NEW YORK - "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water" finally unseated Clint Eastwood's runaway hit "American Sniper" at the weekend box office, while a pair of high-priced fantasies flopped.
Paramount Pictures' "SpongeBob Movie" earned $56 million in North America, a huge debut for the animated Nickelodeon big-screen transfer, according to estimates Sunday. That finally pushed "American Sniper" off the top spot after a three-week reign. The Navy SEAL drama took in $24.2 million in its fourth week of wide release.
The Wachowskis' lavish science-fiction adventure "Jupiter Ascending" opened with just $19 million, a meager amount for a $175 million production. Warner Bros. delayed the release of the movie, starring Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis, from last summer.
Universal's "Seventh Son," a supernatural thriller set in medieval times, debuted with a scant $7.1 million. The film, produced by Legendary Pictures and starring Jeff Bridges, cost nearly $100 million to make.
That gave the box office a couple of lucrative hits and a pair of costly misses to lead the early February weekend.
The success of "The SpongeBob Movie," the second SpongeBob movie following 2004's "The SpongeBob SquarePants" proved the continuing appeal of the 16-year-old Nickelodeon character. The colorful, beach-set cartoon about the relentlessly chipper SpongeBob also capitalized on a marketplace hungry for family films in the midst of winter, well after the swath of holiday releases. On the same weekend last year, Warner Bros.' "The Lego Movie" emerged as one of 2014's biggest hits.
"This movie played a little bit older than we initially thought it would," said Megan Colligan, president of worldwide distribution and marketing for Paramount. "It's a real tribute to Nickelodeon and the strength of the brand and how well they manage the brand. It's a beloved character that teenagers love from their childhood."
"Jupiter Ascending," which underwent reshoots, edits and a postponed release, continues a negative trend for the sibling directors, Lana and Andy Wachowski. The film marks their third flop since their hugely popular "Matrix" trilogy, following 2012's "Cloud Atlas" and 2008's "Speed Racer."
"There's no question, at its inception when the movie was greenlit, we had higher expectations than what the actual result is," said Jeff Goldstein, head of domestic distribution for Warner Bros. "At the end of the day, the Wachowskis are fine filmmakers. This one didn't go quite as broadly as we all wanted, but they'll find a film that will."
Warner Bros. could take solace in the tremendous success of the Oscar-nominated "American Sniper," which will cross $300 million by next weekend. Whereas "Sniper" paid off many times over, "Jupiter Ascending" will be costly.
"You're betting with a lot of money," Goldstein said. "That's what's great about having a big slate because you'll have a film with 'American Sniper' that allows you to take risks. And sometimes your risks prove out and sometimes your risks don't."
"Seventh Son," a mystical epic co-starring Julianne Moore, is based on Joseph Delaney's 2004 fantasy novel "The Spook's Apprentice." It's another in a string of disappointments for Bridges, whose last two movies — "The Giver" and "R.I.P.D." — also struggled at the box office.
But Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for box office firm Rentrak, credited Warner Bros. and Universal with trying to make original blockbusters, even if "Jupiter Ascending" and "Seventh Son" fell short.
"Both faced challenges of originality. They're too original, in a way, and sci-fi is not an inexpensive genre to create on the big screen," Dergarabedian said. "While audiences complain about the lack of originality, I at least admire studios who say: 'Let's put some budget behind something brand new.' But it seems like time after time, audiences close the door on that notion."
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Rentrak. Where available, the latest international numbers for Friday through Sunday are also included. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.
1. "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water," $56 million.
2. "American Sniper," $24.2 million.
3. "Jupiter Ascending," $19 million.
4. "Seventh Son," $7.1 million.
5. "Paddington," $5.4 million.
6. "Project Almanac," $5.3 million.
7. "The Imitation Game," $4.9 million.
8. "The Wedding Ringer," $4.8. million.
9. "Black or White," $4.5 million.
10. "The Boy Next Door," $4.2 million.