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"Wall Street" sequel in mild rally at box office

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Greed is merely OK at the box office.

Oliver Stone's "Wall Street" sequel was the top stock on the big board on Sunday although it fell short of blue-chip status with modest earnings of $19 million from movie theaters across the United States and Canada.

"Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" led a field that included two weak newcomers: the 3D "Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole" at No. 2 with $16.3 million, and the Disney romantic comedy "You Again" at No. 5 with $8.3 million.

Last weekend's champion, writer/director Ben Affleck's heist thriller "The Town," slipped to No. 3 with $16 million. The high school comedy "Easy A" was down two to No. 4 with $10.7 million, also in its second weekend.

Box office observers last week had predicted "Wall Street" and "Legend of the Guardians" would each earn more than $20 million, while "You Again" was forecast to hit $10 million. None of the films did well with critics.

But distributor 20th Century Fox said the tally for its "Wall Street" release was "a terrific number." Chris Aronson, the studio's senior vice president of domestic distribution, added that he had been hoping for a three-day figure in the high-teen millions.

The News Corp unit was confident the film would hold up over the coming weeks, because it played to an older crowd -- 65 percent was aged over 30 -- which generally does not rush out to see a movie on opening weekend.

The film also earned about $9.1 million internationally after opening in 41 foreign markets. Australia contributed $1.6 million, good enough for No. 2, Fox said.

EXPENSIVE OWLS

Michael Douglas' character, financier Gordon Gekko, returns to the high-finance morality tale, 23 years after his proclamation that "greed ... is good" became a metaphor for the downside of the financial boom of the 1980s. Shia LeBeouf also stars. The film cost about $60 million to make.

The original "Wall Street" grossed about $87 million in current dollars, and won an Oscar for Douglas.

"Legend of the Guardians" was a riskier investment since the animated film cost $100 million to make before Australian subsidies brought the tab down to $80 million. Domestic distributor Warner Bros. pictures partnered on the project with Australian media firm Village Roadshow Ltd.

Warner Bros. had been hoping for an opening in the $18 million to $20 million range, said Dan Fellman, the president of domestic distribution at the Time Warner Inc unit.

But he was heartened by good exit polls, and an A-minus rating from audience-survey firm Cinemascore, indicating that word-of-mouth would sustain business in the coming weeks.

"If it had lousy exits and a B-minus, I wouldn't feel the same way," Fellman said. ("Wall Street" received a B-minus, and "You Again" a B-plus.)

The film, directed by Zack Snyder of "300" fame, was based on a children's book series revolving around a heroic young owl, and viewed as the first release in a movie franchise. The voice cast includes Helen Mirren, Anthony LaPaglia and Sam Neill.

"You Again," from Walt Disney Co's Touchstone Pictures label, came in at the lower end of the studio's modest forecasts, said domestic distribution president Chuck Viane. But he also hoped the film would find support in the next few weeks. Kristen Bell stars as a woman who learns that her brother's bride was her worst enemy in high school.

"The Town" is shaping up to be the first big hit of the fall after its earnings dipped just 33 percent from last week. Movies generally suffer drops of about 50 percent. The 10-day tally for the Warner Bros. release stands at $49.1 million.

"Easy A" also enjoyed a mild drop of 40 percent as its 10-day score rose to $32.8 million. The low-budget film was released by Screen Gems, a unit of Sony Corp.

Screen Gems' "Resident Evil: Afterlife" was the top film overseas for a third weekend after earning $24 million. Its total stands at $151 million. The Milla Jovovich zombie sequel fell three places to No. 7 in North America after earning $4.9 million, taking its domestic haul to $52 million.

(Reporting by Dean Goodman; editing by Paul Simao and Mohammad Zargham)

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