Box Office: Surprising ‘Smurfs’ takes down ‘Cowboys & Aliens’ for no. 1 Friday

Those little blue critters are making things interesting at the box office this weekend.

Jon Favreau’s “Cowboys & Aliens” was expected to top the box office this weekend with somewhere between $40-45 million.  Pre-release polling indicated that “Smurfs,” a live-action CG animated hybrid, would gross around $22-23 million.  Friday’s box office figures have thrown those predictions out the window.

“Cowboys & Aliens” found only $12.9 million on Friday for what could be a $36-38 million weekend.  “Smurfs” grossed a surprising $13.3 million. Thanks to Saturday kid’s matinees,  “Smurfs” should now top this weekend’s theatrical ticket sales, something completely unthinkable only 24 hours ago.

For “Cowboys,” this isn’t necessarily the best news.  The Daniel Craig/Harrison Ford genre mashup has already received mixed reviews and New Mexico tax incentives aside, wasn’t cheap.  Reports have the budget at anywhere from between $160-200 million although most in the industry have it closer to the latter figure.  An under $38 million debut will make it difficult for the tentpole to reach profitability unless it seriously overperforms overseas.  “Smurfs” has a $110 million pricetag and with only “Spy Kids 4” on the horizon, little family competition for the rest of the summer season. Still, the Sony Animation co-production will also need a strong international run to become a legitimate hit.

Dropping to third was “Captain America: The First Avenger.”  The Marvel Studios production grossed another $7.8 million for a stellar $99.7 million in just eight days.  The Joe Johnston adventure is now tracking ahead of “Thor” which had only $93.8 million at this point in its domestic run.  Star-spangled hero indeed.

Debuting in fourth was the critically acclaimed dramedy “Crazy, Stupid, Love.”  The Steve Carrell led ensemble piece found $6.6 million and should end up with $18-19 million.  That’s a solid start for a film that should have great word of mouth over the next few weeks.

Look for updated weekend estimates tomorrow on HitFix.