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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The costly superhero movie "Green Lantern" flickered at the weekend box office in North America, while "Mr. Popper's Penguins" exceeded low-ball forecasts.
According to studio estimates issued on Sunday, "Green Lantern" earned about $52.7 million -- at the lower end of expectations -- during its first three days of release across the United States and Canada.
The Warner Bros. 3-D release will need to make up ground overseas to recoup its reported $200 million production budget and its $125 million worldwide marketing tab. The studio said those numbers were too high, but declined to give its own figures.
Ideally, the picture would have opened to about $55 million, said Dan Fellman, the president of domestic theatrical distribution at the Time Warner Inc unit. But it was too early to get an accurate picture of its prospects, he added.
Critics mauled the picture, which stars Ryan Reynolds as an intergalactic space cop. The relatively obscure character originated in a DC Comics book, and is the latest superhero to invade theaters in recent weeks following "Thor" ($65 million opening) and a fifth "X-Men" movie ($55 million).
Somewhat ominously for the 3-D fad, just 45 percent of the "Green Lantern" haul came from engagements where moviegoers paid a premium for the extra dimension. Big movies usually do about 60 percent of their business in 3-D. But the novelty has faded in recent months as moviegoers question the merit of paying more for an experience often considered underwhelming. 3-D accounted for 55 percent of the opening tally for "Thor," and 46 percent for the latest "Pirates of the Caribbean" sequel.
Jim Carrey's family comedy "Mr. Popper's Penguins" came in at No. 3 with $18.2 million, exceeding the diminished $10 million to $15 million expectations of its distributor, 20th Century Fox.
The News Corp unit was confident about the long-term prospects for its $55 million movie, citing strong exit polls. On the other hand "Penguins" has just a few more days to attract families before they all line up for Pixar Animation's "Cars 2" sequel beginning June 24.
The film, based on a 1938 children's book, stars Carrey as a divorced dad who reconnects with his children with the improbable help of a half-dozen penguins who run amok through his Manhattan apartment and across the city. Critics also gave it the thumbs down.
Carrey has not starred in a major hit since "Bruce Almighty" in 2003. His last live-action wide release, "Yes Man," also opened to about $18 million in 1998; the comedy finished up with $98 million domestically, but production costs alone were about $70 million.
Last weekend's champion, "Super 8," slipped to No. 2 with $21.3 million. The sci-fi mystery was distributed by Paramount Pictures, a unit of Viacom Inc.
Fox's "X-Men: First Class" fell two places to No. 4 with $11.5 million, followed by Warner Bros.' "The Hangover: Part II" with $9.6 million, also down two places.
While summer is the most lucrative season for the studios, the influx of sequels and comic-book adaptations has not helped business recover from a sluggish start to the year. Ticket sales so far in 2011 stand at $4.6 billion, down 7.7 percent from the year-ago period. The drop would be even steeper without higher ticket prices since the number of tickets sold is down almost 12 percent.
Reporting by Dean Goodman; Editing by Sandra Maler