By Chris Michaud and Lisa Richwine
NEW YORK/LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The mighty minions of "Despicable Me 2" beat human comedy star Adam Sandler's new "Grown Ups 2" at the U.S. and Canadian movie box office this weekend.
The animated film featuring the crowd-pleasing yellow minions collected $44.8 million from Friday through Sunday, edging out Sandler's comedy sequel, which racked up $42.5 million in ticket sales - in line with industry projections.
Big-budget thriller "Pacific Rim," an apocalyptic battle that pits towering monsters against giant, human-piloted robots, settled for a third-place finish with $38.3 million, at the low end of industry projections for the film.
Sandler's "Grown Ups" sequel reunites the comedian with pals Kevin James, Chris Rock and David Spade in a follow-up to the 2010 original, and adds a younger generation of characters including "Twilight" actor Taylor Lautner. This time, Sandler's character, Lenny, moves back to his hometown.
Critics bashed the movie, with only 7 percent recommending the film among reviews on the Rotten Tomatoes website. But Sandler fans turned out and audiences gave the film a "B" rating in polling by survey firm CinemaScore.
"This is a great start," said Rory Bruer, president of worldwide distribution for Sony Pictures Entertainment, adding that "for us to succeed at this level bodes well for the future of the film," which he noted out-grossed the first film's opening.
"Despicable Me 2," featuring the voice of Steve Carell, made another powerhouse showing in its second weekend at North American (U.S. and Canadian) theaters. The film, produced by Illumination Entertainment, brought its worldwide total to $472 million through Sunday.
The 3D spectacle "Pacific Rim" tells the story of an epic clash between giant alien monsters and human-controlled robots that try to save the world from the invaders. The film stars actors best known in cult television shows including Charlie Hunnam and Ron Perlman from FX's drama "Sons of Anarchy" and Idris Elba from HBO's gritty drug series "The Wire."
"Pacific Rim" won over many critics, earning a 73 percent positive rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes and received a strong A- on CinemaScore.
The Warner Bros. release cost $180 million to produce, with partner Legendary Pictures providing 75 percent of the cost. It added $53 million in international markets over the weekend, for a global total of $91.3 million.
"We're very pleased with where we are right now," said Dan Fellman, Warner Bros president of domestic distribution, noting that as recently as a few weeks ago the film was tracking to open anywhere from $20 million to the low $30 millions.
"Those are very, very solid numbers for a genre movie," he said, referring to the high scores that female and older audiences have given the film.
"Our job now is to broaden the base, and try to bring more families in. Young and old, both really like the movie," he added. "And summertime is certainly the time to do that."
Rounding out the chart's top five, the Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy comedy "The Heat" rung up sales of $14 million at domestic theaters. Walt Disney Co's "The Lone Ranger" starring Johnny Depp earned $11.1 million.
Warner Bros., a unit of Time Warner Inc, distributed "Pacific Rim." Universal Pictures, a unit of Comcast Corp, released "Despicable Me 2." Sony Corp's movie studio distributed "Grown Ups 2." "The Heat" was released by 20th Century Fox, the movie studio owned by 21st Century Fox.
(Reporting by Chris Michaud and Lisa Richwine; Editing by Will Dunham)