Suicide Squad

has opened as the no 1 film at the New Zealand box office, becoming the second highest earning film of the year.

Kiwis flocked to cinemas, despite a mauling by critics, earning the film more than $2.2 million.

The new superhero film, starring Will Smith and Margot Robbie, collected an estimated $180 million in the U.S. and Canada, to set a new box office record for an August opening.

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The film is an important release for Time Warner Inc.'s film division, which is trying to develop an expanded universe of DC Comics heroes for the big screen, like Disney's successful efforts with Marvel.

The solid debut for Suicide Squad will cheer Warner Bros.' executives who also ran into a poor critical reception for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the first movie in a four-year roll out plan for DC characters.

"It's an extraordinary weekend when you look at the fact that the domestic box office has never had a $280 million weekend in August," said Jeff Goldstein, head of domestic distribution for Warner Bros. "Suicide Squad drove this past weekend to a $320 million record weekend for the industry."

Since the March release of Batman v Superman, which had a strong debut but saw box sales slow after critics panned the movie, Warner Bros. has appointed executives specifically to focus on the DC films slate. The studio has also given more input to producers such as Ben Affleck, who was praised for his portrayal of Batman and will direct a standalone Batman movie.

The DC films are one of three key franchises for Warner Bros. going into the next decade, along with movies from Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling and pictures based on the Lego toys. The studio has scheduled nine more DC films through 2020, including the 2017 release Wonder Woman with Gal Gadot, who won praise for her portrayal of the female superhero in Batman v Superman.

Suicide Squad cost $245 million to make, according to researcher Box Office Mojo, and tens of millions more to market. Weekend forecasts for the film ranged from a low of $177 million at Hollywood Stock Exchange to $200 million at Box Office Mojo, another researcher. The studio was projecting a more conservative $130 million to $175 million.

Suicide Squad is set after the death of Superman. It follows a government-sanctioned group of super-villains who are offered clemency in exchange for protecting the U.S. against meta-humans.

Smith plays Deadshot while Robbie is featured as Harley Quinn, the love interest of the Joker, played by Jared Leto. The rest of the characters, Diablo, Boomerang, Killer Croc and Monster T, are among the less well-known members of the DC universe brought to the big screen in this feature, as Disney did with Guardians of the Galaxy.

- nzherald.co.nz with Washington Post