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Scarlett Johansson’s ‘Lucy’ hammers ‘Hercules’ at the box office

Actress Scarlett Johansson arrives at the UK premiere of "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" at Shepherds Bush in London March 20, 2014. REUTERS/Paul Hackett

( - Scarlett Johansson‘s “Lucy” pummeled “Hercules” and Dwayne Johnson in a box-office battle of the action heroes and sexes, taking in a muscular $44 million over the weekend.

The Rock's “Hercules” did better than expected and wound up with $29 million, to beat out two-time reigning champ “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” which finished third with $16.4 million. And one of Philip Seymour Hoffman‘s final films, “A Most Wanted Man,” cracked the top the top in its limited debut.

But this weekend belonged to “Lucy,” written, directed and produced by Luc Besson. The R-rated thriller about a woman who gains extraordinary brainpower after a drug implanted in her body seeps into her system beat analysts’ projections by at least $10 million, and exceeded its production budget in its first three days for Besson's EuropaCorp and distributor Universal.

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“Lucy” marks Johansson's top opening as the lead in a film and is the highest opening ever for an R-rated action movie starring a female. Johansson has burnished her action star credentials playing the Black Widow in “Iron Man 2,” “The Avengers” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” The performance of “Lucy” — for which Angelina Jolie was considered at one point — cements her status as a new leading lady in the genre.

The audience was split evenly between male and female and the age breakdown was broad, with 35 percent under 25 and 65 percent 25 years of age and older. They gave it a “C+” CinemaScore, in line with its 60 percent positive score on review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes.

The big debut by “Lucy,” which co-stars Morgan Freeman, is all the more impressive because it is an original story, an anomaly in a summer saturated with franchise films. The overall box office is running nearly 20 percent behind last summer's record season, and while this weekend was still about 13 percent behind the same frame last year, the strong performance of the top films is an encouraging sign.

The opening of “Hercules,” the first movie directed by Brett Ratner since 2011's “Tower Heist,” topped the expectations of analysts by roughly $4 million. But the $100 million price tag of the action epic from MGM and Paramount takes some of the edge off the opening, and it's clear “Hercules” will have to do the bulk of its business overseas to get into the black.

“Hercules” played very male (58 percent) and surprisingly older, with 64 percent of its audience over the age of 25. Moviegoers gave it a “B+” CinemaScore, a little better than its 63 percent Rotten Tomatoes score.

Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell, Joseph Fiennes and John Hurt co-star in “Hercules.” The script, from Ryan Condal and Evan Spiliotopoulos, has the Greek strongman coming to the aid of his daughter and the King of Thrace who are threatened by a tyrannical warlord.

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The weekend's other wide opener, the Michael Douglas-Diane Keaton romantic comedy “And So It Goes,” opened on far fewer screens and finished eighth with an estimated $4.3 million. Distributor Clarius had the film directed by Rob Reiner in 1,768 theaters, well below the 3,173 locations that “Lucy” was in, or the 3,595 of “Hercules.”