'Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted'
DreamWorks 'Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted'

Paramount's “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted," the PG family film from DreamWorks Animation, exceeded expectations and easily captured the top spot at the boxoffice this weekend. The mighty combo of a lack of family films in the marketplace and the return of a popular franchise led to an estimated $60.35 million haul. "Madagascar" beat out Ridley Scott’s return to thrilling sci-fi action, 20th Century Fox’s R-rated “Prometheus,” which settled for second place with an estimated $50 million, which was where it was expected to land.  While Fox downplayed the relationship of the film to Scott's original "Alien," the media kept the films' shared DNA alive, and reactions to the $130-million film were all over the map.

See Top Ten Box Office Chart below.

On Friday “Prometheus” was the top film at the boxoffice, running about $1 million ahead of “Madagascar 3,” and picking up $3.56 million from 1,368 midnight shows.  But that box office placement was short-lived, as Saturday matinees and theaters got the usual massive bump from family audiences to launch “Madagascar 3” into the top spot for the weekend. While second place was not what Fox had in mind for this summer tentpole, how the film plays out all over the world will tell the final tale.

Thanks largely to the one-two punch from the top two films, it was another up weekend in 2012 as the total for all films in North America will be around $177 million, up a robust 29% from the comparable frame a year earlier.

The opening for the family-friendly animated adventure was better than anticipated, topping projections that put “Madagascar 3” in the $50 million to $55 million area, and much better than the low ball studio forecasts of $45 million.

The debut for the third film in the “Madagascar” franchise was the second-highest of the film’s domestic openings. The first film opened in 2005 with $47.2 million domestically and went onto collect $532.7 million worldwide, while “Madagascar 2” debuted in 2008 with $63.1 million and earned a stout $603.9 million in worldwide boxoffice. So the film’s reported budget of $145 million is well on its way to being covered.

The “Madagascar” franchise has already grossed more than $1.1 billion worldwide from just the first two installments, and this one looks to follow a similar trajectory. The first two “Madagascar” films did better internationally then domestically, with domestic generating 33% and international comprising 67% of the worldwide total for each of the first two films.

Helmed by Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath and Conrad Vernon, in the third film the animals are still trying to return to New York, but travel through Europe under cover of a traveling circus.  Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen and Cedric the Entertainer return as the well recognized voices of the film’s ensemble cast, and Frances McDormand as a supercop on their trail makes a welcome addition.

As the end of the distribution relationship with Paramount and DreamWorks draws nigh, “Madagascar 3” could be one of the last DreamWorks films distributed by Paramount.  This should show some legs as the film scored a sterling “A” CinemaScore from audiences and 76% fresh on the Tomatometer.

Projections for “Prometheus” ran from the high $40 million area to $55 million; studio estimates were a lowball $30 million.  But a $50 million opening for an R-rated feature is a solid debut and marks the second-best opening ever for director Ridley Scott.