George Clooney;Matt Damon

Sam Epstein, John Goodman, George Clooney, Matt Damon and Bob Balaban in a scene from "The Monuments Men." (AP Photo/Sony, Columbia Pictures, Claudette Barius / March 18, 2013)

George Clooney's World War II art heist film advanced into theaters Thursday night with a studio-estimated $550,000 in ticket sales from showings starting at 7 p.m.

"Monuments Men," a Sony Pictures and 20th Century Fox co-production that cost $70 million to make, is expected to gross roughly $20 million domestically through Sunday. 

The Thursday figure is shy of what Sony's Oscar-nominated Tom Hanks starrer "Captain Phillips" did in its Thursday debut. That picture, which opened in October, brought in $600,000 from screening starting at 8 p.m. and went on to generate $25.7 million in its first weekend. 

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Clooney directed "The Monuments Men" and co-wrote the screenplay with Grant Heslov. The big-name cast includes ClooneyMatt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett and John Goodman, and the movie has earned mixed reviews. 

Warner Bros.'s new animated feature "The Lego Movie," which is expected to gross at least $50 million over its opening weekend, laid the building blocks Thursday with $400,000, starting at 10 p.m.


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Twitter: @rfaughnder