By Ronald Grover and Piya Sinha-Roy
(Reuters) - "Battleship," Universal Picture's big budget science fiction film, is likely to dent the studio's profits after it opened with lower than forecast ticket sales, according to analysts.
The film, which Comcast unit Universal has said cost $209 million to produce, generated $23.4 million in ticket sales at theaters in the U.S. and Canada during its opening weekend, according to figures compiled by Hollywood.com.
It had been projected by tracking services used by Hollywood studios to have ticket sales of between $35 million and $40 million.
The movie, which stars Liam Neeson and the singer Rihanna, finished the weekend second to Walt Disney's superhero blockbuster "The Avengers," which led the box office for the third weekend with $55.1 million in ticket sales.
"It is not quite the epic disaster of 'John Carter,' but this will put a dent in Comcast's quarter," said Matthew Harrigan of Wunderlich Securities, who follows Comcast. He did not quantify how much he expected the film to lose.
"John Carter," which sold $30.2 million during its opening weekend in March, saddled Disney with a $200 million loss, the company said. That film cost more than $250 million to produce.
Based on the "John Carter" performance, Universal will lose $100 million to $200 million, estimates Michael Morris of Davenport & Co., who does not follow Comcast, but follows Disney, News Corp. and Time Warner, which also have studio units.
A Universal spokeswoman would not comment. Comcast officials were not immediately available for comment.
The studio is estimated to have spent more than $100 million to market the film, standard for large budget films.
"Battleship" has sold more than $220 million in overseas tickets, Universal has said. It is forecast to reach $250 million in foreign sales.
Movie studios generally receive about half of the revenues from ticket sales in North America and less in foreign markets.
The film needed to generate more than $50 million in weekend ticket sales to break even, said analyst Tony Wible, a managing director at Janney Montgomery Scott who compiles a data base on film performances. He does not follow Comcast.
Last week, Disney's superhero franchise-builder surprised experts by cutting into the expected weekend ticket sales of "Dark Shadows," starring Johnny Depp, which took in just $29.7 million, according to Box Office Mojo.
During the coming weekend, "Battleship," loosely based on the Hasbro board game, will face the third installment of Will Smith's futuristic comedy "Men in Black." The last one in the series, in 2002, generated $190.4 million in domestic ticket sales.
(Reporting By Ronald Grover; Editing by Paul Simao)