By Ronald Grover and Chris Michaud
LOS ANGELES/NEW YORK, March 9 (Reuters) - The action film "300: Rise of an Empire," battled its way to $45 million in ticket sales to win the weekend box office race, slashing its way past the animated film "Mr. Peabody & Sherman."
"Mr. Peabody & Sherman," based on the "Peabody's Improbable History" segments in the 1960s animated TV show starring the characters Rocky and Bullwinkle, collected ticket sales of $32.5 million at U.S. and Canadian theaters.
Last week's box office winner, "Non-Stop," was third with $15.4 million in sales. The film stars Liam Neeson as an alcoholic U.S. air marshal racing to stop a string of murders on an international flight.
"300: Rise of an Empire," set in ancient Greece, is a blood-splattered sequel to the 2006 blockbuster "300." It takes place before and after the earlier film when 300 Spartans marched to their deaths in a battle against the Persians.
In the sequel, an alliance of Greek city-states wage battle on the seas against the Persians.
Both films are based on graphic novels written by author Frank Miller. "300: Rise of an Empire," stars Australian actor Sullivan Stapleton as the Greek leader Themistocles and French actress and model Eva Green as Artemisia, the ruthless commander of the Persian forces.
"This far exceeded our expectations," said Jeff Goldstein, executive vice president for theatrical distribution at Warner Brothers, which distributed the film produced by Legendary Pictures.
The studio anticipated an opening in the range of $35 million to $40 million, "thinking, if we can get to $100 million (total box office), we'd be in a good place," Goldstein added, noting that the movie made nearly half that in its opening days.
"Clearly we captured a much broader audience than we anticipated," Goldstein said.
The film added another $88 million from foreign boxes in 58 markets, Warner Brothers said, and another $12 million from IMAX screenings globally.
"Mr. Peabody & Sherman," which features the talking dog Mr. Peabody and his adopted boy, Sherman, exceeded studio 20th Century Fox's expectations for an opening from about $25 million to $30 million.
"With nostalgia in play, this film was geared toward both adults beyond the traditional family film audience, while introducing the characters of Sherman and Mr. Peabody to a new generation of kids who had never seen them," said Chris Aronson, president of domestic distribution for Fox.
Aronson said he expected to film to continue to perform well in the coming weeks, noting "there's not an animated film for another month, and with spring holidays approaching we're in a really good place."
The movie was directed by Rob Minkoff, who also directed the 1994 animated film "The Lion King." That film was nominated for four Academy Awards and won two Oscars for its music.
Minkoff's earlier Walt Disney Co film collected $987.5 million in worldwide ticket sales, the second most for an animated film after "Frozen," according to the website Box Office Mojo.
"The Grand Budapest Hotel," Wes Anderson's whimsical caper film starring Ralph Fiennes, Bill Murray and Owen Wilson, set the box office on fire over the weekend in a limited opening at only four movie theaters, taking in $800,000.
The $200,000 per screen average over three days for the Fox Searchlight film set a per location record, according to box office tracking firm Rentrak.
"The Lego Movie," took the No. 4 overall spot with $11 million, according to Rentrak. The animated hit based on the colorful plastic building blocks has now totaled $225 million since its Feb. 7 release.
Rounding out the top five, "Son of God," based on "The Bible" television mini-series produced by "Survivor" producer Mark Burnett and his wife, Roma Downey, collected sales of $10 million.
Warner Brothers, a unit of Time Warner, distributed "300: Rise of an Empire" and "The Lego Movie."
Comcast's Universal Pictures released "Non-Stop." Fox, a unit of Twenty-First Century Fox, distributed "Son of God," and "Mr. Peabody & Sherman."