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‘Elysium’ rockets to the top at theaters

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Matt Damon in a scene from "Elysium." (TriStar/Columbia Pictures/Sony/AP)

Matt Damon in a scene from “Elysium.” (TriStar/Columbia Pictures/Sony/AP)

NEW YORK – The dystopian science fiction thriller “Elysium” topped the weekend box office with $30.5 million, according to studio estimates Sunday, enough to beat three newcomers, including the Jennifer Aniston comedy “We’re the Millers.”

Sony’s “Elysium,” directed by Neill Blomkamp and starring Matt Damon, opened in line with expectations, but still debuted somewhat modestly for a $115 million action film. It couldn’t match Blomkamp’s previous film, the $30 million “District 9,” which opened with $37.4 million in August 2009.

But “Elysium” was able to come out on top in a crowded weekend, with three other new wide releases: the R-rated Warner Bros. comedy “We’re the Millers,” starring Jason Sudeikis and Aniston ($26.6 million over the weekend, a strong $38 million since opening Tuesday night); Disney’s “Cars” spinoff “Planes” ($22.5 million) and Fox’s fantasy sequel “Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters” ($14.6 million over the weekend, $23.5 million since Wednesday).

Like “District 9,” “Elysium” is rife with allegory, a futuristic tale heavy with contemporary themes of wealth discrepancy, health care and immigration. But it was also made with more than three times the budget of “District 9″ and added stars Damon and Jodie Foster.

The market was crowded with family films, including new releases “Percy Jackson” and “Planes,” as well as holdovers like Sony’s “Smurfs 2″ ($9.5 million in its second week) and Fox’s “Turbo” ($2.3 million in its fourth week). With the box office led by two R-rated films, it made for a diverse weekend of movie-going.

“It used to be called the dog days of August – and you still get some junk thrown in to August,” said Paul Dergarabedian, analyst for box-office tracker Hollywood.com. “But it can also be the land of opportunity for films that aren’t cookie-cutter for audiences that are burned out by blockbusters.”

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