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‘Cars 3’ and ‘Despicable Me 3’: In a Summer of Franchise Failures, Animation Sequels Hold Their Own

While they opened better than other summer tentpoles, franchise lows for "Despicable Me 3" and "Cars 3" represent serious sequel fatigue.

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover UsageMandatory Credit: Photo by REX/Shutterstock (8586400e)Despicable Me 3Despicable Me 3 - 2017

“Despicable Me 3”

REX/Shutterstock

Pixar’s “Cars 3” and Illumination’s “Despicable Me 3” are what pass for good news this summer: They opened to $53 million and $72 million, respectively, placing them among the five best starts of summer releases. They’re also ahead of domestic disappointments such as the latest entries in the “Aliens,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Transformers,” and “The Mummy” franchises.

That’s also damning with faint praise: Success relative to other 2017 disappointments is not the same as relative to past successes. By that gauge, the two most recent animated films suffered the same shortfalls as their live-action brethren.

ROAD TO VICTORY — When faced with a new generation of racers who threaten to derail his career, Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) teams up with tech-savvy, unconventional trainer Cruz Ramirez (voice of Cristela Alonzo) to find his way back to the top. Directed by Brian Fee, produced by Kevin Reher and co-produced by Andrea Warren, Disney•Pixar’s “Cars 3” opens in U.S. theaters on June 16, 2017. ©2017 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

“Cars 3”

Pixar

Animation loves the July 4th weekend; usually, we see two major releases around the holiday. (Usually one just before, the other after.) This year it was “Cars 3” and “Despicable Me 3,” which opened to $125 million combined. In 2016, “Finding Dory” and “The Secret Life of Pets” opened to $245 million; in 2015, “Inside Out” and “Minions” opened to $221 million.

That’s a massive drop of nearly 50%, from a date and genre considered to be as surefire as any combination in the business. Without context, it’s as unsettling as any disappointment this summer.

The “Cars” series never provided top grosses for Pixar, and “Cars 3” will end up 17th of 18 Pixar films in domestic totals and grossing about 60 percent of “Cars 2.” “Despicable Me 3” has a similar decline. In 2013, “Despicable 2” grossed $143 million its first five days. In 2015, “Minions” opened to $124 million across five days. While $73 million for “Despicable 3” is respectable, it reflects a steep decline in domestic results.

“The Secret Life of Pets”

“Despicable 3” shows strong signs of  life, grossing $26.5 million Monday and Tuesday and reaching $99 million in five days. Still, that’s a 30 percent drop from the second “Despicable,” and an even bigger one from “Minions.”

Best guess as to why? There’s the matter of sequel resistance — especially for “Despicable 3,” which is the third Minions film in four years. And if reviews are a guide, there’s the possibility that the movies just weren’t that good. (Illumination never strived to achieve Pixar-level creative, but this “Despicable 3” had the worst reviews of the series.)

"Inside Out"

“Inside Out”

Pixar Animation Studios

Animated films can be very leggy, and these have the animation audience’s undivided attention until Sony’s “The Emoji Movie” opens July 28. And “Despicable 3” will be very profitable, with a strong domestic gross plus foreign returns.

Still, if two DC Comics and Marvel films opened in May and fell far short of past performance, it would have raised questions about their ongoing momentum. For now it’s an anomaly, but the drop is significant when the animation genre is among the top movie moneymakers in the world.

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