By Ronald Grover and Chris Michaud
(Reuters) - "Evil Dead," the blood-drenched remake of the 1981 horror classic, "The Evil Dead," scared up $26 million in its first weekend to win the box office race, slashing past another familiar story, the 3D re-release of Steven Spielberg's 1993 dinosaur blockbuster, "Jurassic Park."
The supernatural story of five twenty-something friends who battle demons in a remote cabin, "Evil Dead" far surpassed industry projections of about $20 million for the film following a strong $1.8 million in midnight showings on Thursday.
Last weekend's box office leader, "G.I. Joe: Retaliation," fought its way into a virtual tie with animated Stone Age comedy "The Croods," now in its third week in theaters, with each taking in $21.1 million, according to estimates from Hollywood.com's box office division.
The 3-D "Jurassic Park" re-release was fourth with $18.2 million in ticket sales, and "Olympus Has Fallen" rounded out the top five with sales of slightly more than $10 million, squeaking past "Tyler Perry's Temptation", which came in sixth at $10 million.
"It's just a great opening, the film delivered in a big way," said Rory Bruer, Sony Pictures' president of worldwide distribution, noting that the $26 million haul was far above its hopes for something in the high teens or low 20s for the film that had a budget of about $17 million.
"Fede Alvarez certainly made Sam Raimi proud with the film he delivered," Bruer added.
Raimi, who wrote and directed the 1981 film, was a producer on the low-budget horror film and hand picked first-time director Alvarez, who co-wrote the slasher film's script with Diablo Cody, a 2008 screenwriting Oscar winner for the quirky comedy, "Juno."
Jane Colburn Levy, the 23-year-old star of the ABC TV comedy "Suburgatory," plays Mia, a heroin addict who overcomes demonic possession and eventually kills the demon with a chainsaw.
Sony, which distributed the film, marketed "Evil Dead"'s heavy dose of blood and gore with screenings at the South by Southwest Film Festival last month and mounted an advertising blitz featuring the tagline "the most terrifying film you will ever see."
Raimi also directed "Oz The Great and Powerful," which finished seventh this weekend with $8.2 million in sales. The Disney film is the year's best-selling film, with $212.8 million in ticket sales in its fifth week in theaters.
"Jurassic Park 3D" marked the 20th anniversary of the trend-setting special effects film that had worldwide ticket sales of $921 million and spawned a franchise of three films that together generated sales of $1.9 billion.
Noting that the film scored one of the bigger openings for the re-release of a film in 3-D, Universal said the result proved "that with the right movie and a quality conversion, a classic film can still be a significant draw for filmgoers."
The total "affirms what Steven Spielberg and Universal knew going into the conversion process - seeing 'Jurassic Park' on the big screen is a unique experience that new audiences and those who've seen it over the years in various other formats would relish," Universal added.
The conversion to 3D took more than 700 artists over nine months to complete, according to Universal Pictures, which distributed the film. It said it spent $10 million for the work.
The studio will release the 3D version of the film on Blu-ray April 23. It has also scheduled a fourth "Jurassic Park" film next summer.
Hollywood's recent fascination with re-releasing old hits in 3D has a mixed record. The remake of "Titanic" registered $17.3 million in weekend sales a year ago, and went on to total $57.9 million in domestic ticket sales. News Corp's Fox studio spent $18 million on the conversion.
But "Monsters, Inc.", the Pixar-produced animated film generated only $4.8 million in ticket sales when Walt Disney released it last year just before Christmas. It totaled $33.8 million overall.
(Reporting By Ronald Grover and Chris Michaud; Editing by Sandra Maler)
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