By Lisa Richwine
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Action adventure film "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" led a trio of sequels at the box office over another underwhelming weekend that saw ticket sales fall from last year.
Robert Downey Jr.'s follow-up to the 2009 hit "Sherlock Holmes" pulled in an estimated $54.7 million around the world, distributor Warner Bros. said on Sunday.
That included $40 million from the United States and Canada, where the movie topped the domestic charts, plus $14.7 million from six international markets.
"Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked," the third film in the popular family franchise, rung up a global total of $38 million in sales, including a second-place domestic finish of $23.5 million. Thirty-eight international markets added $14.5 million.
Overall, the domestic box office repeated a sluggish trend of recent weeks and dashed hopes for a major kickstart before a crush of big-budget Christmas films hits theaters.
Sales for all movies from Friday through Sunday will reach about $119 million domestically, according to estimates from Hollywood.com Box Office. That is 11.6 percent below the same weekend last year and follows the worst box office weekend in three years.
"The momentum we have lost over the past few weeks has taken its toll on the bottom line," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Hollywood.com Box Office. "Thankfully there are some big titles on the way."
In third place for the weekend, Tom Cruise brought some holiday cheer as his fourth "Mission: Impossible" movie opened with a strong $13 million at just 425 domestic theaters over three days. "Sherlock Holmes" and "Chipwrecked" played in more than 3,700 theaters each.
"Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" also racked up $68.2 million from three dozen international markets for a global total of $81.2 million.
'M:I' SETS IMAX RECORDS
Hollywood was closely watching the experiment of opening "Mission: Impossible" just on IMAX and other large screens before the movie heads to another 3,000 locations starting on Wednesday.
IMAX Corp said the film's domestic and international openings set records for December and Christmas IMAX debuts.
For "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows," Warner Bros. said the film performed within opening weekend forecasts for the return of Downey as the famous Victorian detective with his sidekick Dr. Watson, played by Jude Law.
The sequel got an A-minus grade from audiences surveyed by exit polling firm CinemaScore, versus a B for the original.
The response puts the movie in good position to reach the $200-million-plus total domestic take of the first installment, said Dan Fellman, head of domestic distribution for Warner Bros.
"We have a movie that has great playability," he said.
"Chipwrecked," which sees the chipmunks stranded on an island, fell short of studio hopes for a mid-$20 million debut.
Chris Aronson, senior vice president for domestic distribution at 20th Century Fox, called the opening a "good start." "Being the only G-rated film for Christmas, I think we are going to have good run," he said.
In fourth place for the weekend, romantic comedy "New Year's Eve" and its star-studded cast took in $7.4 million during its second weekend in theaters.
"The Sitter," a comedy starring Jonah Hill as a reluctant babysitter and also in its second weekend, earned $4.4 million for fifth place.
So far this year, overall domestic sales are 4 percent below 2010. Hollywood is counting on strong showings from big-budget films that open in the coming week, including best-selling book adaptation "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" and two movies from famed director Steven Spielberg - "War Horse" and "The Adventures of Tintin."
Time Warner Inc unit Warner Bros. distributed "Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows" and "New Year's Eve." "Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked" and "The Sitter" were released by 20th Century Fox, a unit of News Corp. Paramount, a unit of Viacom Inc, released "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol."
(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by John O'Callaghan)