By Lisa Richwine and Chris Michaud
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Batman movie "The Dark Knight Rises" dominated U.S. and Canadian box offices for a third time, holding firm to the weekend's No. 1 spot and leaving the debut of science fiction remake "Total Recall" in distant second place.
"Dark Knight Rises" racked up an estimated $36.4 million in ticket sales from theaters in the United States and Canada, distributor Warner Bros. said on Sunday. The movie is the third installment in a popular Batman trilogy starring Christian Bale.
"Total Recall," featuring Colin Farrell in a role played by Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1990, grossed $26 million from Friday through Sunday. Family sequel "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days" took the No. 3 slot, earning $14.7 million.
"Dark Knight Rises" has hauled in $354.6 million at North American (U.S. and Canadian) theaters since its July 20 debut, ranking as one of the highest-grossing films in movie history. Still, it stands behind its 2008 predecessor, "The Dark Knight," which collected $393 million domestically through three weekends.
"Dark Knight Rises" international sales have now topped $378 million, for a global total of $733 million through Sunday, according to Warner Bros.
Jeffrey Goldstein, executive vice president of theatrical distribution, said the studio was confident the film would continue performing well in the coming weeks.
"Of course the horrendous tragedy in Colorado," in which a gunman opened fire on a "Dark Knight" audience killing 12, affected the numbers, he said.
"But we're settling in after that tragedy," Goldstein told Reuters, adding, "This is such a unique story, and there's no pattern to follow."
He noted that "The Dark Knight Rises" outperformed the 2008 "Dark Knight" in its third weekend. "Midweeks have been strong, and the next couple of weeks should be interesting," Goldstein said.
The $26 million take of new rival "Total Recall" hit the low end of producer Sony's projections for an opening in the mid-to-high $20 millions. The original opened with a similar $25.5 million in 1990, when tickets were cheaper.
Sony spent more than $125 million to produce the new version, one of three big-budget films the studio released this summer after "Men in Black 3" and "The Amazing Spider-Man."
"Total Recall" added $6.2 million from 12 international markets over the weekend.
"We kind of are where we had anticipated," said Rory Bruer, president of worldwide distribution for Sony Corp's Sony Pictures studio.
"The movie looks like it cost twice what it cost to make, and it's tracking very well."
Bruer said that as the film opens wider in western Europe, Latin America and Asia, "I think we're going to be very pleased the results," adding "It's always been a world play."
The "Total Recall" remake sticks to the original's basic story about a man who takes a virtual vacation in his mind and must get back to reality. When science goes awry, the man finds himself hunted by police and learns he is a spy working for an underground resistance. Jessica Biel and Kate Beckinsale also star.
"Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days" got off to a strong start for a movie that cost just $22 million to make. The film is the third movie based on books by Jeff Kinney about a middle-school student named Greg. Fox had forecast a $15 million to $17 million opening.
Among the weekend's other top movies, animated family sequel "Ice Age: Continental Drift" racked up $8.4 million during its fourth weekend. Adult comedy "The Watch" earned $6.3 million in its second weekend.
The summer film season - usually measured from early May through Labor Day weekend in September - represents the most lucrative time of the year for studios, providing as much as 40 percent of annual box-office dollars.
Warner Bros., a unit of Time Warner Inc, released "Dark Knight Rises." Sony Corp's movie studio distributed "Total Recall." News Corp's 20th Century Fox studio released "Diary of a Wimpy Kid," "Ice Age" and "The Watch."
(Reporting By Lisa Richwine; Editing by Vicki Allen)