Universal’s “The Secret Life of Pets” will easily take top spot this weekend, ousting the great three-week reign of another animated smash, Pixar/Disney’s “Finding Dory.” But that likely won’t be enough to outpace the same weekend last summer.
Last year, the post-July 4th weekend featured the release of another Universal animated film, “Minions.” The third “Despicable Me” entry capitalized on the series’ popularity to a $115 million opening, comprising more than half of the Top Ten total of $202 million. That was the fourth best weekend of last summer, and the last over $200 million.
“Pets” is the latest release from Universal’s Illumination. With an emphasis on comedy and high-end voice talent (Kevin Hart and Louis C.K. among them), the animation unit has thrived with productions less expensive than those of rivals Pixar, Disney, and Dreamworks.
Since “Pets” is an original animation release, that often means opening weekends under $50 million (often followed by 4X multiples and sequels). Disney bested this standard with “Zootopia” in March ($75 million), but among those that fell short were “The Angry Birds Movie” (Sony), “The Good Dinosaur” (Buena Vista), and “The Peanuts Movie” (20th Century Fox), “Kung Fu Panda 3” (Dreamworks) and “Hotel Transylvania 2” (Sony). Even Pixar original “Inside Out” made less in its opening weekend than “Finding Dory” and “Minions.”
“Pets” is anticipated to make around $75 million this weekend — no small feat, especially considering that “Dory” is still in play and competing for the same viewers. Still, that would put “Pets” $40 million below the “Minions” opening a year ago.
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“Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates” (20th Century Fox) is the other wide studio newbie. The R-rated comedy stars Zaf Efron and Adam Devine with Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza. Efron’s two most recent comedies opened to $21 million (the disappointing “Neighbors 2”) and $11 million (“Dirty Grandpa.”) A dearth of hit live-action comedies (“Central Intelligence” thriving alone among them) and the sometimes-lucrative “Wedding” in the title could propel this to a low-teens opening.
“Dory” likely edges out “The Legend of Tarzan” for second spot in the low $20 million range. “Tarzan” surprised many by grossing $46 million over the four-day holiday. The weekend will test of how good the initial word of mouth. A normal summer second weekend drop would put this around $20 million.
Vying for fourth spot with “Mike and Dave” will be second-weekend holdovers “The Purge: Election Year” (Universal) and “The BFG” (Buena Vista). Genre thrillers tend to drop rapidly, but “Purge” should still edge out Steven Spielberg’s expensive flop (although we’ll need to see foreign results to confirm its status). Initial post-holiday weekday numbers have “Purge” out ahead, and “BFG” has “Pets” to eat into its appeal.
In a repeat of last year, the domestic market will see one of the year’s top Indian releases open concurrent to its international release and possibly break into the Top Ten. Bollywood superstar Salman Khan, whose “Prem Ratan Dhan Payo” grossed $2.4 million and placed 8th its opening weekend last November, returns with “Sultan” at roughly 300 theaters.
Among art-house entries, four stand out with favorable advance reviews, theater placements in New York and Los Angeles, and festival attention. Likely to lead in grosses is Bleecker Street’s “Captain Fantastic” starring Viggo Morgenstern as rural widower raising six children. After good reactions at Sundance and Cannes, it is the latest release from the distributor of the year’s biggest limited initial release so far, “Eye in the Sky.”
Two new documentaries are well positioned to perform. Alex Gibney’s latest “Zero Days” from Magnolia and Participant explores the world of cyber warfare involving computer malware run amok. The Sundance-premiered “Norman Lear – Just Another Version of You” (Music Box) opens in New York only, with appearances by its subject at some of its showings.
Japanese director Horikazu Kore-Eda’s “Our Little Sister” (Sony Pictures Classics) was the most awarded film in Japan last year (though oddly not the country’s Oscar submission). The festival-favorite director (this played at last year’s Cannes) has regularly seen his films get American releases, most recently “Like Father, Like Son.”