Fresh from its out-of-competition berth in Cannes, DreamWorks Animation’s family release led a mighty session as it opened top through Paramount to vanquish a spirited $50m debut by Fox’s R-rated Prometheus.

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted posted the second best debut of the franchise behind its immediate predecessor’s $63.1m start in November 2008, which translates to $67.4m when adjusted for inflation.

Madagascar’s $47.1m summer 2005 debut equates to $55m in today’s terms and that film’s $193.6m final gross remains the benchmark. Studio top brass will look to finish at least above the $180m set by Madagascar 2.

The core voice cast of Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer and Jada Pinkett Smith return to action with able support from new arrivals Frances McDormand, Jessica Chastain and Bryan Cranston.

Heading into the weekend Fox top brass downplayed opening weekend projections for Ridley Scott’s return to sci-fi 33 years after he enamoured a generation of genre devotees with Alien.

One might question the sincerity of the studio’s modest pronouncements given the scale of fanboy anticipation and broad critical approval and Prometheus arrived with a bang in second place as $50m set up what looks to be a very promising run indeed. Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron and Idris Elba are among the space hoppers.

Universal’s fantasy tale Snow White And The Huntsman in third place is on the cusp of $100m after two weekends while Sony’s Will Smith vehicle MIB 3 in fourth stands at $135.5m after three. This lags behind the performance of both previous episodes in the franchise even in nominal terms: Men In Black had amassed $172m back in summer 1997 and MIB 2 $158m in summer 2002. At this rate MIB 3 will struggle to get close to the $190m final score of MIB 2, while Men In Black’s $250m final tally looks untouchable.

Marvel Studios’ The Avengers reached $571.9m in its sixth weekend through Buena Vista and is comfortably the third highest grosser in North American box office history behind Avatar on $761m and Titanic on $659m.

Ranking tenth is Focus Features’ Cannes opener Moonrise Kingdom from Wes Anderson in 96 venues on $3.8m after three weekends.

In limited release IFC opened Peace, Love And Misunderstanding on $102,000 from 30 venues, while FilmDistrict released Sundance pick-up Safety Not Guaranteed for $100,00 from nine. Todd Solondz’s Dark Horse opened through Brainstorm And Double Hope on $15,000 from a single theatre.

Next weekend’s wide releases include New Line’s musical Rock Of Ages starring Tom Cruise through Warner Bros and Columbia’s Adam Sandler comedy That’s My Boy.

Estimated Top 10 North America Jun 8-10 2012
Film (Dist) / Est wkd gross / Est total to date

1 (-) Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted (Paramount-DreamWorks Animation) $60.4m –

2 (-) Prometheus (Fox) Fox Int’l $50m –

3 (1) Snow White And The Huntsman (Universal) UPI $23m $98.5m

4 (2) MIB 3 (Sony) SPRI $13.5m $135m

5 (3) The Avengers (Buena Vista) WDSMPI $10.8m $571.9m

6 (6) The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (Fox Searchlight) Fox Int’l $3.2m $31m

7 (7) What To Expect When You’re Expecting (Lionsgate) Lionsgate Int’l $2.7m $35.7m

8 (4) Battleship (Universal) UPI $2.3m $59.8m

9 (5) The Dictator (Paramount) PPI $2.2m $55.2m

10 (13) Moonrise Kingdom (Focus) FFI $1.6m $3.8m