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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Sylvester Stallone outmuscled Julia Roberts at the weekend box office in North America on Sunday to score the biggest opening of his career with his new film “The Expendables.”

The action hero’s all-star mercenary thriller earned an estimated $35 million across the United States and Canada during its first three days of release, distributor Lionsgate said.

The opening, which was in line with bullish expectations, marks a boost not only for Stallone, who directed and co-wrote the project as well, but also for Lionsgate, whose Lions Gate Entertainment Corp parent is fending off a hostile takeover from investor Carl Icahn.

Julia Roberts, whose career has been almost as cold as Stallone’s in recent years, followed at a distant No. 2 with “Eat Pray Love.” The big-screen adaptation of a bestselling memoir of a woman’s international search for herself, opened with $23.7 million, also in line with expectations.

The female-skewing drama was released by Sony Corp’s Columbia Pictures, which topped the box office last weekend with “The Other Guys.” The Will Ferrell cop comedy fell to No. 3 with $18 million, taking its 10-day total to $70.5 million.

A third newcomer, the comic-book adaptation “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World,” bombed at No. 5 with $10.5 million. It marks the second disappointment this month for General Electric Co-owned distributor Universal Pictures, following “Charlie St. Cloud.”

Stallone, 64, was last in theaters with a pair of modest retreads revisiting his glory days, 2008’s “Rambo” and 2006’s “Rocky Balboa.” They opened to $18 million and $12 million, respectively.

His best opening, before accounting for ticket-price inflation was the $33 million start for the children’s movie “Spy Kids 3D” in 2003. On an adjusted basis, he did better with a pair of films in 1985: “Rambo: First Blood Part II” and “Rocky IV,” with about $45 million each, according to tracking firm Box Office Mojo.

“The Expendables,” whose multinational lineup includes English tough guy Jason Statham, Sweden’s Dolph Lundgren and Chinese martial-arts veteran Jet Li, revolves around a team of mercenaries who inflict carnage on a fictional South American dictatorship. Bruce Willis and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger have cameos. Roberts’ older brother Eric, from whom the actress was once estranged, plays a villain.

The film was made by independent producer Avi Lerner’s Nu Image/Millennium for about $85 million. Lionsgate paid $20 million for distribution rights.