LOS ANGELES » The prescription for an ailing U.S. box office came this weekend in the form of the forgetful blue fish of Disney-Pixar’s “Finding Dory.” Pulling in an estimated $136.2 million in the U.S. and Canada, the picture became the highest-debuting animated film of all time, boosting a sluggish summer moviegoing season.
“These Pixar folk are just so consistent more than anything … focusing on quality and great storytelling,” said Dave Hollis, Disney’s distribution chief. “They did it this time again, telling an extraordinary story that lives up to and exceeds expectations.”
The long-awaited sequel to 2003’s “Finding Nemo” had been expected to gross as much as $120 million in ticket sales heading into the weekend, according to analysts. The studio itself projected a more modest $100 million. But the film’s stellar debut makes it the top animated film opening weekend ever — a title previously held by 2007’s “Shrek the Third,” from Paramount, which took in $121.6 million in its debut. “Dory” also has the title of second-best June opening for all releases (behind last year’s $208.7 million from Universal’s “Jurassic World”) and the best Pixar debut, beating the $110.3 million of “Toy Story 3” in 2010.
Such a powerful opening is welcomed news for cinemas suffering from a lackluster summer so far, with movies such as Universal’s “Warcraft” and “Neighbors 2” faltering domestically. Prior to this weekend, summer ticket sales were down 22 percent industrywide compared with the same time a year ago.
“Finding Dory” performed well on IMAX screens throughout the country. At just 211 locations, it pulled $5 million, or a strong per screen average of $24,000.
Released 13 years ago, “Nemo” was a massive hit. The computer-animated movie opened to $70 million and ended its original domestic run with $339 million. Including international box office and a 2012 re-release, the film’s worldwide box office total stands at $937 million.
The new movie focuses on Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres), the sidekick from the first film who suffers from short-term memory loss. The film played in 4,305 North American theaters this weekend, making it the widest domestic release ever for a Pixar or Disney animated film.
Audiences and critics agreed the picture held up well compared with the original. Moviegoers gave it an A CinemaScore, and 95 percent of critics on the review-aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes rated it positively.
The film’s performance dispels some industry fears that audiences are tired of sequels, a condition that has jokingly been diagnosed as “sequel-itis.” This concern was stoked by a rash of movies that failed to live up to the originals, including Disney’s “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” Fox’s “X-Men: Apocalypse” and Paramount’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows.”
Those worries were partly assuaged last weekend after the success of Warner Bros.’ “The Conjuring 2,” which opened to a strong $40 million. But if the response to “Finding Dory” is any indication, audiences will still flock to sequels in droves when nostalgia is in play.
Hollis said that “generation Nemo,” the name that the studio uses to affectionately refer to the audience whose memorable life moments are connected to the first film, was important to the new film’s performance.
“It triggers a memory … as they see our characters and learn more about how the story extends that experience,” he said. “It’s part of what drove the ‘I want to see, have got to see’ of the movie.”
He noted that though families made up 65 percent of the audience, “Dory” performed well at nighttime, meaning that parents and their kids were joined by a broader audience.
“Dory” pulled in an estimated $50 million from the international marketplace. The film marks Pixar’s biggest opening ever in China ($17.5 million), behind “Zootopia,” and the biggest Disney-Pixar opening weekend ever in Australia ($7.6 million). It will continue its international rollout in France and Spain next weekend before expanding across the globe throughout the summer and fall.
The picture has grossed a global total of $186.2 million in its first weekend.
Warner Bros.’ “Central Intelligence” also had a stellar debut, pulling in an estimated $34.5 million in sales, well surpassing analyst expectations of $30 million. Such a performance further solidifies the box office power of its stars, comedian Kevin Hart and former wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
“Without a question, it was a real home run for us,” said Jeff Goldstein, the studio’s distribution chief. “We’re thrilled with both Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart.”
The PG-13 New Line Cinema and Universal Pictures action-comedy stars Hart as an accountant who learns his old high school friend (Johnson) works for the CIA. Both have proved to be very bankable with the “Ride Along” and “Think Like a Man” franchises for Hart and films such as the “Fast & Furious” series and action flicks such as “San Andreas” for Johnson. Much of that is thanks to their appeal to a diverse audience.
“Central Intelligence,” with a $50 million price tag co-financed by Warner Bros. and Universal, pulled in audiences nearly evenly split between men and women but overwhelming young, with 59 percent younger than 35. Goldstein noted that such a turnout was because of the leading men’s chemistry and connection with their fan bases via social media.
“Their chemistry just works, and funny is funny,” he said. “They look at each other and inspire each other.”
The pair co-hosted the MTV Movie Awards this year, promoting the film.
Both audiences and critics have been relatively pleased with the picture. Moviegoers gave it an A-minus CinemaScore, and 66 percent of Rotten Tomatoes critics rated it favorably.
Universal is handling the international release for “Central Intelligence,” and Warner Bros. is distributing it in the U.S.
Pulling up the rear of the weekend box office’s top five was Warner Bros.’ “The Conjuring 2” ($15.6 million in Week 2), Lionsgate’s “Now You See Me 2” ($9.7 million) and Universal’s “Warcraft” ($6.5 million).
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