Angelina Jolie as "Maleficent'
Angelina Jolie as "Maleficent'

Angelina Jolie is a huge movie star. Disney knows how to reach a broad family audience led by women. And beloved fairy tales sell. These are some of the lessons learned --yet again--by "Maleficent"'s magnificent $70 million opening, which dwarfed Seth MacFarlane's western spoof "A Million Ways to Die in the West," aimed squarely at the fickle young male demo, with $17 million. Also showing strength at the box office is Cameron Diaz vehicle "The Other Woman," which has passed the $80-million mark. When will Hollywood change its antiquated thinking about women in movies, in the face of constant statistical reminders? 

After two weekends of box office falloffs from 2013, "Maleficent" (Buena Vista) stabilized ticket sales with its strong showing. The Top 10 grossed within $1 million of the same weekend last year. Coming after a disappointing May, this is a welcome sign for the industry. Although the total 2014 gross is trending up slightly from last year, the box office for May, usually the launch of the year's most lucrative season, dropped 14% from 2013, mitigated only by strong international results and a small reduction in production costs. But if this decline continues it will be most acutely felt by stateside theaters, who count on not only ticket grosses but on-site summer popcorn sales to pay their bills. 

1. "Maleficent" (Buena Vista) NEW - Cinemascore: A; Criticwire: C; Metacritic: 56

$70,000,000 in 3,948 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $; Cumulative: $70,000,000

With roots in Disney's iconic animated classic "Sleeping Beauty," "Maleficent" looks original in the context of contemporary studio tentpole production. That's an asset, as the movie exceeded expectations domestically and overseas, where it has already passed the $100 million mark. The picture could score as one of the summer's top performers.

Look at the audience stats: attendees were 51% 26 and older and 60% female. Unlike recent fan-boy fare, this didn't score with the late teen/early 20s male audience that typifies many summer hits. Nor did "Maleficent" boast the initial kids' appeal of Disney's recent "Oz: The Great and Powerful" and "Alice in Wonderland" (both March openers, both with higher initial takes). But its Friday to Saturday jump suggests plenty of kids appeal. And its A Cinemascore shows a range of positive audience response that will likely mean that the film will hold better and ultimately boast a better multiple for its gross than the normal 2.5 to 3 times above opening weekend.

Using unadjusted for inflation figures, this is the biggest live-action female star opening weekend film other than the "Twilight" and "Hunger Game" franchises (which of course were also driven by their presell from their initial young adult fiction base). Angelina Jolie is well-established as a megastar with action cred; "Wanted," "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" and "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" all opened in the $40-50 million range). Like her partner Brad Pitt, Jolie chooses to vary her palette with serious fare and has been pursuing  a directing career which limits her time on-camera. 

The directing debut of Oscar-winning production design veteran Robert Stromberg ("Avatar," "Alice in Wonderland") was not without turmoil (Disney regular John Lee Hancock directed some reshoots) but the movie clearly delivers to audiences. Also taking credit on this one are Disney regular Linda Woolverton, who wrote "Beauty and the Beast," "The Lion King" and "Alice in  Wonderland" and ex-Disney chairman-turned-producer producer Joe Roth, who has revamped well-known fantasy tales with mostly strong results ("Peter Pan," "Oz the Great and POwerful," "Snow White and the Huntsman," "Alice in Wonderland"). 

What comes next: "Maleficent" is poised to be a multi-week success that should play longer than many recent hits.

2. "X-Men: Days of Future Past" (20th Century Fox) Week 2 - Last weekend #1

$32,600,000 (-64%) in 4,001 theaters (+5); PSA: $8,148; Cumulative: $162,069,000

The 64% drop is slightly less than other past "X-Men" series films, and the global gross remains impressive, even for the high cost of this film. However, unlike the last two big action openers, it didn't face competition from a similar film soon after opening, so the drop seems significant.

What comes next: With Japan opening this weekend, most of the world is playing the movie. The international total will ultimately determine if this $200 million (plus marketing) project makes money.

3. "A Million Ways to Die in the West" (Universal) NEW - Cinemascore: B; Criticwire: C+; Metacritic: 54

$17,100,000 in 3,158 theaters; PSA: $5,405; Cumulative: $17,100,000

A rare comedy disappointment for Universal, which made a fortune on director MacFarlane's "Ted" (as well as a diverse slate of comedy successes including the current "Neighbors"). This cost somewhere between $40 million and the upper $50s (estimates vary), which makes any chance of profit remote indeed. The Saturday gross was up slightly from Friday's (which included some minor Thursday totals), but not enough to suggest a long life ahead.

This movie shares the same writing trio as "Ted," MacFarlane's breakout film, which scored a $54 million opening weekend, strong holds and international success (as well as another hit for its co-lead Mark Wahlberg). "A Million Ways to die in the West"'s western setting, four decades after "Blazing Saddles," didn't scream easy success, so it would appear that the concept of "Ted" more than MacFarlane's draw marks the divide.

Charlize Theron -- recently a draw in "Prometheus" and "Snow White and the Huntsman" -- did not boost the cause.

What comes next: Unless this shows unexpected strength next weekend, this is likely to be a quick playoff entry.