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'The Purge' scares off 'Fast & Furious' crew to take box office lead

By Ronald Grover and Andrea Burzynski

(Reuters) - Low-budget horror film "The Purge" scared up $36.4 million in ticket sales to lead the domestic box office in its first week in domestic theaters, zooming past the car-racing action film "Fast & Furious 6."

"The Internship," a comedy starring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson based on the antics of nerds in search of a job at internet giant Google, sold $18.1 million worth of tickets to finish fourth, according to studio estimates of sales at U.S. and Canadian theaters.

The film reunited Vaughn and Wilson who teamed to make "Wedding Crashers" in 2005. That movie generated $209.3 million in domestic ticket sales, according to the site Box Office Mojo.

The duo's latest effort was projected by industry experts to gross a modest $17 million in ticket sales.

"The Purge," made for $3 million by the producer of the low-budget "Paranormal Activity" horror series, stars Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey in a futuristic story of the United States in 2022 in which the government reduces crime by allowing almost all crime to go unpunished during a 12-hour "purge" period.

Part science fiction, part horror film, "The Purge" was dismissed by critics but eagerly awaited by horror fans. Industry experts had forecast it would sell $20 million worth of tickets.

Universal Studios' president for domestic distribution Nikki Rocco attributed the film's success to its marketing and social media campaign.

Rocco also said that the time was ripe at the box office for a low-budget horror film like "The Purge."

"The timing was perfect," she said. "In the last month or two there's been a definable slot for this kind of movie."

"Fast & Furious," the sixth installment of the series starring Vin Diesel racked up $19.8 million to take second place, bringing its total since Memorial Day to nearly $202.9 million domestically and $584.6 million globally. The sixth installment in the billion-dollar franchise takes the action to London, where Diesel and co-star Dwyane Johnson lead their crew on a mission to take down an international ring.

In third place, the comedy heist caper "Now You See Me" continued its stronger-than-expected showing with $19.5 million at North American (U.S. and Canadian) theaters, finishing in third place.

The post-apocalyptic "After Earth," starring Smith and his teenage son Jaden Smith, continued its weak showing at the U.S. and Canadian box office with $11.2 million. The film has generated $46.6 million in total domestic sales, Will Smith's weakest performance since the 1993 film "Made in America" that grossed $44.9 million, according to Box Office Mojo.

"After Earth" did perform strongly overseas, opening with $45.5 million in 60 territories over the weekend.

Rory Bruer, Sony Pictures' president of worldwide distribution, said that Sony was happy with the overseas opening and expects much of the film's ticket sales to come from international markets.

"It definitely was the exciting start we were looking for internationally," he said.

The $130 million production takes place 1,000 years after an apocalypse forced humans to escape from Earth. A boy and his father become stranded on the planet after a crash landing and

"The Purge" and "Fast and Furious 6" were distributed by Universal, a unit of Comcast's NBC Universal unit. "The Internship" was released by Fox, a unit of News Corp. "Now You See Me" was distributed by Summit Entertainment, a unit of Lions Gate Entertainment.

(Reporting By Ronald Grover and Andrea Burzynski; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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