LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Fans of teenage pop star Justin Bieber turned out in strong numbers during the weekend for his movie "Never Say Never," putting it in a tight race for No. 1 at box offices with Adam Sandler comedy "Just Go With It."
Film studio estimates released on Sunday had Sandler's romantic comedy, which co-stars Jennifer Aniston, taking in $31 million to claim the top spot on ticket charts. The Bieber film was close behind at $30.3 million for the three-day weekend.
But counting ticket sales for special screenings of "Just Bieber: Never Say Never" held late last week ahead of Friday's U.S. and Canadian opening, the movie's ticket sales hit just over $31 million, according to distributor Paramount Pictures.
Monday's final tally will decide the winner of the weekly box-office competition but Paramount was basking in a better-than-expected opening for the movie, which mixes 3D concert footage and more personal video of the 16-year-old singer to paint a picture of his rise to superstardom.
Don Harris, executive vice president of distribution for Paramount, said Bieber's legions of mostly young female fans turned out, as expected. But many positive reviews for "Never Say Never" and good exit polling of moviegoers had the studio believing the movie might expand to wider audiences.
"We think the movie will hang around (theaters) for awhile," Harris said.
The Bieber movie debuted in just over 3,100 locations for a per-theater average of $9,700. The Sandler movie opened in just over 3,500 venues for an average around $8,700 per theater.
If numbers hold up on Monday, "Just Go With It" will be Sandler's 11th No. 1 debut. Yet, it failed to match his last romantic comedy that opened ahead of a Valentine's Day weekend in the United States. In 2003, his "50 First Dates," opposite Drew Barrymore, took in $39.8 million in its first weekend, according to industry tracker boxofficemojo.com.
Still, distributor Columbia Pictures thinks Valentine's Day audiences should help boost ticket sales of "Just Go With It" if date-minded couples turn out on Sunday and Monday.
Columbia said Sandler continues to expand his popularity with international audiences. "Just Go With It" opened well in the United Kingdom with $2.6 million in ticket sales, and in Mexico it was the No. 1 film with $1.75 million -- a figure that was double the tally for "50 First Dates."
Elsewhere, the No. 3 film in the weekly sweepstakes at U.S. and Canadian movie box offices was animated family movie, "Gnomeo and Juliet" with $25.5 million in its first weekend. Its per-theater average was just over $8,500 in right around 3,000 locations.
The weekend's fourth new entry, action adventure "The Eagle," starring Channing Tatum, debuted with $8.6 million, or an average of about $3,700 in around 2,300 theaters. It placed at No.4 on box office charts.
Oscar hopeful "The King's Speech" rounded out the top five with $7.4 million in ticket sales, bringing its cumulative total to just under $94 million.
"Never Say Never" was distributed by Paramount Pictures, a unit of Viacom Inc; "Just Go With It" by Columbia Pictures, a movie unit of Sony Corp; and "Gnomeo and Juliet" by the film unit of The Walt Disney Co.. "The Eagle" was released by Focus Features, the unit of Universal Pictures that is controlled by Comcast Corp.. "King's Speech" was released by privately-held The Weinstein Co.
Reporting by Bob Tourtellotte; Editing by Bill Trott