USA Today -- Suddenly, minions are mighty.
The jabbering yellow sidekicks ofDespicable Me 2powered the animated family film to a whopping $82.5 million this weekend, handily winning the lucrative July 4 holiday weekend, according to studio estimates from Hollywood.com.
The opening trounced Johnny Depp'sLone Ranger, which limped through the holiday at $29.4 million.
Both films were released Wednesday, but that's the only similarity between the animated sequel and the $225 million Disney Western, which will become one of the year's biggest flops.
Through the first five days of release, Steve Carell'sDespicable Me 2has made $142.1 million, the highest five day debut on record for an animated film. It eclipses 2010'sToy Story 3, which did $141 million in its first five days.
The Lone Ranger, meanwhile, has come off the rails with a $48.8 million gross since Wednesday. Analysts expected that number to be twice as big by the end of the weekend.
Critics and fans were decidedly on the minions' side as well. Three-fourths of the nation's critics recommendedDespicable Me 2, while 89% of fans enjoyed it, according to pollsters Rottentomatoes.com. The movie earned an A from fans, according to CinemaScore.
Less than one in four critics gaveThe Lone Rangera thumbs-up, compared with a mediocre 68% of fans, the site says.
The animated debut "bodes well for the minions spinoff" movie set for Dec. 19, 2014, says Tim Briody of Boxofficeprophets.com.
"It's hard to understate how fantastic this performance is," he says, noting that "Despicable Me 2beat the opening of the 2010 original in just two days." The original debuted to $56 million.
Ray Subers of Box Office Mojo says the franchise flourished with a canny marketing campaign.
"After being well received by audiences at the time, Universal Pictures has done a nice job maintaining theDespicablebrand in toy stores and in their theme parks," Subers says.
While the franchise isn't as recognizable as theToy Storyseries,Despicablehas "gotten about as close as you can with only one movie," he says.
Ranger, meanwhile, will mark Disney's biggest flop sinceJohn Carter, last year's $250 million epic that managed just $73 million.
The Melissa McCarthy cop comedyThe Heatwas third with $25 million, followed byMonsters Universitywith $19.6 million.
The Brad Pitt zombie filmWorld War Zwas fifth with $18.2 million.
Full holiday weekend estimates are due Monday.
DespiteRanger's stumble, summer continues to sizzle. Ticket sales, once down double-digits to last year's pace, have cut the deficit to just 1% behind 2012's attendance, according to Hollywood.com.