LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Moviegoers around the world headed to "Rio" for the weekend.
The 3D animated misadventure of a Brazilian macaw scored the biggest opening so far this year at the North American box office, and was the top choice overseas for a second weekend, distributor 20th Century Fox said on Sunday.
The film sold an estimated $40 million worth of tickets across the United States and Canada during the three days beginning April 15, coming in at the top end of expectations.
It also provided some rare good news at the box office where sales so far this year are down 19 percent to $2.65 billion, according to box office analysts at Hollywood.com.
The previous best launch this year was the $38 million bow for the Johnny Depp cartoon "Rango," which remains the biggest release of 2011 with $119 million. "Rio" ended the two-week reign of another cartoon, the Easter-themed "Hop."
Buoyed by strong critical reviews, an "A" rating among patrons polled by tracking firm CinemaScore and the spring break/Easter holiday, "Rio" should have little difficulty becoming the year's first big blockbuster.
Its foreign haul rose to $129 million after a $54 million weekend in 62 markets. (Fox earlier estimated a $128 million total.) It opened at No. 1 in France, and remained at the top in such markets as Brazil, Mexico, Germany and Spain. Brazil, not surprisingly, is the top market overall with sales to date of $18.9 million.
"Rio," which cost about $90 million to make, revolves around Blu, a rare blue macaw (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg of "The Social Network"), who returns home to Brazil after a coddled existence as a smuggled pet in the United States. It was directed by Carlos Saldanha, the Rio de Janeiro native behind Fox's "Ice Age" trilogy. Fox is a unit of News Corp.
Opening at No. 2 in North America with considerably less success was "Scream 4," the first installment in the horror franchise in 11 years.
The Dimension Films release sold about $19.3 million worth of tickets across the United States and Canada. Industry insiders had expected the bloody reunion of David Arquette, Courteney Cox and Neve Campbell to open in the mid-$20 million range. Dimension is a unit of the closely held Weinstein Co.
The best opening in the series was the $34.7 million start for "Scream 3" in 2000, but it quickly stalled and finished up with $89 million -- the worst in the series. The 1996 original was the most successful with sales of $103 million.
"Hop" slipped to No. 3 with $11.2 million, taking its total to $82.6 million. Its foreign total stands at $29.4 million from 45 countries, with 13 still to open. The film was released by Universal Pictures, a unit of Comcast Corp-controlled NBC Universal.
The top 10 boasted one other new entry. Robert Redford's "The Conspirator," his first directorial outing since the 2007 underperformer "Lions for Lambs," earned a solid $3.9 million, tying at No. 9 with the comedy flop "Your Highness."
The Abraham Lincoln assassination drama, one of just a handful of serious, adult-skewing films in theaters, played in just 707 theaters, while the rest of the top 10 averaged about 2,900 each. It was released by closely held Roadside Attractions.
Reporting by Dean Goodman; Editing by Laura MacInnis and Mohammad Zargham