LOS ANGELES – Movie beasts from old-time Hollywood got a makeover as heroes and conquered the weekend box office.
DreamWorks Animation's action comedy "Monsters vs. Aliens," which features creatures from 1950s flicks in a showdown with invading extraterrestrials, launched itself into the No. 1 spot with a $58.2 million debut, according to studio estimates Sunday.
It was the biggest debut so far in 2009, topping the $55.2 million first weekend of "Watchmen" in early March.
Opening in second place was Lionsgate's ghost story "The Haunting in Connecticut" with $23 million in ticket sales.
The previous weekend's top movie, Summit Entertainment's apocalyptic thriller "Knowing," slipped to third with $14.7 million, raising its 10-day total to $46.2 million.
The big opening for "Monsters vs. Aliens" boosted Hollywood revenues after a couple of down weekends. Movies overall pulled in about $148 million, up 39 percent from the same weekend a year ago, according to box-office tracker Media By Numbers.
For the year, revenues have reached $2.38 billion, up 12 percent from 2008's, according to Media By Numbers. Accounting for this year's higher ticket prices, movie attendance is up 10.4 percent.
Hollywood historically weathers recessions well given the relative low cost of movies compared with other entertainment such as concerts or sports events. But the declining revenues of the previous two weekends showed that audiences will not run out to just any old flick, said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Media By Numbers.
"The recession offers a framework from which movies can do well for people looking to escape," Dergarabedian said. "But they have to want to escape to these movies. The appeal has to be there, and it clearly was for `Monsters vs. Aliens."'
Reese Witherspoon leads the cast of "Monsters vs. Aliens," providing vocals for a woman who grows to nearly 50 feet after an encounter with a meteor. The voice cast also includes Seth Rogen, Kiefer Sutherland, Hugh Laurie, Will Arnett and Stephen Colbert.
"Monsters vs. Aliens" was the latest success story for digital 3-D projection. While the 2,080 3-D screens accounted for just 28 percent of the roughly 7,300 on which the movie played, they made up 56 percent of its total box-office haul, said Anne Globe, head of marketing for DreamWorks Animation.
Tickets for 3-D movies typically cost a few dollars more than the 2-D version.
"Audiences donned 3-D glasses in the biggest way ever," Globe said. "`Monsters vs. Aliens' serves as valuable proof of concept for the next generation of 3-D."
The company plans to offer 3-D versions of all of its future animated films, including next year's "How to Train Your Dragon" and "Shrek Goes Fourth," the third sequel to the blockbuster ogre franchise.
Other upcoming 3-D releases this year include Pixar Animation's "Up" and James Cameron's sci-fi adventure "Avatar."
Large-screen IMAX theaters showing "Monsters vs. Aliens" in 3-D accounted for $5.2 million of the movie's overall grosses. Those 143 IMAX theaters represented only about 2 percent of the screens on which the movie played but contributed 9 percent of its total box office.