The animated film from 20th Century Fox is the fourth in the "Ice Age" series and the first in 3-D. The North America performance of "Continental Drift" was on par with most previous "Ice Age" movies but well below the opening weekend of the second installment, "The Meltdown," which opened with $68 million in 2006.
The film had already done robust overseas business ahead of opening in the U.S. This weekend, it earned $95 million internationally, bringing its overseas total to $339 million. The "Ice Age" franchise has now surpassed $2.2 billion worldwide, and the studio expects "Continental Drift" to equal the global total of the last installment, 2009's "Dawn of the Dinosaurs," which took in $886.7 million.
The weekend was inevitably shadowed by two superheroes, coming a week after the debut of Sony's Spider-Man reboot, "The Amazing Spider-Man," and one week before Christopher Nolan's highly-anticipated Batman sequel, "The Dark Knight Rises."
In its second week of release, "Spider-Man" earned $35 million, pushing it past $200 million domestically. It earned nearly $67 million overseas over the weekend, bringing its worldwide gross to $521.4 million.
Seth MacFarlane's R-rated comedy hit, "Ted," which stars Mark Wahlberg and a talking teddy bear, added $22.1 million in its third week for a total of $159 million for Universal Pictures.
But the weekend belonged to family films, which had three of the top 10 spots at the box office.
"Ice Age" is the third animated blockbuster to debut at No. 1 this summer, and the previous mega-cartoons - Pixar Animation's "Brave" and DreamWorks Animation's "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted" - also padded their totals. In fourth place, "Brave" added $10.7 million to its $195.6 million domestic total, and the 10th place "Madagascar 3" added $3.5 million to its $203.7 million domestic total.
"This shows how incredibly important the family audience is, particularly in the summer when families are looking for entertainment that's appropriate for the kids and the parents as well," said Hollywood.com analyst Paul Dergarabedian. "You've got three family films that all performed incredibly well and each weekend topped the box office."
The weekend business was, as expected, below the corresponding weekend last year, when the final Harry Potter film, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2," set what was then a box office record of $169.2 million.
"The Avengers" earlier this year opened bigger than "Deathly Hallows," but that record could well be tested by "The Dark Knight Rises," come next weekend.
"This is the calm before the storm that is 'The Dark Knight,'" said Dergarabedian.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Hollywood.com, follow. Where available, latest international numbers are also included. Final domestic figures will be released Monday:
1. "Ice Age: Continental Drift," $46 million ($95 million internationally)
2. "The Amazing Spider-Man," $35 million ($66.6 million internationally).
3. "Ted," $22.1 million, ($9.7 million internationally).
4. "Brave," $10.7 million, ($6.5 million internationally).
5. "Magic Mike," $9 million, ($3.3 million internationally).
6. "Savages," $8.7 million, ($1 million internationally).
7. "Tyler Perry's Madea's Witness Protection," $5.6 million.
8. "Katy Perry: Part of Me," $3.7 million, ($1 million internationally).
9. "Moonrise Kingdom," $3.7 million, ($270,000 internationally).
10. "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted," $3.5 million ($4.6 million internationally).