After a month in the box-office doldrums, movie executives and exhibitors suddenly feel toy-rific. A week after the remake of The Karate Kid exceeded all expectations to earn $55.7 million, Pixar's Toy Story 3 came close to doubling that number. The golden animation studio's 11th feature, and the third installment in its only franchise so far, will ring up a weekend gross of $109 million in North American theaters, judging by early studio estimates. That's the best beginning for a Pixar feature, the highest opening ever for a G-rated movie and pending the announcement of actual numbers tomorrow, instead of today's estimate the top June release.
Saturating the continent by playing on about 7,700 screens at 4,028 locations (according to Box Office Mojo's Brandon Gray), the movie amassed other celestial stats: it's the second highest opening for an animated feature, behind Shrek the Third, and the fourth biggest for a film released by Disney, after the two Pirates of the Caribbean sequels and Alice in Wonderland. If the $109 million holds, TS3 will have secured the tenth largest opening weekend in movie history.
And yet considering the popularity of the Toy Story brand, and that a film greeted by critical hosannas and an enraptured A rating from CinemaScore's poll of exiting moviegoers the TS3 total was a bit less than fabulous. First of all, if tomorrow's final tally is even a million dollars lower, the picture's rank in all-time opening weekends could slip to 13th, since the second Transformers, the ultimate Star Wars episode and Shrek 2 all had opening weekends of at least $108 million. And whatever TS3's official three-day gross, it will have sold fewer tickets than the older films, since ticket prices have risen and the Pixar picture earned 60% of its take from the more expensive 3-D venues.
[MONDAY UPDATE: The final amount for the Toy Story 3 weekend, announced this afternoon, was $110.3 million, or about 1% higher than Disney's Sunday forecast. So it's official: the Pixar threequel registered the 10th highest-grossing opening weekend in movie history. That record should hold for a full two weeks until the debut of The Twilight Saga: Eclipse.]
Further, the film's $37 million earnings on Saturday were $4 million below its Friday gross. Animated features usually accelerate the second day, with parents taking their kids to a Saturday matinee, and the first 10 Pixar films averaged a sturdy 26% jump from opening day to the one after. Only one previous Pixar feature saw its business drop: WALL-E. (No, I wouldn't have guessed that one either.) The TS3 dip can be attributed to $4 million the film registered at Thursday-midnight shows, suggesting that it earned as much during the regular Friday engagements as on Saturday. But even that would mean the numbers flat-lined when they should have swelled.
Pixar films usually have long legs; whereas most other blockbusters earn 30-45% of their total gross in the first three days, the figure for Pixar pictures is usually 20-27%. And since most of the studio's features amass about 60% of their final take from foreign markets, nobody's going broke with Woody, Buzz and their friends. TS3 should continue to entertain audiences throughout the summer, if not at record rates. You can expect the grosses to go to infinity, but not beyond.
One reason TS3 didn't quite go stratospheric is that the two big releases from last week held on well. The Karate Kid, which filched part of the school-age audience from Pixar, fell a respectable 48%, to $29 million; and The A-Team sagged 46%, to $13.8 million. Among May holdovers, Shrek Forever After passed $300 million in domestic revenue, while Robin Hood made it to $100 million. (It's earned nearly twice that abroad.) And after six months in theaters, Avatar remember that? should crawl to the $750 million mark by month's end.
The other wide-release debut, Jonah Hex, was cursed with a $5.1 million weekend. Raavan, Mani Ratnam's Indian musical drama starring Bollywood dream couple Aishwarya Rai and Abhishek Bachchan, took in a decent $551,000 at 199 venues, most of them catering to the Desi diaspora. I Am Love, the swoony Italian romance starring queen-of-the-indies Tilda Swinton, earned $125,000 at eight theaters. But the hot opening for specialty films, with $180,300 in just four theaters, was Cyrus, starring John C. Reilly and Jonah Hill. That tandem suggests a Judd Apatow comedy, but this little nasty from mumblecore auteurs Jay and Mark Duplass is much darker and weirder. The film's rollout over the next few weeks will tell if the Duplass brothers can swim in the mainstream even as they boldly pollute it.
Here are the Sunday estimates of the weekend's top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:
1. Toy Story 3, $109 million, first weekend
2. The Karate Kid, $29 million; $106.3 million, second week
3. The A-Team, $13.8 million; $49.8 million, second week
4. Get Him to the Greek, $6.1 million; $47.9 million, third week
5. Shrek Forever After, $5.5 million; $223 million, fifth week
6. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, $5.3 million; $80.5 million, fourth week
7. Killers, $5.1 million; $39.4 million, third week
8. Jonah Hex, $5.1 million, first weekend
9. Iron Man 2, $2.65 million; $304.8 million, seventh week
10. Marmaduke, $2.65 million; $27.9 million, third week