By Lisa Richwine and Patricia Reaney
(Reuters) - "Jack the Giant Slayer," the first big-budget action film of the year, was anything but a killer at the weekend box office.
"Jack," a retelling of the "Jack and the Beanstalk" fairy tale, earned the No. 1 spot on domestic box office charts with $28 million in ticket sales in U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to studio estimates compiled by Reuters on Sunday.
But that was an underwhelming start for a 3D movie that cost $189 million to produce, plus tens of millions more to market.
"Jack the Giant Slayer" also grossed $13.7 million from 1,824 screens in 10 Asian markets.
Comedy "Identity Thief" took in $9.7 million to capture second place, and new adult comedy "21 and Over" finished in third place on domestic charts with $9 million in ticket sales from Friday through Sunday.
Low-budget horror sequel "The Last Exorcism Part II" took the No. 4 slot with $8 million, according to studio estimates.
"Jack" clearly was not a great opening by any means, said Phil Contrino, vice president/chief analyst with Boxoffice.com.
"But I wouldn't rush to call the film a financial flop just yet because overseas growth can really save a movie, and I feel that this is a movie that could do really well in other territories and make up for the fact that the North American haul was a little bit underwhelming."
The movie stars Nicholas Hoult as a young farmer who ventures into the land of the giants to save a kidnapped princess. The film received a mixed reception from critics. As of Friday, 49 percent of reviews recommended the movie on aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes.
Warner Bros. believes "Jack" will perform well in overseas markets as it opens in more countries in the coming weeks. International sales, particularly for action movies, can run twice as high or more.
"It was within the range of our expectations," Jeff Goldstein, vice president theatrical distributions at Warner Bros., said about the film's domestic weekend performance.
"We know that this is a global picture and the technology and the special effects will really drive this movie internationally," he added.
Global takings helped to push "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" over the billion dollar milestone at the worldwide box office during the weekend, making it only the 15th film in history to achieve the feat.
"We could not be more proud to have reached this amazing benchmark," Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution of Warner Bros. Pictures, said in a statement on Sunday.
MAKING BACK ITS BUDGET
"Jack the Giant Slayer" was produced by Time Warner Inc-owned Warner Brothers and Legendary Entertainment, which partnered with Warner on hits including "The Dark Knight" trilogy and "The Hangover" series.
Two of last year's films with bigger budgets flopped - Walt Disney Co's $250 million Mars epic "John Carter" and the $209 million action movie "Battleship" from Comcast Corp's Universal Pictures - forcing the companies to acknowledge financial losses.
"John Carter," released in March last year, opened with $30.2 million, according to Box Office Mojo.
Janney Montgomery Scott analyst Tony Wible, who compiles a database to project film performance, had estimated "Jack" would need to open with at least $25 million at U.S. and Canadian theaters to make back its budget, not including marketing costs.
"21 and Over," produced for $13 million, is a college party comedy about three friends who celebrate a 21st birthday on the night before a big exam. It was written by the screenwriters of "The Hangover."
The "Last Exorcism" sequel follows the 2010 original about a minister who lets his demon-fighting be filmed by a documentary crew. In the new movie, the story resumes with the girl who was previously freed from an evil force running into more trouble. Distributor CBS Films, a unit of CBS Corp, acquired the sequel for about $3 million.
Rounding out the top five films was "Snitch," which brought in $7.7 million.
Another new release, "Phantom," failed to finish in the top 10 performing films. The movie stars Ed Harris and David Duchovny in the story of a Soviet submarine captain leading a secret mission.
"Identity Thief" was released by Universal Pictures, a unit of Comcast. "Snitch" was distributed by Summit Entertainment, a unit of Lions Gate Entertainment "Phantom" was released by privately held RCR Distribution.
(Reporting By Lisa Richwine and Patricia Reaney; Editing by Bill Trott and Philip Barbara)