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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Animated 3-D family movie "How to Train Your Dragon" slayed audiences this weekend, ousting "Alice in Wonderland" from its three-week run at the top of the North American box office in another strong showing for the 3-D format.
The DreamWorks Animation 3-D movie about a hapless young Viking who aspires to hunt dragons collected $43.3 million during the three days beginning on Friday, according to studio estimates on Sunday.
But despite heavy promotion and glowing reviews, "Dragon's" opening fell short of the studio's "Monsters Vs. Aliens" 3-D adventure a year ago, which brought in $59.3 million on its opening weekend. "Dragon" cost a reported $165 million to produce, according to website BoxOfficeMojo.com.
Walt Disney Co's psychedelic adventure "Alice in Wonderland" was pushed into second place with $17.3 million, while raunchy new comedy release from MGM, "Hot Tub Time Machine," starring John Cusack, earned $13.6 million for third.
"How to Train Your Dragon" was the third box office hit for a 3-D movie after "Alice" and record-breaking sci-fi fantasy "Avatar."
Paul Dergarabedian of box office tracker Hollywood.com noted that 3-D movies have led the weekend box office in North America for nine of the 13 weekends of 2010.
Some 68 percent of "Dragon" ticket sales came from more expensive 3-D and Imax screenings, the studio said.
DreamWorks hopes the computer-animated movie will enjoy a strong run through the upcoming spring break holiday for school kids. Audiences were split almost evenly between those under 25 and older movie-goers.
"We are really anticipating some long-term playability based on these strong reviews and word of mouth," said Anne Globe, head of worldwide marketing at DreamWorks Animation.
"I think audiences obviously are very excited about the recent 3-D offerings. DreamWorks Animation is making all of our movies in 3-D going forwards," Globe said. "How to train Your Dragon" was distributed by Paramount Pictures, a unit of Viacom Inc.
"Dragon" also brought in an estimated $31 million from overseas markets, opening at No. 1 in Brazil, Mexico, Thailand and Spain, the studio said. The movie will open in the United Kingdom and France in the coming week.
Johnny Depp and director Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" lost more than one-third of its 3-D sites to "Dragon" as distributors jostle for screen space for three major 3-D releases.
The weekend also saw 20th Century Fox's "Avatar" fall out of the Top 10 movies for the first time since its release in December. "Avatar" has now grossed a record-breaking $2.6 billion at box offices around the world.
Elsewhere, "Hot Tub Time Machine" from struggling studio MGM, which is exploring a sale, opened with $13.6 million after warm reviews for its ribald journey back to the 1980s.
Columbia Pictures romantic comedy "The Bounty Hunter," starring Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler, held on in its second week with $12.4 million, pushing Fox's "Diary of a Wimpy Kid," based on the best-selling children's books by Jeff Kinney, into fifth place with $10 million.
Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Eric Beech