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Published: Sunday, 12/19/2010

'Tron' leads weak pack of newcomers at box office

LOS ANGELES —“Tron: Legacy,” a costly 3D sci-fi movie that Walt Disney Co has promoted for more than three years, took the top spot at the North American box office, but with a disappointing weekend haul of $43.6 million, according to estimates issued by the company Sunday.

Industry observers had been expecting a three-day start in the $50 million range. As openings go this year, the massively hyped sequel to an obscure 1982 movie failed to crack the top-10, and observers have said it will need to rely on strong overseas business to break even.

According to reports, the effects-laden update cost $170 million to make, and more than $100 million to market worldwide. Disney, despite being a public company, is the only studio that refuses to divulge budgets. A studio executive was not immediately available for comment.

Critics trashed the film, which has occupied the attention of two Disney studio regimes in recent years. Jeff Bridges returns to the film as a videogame developer trapped in a virtual environment called the Grid. It marks the feature directing debut of commercials veteran Joseph Kosinski.

The studio, whose live-action pictures are overshadowed by the hit cartoons from its Pixar division, is looking to launch a franchise to take over from its popular “Pirates of the Caribbean” series. Just as the buccaneer theme-park attraction seemed an unlikely basis for a film series, so does “Tron,” which appealed only to boys. This time, the studio aimed the film at men and women of all ages.

Disney has been offering tantalizing glimpses to movie fans at the annual Comic-Con convention since 2008, and has raised the heat in recent months with cross-marketing efforts across its theme parks, consumer-products and television wings.

Also new was “Yogi Bear,” a live-action/animated update of the old television cartoon. It came in at No. 2 with $16.7 million, a few million dollars short of the expectations of its studio, Warner Bros. But the Time Warner Inc unit said it hoped the Christmas holiday would boost business among the film's core family audience.

Meanwhile, the weekend's other big new release, “How Do You Know,” a comedy featuring a high-priced lineup headed by Jack Nicholson and Reese Witherspoon, was a major flop. It earned $7.6 million, falling short of modest expectations. The ranking was not immediately available. The film was released by Columbia Pictures, a unit of Sony Corp.

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