Fairytale for Branagh as Cinderella smashes record at US box office
Kenneth Branagh is the toast of Hollywood, having scored the biggest commercial success of his movie career with his new film Cinderella.
The movie, directed by the Belfast man, succeeded in taking over £47m ($70.1m) on its opening weekend in North America alone - the highest ever amount for a Disney movie, even bigger than its box office smash Frozen.
Cinderella, which has yet to open in the UK, was also a major hit with cinema-goers worldwide over the weekend as it took a further £42m ($62.4m) which included a record-breaking £17m ($25m) in China.
Cinderella's magical quality under Branagh's direction helped to push out Liam Neeson's new movie Run All Night to take the number one US box office spot.
The Ballymena man's action thriller was eclipsed by Branagh's success, having taken £7.5m in the US ($11m) in its opening weekend, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
The films' release meant that two of Northern Ireland's most famous actors were at the centre of the top two most viewed movies at the North American box office.
Cinderella has given Branagh - who first gained prominence as a television actor in the BBC Northern Ireland Billy play trilogy - his biggest opening weekend commercial success since Thor, which took £45.5m at the box office.
It tells the age-old story of a beautiful young girl, bullied and unloved by her stepmother and stepsisters, who then meets her Prince Charming with the help of a Fairy Godmother.
Branagh's faithful adaptation of the much-loved fairy tale stars Downton Abbey actress Lily James as Cinderella and Oscar winner Cate Blanchett as the wicked stepmother.
Helena Bonham-Carter also stars, as the Fairy Godmother. The box office surge was put down to the fact that the film appealed to families, particularly women of all ages, who love the 'Princess-effect.'
According to A CinemaScore in the US, 31% of those showing up were under the age of 12 while 9% were aged 50 and older.
Cinderella started out strongly on Friday night with its first screening as it turned out that 77% of the audience was female.
This shifted to 66% on Saturday and Sunday, indicating that dads, boyfriends and husbands also turned out in force.
Overall, families made up 66% of the audience, followed by adults (26%) and teens (8%).
The latest blockbuster from Disney, which cost £64m to make, has overtaken its previous hit Maleficent, starring Angelina Jolie.
'There is seemingly a lot of appetite for these stories to be told, I think, in part because many of them have a female protagonist,' said Dave Hollis, head of distribution at Disney.
The film has been lauded by movie critics along with online forums.
The Rotten Tomatoes website, gave it a 84% fresh tomato rating with 97% of its users wanting to see the film. Its critical consensus was that the movie was: "Refreshingly traditional in a revisionist era.
"Kenneth Branagh's Cinderella proves Disney hasn't lost any of its old-fashioned magic."
Cinderella opens here from Friday, March 27.
Rex Reed from the New York Observer said: "There is no denying the fact that this is the best Cinderella of them all."
Susan Wloszczyna from Roger Ebert.com wrote: "Instead of letting go of the essence of "Cinderella", Branagh boldly chose to embrace every familiar detail of this romantic fantasy."
Forbes magazine: "A winning combination of heart-and-art".