed snapped up an estimated $102.6 million worth of tickets, the studio said on Sunday.
In the United States and Canada, the picture earned $72.5 million during its first three days, smashing "Monsters vs. Aliens'" week-old record for the best opening of the year.
The film already has earned more than the previous installment, 2006's "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift," which opened with $24 million and ended up making $62.5 million.
While Universal knew the sagging series was destined for a spectacular boost, its forecasts pointed to an opening in the $50 million range. The highly anticipated reunion of Vin Diesel and Paul Walker -- the stars of the 2001 original -- cost about $85 million to make, the studio said.
"We knew there was a great buzz from the get-go," said Nikki Rocco, president of domestic distribution at the General Electric Co-owned studio. "The marketing plan was spot-on about how exciting this rendition was."
Critics thought the film was a wreck, and Diesel and Walker have hardly lit up the box office in recent years. But forgiving audiences gave "Fast & Furious" the green light in post-screening surveys. Not surprisingly, it skewed toward male youngsters. Hispanics accounted for 46 percent of ticket-buyers, followed by whites with 28 percent.
Internationally, "Fast & Furious" earned $30.1 million from 31 markets, opening at No. 1 in most of them, Universal said. Highlights included Germany with $6.5 million, Mexico with $4 million and Spain with $3.6 million. In Thailand, 65 percent of all moviegoers saw the film, which earned $1.2 million.
The film adds 19 markets next weekend, including Britain, France and Russia.
Diesel, 41, and Walker, 35, resurrect their roles as old foes who team up to confront a common enemy. Along the way, there are car chases, convoy heists and burning gas tankers. They launched the franchise with "The Fast and the Furious," which brought in $40.1 million on its opening weekend. It finished with $144.5 million.
Diesel skipped the first sequel, 2003's "2 Fast 2 Furious," which debuted with $50.5 million and finished with $127.1 million. "Tokyo Drift" featured a new cast, although Diesel set pulses racing with an uncredited cameo at the end.
Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster, two other veterans from the first film, round out the cast. "Fast & Furious" was directed by Justin Lin, who also shot "Tokyo Drift."
"Monsters vs. Aliens" slipped to No. 2 with $33.5 million in its second round. It had held the record for best opening of the year, with a $59.3 million start. The total for DreamWorks Animation SKG's cartoon stands at $105.7 million.
At No. 3, "The Haunting in Connecticut" scared up $9.6 million, taking its 10-day haul to $37.2 million.
The Nicolas Cage action movie "Knowing" followed with $8.1 million, for a three-week tally of $58.2 million. The Paul Rudd comedy "I Love You, Man" was No. 5 with $7.9 million, as its three-week score rose to $49.3 million.
The top 10 boasted two other new entries. The teen comedy "Adventureland" underwhelmed at No. 6 with $6 million, in line with low expectations. "Sunshine Cleaning" rose one to No. 10 with $1.9 million in its fourth week. The total for the crime-scene cleanup comedy rose to $4.8 million.
"The Haunting in Connecticut" was released by Lionsgate, a unit of Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. "Knowing" was released by Summit Entertainment, which is privately held. "I Love You, Man" was released by Paramount Pictures, a unit of Viacom Inc. "Adventureland" was released by Miramax Films, a unit of Walt Disney Co. "Sunshine Cleaning" was released by Overture Films, which is privately held.