July 7, 2008 / 2:26 AM / in 9 years

Will Smith rules box office with "Hancock"

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Will Smith, the closest thing to a sure bet in Hollywood these days, flew to the top of the worldwide box office with his critically mauled superhero saga “Hancock,” distributor Columbia Pictures said on Sunday.

<p>Cast member Will Smith (R) greets fans as he arrives at the movie premiere of "Hancock" at Grauman's Chinese theatre in Hollywood, California June 30, 2008. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>

The comedy-drama, in which Smith plays a drunken crime-fighter with an image problem, sold an estimated $185 million worth of tickets, the Sony Corp-owned studio said.

Moviegoers in the United States and Canada contributed $107.3 million in the six days since the film opened on Tuesday evening, and the film racked up an additional $78 million in 50 territories. Columbia said the film opened at No. 1 in 47 of those 50 markets, including Britain, Germany, Australia, Brazil and South Korea.

The North American tally includes sales of $66 million for the U.S. Independence Day holiday weekend, beginning Friday. “Hancock” ranks as Smith’s eighth-consecutive chart-topper, and his 12th overall, Columbia said.

“Audiences love Will Smith and the characters he plays,” said Rory Bruer, Columbia’s president of domestic theatrical distribution. “People want to share in the things he’s doing.”

CRITICS VEXED

Smith, 39, a one-time rapper famed for his gung-ho performances, ventures into darker territory with “Hancock.” His slovenly character’s messy crime-busting efforts cause more problems than they solve, and he enlists a public relations man, played by Jason Bateman, to help restore his reputation among the displeased citizenry of Los Angeles.

Critics were intrigued by the basic premise, but were vexed by a dramatic sub-plot involving Charlize Theron, who plays Bateman’s wife. Peter Berg (“The Kingdom”) directed the $150 million film, which was notably brief at just over 90 minutes.

Smith has ruled the July 4 holiday weekend five times, beginning with 1996’s “Independence Day,” the biggest movie of his career. Adjusted for ticket-price inflation, the “Hancock” opening ranks at No. 3 among those offerings, according to tracking firm Box Office Mojo.

Last weekend’s champion, Walt Disney Co’s robot love story “WALL-E,” slipped to No. 2 with $33.4 million for the three-day period, taking its 10-day total to $128.1 million.

The Angelina Jolie thriller “Wanted” fell one place to No. 3 with $20.6 million, also in its second weekend. Its 10-day total rose to $90.8 million. The violent comic book adaptation was released by Universal Pictures, a unit of General Electric Co’s NBC Universal.

The only other debut in the top 10 was “Kit Kittredge: An American Girl,” which jumped 15 places to No. 8 with a modest $3.6 million after two weekends of limited release. The kid-friendly film, based on the wholesome American Girl doll-and-book series, coincidentally features Smith’s 7-year-old daughter, Willow.

“Kit Kittredge” was distributed by art-house studio Picturehouse, which its Time Warner Inc parent will shut down in the fall to cut costs.

Despite the “Hancock” boost, overall ticket sales ended a five-weekend winning streak, according to tracking firm Media By Numbers. The top 12 films grossed $158.7 million for the three days, down 4 percent from the year-ago period. Year-to-date sales are flat, while the number of tickets sold is down 3 percent, Media By Numbers said.

Reporting by Dean Goodman, editing by David Wiessler

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