By Lisa Richwine and Chris Michaud
(Reuters) - The fifth movie in the Bruce Willis "Die Hard" franchise scored the biggest box-office action over the U.S. holiday weekend, beating out love story "Safe Haven," which came in third for the Friday-through-Sunday period.
"A Good Day to Die Hard," with Willis returning as the tenacious, wisecracking hero John McClane, pulled in $25 million at U.S. and Canadian theaters over the three days, according to studio estimates.
The tally was expected to approach a total of $40 million for the five days that began with Thursday's Valentine's Day and ends with Monday's Presidents Day holiday in the United States.
"Die Hard" beat "Safe Haven," an adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel that was aimed at luring couples during the week of Valentine's Day. The film, which stars Julianne Hough and Josh Duhamel, pulled in $21.4 million over the three days.
Last weekend's box office winner, the Melissa McCarthy comedy "Identity Thief," stayed strong and ended up taking second place with $23.4 million from Friday to Sunday.
Willis prevailed with his reprisal of a role he played four previous times starting with the original "Die Hard" in 1988. Those movies grossed $1.1 billion around the world and made Willis a global action star.
In the new movie, McClane travels to Russia to help his estranged son, a CIA operative played by Jai Courtney, in a fight to prevent a nuclear weapons heist.
Chris Aronson, president of domestic distribution at 20th Century Fox studio, said the film performed "right on par with our expectations," which was near $40 million for the five-day period.
Audiences were about 55 percent male and 45 percent female, with just over one-third under the age of 25 and two-thirds 25 and older, which Aronson said was in line with the franchise's last installment.
"It just shows the consistency of the fan base," he said.
The opening was nearly double the total of the original "Die Hard," adjusted for inflation, but down significantly from the previous three films in the franchise, according to figures from boxofficemojo.com.
The film added another $61 million to its total at international box offices, performing especially well in Russian, Japan and the United Kingdom.
'BEAUTIFUL CREATURES' MISSES AUDIENCE
News Corp's 20th Century Fox spent about $92 million to produce the latest "Die Hard" sequel. It hit theaters on Valentine's Day, and, in addition to "Safe Haven," faced another romance movie in "Beautiful Creatures." Fox promoted "Die Hard" with commercials encouraging moviegoers to "get some action" on Valentine's Day.
"Safe Haven" stars "Dancing with the Stars" alum Hough as a young woman who meets a widower played by Duhamel. Privately held Relativity Media produced the film for $28 million.
The studio said "Safe Haven" was on track to finish second for the Thursday-to-Monday period, with total sales of $34 million, beating industry projections.
"Beautiful Creatures," the supernatural love story about a teenage girl with magical powers, made its debut with $7.5 million at the box office to rank sixth in the three-day tallies.
The film was another of several Hollywood films aiming to capture the "Twilight" and "Hunger Games" audiences of teenage girls with adaptations of popular young adult novels.
Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros. executive vice president of theatrical distribution, said "Beautiful Creatures," produced by Alcon Entertainment for about $60 million, had a number of competitors on a busy weekend and the studio had hoped for a bigger turnout. "It just missed the audience," he said.
In fourth place, family film "Escape from Planet Earth," pulled in $16.1 million over the three days. The $40 million animated movie features the voices of Brendan Fraser and Sarah Jessica Parker in the story of an astronaut who finds trouble when he responds to a distress call from an alien planet.
Zombie romance "Warm Bodies," in its third weekend of release, took the No. 5 slot with $9 million over the three days.
"Identity Thief" was released by Universal Pictures, a unit of Comcast Corp. The privately held Weinstein Co released "Escape from Planet Earth." Lions Gate Entertainment's Summit studio released "Warm Bodies." "Beautiful Creatures" was produced by Alcon Entertainment and distributed by Warner Bros., a unit of Time Warner Inc.
(Reporting By Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles and Chris Michaud in San Francisco; Editing by Bill Trott and Eric Beech)