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'G.I. Joe' commands box office with $56.2M debut

LOS ANGELES - G.I. Joe is the latest toy to invade Hollywood and plant its blockbuster flag.

Inspired by the Hasbro action figure, Paramount's "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" took command of the weekend box office with a $56.2 million debut domestically, according to studio estimates Sunday. "G.I. Joe" also took in $44.3 million overseas for a worldwide total of $100.5 million.

Meryl Streep's Julia Child tale "Julie & Julia" opened a solid No. 2 as an alternative for adult crowds with $20.1 million. While "G.I. Joe" was the first choice for young males, women 35 and older were the main audience for "Julie & Julia."

"G.I. Joe" follows Paramount's "Transformers" franchise as the latest toy story to find success on the big screen.

Harsh reviews for "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" earlier this summer prompted Paramount to skip critic screenings for "G.I. Joe" and put the movie in theaters sight-unseen by most reviewers.

Critics generally trashed the "Transformers" sequel, yet it had a colossal opening and is on its way to joining the handful of movies to top $400 million domestically. Based on that disparity between critical and commercial reaction, the studio decided it could do without reviews for "G.I. Joe."

"The thing we saw from 'Transformers' is that with these kind of movies, at times critics have a hard time getting their arms around them," said Rob Moore, Paramount vice chairman. "But the audience got exactly what it was. A fun summer movie, a great way to end your summer. You just relax and have a good time. You don't have to worry about global politics or global warming."

Critics who went to see "G.I. Joe" after it opened gave it mixed reviews at best, with many branding it mindless action but some finding it fun and entertaining.

The weekend's other new wide release, Universal's slasher thriller "A Perfect Getaway" with Steve Zahn and Milla Jovovich, opened weakly at No. 7 with $5.8 million.

The previous weekend's top movie, Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen's "Funny People," tumbled to No. 5 with $7.9 million, down a whopping 65 percent from its opening weekend. The Universal release has taken in $40.4 million so far.

"G.I. Joe" pulled Hollywood out of a monthlong box-office swoon compared with last summer. The overall box office came in at $147 million, up 22 percent from the same weekend a year ago, when the Batman blockbuster "The Dark Knight" still was the No. 1 flick after four weeks in release.

"'Joe' kind of saved the day," said Paul Dergarabedian, box-office analyst for Hollywood.com. "We needed a box-office hero to turn things around, and we certainly got it."

But summer revenues continue to lag behind last year's, with receipts this season down about 1 percent.

"G.I. Joe" features Dennis Quaid, Channing Tatum, Sienna Miller, Marlon Wayans and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in a globe-trotting adventure about an elite military unit taking on a corrupt arms dealer.

While the G.I. Joe action figures started out as all-American heroes, the movie expands their story to include an international team of good guys to capitalize on overseas box office, which nowadays can equal or exceed domestic receipts for Hollywood movies.

"One of the best markets on the movie was Russia," Moore said. "How far G.I. Joe has come. He was incredibly popular in Russia."

"Julie & Julia" casts Streep as celebrated chef Child and Amy Adams as a woman trying to revitalize her own life by cooking every recipe in Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking."

Sony opened it opposite "G.I. Joe" to give adults a fresh option after a summer of action adventures, family flicks and comedies.

"We felt the audience we were going to start with was going to be very hungry by this point," said Rory Bruer, Sony's head of distribution. "It's a really fun movie with heart and humor and good food."

Child was also a hit on Amazon.com this weekend. "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" was the Web site's top seller Sunday, while Child's memoir "My Life in France" was No. 9.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Hollywood.com. Final figures will be released Monday.

1. "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra," $56.2 million.

2. "Julie & Julia," $20.1 million.

3. "G-Force," $9.8 million.

4. "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," $8.9 million.

5. "Funny People," $7.9 million.

6. "The Ugly Truth," $7 million.

7. "A Perfect Getaway," $5.8 million.

8. "Aliens in the Attic," $4 million.

9. "Orphan," $3.73 million.

10. "500 Days of Summer," $3.7 million.