By Lisa Richwine and Chris Michaud
LOS ANGELES/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Matt Damon's futuristic thriller "Elysium," the story of an elite space outpost locked in battle with poor invaders from a ruined Earth, won a crowded box-office race among four new films at U.S. and Canadian theaters over the weekend.
"Elysium" grabbed $30.5 million in domestic ticket sales from Friday through Sunday, according to estimates from distributor Sony Pictures. The movie added $10.9 million from 17 international markets, for a combined global opening of $41.4 million.
"Elysium" edged the Jennifer Aniston comedy "We're the Millers," which took in $26.6 million, while "Planes," a spin-off of Walt Disney Co's Pixar franchise "Cars," took off with $22.5 million at domestic theaters, finishing in third.
The other newcomer, fantasy movie "Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters," landed fourth with $14.6 million.
Effects-filled action movie "Elysium" came in at the low end of pre-weekend forecasts for a debut in the low $30 million range. The movie portrays two distinct worlds in the year 2154 - a diseased and overpopulated Earth and Elysium, a space station where the elite live.
Damon stars as Max, a blue-collar worker with a criminal past who needs medicine from Elysium to survive. Jodie Foster plays the Elysium defense secretary bent on keeping Max and all other illegal immigrants out.
The $115 million production was produced and financed by Media Rights Capital. The movie was distributed by Sony, which stumbled earlier this summer with big-budget releases "After Earth" and "White House Down," although its other summer releases have fared better.
"We're feeling very good about our results," said Rory Bruer, Sony Pictures' president of worldwide distribution, noting that "there were a lot of movies opening this week."
"The picture will roll out really big-time internationally over the next two weeks ... and it's going to be a big hit for us internationally."
"The Smurfs 2" pulled in an estimated $34.6 million in its second weekend of release overseas, bringing its global total to $156.6 million, while the Adam Sandler vehicle "Grown Ups 2" neared $125 million domestically in its fifth week.
"Planes," which features the voice of Dane Cook as Dusty, a crop duster trying to overcome a fear of heights, was produced by the DisneyToon studio for $50 million and originally planned as a direct-to-DVD release.
ANISTON, SUDEIKIS COMEDY
"We're the Millers" stars Aniston as a stripper enlisted by a small-time pot dealer (Jason Sudeikis) to pose as his wife when he puts together a phony family so he can smuggle marijuana into the United States. The film, produced for $37 million, added $11.5 million from Wednesday and Thursday sales for a five-day total of $38 million.
"We're thrilled," said Dan Fellman, Warner Bros president of domestic distribution, adding that opening on Wednesday "certainly paid off. We had great word-of-mouth going into the weekend," which helped deliver a box-office total several million dollars beyond what the studio anticipated for the five-day span.
"Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters" also opened ahead of the weekend, grossing $8.9 million on Wednesday and Thursday at North American (U.S. and Canadian) theaters.
The $90 million production is a sequel to 2010 release "Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief." Both films are based on books about a boy with special powers. In the new film, the boy, played by Logan Lerman, joins with his friends on a quest for a golden fleece that will save their home.
Finishing fifth for the weekend, action movie "2 Guns," starring Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg, took in $11.1 million.
"We're the Millers" was released by Warner Bros., a unit of Time Warner Inc. "Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters" was distributed by 20th Century Fox, a unit of 21st Century Fox. "2 Guns" was released by Universal Pictures, a unit of Comcast Corp.
(Reporting by Lisa Richwine and Chris Michaud; Editing by Eric Beech and Cynthia Osterman)