‘Finding Dory’ is a Whale-Sized Success for Pixar

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“Finding Dory,” the latest offering from Disney/Pixar, opened at No. 1 this weekend by a margin of more than $100 million, with its estimated $136.2 million take setting a new record for an animated film in the process. The huge opening for the sequel ended up being right in line with TheStreet‘s predictions and gave the summer box office a much-needed shot in the arm. The old adage “a rising tide lifts all boats” did not apply to this weekend, however: while “Central Intelligence” had a solid debut, holdovers generally struggled to hold their own against “Dory.” Overall, the top twelve films generated $225.9 million in weekend revenue, down 7% from the same frame last year but still strong for a weekend in June.

The big weekend from “Dory” handily beat the record for the largest debut for an animated film. The previous record-holder, “Shrek the Third,” generated $121.6 million in its opening weekend, or about $15 million less than “Dory.” However, it’s important to keep these “records” in perspective; “Shrek the Third” did not have the advantage of 3D surcharges or Thursday night previews, and when adjusting for inflation, its opening weekend actually comes out to $151.7 million. In fact, the opening weekend for “Dory” ranks behind both “Shrek the Third” and “Shrek 2” when adjusted for inflation, proving that the popularity of the “Shrek” franchise in the mid-aughts is still extremely difficult to recapture.

Still, the attendance for “Dory” was not far behind the “Shrek” sequels, and the Pixar sequel will likely have sold more tickets than “Shrek the Third” by the end of its run. In fact, it has a good chance at being the highest-grossing movie of the summer by a decent margin. That distinction currently belongs to “Captain America: Civil War”, which looks like it will wind up its domestic run with about $410 million. If “Finding Dory” holds in line with last summer’s “Inside Out,” it will end up with around $530 million. However, given its nature as a sequel, it’s more likely it will have a multiplier similar to “Monsters University,” which would give it roughly a $445 million total. Providing that none of the films on the July/August slate absolutely demolish expectations (and at this point, it looks unlikely), “Dory” is virtually guaranteed to be the highest earner of the summer, and perhaps the year as well.

The box office success of “Finding Dory” is a return to form for Pixar, which saw “The Good Dinosaur” become its first unprofitable film last November. That film had trouble attracting moviegoers outside of family audiences, while “Dory” was a certified four-quadrant hit. Families still made up the largest portion of the audience (65%), but adults (26%) and teens (9%) also turned out in droves. By comparison, 80% of the audience for “The Good Dinosaur” consisted of families. The wide popularity of “Dory” this weekend proves again that, when it comes to Pixar, huge openings are contingent upon quality product. The underwhelming performance of “The Good Dinosaur” at the box office was largely because of its unenthusiastic critical reception. If the reviews are strong (as they were for “Dory”), older audiences will show up in droves, as the best Pixar movies appeal to all age groups.

The one weak spot for “Dory” this weekend was its revenue from IMAX screens, which came in at an estimated $5 million. While that’s certainly nothing to scoff at, it does come in below the $5.2 million in IMAX revenue that “Zootopia” generated over its opening weekend, despite the fact that the film opened well below “Dory” with $75.1 million. In general, IMAX has been struggling this summer. “Captain America: Civil War” pulled in less than predecessors “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “Iron Man 3” on premium format screens, and this summer’s other IMAX offerings have all been disappointing as well. It seems as though moviegoers are becoming less-willing to shell out additional money for the IMAX experience, as ticket prices continue to rise and moviegoers become more selective in the films that they choose to see. The good news for IMAX is that Chinese audiences are still turning out for the large-format screens in droves, as proven by the record opening of “Warcraft” in the Middle Kingdom last weekend.

Speaking of Chinese audiences, they contributed $17.5 million of the $50 million global opening of “Dory” this weekend. While the opening in China pales in comparison to other opening weekends of recent animated films like “Zootopia” ($23.6 million) and “Minions” ($31.3 million), it is still the largest debut ever for a Pixar film in the Middle Kingdom. In general, Pixar films have never really caught on among Chinese moviegoers, although “Dory” could begin to reverse that trend. The movie will expand into additional foreign markets in the coming weeks, and will hope to match (or exceed) the $500 million overseas gross that “Inside Out” generated last summer.

Turning back to the domestic marketplace, “Central Intelligence” from Warner Bros. pulled in $34.5 million in its opening weekend. That’s a solid, if not spectacular, result for the action comedy, and is further proof that Hart is one of the most reliable comedy stars in the business right now. By comparison, the movie opened right in between the two most recent buddy comedies starring Kevin Hart, “Ride Along 2” ($35.2 million opening weekend) and “Get Hard” ($33.8 million opening weekend). This most likely means that, while Dwayne Johnson certainly added extra appeal to “Central Intelligence,” he was not able to carry over the fanbase that has made him a bona fide action star in recent years. As a result, the film failed to truly break out.

This is still a good result for the $50 million film, however, and it did open 19% higher than last summer’s action comedy “Spy.” That movie finished its run with a strong $110.8 million, as well as $124.8 million in foreign revenue. “Central Intelligence” will be lucky to hit those numbers; if the movie holds up similarly to “Ride Along 2” and “Get Hard,” it will end its domestic run with $90 to $95 million. And the movie will likely fall short of “Spy” on the foreign spectrum as well: while Johnson is a draw overseas, Hart is not yet a worldwide star, as his last three movies have made an average of $23.4 million outside of North America. The $6.8 million that “Central Intelligence” made from 24 foreign markets this weekend indicates that the overseas total for the film will certainly exceed Hart’s average, but will still likely top out at $60 to $70 million. This means that Warner Bros. is likely looking at a worldwide total of around $150 million for the film–a good performance, but certainly not the smash that the studio was hoping for.

The top five at the domestic box office was rounded out by the three openers from last weekend, which all had steeper-than-expected drops. “The Conjuring 2” fell 62% to a $15.6 million second weekend and a $71.7 million total. That’s a decent weekend-to-weekend decline for a horror film but indicates that the horror sequel will have weaker holding power than its predecessor, which dropped 47% in its second weekend. A domestic total over $100 million still looks likely for “The Conjuring 2,” but based on this weekend’s result, it may be a squeaker.

In fourth place, “Now You See Me 2” fell a steep 57% from last weekend to $9.7 million. The young adult audience that the Lionsgate sequel is targeting was likely distracted this weekend by both “Finding Dory” and “Central Intelligence.” “Now You See Me 2” has made a modest $41.4 million through its first ten days, much less than its predecessor’s $60.9 million through the same point in its run. And in fifth place, “Warcraft” had a disastrous 73% drop from last weekend’s already disappointing opening. The big-budget movie made $6.5 million this weekend and has made $37.7 million since its domestic run began on June 10.

Looking ahead to next weekend, sci-fi sequel “Independence Day: Resurgence,” shark thriller “The Shallows” and historical drama “The Free State of Jones” will make their debuts. “Resurgence” may give “Dory” a race for the #1 spot, while the other two openers will likely struggle to break out. Make sure to check in on Thursday for official box office predictions!

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