Super 8FROM MTV MOVIES: As well as anyone, J.J. Abrams knew the challenges facing "Super 8" this summer. It's not a sequel or based on an existing property; it doesn't feature any major stars; its central conceit had to remain largely mysterious, and its release date plopped the flick in a crowded field of superheroes, robots and wizards.

"We're a complete anomaly in a summer of huge films," the director told the Los Angeles Times, "and we don't want to be so silent or coy that people don't care or don't hear about it."

As the film's June 10 release date neared, it seemed people might not have heard about "Super 8," nor cared to check it out if they had: Box-office tracking was said to be weak, with a possible opening weekend as low as $25 million. But as reviews continued to be strong, and Paramount staged over 300 Twitter-sponsored screenings at midnight on the Thursday before release, the tide seemed to be turning.

And it did. "Super 8" grossed $37 million domestically. That put the alien-invasion film roughly in line with one alien invasion film based on an original idea and starring lesser-known talent (2009's "District 9") but slightly below another (2008's "Cloverfield"). Yet what separates "Super 8" from these other movies is the talent behind the camera: Abrams in the director's chair and Steven Spielberg taking on a producer role for a film that is an undeniable homage to films like "E.T." With those names leading the charge, expectations were high as soon as the project was announced in May 2010. And now opinions among industry experts seem to be split. Is $37 million for "Super 8" a success or a disappointment — or somewhere in between?

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Super 8FROM MTV MOVIES: "Super 8" took the #1 spot at the box office over the weekend. The film's $37 million opening isn't on par with recent summer blockbusters, but it did beat studio expectations, according to reports. And "Super 8" bears the distinction of being the only non-sequel in the weekend's top five.

The "Super 8" marketing campaign employed many of the tactics used to promote 2008's "Cloverfield," which was produced by "Super 8" writer/ director J.J. Abrams. The movie stars a cast of relative unknowns and features a plot that was largely kept hidden in the trailers. Abrams devised "Super 8" as something of an homage to the work of Steven Spielberg, who served as producer.

Reviews have been largely positive. "For all its obvious touches of Spielbergia, 'Super 8' feels a whole lot like 'The Iron Giant' meets 'Stand by Me,' " wrote FEARnet's Scott Weinberg.

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The Hangover Part IIFROM MTV MOVIES: Two years ago, "The Hangover" writer/director Todd Phillips told MTV News: "I love 'The Hangover' so much and I think we could crush it with the sequel." In terms of ticket sales, at least, he was right.

"The Hangover Part II" crushed a box-office record over the weekend, grossing $86 million from Friday-to-Sunday, the biggest opening ever for a live-action comedy. Thanks to the Memorial Day holiday and a Thursday debut, the buddy sequel (which swaps Las Vegas for Thailand) has already made $117 million. "The Hangover" opened with $45 million in 2009. "Part II" stands just behind "The Matrix Reloaded" on the list of R-rated openings.

Another sequel, "Kung Fu Panda 2," was the #2 movie at the box office, according to studio estimates. Featuring the voice of Jack Black in the title role, the animated kids' flick debuted with $47.8 million over the four-day weekend. The movie's 3-D screenings accounted for about 45 percent of its business. The film's opening weekend total was less than that of the first film, despite many positive reviews. "The Hangover Part II," by comparison, was a flop with critics.

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Pirates of the CaribbeanFROM MTV MOVIES: Pirate Jack Sparrow's latest box-office booty was something of a mixed bag.

Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," featuring Johnny Depp's return to the unconventional sea captain role that added blockbuster power to his already formidable artistic credibility, broke international box-office records and enjoyed the highest opening of the year in America over the weekend, though it fell short of the franchise's previous two sequels both critically and commercially.

The first "Pirates of the Caribbean" flick, 2003's "The Curse of the Black Pearl," was a hit with critics, but each of its three sequels has been met with increasing disdain. "On Stranger Tides" has hit a franchise low, with just 34 percent of critics approving of the picture, according to movie-review site Rotten Tomatoes.

The new "Pirates" movie's $90.1 million domestic take (which includes an extra boost from higher-priced 3D showings) was much less than the respective $115 million and $135 million openings of the previous sequels, though the film's $256.3 million international bounty overtook that of "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," which set the previous overseas all-time box-office record in 2009.

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Judd ApatowFROM MTV MOVIES: In the run-up to the debut of "Bridesmaids" this past weekend, with theaters jammed with popcorn action flicks like "Thor" and "Fast Five," industry insiders were predicting a box-office gross of around $15 million to $17 million. But stellar reviews, strong word of mouth and, most importantly, a staggeringly funny film combined to thrust "Bridesmaids" to a $26.2 million opening.

Yet while the rest of Hollywood might have been surprised that the movie, starring "Saturday Night Live" star Kristen Wiig and a slew of hilarious supporting women, did so well, producer Judd Apatow had a feeling the comedy would connect with a previously untapped slice of the movie-going public.

"I always hoped that there was this huge neglected audience out there hoping someone would start making movies for them," Apatow said in an email to MTV News on Monday (May 16). "I am so excited I was not imagining things. Hopefully this will lead to a lot more movies being made starring funny women."

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ThorFROM MTV MOVIES: "Thor" held on to the top spot at the box office over the weekend while runner-up "Bridesmaids" surpassed industry expectations with an impressive $24.4 million debut, according to studio estimates.

Meanwhile, the new post-apocalyptic vampire film "Priest" floundered and a pair of indie flicks in limited release, "Everything Must Go" and "Hesher," posted up low per-screen averages.

