LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "The Green Hornet" flew into the top spot at the weekend box office in North America on Sunday despite bad critical buzz for the 3-D superhero comic-book adaptation.
The picture sold about $34 million worth of tickets during the three days beginning Friday, said its distributor, Columbia Pictures. The opening was in line with expectations and it ranks as the third-best start for a new release in January, according to the Sony Corp unit.
The $110 million project stars Seth Rogen as the titular vigilante, aided in his crime-fighting efforts by Kato (played by Taiwanese actor Jay Chou). French filmmaker Michel Gondry directed. Critics were largely negative toward the film, with the Wall Street Journal labeling it an "atrocity" and the Los Angeles Times calling it "tedious."
But Columbia said exit polls indicated the film clicked with its audience, of whom men accounted for 61 percent.
"I think audiences are absolutely the best critics," said Rory Bruer, Columbia's president of worldwide distribution.
"The Green Hornet" also earned $16.1 million from 35 foreign markets, led by a first-place, $4.5 million start in Germany.
Universal Pictures' new comedy-drama "The Dilemma," an unusual "chick flick" with two male protagonists, followed at No. 2 in North America with $17.1 million, also in line with mild expectations.
Ron Howard directed the picture, which stars Vince Vaughn and Kevin James as best pals wrestling with the issue of marital infidelity. The actors did much better with their respective previous outings, 2009's "Couples Retreat" ($34 million) and 2010's "Grown Ups" ($40 million). Critics also lambasted the film. Universal said women accounted for 60 percent of the audience.
Last weekend's champion, the Coen brothers' Western remake "True Grit," fell to No. 3 with $11.2 million. After four weeks, Paramount Pictures' awards contender has earned $126.4 million.
The film was followed by two others seeking Oscar glory as the awards campaign heats up ahead of the announcement of nominations on January 25. The Weinstein Co's royals drama "The King's Speech" jumped five places to No. 4 with $9.1 million, while Fox Searchlight's sapphic ballerina melodrama "Black Swan" was steady at No. 5 with $8.1 million. Their respective totals stand at $44.6 million and $73 million.
Universal Pictures is a unit of General Electric Co's NBC Universal. Paramount Pictures is a unit of Viacom Inc. The Weinstein Co is privately held. Fox Searchlight is a unit of News Corp.
Reporting by Dean Goodman; Editing by Philip Barbara