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Prometheus Michael Fassbender
Prometheus: Michael Fassbender / android David

Box office: Prometheus movie, Madagascar 3 in a dead heat. Assisted by outstanding business at IMAX locations and 3D surcharges, Ridley Scott's Prometheus is off to a remarkably strong start at 3,396 theaters in North America. Slightly behind on Friday, another 3D-assisted movie, the animated feature Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted, will likely top the weekend at 4,258 locations.

Including $3.56 million from Thursday midnight screenings, the R-rated Prometheus grossed $21.4 million on Friday as per studio estimates found at Box Office Mojo. That's the tenth highest opening day ever for an R-rated movie – if you pretend something called inflation doesn't exist.

Additionally, that's slightly more than the Kristen Stewart / Charlize Theron / Chris Hemsworth 2D, PG-13 adventure fantasy Snow White and the Huntsman's $20.46 million (including a considerably more modest $1.38 million at midnight screenings) at 3,773 locations last week. Both movies have about the same running time (i.e., about the same number of shows per day).

Since Friday grosses were a little above early estimates released last night, Prometheus should reach $55-57 million by Sunday evening, thus ending a little behind Madagascar 3's $58-60m after earning an estimated $20.45 million on Friday. For comparison's sake: back in July 2010, Christopher Nolan / Leonardo DiCaprio's PG-13-rated sci-fier Inception debuted with $62.8 million after grossing $3 million at midnight screenings, while Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa took in $63.1 million when it opened in Nov. 2009.

Prometheus, a prequel of sorts to Ridley Scott / Sigourney Weaver's 1979 sci-fi / horror classic Alien, reportedly cost $120-$130m after rebates / tax incentives, which sounds like a very modest budget for such an epic sci-fier.

Box Office: Prometheus vs. Alien

For now, box office comparisons to the original Alien are impossible to make for several reasons:

  • Alien opened in limited release – 91 locations – in late May 1979.
  • By the time it went into wide release in late June, Alien had already taken in $14.92 million (approx. $47 million today)
  • A wide release in 1979 meant, in Alien's case, a maximum of 757 venues.
  • Movie houses were bigger in those days. (And bear in mind that about 100 million fewer people lived in North America back then and that Alien didn't have the advantage of 3D/IMAX surcharges.)

Ultimately, Alien grossed $80.93 million (approx. $255 million in 2012 dollars) in North America, in addition to approximately $24 million abroad as per figures found at Box Office Mojo. (If accurate, that means Alien bombed in the United Kingdom, collecting a paltry $141k vs. $4.72 million in France and $4.46 million in Japan. Back in those days, Russia/the Soviet Union and China weren't Hollywood markets, while Brazil, South Korea, and Mexico were much, much smaller markets.)

Prometheus was written by The Darkest Hour's Jon Spaihts and Cowboys & Aliens' Damon Lindelof (who'll be rewriting Brad Pitt's World War Z). In the Prometheus cast: Inglourious Basterds' Michael Fassbender, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows' Noomi Rapace, Hancock's Charlize Theron, Memento's Guy Pearce, Across the Universe's Logan Marshall-Green, Pacific Rim's Idris Elba, The Borgias' Sean Harris, Anonymous' Rafe Spall, Somers Town's Kate Dickie, and Insidious' Patrick Wilson.

Madagascar 3 features the voices of Little Fockers' Ben Stiller, Friends' David Schwimmer, Grown Ups' Chris Rock, The Dictator's Sacha Baron Cohen, The Matrix Reloaded's Jada Pinkett Smith, The Help's Jessica Chastain, Fargo's Frances McDormand, Paz Vega, Chris Miller, Bryan Cranston, Martin Short, Tom McGrath, and Andy Richter.

Prometheus film / Michael Fassbender as the android David picture: Kerry Brown / 20th Century Fox.

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