Los Angeles: Fast & Furious 6, from Comcast Corp.’s Universal Pictures, was the top film at theaters in the US and Canada in the first three days of the US Memorial Day weekend, taking in $98.5 million, the biggest-ever debut for the studio.

The film, which also had the second-biggest opening this year, topped Warner Bros.’ comedy The Hangover Part III, which had sales of $42.4 million, Hollywood.com Box-Office said in a statement on Sunday.

The new installments of these popular franchises helped boost revenue for the top 12 films this weekend 73% from the year-ago period, according to Hollywood.com. For Universal, the success of Fast & Furious 6 bodes well for its ranking among US studios, where it’s third with $442.5 million in domestic revenue through 23 May, according to Box Office Mojo. Walt Disney Co. is first with $655.8 million.

“It’s very rare for a sixth franchise, which is more than a decade old, to do so well," said Gitesh Pandya, chief executive officer of Boxofficeguru.com. “It started out as a low-budget film, and over time has transformed itself into a James Bond for the youth."

He also credited its success to the fact it appealed to an ethnically diverse audience as well as women, who made of up 49% of the audience.

“That’s very high for a macho-type movie," he said.

International Crime

In Fast & Furious 6, federal agent Luke Hobbs, played by Dwayne Johnson, reunites with a team of car-heist experts to battle an international crime organization. Regulars Vin Diesel and Paul Walker return in their roles as Hobbs’s unlikely allies.

The first five films in the series generated $1.59 billion in worldwide ticket sales, according to Box Office Mojo. The sixth installment was expected to generate $107 million over the four-day holiday weekend, the estimate of Boxoffice.com, another researcher.

It’s topped that number already, with $122.7 million in sales as of Sunday, and Monday still to be counted.

The Hangover Part III is billed as the last in the raunchy comedies about the misadventures of three globe-trotting buddies played by Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis and Bradley Cooper. In the new film, one of the trio is kidnapped and held hostage to force the other two to locate recurring bad guy Mr. Chow, played by Ken Jeong.

Evil Forces

“The bad reviews reinforced the fact that the film wasn’t that funny," Pandya said. Audiences were already disappointed from the previous series and had already “checked out," he said.

Sales for The Hangover Part III excluded revenue from its 23 May opening, one day earlier than originally scheduled. Including that date, the movie took in $63.8 million.

The weekend’s other new film, News Corp.’s animated Epic, was fourth with sales of $34.2 million. The film tells the story of a teenage girl who finds herself in a battle with evil forces that seek to destroy the natural world.

The voices of Beyonce Knowles, Amanda Seyfried, Josh Hutcherson and Colin Farrell are featured.

Star Trek Into Darkness, the second film in J.J. Abrams reboot of the franchise, dropped to third place from first with $38 million in sales for Viacom Inc.’s Paramount Pictures. Made for about $190 million, the sequel has taken in $156.8 million since it opened on 16 May, according to Hollywood.com.

Holiday Record

Iron Man 3 from Disney’s Marvel fell to fifth place from second with sales of $19.4 million.

The film has generated $1.14 billion worldwide since it opened on 3 May. The movie took in $174.1 million that weekend, the biggest opening year to date.

Weekend revenue for the top 12 films rose to $252.7 million from $146.3 million in the year-ago period, Hollywood.com said.

Pandya said a diversity of film subjects allowed moviemakers to cater to everyone, which boosted receipts.

Hollywood.com said that for all films in release it was a record Memorial Day weekend with sales totalling $257 million, beating the previous record of $223 million in 2011.

Year to date, revenue and attendance are both down 7%, Hollywood.com said. Bloomberg

Dan Hart in Washington contributed to this story.