Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer breezed to the top spot at the weekend box office with $57.4 million, according to estimates from box-office trackers Nielsen EDI.
The haul is about $7 million more than projections, and Surfer managed what few films this summer have: improve commercially and critically on the original.
The 2005 Fantastic Four made its debut at $56.1 million and went on to earn $154 million.
In addition, analysts say, Silver Surfer took steps to distance itself from the dreadfully reviewed original. The film:
•Added a hero. Most sequels introduce new villains, but this film added someone to root for in the Surfer. "He's not as iconic as, say, Spider-Man, but he's a beloved figure," says Gitesh Pandya of BoxOfficeGuru.com. "That made it seem like two superhero movies in one, which is unusual."
•Dropped a rating. The original movie was PG-13, while Surfer is PG, a rare move for a franchise. "This is about the only comic-book series not looking to get darker," says Blair Butler of the G4TV network, which caters to comic and video-game fans. "That makes it one of the few family-oriented comic-book movies."
•Stepped up the action. The beef with the 2005 film was its lack of fight scenes. Silver Surfer has "much more going on," Pandya says. It "played more like a disaster film. That's smart for summer."
Executives at 20th Century Fox and Marvel Studios knew they were on to something when the trailer became an online hit. They are now discussing a spinoff for the character, embodied by Doug Jones and voiced by Laurence Fishburne.
"He's a mysterious character with a back story we could only touch on," director Tim Story says. "There's a reason he has been around (in comics) for 40 years."
No other film came close to Silver Surfer, though several movies performed respectably. Ocean's Thirteen held reasonably well in its second weekend, dropping 47% to $19.1 million for No. 2. Knocked Up fell only 26% and took in $14.5 million in its third weekend.
The only other major newcomer, Nancy Drew, earned $7.1 million and seventh place, slightly below projections.
Ticket sales were up 6% from last weekend, but dipped 2% from the same weekend last year. Final figures are due today.
Portions of this article were taken from A.P. and USAtoday.