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Ghosts beat minions as 'Conjuring' horror flick leads box office

By Chris Michaud and Lisa Richwine

NEW YORK/LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "The Conjuring," a low-budget horror movie about a haunted farmhouse, spooked two pricey competitors and the "Despicable Me" minions to win a crowded weekend box office contest at U.S. and Canadian theaters.

"Conjuring" soared past forecasts with $41.5 million in domestic ticket sales in its first three days, the highest take among four new films, according to studio estimates. The strong performance from "Conjuring" knocked two-time champion "Despicable Me 2" to second place with $25.1 million.

Both movies topped the weak results for big-budget entries "Turbo" and "R.I.P.D.," which both fell short of already low expectations from some box office analysts.

Animated film "Turbo," the story of a racing snail, landed in the No. 3 slot with $21.5 million from Friday through Sunday. Sci-fi comedy "R.I.P.D." floundered in seventh with $12.8 million.

"The Conjuring," produced for just under $20 million, stars Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson as a couple who investigate paranormal activity inside a Rhode Island farmhouse. The movie followed the successful path of other inexpensive horror films such as "Mama" and "The Purge" that grabbed big sales in their opening weekends this year.

"It so overperformed anybody's wildest expectations," said Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros' executive vice president for domestic distribution. "We originally thought if we open in the mid-20s, that's a strong result and we'd be very happy with that."

Family audiences kept coming for the animated "Despicable 2," one of the summer's biggest hits, which brought its global total through Sunday to $585 million, distributor Universal Pictures said. The film features the voice of Steve Carell as Gru, leader of the singing-and-dancing yellow minions.

Continued interest in "Despicable" stalled the debut of "Turbo," which features the voice of Ryan Reynolds as a snail that acquires super-fast powers after a freak accident.

The movie, produced by "Shrek" creator DreamWorks Animation, turned in one of the studio's lowest recent debuts. Its Friday-to-Sunday sales came in below last year's box office disappointment, the holiday-themed "Rise of the Guardians."

With a head start on the weekend, "Turbo" added $9.7 million on Wednesday and Thursday at North American (U.S. and Canadian) theaters, plus $22.6 million from international openings, which only covered about one-quarter of all international markets. DreamWorks spent roughly $135 million to make the film.

"We're in a very competitive marketplace but we have a ton of summer play time left, so we'll see," said Chris Aronson, president of domestic distribution for 20th Century Fox, the studio that released "Turbo," speaking to the film's opening numbers and its prospects.

Aronson said "Turbo" had "very strong openings" internationally, and an A-plus Cinemascore rating from moviegoers under age 25, which he said "bodes very well for its playability," or future box office prospects.

"R.I.P.D." was nearly as expensive as "Turbo," costing Universal Pictures about $130 million. The movie features "Turbo" star Reynolds and Jeff Bridges as lawmen in the "Rest in Peace Department" who come back from the dead to fight crime.

"R.I.P.D." added $6.8 million in international markets for a global total of $19.6 million through Sunday.

"In this crowded marketplace, R.I.P.D. did not find the size audience it needed and Universal is disappointed in the weekend result," said Nikki Rocco, president for domestic distribution at Universal Pictures.

Rocco said it was offset by "a fabulous year for Universal," which has now hit $1 billion at the box office for the year thus far, the earliest date the studio has ever reached that level.

Rounding out the top of the charts, the Adam Sandler comedy "Grown Ups 2" took the No. 4 slot, pulling in $20 million during its second weekend.

Newcomer "Red 2," an action comedy aimed at older adults, landed in fifth place with 18.5 million, which studio officials said was in line with their expectations. The film stars Bruce Willis as a retired CIA agent who reunites a group of operatives to track down a missing nuclear device.

"The Conjuring" was released by Warner Bros., a unit of Time Warner Inc. "Red 2" was released by Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. Universal Pictures, a unit of Comcast Corp, distributed "Despicable Me 2" and "R.I.P.D." Sony Corp's movie studio released "Grown Ups 2."

(Reporting by Lisa Richwine and Chris Michaud; Editing by Bill Trott)

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