Based on the Marvel Comics hero drawn from Norse mythology, "Thor" earned $34.5 million in its second weekend of release for a total take of $119.2 million. The action flick, starring Chris Hemsworth in the title role, helps set the stage for this summer's "The Avengers." It has earned $225 million worldwide.

Ninety percent of critics loved "Bridesmaids," according to Rotten Tomatoes, and the positive word of mouth generated since the film's South by Southwest festival screenings contributed to its number two placement. "Saturday Night Live" veterans Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph lead an ensemble cast in the Judd Apatow-produced R-rated comedy, whose drawing power was underestimated by most industry analysts.

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ThorFROM MTV MOVIES: The "god of thunder" stormed the box office over the weekend as comic book fans and other moviegoers rained $66 million upon theaters to see "Thor." The latest big-screen adaptation of a beloved Marvel Comics superhero, this one drawn from Norse mythology, kicked off the summer movie season as the #1 movie in America, according to studio estimates.

Alas, a pair of romantic comedies proved to be no match against Thor's power. "Jumping the Broom" opened at #3 with $13.7 million, while "Something Borrowed," based on Emily Giffin's best-selling novel, is in fourth place with $13.1 million. Co-starring rom-com veteran Kate Hudson, "Borrowed" was far behind the $21.1 million her "Bride Wars" took in when it opened in 2009, or the similar numbers generated by "Fool's Gold" the year before.

"Thor" launches a potential franchise for Disney-owned Marvel Studios and serves as yet another piece of the comic-book-like continuity tapestry leading to 2012's "The Avengers." That ambitious movie recently started shooting and will unite Thor with Marvel heroes like Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Captain America (Chris Evans), whose own movie arrives on July 22. "Thor" benefited greatly from the critic-approved charisma of newcomer Chris Hemsworth in the title role and the Shakespearean sensibilities of director Kenneth Branagh. Technology didn't hurt, either, as roughly 60 percent of the film's business came courtesy of 3-D.

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Fast FiveFROM MTV MOVIES: As observers of both Hollywood and United States national security have noted, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson has been enjoying a pretty incredible last few days. He apparently learned about Osama bin Laden's death hours before the rest of us and hinted about the news on Twitter ("Just got word that will shock the world," he wrote). Monday is his 39th birthday. Oh, and his new action flick, "Fast Five," opened to $83.6 million in ticket sales — not the biggest debut of the year but Universal's largest opening since "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" in 1997.

As remarkable as Johnson's national security sources are, perhaps even more impressive is how well "Fast Five" performed at the box office a decade after "The Fast and the Furious" first hit the multiplex. Franchises tend to max out their public good will after two or three installments, but with this new picture, there can be little doubt that the "Fast and Furious" series has joined the likes of "Die Hard" in the pop-culture establishment. Much of the credit goes to Vin Diesel, industry insiders point out.

"Like Sly Stallone as Rambo, Bruce Willis as John McClane and Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator, Diesel embodies the role of Dom Toretto, fusing his public persona with his fictional character, and in doing so making him an action icon," said Jeff Bock, box-office analyst for Exhibitor Relations. "Simply put, in the pantheon of action studs, Diesel is now immortalized as Dom."

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Fast FiveFROM MTV MOVIES: "Fast Five" won the box-office race over the weekend and sped through several records in the process. The ensemble action flick's estimated $83.6 million opening was not only the best yet for the "Fast and Furious" franchise but the biggest opening of 2011 thus far (sorry, "Rio"), the largest in Universal Pictures history (beating "The Lost World: Jurassic Park") and the third-highest opening outside of the holiday or summer seasons. Overall, "Fast Five" gave the box office a 52 percent boost.

Co-producer and star Vin Diesel can also celebrate the movie's solid reviews. Set in Rio and uniting stars from the previous films for a heist story a bit removed from the franchise's street-racing roots, "Fast Five" is the first in the series to win over critics. Each previous "Fast and Furious" movie, including the 2001 original, was overwhelmingly panned, but "Fast Five" boasted a 79 percent positive critical rating on movie review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes at press time.

"Fast Five" clearly benefited from its ethnically diverse cast — which includes Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Tyrese Gibson, and Chris "Ludacris" Bridges — as well as its international setting. It made $45.3 million overseas, and in the U.S., the mostly male audience was 35 percent white, 33 percent Hispanic, 19 percent African-American and 9 percent Asian, according to Universal.

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RioFROM MTV MOVIES: The box office got a boost from kids over the holiday weekend as "Rio" held on to the top spot with moviegoers and the Easter-themed "Hop" crossed the $100 million mark, according to studio estimates. Overall ticket sales were up 39 percent from the same period last year. Strengthened by 3-D showings, the animated "Rio" earned $26.8 million for a two-week domestic total of $81.2 million.

Filmmaker Tyler Perry has released three movies around Easter, and this year's entry, "Madea's Big Happy Family," sat right in the middle of his scorecard, with a $25.7 million debut ("Meet the Browns" opened with $20.1 million in 2008; "Why Did I Get Married Too?" made $29.3 million last year) but suffered the lowest debut of any of the entries in his poorly reviewed "Madea" series. Still, that was good enough to take the #2 spot for the weekend.

Robert Pattinson did double the business of his last non-"Twilight" starring role with "Water for Elephants," which debuted with $17.5 million to land at #3 on the box-office tally. Of course, last year's "Remember Me" didn't have Academy Award winners Reese Witherspoon and Christoph Waltz or best-selling source material from novelist Sara Gruen. The romantic drama opened on par with the similarly themed "The Notebook," adjusted for inflation. "Elephants" has split critics almost down the middle, according to movie review website Rotten Tomatoes.

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