Disney-Pixar's "Brave" opened strong on its debut weekend.

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"Brave" led the pack at the box office over the weekend

Disney exec: "Girls kick butt"

"Madagascar 3" came in second

EW  — 

For the third time this year, following strong openings from “The Hunger Games” and “Snow White and the Huntsman,” a movie with a tough female protagonist topped the box office in a major way.

Disney-Pixar’s Brave was right on target in its debut weekend, opening to $66.7 million — the fifth-best debut ever for a Pixar film, and a faster start than last year’s Cars 2, which opened with $66.1 million. Brave continued Pixar’s streak of number one debuts, as all 13 of the studio’s releases have reached the peak position during their first weekend of wide release.

“Girls kick butt,” says Dave Hollis, Disney’s EVP of distribution, about the rise of the female action protagonist at the 2012 box office. Still, he believes that gender had less to do with Brave’s successful opening weekend than audiences’ trust in Pixar. “There’s a universal love of this brand,” he says, praising their “consistency [as] classic storytellers.”

Disney wisely marketed the film differently to boys and girls — much like the studio did when releasing another princess film, Tangled, in 2010. For that film, Disney created a campaign that focused as much on Tangled’s humorous male character, Flynn Rider, as it did on the film’s main character, Rapunzel. For Brave, Disney targeted males with ads that emphasized the film’s rambunctious Scottish hijinks and mischievous red-headed triplets. Meanwhile, girls were targeted with ads that focused more on Brave’s central character, Merida, and her quest to change her fate. Still, Hollis notes that there were numerous images that spoke to both males and females, such as shots of Merida riding her horse through the woods.

Despite rather tepid reviews (compared to the rest of Pixar’s catalog), the $185 million Scottish adventure earned an “A” CinemaScore grade from audiences, which were 57 percent female and 43 percent male. Thanks to good word-of-mouth, Brave will likely enjoy small declines over the ensuing weeks (although it will face direct competition when Ice Age: Continental Drift debuts on July 13), and if history is any indication, finish somewhere in the $200 million range.

In second place, Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted dropped 41 percent to $20.2 million, giving DreamWorks’ $145 million animated sequel a $157.6 million total after three weekends. The 1-2 finish of Brave and Madagascar 3 marks just the third time in the past decade that two animated films have taken up the top two spots at the box office. In November 2007, Beowulf and Bee Movie finished in first and second. In November 2004, The Incredibles and The Polar Express did the same.

Worldwide, Madagascar 3 has already stampeded to $208.4 million. Interestingly, despite its European setting, the film has yet to open in the UK, Germany, and Italy (as well as Japan, Australia, and New Zealand). Paramount doesn’t want to let Madagascar get overshadowed by the Euro Cup, which is currently diverting Europe’s attention, or the upcoming Olympics in London.

Fox’s $69 million revisionist horror film Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter earned a decidedly un-presidential $16.5 million in its debut frame. The R-rated film, an adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s popular novel of the same name, drew crowds that were 56 percent male and 53 percent above the age of 25, according to Fox. Audiences weren’t especially pleased with the film itself, issuing Honest Abe a harsh “C+” CinemaScore grade.

Vampire Hunter’s box office performance somewhat resembles the performance of Snakes on a Plane, which earned $13.8 million in its 2006 debut. Both efforts earned innumerable headlines for their absurdly straightforward, silly titles, but that early buzz didn’t translate into substantial box office dollars. Audiences’ interest peaked with the gimmicky title and concept, but they weren’t actually invested in the film.

Prometheus finished in fourth place in its third weekend, falling 52 percent to $10 million million. Ridley Scott’s $130 million Alien prequel has earned $108.6 million domestically, and it will likely fall just short of matching its production budget domestically. Fortunately for Fox, the film has zapped up over $150 million internationally.

Just like the film in first place, the film in fifth place, Snow White and the Huntsman, is centered on a warrior princess. The Kristen Stewart/Charlize Theron collaboration earned another $8 million over the weekend, a drop of 40 percent. The $170 million picture has now grossed $137.1 million domestically, and another $160.4 million million overseas. Notably, Warner Brothers’ Rock of Ages also earned an estimated $8 million this weekend, so the two films may flip-flop when actuals come out on Monday afternoon.

It was the end of the world for Focus Features’ Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, which started its run way back in tenth place with only $3.8 million out of 1,625 theaters. The romantic dramedy, which stars Steve Carrell and Keira Knightley, was almost beaten by Focus’ other current release, Moonrise Kingdom, which, in its fifth weekend, found $3.4 million out of just 395 theaters. Fortunately, Focus says that Seeking a Friend, which earned a weak “C+” Cinema Score grade, cost less than $10 million.

In limited release, Midnight in Paris director Woody Allen’s latest film, To Rome With Love, got off to a blazing start with $379,000 out of just 5 theaters, which yielded a remarkable $75,800 per theater average. The iconic director may have another Europe-set hit on his hands.

1. Brave – $66.7 million

2. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted – $20.2 million

3. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter – $16.5 million

4. Prometheus – $10.0 million

5. Snow White and the Huntsman – $8.0 million

See full story at EW.com.