UPDATE 1-Stallone knocks out Julia Roberts at box office

(Repeats with no changes to text)

* “The Expendables” opens to $35 million

* Roberts’ “Eat Pray Love” follows with $23.7 million

* “Scott Pilgrim” bombs with $10.5 million
(Updates with studio reaction, background)

LOS ANGELES, Aug 15 (BestGrowthStock) – Sylvester Stallone
outmuscled Julia Roberts at the weekend box office in North
America on Sunday to score the biggest opening of his career
with his new film “The Expendables.”

The action hero’s all-star mercenary thriller earned an
estimated $35 million across the United States and Canada
during its first three days of release, distributor Lionsgate
said.

The opening, which was in line with bullish expectations,
marks a boost not only for Stallone, who directed and co-wrote
the project as well, but also for Lionsgate, whose Lions Gate
Entertainment Corp (LGF.N: ) parent is fending off a hostile
takeover from investor Carl Icahn.

The film, predictably, played strongest with older men who
are nostalgic for ’80s action flicks with high body counts and
loud explosions. A sequel is reportedly in the works.

Julia Roberts, whose career has been almost as cold as
Stallone’s in recent years, followed at a distant No. 2 with
“Eat Pray Love.” The big-screen adaptation of a bestselling
memoir about a woman’s international search for herself, opened
with $23.7 million, also in line with expectations.

The drama, which was targeted at older women, was released
by Columbia Pictures. The Sony Corp (6758.T: ) (SNE.N: ) unit
topped the box office last weekend with “The Other Guys.” The
Will Ferrell cop comedy fell to No. 3 with $18 million, taking
its 10-day total to $70.5 million.

A third newcomer, the comic-book adaptation “Scott Pilgrim
vs. The World,” bombed at No. 5 with $10.5 million. It marks
the second disappointment this month for General Electric Co
(GE.N: )-owned distributor Universal Pictures, following “Charlie
St. Cloud.”

SCHWARZENEGGER, WILLIS CAMEOS

Stallone, 64, was last in theaters with a pair of modest
retreads revisiting his glory days, 2008’s “Rambo” and 2006’s
“Rocky Balboa.” They opened to $18 million and $12 million,
respectively.

His best opening, before accounting for ticket-price
inflation was the $33 million start for the children’s movie
“Spy Kids 3D” in 2003. On an adjusted basis, he did better with
a pair of films in 1985: “Rambo: First Blood Part II” and
“Rocky IV,” with about $45 million each, according to tracking
firm Box Office Mojo.

“The Expendables,” whose multinational lineup includes
English tough guy Jason Statham, Sweden’s Dolph Lundgren and
Chinese martial-arts veteran Jet Li, revolves around a team of
mercenaries who inflict carnage on a fictional South American
dictatorship. Bruce Willis and California Governor Arnold
Schwarzenegger have cameos. Roberts’ older brother, Eric, plays
a villain.

Men accounted for 61 percent of the audience, and 60
percent of viewers were aged over 25, Lionsgate said.

The film was made by independent producer Avi Lerner’s Nu
Image/Millennium for about $85 million. Lionsgate paid $20
million for distribution rights in North America and Britain,
where it opens on Thursday. The studio reportedly spent an
additional $40 million marketing the film, a hefty sum for a
small player.

Lionsgate’s parent, which recently blamed a first-quarter
loss on its Katherine Heigl box office bomb “Killers,” is
embroiled in a messy takeover battle with Icahn. The
billionaire investor has accused company executives of
mismanagement and poor cost controls.

Roberts, 42, has not opened a big movie by herself since
“Erin Brockovich” kicked off with $28 million in 2000. Her
recent disappointments include “Duplicity” and “Charlie
Wilson’s War.”

Columbia noted that “Eat Pray Love” did better than the
studio’s similarly targeted Meryl Streep comedy “Julie and
Julia,” which opened to $20 million last summer on its way to
$94 million. It predicted “Eat Pray Love” would play strongly
into the early fall. The film cost about $60 million to make.

“Scott Pilgrim” looks to be an expensive flop for
Universal, which reportedly spent $85 million making the film
before tax credits reduced the tab to $60 million. The studio
said it was “proud” of the movie. Reviews and exit polls were
stronger than for “Expendables” and “Eat Pray Love.”
(Reporting by Dean Goodman; Editing by Paul Simao)

UPDATE 1-Stallone knocks out Julia Roberts at box office