LOS ANGELES -- "Snow White & the Huntsman" turned out to be a fairer box-office beauty than Hollywood anticipated.
According to studio estimates Sunday, Universal Pictures' action yarn inspired by the fairy-tale princess debuted strongly at No. 1 with $56.3 million domestically. That's about $20 million higher than industry expectations.
Without the built-in business that generally goes with a sequel, "Snow White" was a question mark as a draw for young males who typically make up most of the action crowd. The movie wound up drawing a fairly even audience, with female fans accounting for 53 percent of viewers.
"We weren't even thinking we could do beyond $40 million, especially for a title where you didn't know if the males are going to show up. And they did," said Nikki Rocco, head of distribution for Universal.
"Snow White" bumped Sony's "Men in Black 3" from the top spot and into second-place with $29.3 million. The Will Smith-Tommy Lee Jones sequel raised its domestic total to $112.3 million after two weekends.
Disney's superhero sensation "The Avengers" remained strong at No. 3 with $20.3 million, lifting its domestic total to $552.7 million. "
In one weekend, "Snow White & the Huntsman" pulled in nearly as much as the $62.4 million that the year's previous Snow White adventure, "Mirror Mirror," took in domestically over its entire run.
"Mirror Mirror" was a fairy-tale comedy that appealed mainly to female crowds. Drawing well among male and female fans, "Snow White & the Huntsman" is an all-out action flick, with "Twilight" star Stewart as the princess, aided by a rugged man of arms ("Thor" star Hemsworth) to lead a battle against the evil queen (Theron).
Despite strong revenues for the top-three movies, domestic business was down for the third-straight weekend compared to last summer. Receipts totaled $142 million, off 11 percent compared to the same weekend a year ago, when "X-Men: First Class" led with $55.1 million, according to box-office tracker Hollywood.com.
Overall revenues are running neck-and-neck with the summer season of 2011, when Hollywood took in record cash between the first weekend of May and Labor Day. Box-office analysts had expected this summer to hurtle beyond that record, but so far, only a handful of films have paid off.