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'Expendables' tops weekend b.o. with $35 million

'Eat Pray' a solid second, 'Pilgrim' disappoints in fifth

Maybe movie stars aren't so expendable.

At a time when pricey talent is thought to yield diminishing returns for film studios, Lionsgate's star-studded "The Expendables" easily topped the weekend boxoffice with an estimated $35 million in domestic coin. The testosterone-spiked actioner outpaced an impressive $23.7 million bow by Sony's female-targeted Julia Roberts starrer "Eat Pray Love" in second place, while Universal's geek-seeking "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" debuted with a dismal $10.5 million in fifth place.

Produced by Nu Image/Millennium for more than $85 million, Sylvester Stallone-helmed "Expendables" features marquee tough guys Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren and Mickey Rourke, as well as Stallone. Lionsgate paid $20 million for U.S. and U.K. distribution rights and funded pic marketing, with Nu Image further shaving its exposure via robust foreign presales.

The rollicking, R-rated fight-fest drew opening audiences skewing 61% male, with 60% of patrons aged 25 or older. In an interview Sunday, Stallone told THR on that a sequel already is being discussed.

"Hopefully, the next time we'll have even more technical expertise and raise the bar further," Stallone said. "I love sequels. Rarely can you push all the buttons in the first movie."

Unspooling 34 years after Stallone muscled his way into the pantheon of bigscreen tough guys with "Rocky," "Expendables" marked the biggest bow ever by a Stallone-directed film. The multiphyphenate's previous personal best as a director came with the $18.2 million debut of 2008's "Rambo."

Lionsgate distribution boss David Spitz said the "legendary cast" of the film was clearly the biggest draw for "Expendables."

"We're ecstatic over the opening," Spitz said. "It came in, in our opinion, above expectations."

The pic's additional muscle-bound co-stars include three jocks-turned-thespians with acronym-dotted resumes: Terry Crews (NFL), Randy Couture (UFC) and Steve Austin (WWE), with Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger contributing cameos and Eric Roberts portraying the film's chief bad guy. The lone female co-star was Mexican TV actress Giselle Itie.

Based on a best-selling memoir, "Eat Pray Love" was directed by Ryan Murphy -- best known as the creator of TV's "Glee" series -- and co-stars Billy Crudup, Viola Davis and James Franco. The bigscreen adaptation of writer Elizabeth Gilbert's literary memoir about a woman's post-divorce global sojourn, "Love" drew opening audiences skewing 72% female with 56% of patrons aged 35 or older.

"It was a really good opening, and films of this sort tend to have high multiples," Sony distribution president Rory Bruer said. "So this could be a film that plays well into the fall."

Produced for an estimated $60 million, the PG-13 pic opened among some of the better bows ever by a top female-targeting pic, though at least a couple gal-magnets registered significantly more in their first frames. Those include May 2008's "Sex and the City" ($57 million) and July '08's "Mamma Mia!" ($27.8 million).

Produced for an estimated $60 million, "Scott Pilgrim" stars Michael Cera as a teen who battles his girlfriend's seven former lovers. Mary Elizabeth Winstead ("Make It Happen") plays the girlfriend, with Edgar Wright ("Hot Fuzz") directing.

Based on a comic book, "Scott Pilgrim" is rated PG-13 and drew audiences comprised 64% of males, with 58% of patrons under age 25.

"We knew the challenges of broadening this film to a mainstream audience, but we're disappointed more people didn't see it," Universal distribution topper Nikki Rocco said.

Elsewhere this weekend, Sony's buddy-cop action comedy "The Other Guys," starring Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg, fell a relatively modest 49% from its chart-topping bow of a week earlier to nab $18 million in third place with $70.5 million in cumulative coin. But Disney dance musical "Step Up 3D" dropped a big 58% in its sophomore session to $6.6 million in seventh place with a $29.6 million cume.

In a limited bow this session, crime drama "Animal Kingdom" from Sony Pictures Classics and E1 unspooled in two theaters in New York, two in L.A. and three in Canada to fetch $64,082, or a solid $9,155 per venue.

Collectively, the weekend's top 10 pics rang up $128.8 million, or 8% more than top performers in the comparable frame last year, Rentrak said.

Looking ahead, four pics open wide during the coming week. Those include Fox's horror spoof "Vampires Suck," set to unspool on Wednesday, and three pics set for Friday bows: Miramax romantic comedy "The Switch," Dimension's horror pic "Piranha 3D" and Uni/Working Title's family sequel "Nanny McPhee Returns."