Box Office: ‘Snow White and the Huntsman’ is the fairest of them all with $20 million Friday

Anyone who presumed Kristen Stewart’s box office firepower was limited to just the “Twilight” franchise is in for a rude awakening. Stewart has starred in a number of independent films since her breakout role as Bella in the first adaptation of Stephenie Meyers popular novels, but “Snow White and the Huntsman” is the first true studio tentpole that has attempted to capitalize on her celebrity.  It may have just worked.

The Universal Studios re-imagining of the Grimm fairy tale grossed a shocking $20.3 million on Friday substantially surpassing all pre-release estimates.  Considering the studio was conservatively low balling the estimate for the entire weekend in the low $30 million range, it’s clear Stewart’s hardcore fanbase came out in droves on opening day.  At this stage, Rupert Sanders’ directorial debut is now looking at anywhere from $45-50 million for the weekend.

The final gross will all depend on how deep Stewart’s fan base really is.  Are they just limited to a one-day surge?  Or, is it substantial enough to keep the film at $18 million plus on Saturday as well?  Universal will inevitably also credit the starpower of Charlize Theron and Chris Hemsworth for the big debut.  While the latter’s popularity is no doubt growing exponentially after the blockbuster success of “The Avengers,” it’s hard to see Theron really drawing moviegoers to the theater these days.

The successful opening of “Snow White” has to be a huge sigh of relief for Universal after the back to back crashes of “The Five Year Engagement” and “Battleship.”  Comcast has already revealed they’ll take a big loss on those two bombs and a third failure would not sit well with Universal’s new corporate overlords.  Of course, “Snow White” still has a way to go to get into the black.  The picture officially cost $170 million, but industry observers believe that total to be significantly over $200 million.  “Snow White” will have to bring in big overseas numbers to accomplish this task. It’s already facing stiff competition from 20th Century Fox’s “Prometheus” in numerous territories around the globe this weekend.

Dropping to the second slot Friday was last week’s champ “Men in Black 3.”  The third installment of the Sci-Fi comedy franchise grossed another $8.2 Friday for $91.3 million in just 8 days.  That means “MIB 3” should end up with around $140-150 million domestically when all is said and done. That’s also significantly less than “Men in Black II’s” $190.4 million take back in 2002.

Also noteworthy, “The Avengers” achieved a major milestone Friday as it passed “The Dark Knight’s” 2008’s $533.3 million gross with another $5.6 million and $538 million to date.

Look for complete weekend estimates tomorrow on HitFix.