Angelina Jolie movie tops US box office

Angelina Jolie

The biggest box-office debut of Angelina Jolie's career has propelled Disney's twisted fairy tale Maleficent to a scary-good 70 million dollar (£42 million) opening.

The PG-rated fantasy beat forecasts to easily top all films over the weekend, according to studio estimates in the US. Though Maleficent was early on considered a risky endeavour for Disney that might turn away family audiences by retelling Sleeping Beauty from the villain's perspective, the film emerged as a hit largely because of the draw of Angelina.

Star power has been increasingly elusive in modern Hollywood, where name-brand concepts often rule the box-office. But Angelina, in her first live-action starring role in years, drove interest for Maleficent despite lacklustre reviews from critics.

"It's a unique thing," said Dave Hollis, head of distribution for Disney. "Her star power transcends borders and genre."

Seth MacFarlane's Western comedy A Million Ways to Die In The West was out-gunned by Maleficent. The R-rated Universal release opened in third place with a tepid 17.1 million dollars (£10.2 million) despite a starry cast of Liam Neeson, Charlize Theron and Amanda Seyfried. By contrast, MacFarlane's Ted (for which he's making a sequel) opened with 54.4 million dollars (£32.4 million) in 2012.

Last weekend's top film, Fox's big-budget mutant sequel X-Men: Days Of Future Past, dropped to second with 32.6 million dollars (£19.4 million). It's a somewhat steep decline for Days Of Future Past, but the film made 95.6 million dollars (£57 million) internationally in its second week, good enough to push its global cumulative total past 500 million dollars (£298.5 million) already.

But Maleficent dominated the marketplace, which has seen female-leading films continually challenge the much-disputed but still prevalent notion that male stars fuel box office receipts.

"The whole movie kind of rises and sets on her performance," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior analyst for box-office tracker Rentrak. "The concept is the character. The character is completely linked to the person playing that role."

The film was a balancing act for Disney, which is used to churning out brighter tales. Hollis credited the company's marketing department for "walking the fine line" of selling the movie to families (which made up 45 per cent of the audience, according to Disney) and suggesting an edginess that would appeal to a broader audience. Maleficent earned about 100 million dollars (£59.7 million) internationally.

"If you go to Disney, the longest lines are for the scariest rides," said Dergarabedian. "We're going to see more of this, where the villains are the new heroes."