By Ronald Grover and Chris Michaud
LOS ANGELES/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Marvel's superhero in "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" claimed a third straight box office win, collecting $26.6 million at the domestic box office to beat the colorful birds of animated film "Rio 2," which generated $22.5 million in ticket sales.
"Heaven Is for Real", based on a best-selling Christian book about a boy who claims to have witnessed heaven during surgery, was a strong third at U.S. and Canadian theaters with $21.5 million over the Easter holiday weekend.
"Transcendence", the science fiction thriller starring Johnny Depp as an artificial intelligence researcher, was a disappointing fourth with $11.2 million in ticket sales, according to studio estimates provided by tracking firm Rentrak.
"Captain America", which stars Chris Evans as a scrawny World War Two reject given super powers from an experimental serum, is the latest superhero hit from Disney's Marvel Studios.
The film has earned a global total of $586 million, including more than $200 million domestically, since it started rolling out internationally on March 26, validating the strategy of distributor Disney to ramp up its pipeline of films featuring Marvel Comics super heroes.
"Rio 2" features the voices of Jesse Eisenberg and Anne Hathaway as blue Spix macaw birds, and follows recent big ticket weekends for animated films like "Frozen" and "The Lego Movie", which lured kids and their parents to movie theaters.
"Heaven is for Real" stars Greg Kinnear in the story of a young boy who claims he witnessed Heaven during emergency surgery. It opened on Wednesday night and was expected to total $28.5 million in ticket sales through Sunday, according to Sony, which distributed the film through its TriStar Pictures unit.
"This result is really terrific and far exceeded our expectations," said Rory Bruer, Sony's president of worldwide distribution, adding that the studio was hoping for a five-day total of around $20 million for the film, which only cost about $12 million to produce.
Bruer noted that the film was "playing well across the board, appealing not only to a faith-based audience but to a more mainstream one. It's a subject people like to talk about, and it has provoked dialog."
"Transcendence" marked the directorial debut for long-time cinematographer Wally Pfister, who won the 2010 Academy Award for his work on "Inception."
With a budget of $100 million, it was projected to open with ticket sales of $21 million, according to the website Box Office Mojo.
"Unfortunately, the movie just missed the audience," said Jeff Goldstein, executive vice president for theatrical distribution at Warner Bros, which distributed the film. It was produced by Alcon Entertainment.
"Transcendence" was also savaged by critics, with only 20 percent of 134 reviewers giving it a positive rating, according to the website Rotten Tomatoes. Moviegoers rated the film a C+ in exit polling by CinemaScore.
"A Haunted House 2", a horror comedy starring Marlon Wayans, rounded out the top five with $9.1 million in ticket sales. The film opened in about 2,300 theaters, compared with more than 3,400 for "Transcendence."
"The Amazing Spider-Man 2", which opens in the United States on May 1, launched in 14 markets overseas meanwhile and took in $47 million, according to studio Sony.
"Rio 2" was distributed by Fox, a unit of Twenty-First Century Fox. Walt Disney distributed "Captain America." "Transcendence was distributed by Warner Brothers, a unit of Time Warner.
Sony's Tri Star unit distributed the film "Heaven is for Real". "A Haunted House 2" was released by Open Roads films, a joint venture of Regal Entertainment and AMC Entertainment.
(Reporting By Ronald Grover and Chris Michaud; Editing by Bernard Orr)