UPDATE (Sunday, 4:15pm ET): SpongeBob launched in first place with a massive $56 million weekend (estimated) in the United States, which is equivalent to last November’s debut for Big Hero 6. While the film was primarily hand-drawn, like the TV series itself, Paramount promoted almost exclusively the film’s CG segments, leading audiences to believe that the film was something entirely different. It turns out that the best way to get audiences to watch hand-drawn animation is to trick them into thinking they’ll be watching CGI.

SpongeBob also grossed $16.2M internationally in its second foreign weekend. The international total is now $28.6 million. The first SpongeBob feature in 2004 grossed a modest $54.7M internationally, and this new entry will have no trouble surpassing that figure.

In fifth place, Paddington held its own at the U.S. box office, earning $5.4M in its fourth weekend and boosting its overall total to $57.3 million. The film has grossed $208 million worldwide, which outside a couple of Hayao Miyazaki’s films, makes it the highest-grossing non-Hollywood family film ever.

Thanks to continued strong performance overseas, Disney’s Big Hero 6 crossed the $500 million mark this week. The film’s global total is now $505.1 million.

PREVIOUSLY (Sunday, 12:30am ET): Everyone expected The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water to perform respectably this weekend, but no one thought it would have a $50-million-plus blockbuster opening, which looks like it might happen.

The original SpongeBob SquarePants Movie opened in 2004 with $32 million, and box office analysts anticipated the new Paul Tibbitt-directed follow-up would open in the $30-40 million range. But after an unexpectedly strong $14.3M launch on Friday, most box office sources are suggesting its three-day weekend total will reach over $50 million (final weekend total estimates will be released on Sunday afternoon). In the process, the film will unseat three-week champion American Sniper as the number one film in America.

Such an amount would place SpongeBob in elite box office territory, making it the second-best opening for an animated TV adaptation, after The Simpsons Movie. It would also be the second-best animated opening in February, following last year’s $69.1M LEGO Movie bow, which also happened on the same weekend. The most startling fact though comes from Gitesh Pandya of Box Office Guru, who tweeted:

SpongeBob’s launch makes an especially strong statement for Paramount, which counts the $75M-budgeted film as its first release under the new Paramount Animation banner. The strong launch is less surprising though after one takes into consideration how much effort went into promoting the movie. Paramount’s parent company, Viacom, which also owns Nickelodeon, took every opportunity to create awareness for the title, as reported by Deadline:

SpongeBob’s social media has been spurred by the Super Bowl with 8.2M [engagements] across YouTube, Facebook and Twitter from last weekend’s first-quarter game spot. Social activity per RelishMix leading up to opening has grown 9X. The Annoying Orange channel (4M subs), a beloved destination for kids, dropped a SpongeBob trailer last week where the Orange characters threw barbs at the screen. It has collected over a half million views so far.

This week there were SpongeBob-themed games, editorial and video across highly trafficked websites including Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, and kid gaming portals Roblox and Poptropica. A Yahoo! homepage takeover Thursday engaged 50M+ fans. Social takeovers included a Facebook Reach Block, Twitter Promoted Trend and a sponsored Instagram Video that reached 45M+ fans. The custom app, SpongeBob: Sponge on the Run has maintained top placement within the iTunes App store since its launch.

Box office numbers will be updated on Sunday.

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