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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "Robin Hood" took the lead at the worldwide box office in its first weekend of release, but the costly Russell Crowe saga failed to replace "Iron Man 2" as the top choice in North America, according to studio estimates issued on Sunday.
Crowe's fifth collaboration with director Ridley Scott earned $111.1 million from 57 markets, led by a relatively modest $37.1 million in the United States and Canada, said Universal Pictures, a unit of General Electric Co.
"Iron Man 2" retained its crown in North America after earning $53 million in its second weekend. The superhero sequel, starring Robert Downey Jr., pulled in $84 million worldwide, taking its total to $457 million.
Viacom Inc's Paramount Pictures distributed the film for Walt Disney Co's Marvel Studios.
The North American tally for "Robin Hood" fell below industry forecasts of an opening in the $40 million to $45 million range.
But Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco said she had been forecasting a figure above $35 million. She said the studio was more focused on the global market than on a specific territory. She noted that the international component of $74 million was 15 percent higher than that of the recent action-adventure "Sherlock Holmes."
The North American haul for "Robin Hood" was in the same range as the lifetime totals of Crowe's last two underperformers, "Body of Lies" ($37 million) and "State of Play" ($39 million). His last big movie, "American Gangster," opened to $43.6 million in 2007.
Scott also directed "Body of Lies" and "American Gangster," as well as the Crowe vehicles "Gladiator" and "A Good Year."
"Robin Hood," which cost at least $155 million to make, made its world premiere at the opening selection at the Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday.
The picture dispenses with much of the Robin Hood mythology -- including his reputation as the man who stole from the rich and gave to the poor -- and transforms the hero into a war veteran swept up in political intrigue. Cate Blanchett co-stars as Maid Marion. Critics were largely unimpressed.
Exit polling in North America indicated that almost two-thirds of the film's audience was aged 30 and older, while men accounted for 56 percent of the total.
Among the film's 52 international No. 1 openings were Britain ($8.1 million), France ($6.8 million), Germany ($6.4 million), Italy ($6.1 million) and New Zealand-born Crowe's adopted homeland of Australia ($5.2 million).
Universal partnered on the project with independent financier Relativity Media. While $155 million is the official cost, industry observers said the figure was likely much higher. The film was supposed to start shooting in August 2008, but was pushed back to the following year partly so that more work could be done on the script.
Other new releases in North America included the Shakespearean-inspired romance "Letters for Juliet," starring Amanda Seyfried, at No. 3 with a disappointing $13.8 million; and the Queen Latifah basketball romance "Just Wright" at No. 4 with $8.5 million.
"Letters to Juliet" was released by Summit Entertainment, which is privately held. "Just Wright" was released by 20th Century Fox, a unit of News Corp.
Reporting by Dean Goodman; Editing by Bill Trott