Box Office: Scarlett Johansson's 'Lucy' Overpowers 'Hercules' With $44M Debut

 Universal Pictures

Scarlett Johansson's Lucy opened to a winning $44 million at the North American box office, an impressive start for an action film featuring a female heroine. The movie, directed by Luc Besson, easily showed more muscle than Dwayne Johnson's epic Hercules, which debuted at No. 2 to roughly $29 million for director Brett Ratner.

The pair of new offerings weren't able to cure the ailing box office. North American revenue was once again down, this time by nearly 12 percent from the same weekend a year ago (the summer continues to be down by more than 20 percent).

Paramount and MGM, which partnered on Hercules, have much more at stake financially since the movie cost at least $100 million to make and had hoped it would do more domestically. However, the movie is making up ground overseas, where it took in $28.7 million over the weekend from its first territories, including a stunning $12 million in Russia, for a global debut of $57.7 million. It has yet to open in much of Europe, Latin America or in larger Asian markets.

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Lucy was produced by Besson's EuropaCorp for a reported $40 million and is being released by Universal. The R-rated movie co-stars Morgan Freeman and features Johansson as a woman who ingests a drug that gives her extraordinary abilities. The movie only earned a C+ CinemaScore, although that didn't seem to slow traffic on Friday.

Females made up 50 percent of all ticket buyers, while there was a large Hispanic turnout (29 percent, compared to 35 percent Caucasian). It's the biggest opening for Besson as a director, and did nearly four times as much as his Colombiana, also starring a female action hero (Zoe Saldana).

Lucy is the latest female-skewing movie to overperform at the summer box office after Maleficent and The Fault in Our Stars.

"It's a great result in every depressed marketplace," said Universal distribution chief Nikki Rocco. "And I think it says that more female action stars are called for."

Paramount's vice chairman Rob Moore said there is no doubt that Hercules was hurt by Lucy. The two movies weren't supposed to open opposite each other, but once Jupiter Ascending was pushed out of summer, Lucy relocated.

Internationally, Hercules will ultimately take in more than $200 million, a strong showing. "We'll get to a great number globally. Dwayne Johnson remains a huge star," Moore said.

Adapted from Radical Comics, Hercules — nabbing a B+ CinemaScore — stars Johnson as the mythical Greek hero. His new adventures begin when he's enlisted by the daughter of the lord of Thrace to save her kingdom from civil war. Johnson stars opposite Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell, Joseph Fiennes, Peter Mullan and John Hurt in the PG-13 action epic. 

Hercules skewed male (58 percent), while the majority of the audience was over the age of 25 (64 percent), similar to the age breakdown of Lucy.

Fox's Dawn of the Planet of the Apes placed a strong No. 3 in its third weekend with $16.4 million, a 55 percent decline and bringing the sequel's domestic total to $172.1 million, nearly as much as the $176.8 million earned by Rise of the Planet of the Apes in North America.

Overseas, Dawn topped the international chart for the first time ahead of Transformers: Age of Extinction, grossing $54.4 million from 60 markets for a total $183.8 million and global take of $355.9 million. Because of the World Cup and Age of Extinction, Dawn staggered its foreign rollout.

Age of Extinction's international weekend haul was $37.5 million for a foreign total of $730 million and global cume of $966.4 million, of which more than $300 has come from China. The Paramount tentpole is only days away from becoming the first film of 2014 to hit $1 billion.

Universal's horror entry The Purge: Anarchy placed No. 4 in North America with $9.9 million for a total $51.3 million. The movie fell a steep 67 percent, but cost just $9 million to make.

Animated family sequel Planes: Fire & Rescue rounded out the top five, falling 47 percent in its second weekend to $9.3 million for a domestic total of $35.1 million. Overseas, the Disney film earned $6.9 million from 50 markets for an international total of $21 million and global cume of $56.1 million.

Rob Reiner's dismally reviewed romantic comedy And So It Goes, starring Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton, opened to a soft $4.6 million to come in a distant No. 8. Not surprisingly, the independent film did best in older markets including Palm Springs, Florida and Arizona.

At the specialty box office, Anton Corbijn's spy thriller A Most Wanted Man, starring the late Philip Seymour Hoffman opposite Rachel McAdams, cracked the top 10 despite playing in only 361 theaters. The movie, based on the John le Carre book, opened to $2.7 million, the second-best debut in Roadside Attractions' 11-year history.

Woody Allen's Magic in the Moonlight, starring Colin Firth and Emma Stone, opened to a decent $425,730 from 17 theaters for a location average of $25,043. From Sony Pictures Classics, the film did less than either Blue Jasmine or Midnight in Paris.

Among holdovers, Boyhood, from director Richard Linklater and IFC Films, continues to impress in its third weekend. Expanding into a total of 107 locations, the innovative drama grossed an estimated $1.7 million for a cume of $4.1 million.

Here are the top 10 estimates for the weekend of July 25-27 at the domestic box office:

Title, Weeks in Release/Theater Count, Studio, Friday Total, Percentage Change, Cume

1. Lucy, 1/3,173, Universal/EuropaCorp, $44 million.

2. Hercules, 1/3,595, Paramount/MGM, $29 million.

3. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, 3/3,668, Fox, $16.4 million, -55%, $172.1 million.

4. The Purge: Anarchy, 2/2,856, Universal, $9.9 million, -67%, $51.2 million.

5. Planes: Fire & Rescue, 2/3,839, Disney, $9.3 million, -47%, $35.1 million.

6. Sex Tape, 2/3,062, Sony, $6 million, -59%, $26.9 million.

7. Transformers: Age of Extinction, 5/2,476, Paramount, $4.6 million, -53%, $236.4 million.

8. And So It Goes, 1/1,762, Clarius Entertainment, $4.6 million.

9. Tammy, 4/2,562, Warner Bros./New Line, $3.4 million, -54%, $78.1 million.

10. A Most Wanted Man, 1/361, Roadside Attractions, $2.7 million.

Twitter: @PamelaDayM

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