Surprise box office tie for "Cowboys", "Smurfs"

Sun Jul 31, 2011 3:20pm EDT
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By Lisa Richwine

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The tiny blue "Smurfs" battled big-name, big-budget "Cowboys & Aliens" to a surprising tie at the domestic weekend box office with each film ringing up an estimated $36.2 million in ticket sales, according to studio estimates on Sunday.

"The Smurfs" live-action and animated 3D film drew families to the latest adventure of the classic Belgian cartoon characters and grossed higher-than-expected sales. "Cowboys & Aliens" fell short of pre-release estimates from box-office watchers.

The totals are estimates of ticket sales from United States and Canadian theaters for Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The leader will not be known until actual sales are tallied on Monday.

Going into the weekend, "Cowboys & Aliens" was seen easily topping box-office charts with starpower from James Bond actor Daniel Craig and "Indiana Jones" star Harrison Ford, plus director Jon Favreau from the hit "Iron Man" series and Steven Spielberg among the producers. The film is set in the Wild West in 1873, when a spaceship arrives in Arizona and runs into a posse of cowboys.

The movie offered "a fresh and unique concept," said Nikki Rocco, president of distribution for Universal Pictures, a division of Comcast Corp that released the film. "It was a bet worth taking with these filmmakers."

A lower-than-expected total for "Cowboys & Aliens" collided with a bigger draw from "The Smurfs," a movie that revived characters that debuted more than 50 years ago.

"In the summer, family films are a hot commodity," Paul Dergarabedian, box office analyst with, said of the "Smurfs" success.

Rory Bruer, president of worldwide distribution for Columbia Pictures, said the "Smurfs" film "performed beyond our expectations." Columbia Pictures is the unit of Sony Corp that released the movie.   Continued...

<p>Executive producer Steven Spielberg arrives for the world premiere of Universal Pictures motion picture "Cowboys &amp; Aliens" in conjunction with Comic Con in San Diego, California July 23, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Blake</p>