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How Disney and Pixar’s Animated Box Office Reign Could be Dethroned by Universal’s Minions

This weekend is "Cars 3," the next is "Despicable Me 3," and the battle is on for the most powerful animated distributor in the U.S.

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’s “Cars 3” and Illumination Entertainment’s “Despicable 3” open tomorrow and June 30, respectively; early estimates suggest it’s the Minions that will rule the world. And if that’s the case, Universal could become the most successful animation distributor in domestic box office.

Disney still holds sway on a global basis; over the last five years, Disney-distributed animation has grossed just over $5 billion to Universal’s $3.35 billion. However, as a producer Illumination’s box office is bigger than either Disney or Pixar, domestic and foreign, and with this latest round it could become more successful than both entities combined at the domestic box office.

despicable me 3

Despicable Me 3

Disney’s Pixar has a lock on critical and awards acclaim; it’s won half of the Oscars for Animated Feature since the award was established in 2001. The two previous “Cars” are not among the top Pixar domestic grossers, with the Oscar-nominated original ranking 10th and “Cars 2” 16th of their 17 feature releases.

Based on adjusted gross, “Cars” opened to $81 million and $329 million worldwide; “Cars 2” opened to $72 million and $212 million worldwide. Advance estimates for “Cars 3” are in the range of $60 million-plus; considering Pixar’s “Finding Dory” opened to $135 million exactly one year ago, that seems low. However, since the $103 million opening of “The Secret Life of Pets” last July, no animated feature has opened above $60 million. That includes “The Boss Baby,” “The LEGO Batman Movie,” and “Moana,” although the latter did $25 million before its opening post-Thanksgiving weekend.

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

“Despicable Me 3”


“Despicable Me 3” is more of a wild card. In adjusted gross, “Despicable Me” opened to $65 million in 2010, “Despicable Me 2” opened to $94 million in 2013, and prequel “Minions” opened to $124 million in 2015.

Since 2012, Universal’s Illumination has produced five films — two “Despicable” titles, “Minions,” “Sing” and “The Lorax,” which average $333 million in their domestic totals. And they did so with reported production budgets under $100 million, far lower than what Pixar and Disney spend on their films.

Finding Dory

“Finding Dory”


During the same years, Pixar has had five as well — “Brave,” “Monsters University,” “Inside Out,” “Finding Dory” and “The Good Dinosaur” — with an average of $312 million. “Dory” is the top grosser among all animated releases in the period, but Pixar has only two of the top 20, compared to Illumination’s three.

Disney has had “Wreck-It Ralph,” “Frozen,” “Big Hero 6,” “Zootopia,” and “Moana.” They come in at an average of $296 million.

The other five studio producers, with varying degrees of success, lag behind. DreamWorks has had 12 titles in this period, with an average of $193 million. Their best since 2012 was “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” with $238 million. That was five years ago, and ranks only eighth best in their strong history since 2000.

Fox’s Blue Sky Animation group is a bit behind with $175 million for five titles, none grossing more than $200 million (2012’s “Ice Age: Continental Drift” their best during the time). What is notable among their titles (the “Rio” series similarly) is their huge overseas appeal. Only “Frozen” and “Minions” grossed more overseas than “Continental Drift,” which grossed about $750 million outside the U.S. And they likewise keep their budgets down to around $100 million or less. (Fox for now is the third distributor of DreamWorks, after their own freestanding company, then Paramount; they are moving on to Universal soon).

Bringing up the rear are Sony Pictures Animation (seven films, $100 million average), Warner Animation Group (three, $178 million) and Paramount (two, $104 million).

Top 10 Animated Films, Domestic (2012-2017)

1) “Finding Dory”
Release Date: 6/17/16
Distributor: Disney
Box Office: $496,437,500

2) “Frozen”
Release Date: 11/22/13
Distributor: Disney
Box Office: $433,522,600

3) “Despicable Me 2”
Release Date: 7/3/13
Distributor: Universal
Box Office: $414,543,800

4) “The Secret Life of Pets”
Release Date: 7/8/16
Distributor: Universal
Box Office: $382,540,500

5) “Inside Out”
Release Date: 6/9/15
Distributor: Disney
Box Office: $381,769,500

6) “Minions”
Release Date: 7/10/15
Distributor: Universal
Box Office: $359,913,900

7) “Zootopia”
Release Date: 3/4/16
Distributor: Disney
Box Office: $350,117,900

8) “Monsters University”
Release Date: 6/21/13
Distributor: Disney
Box Office: $293,491,800

9) “The Lego Movie”
Release Date: 2/7/14
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Box Office: $285,667,000

10) “Sing”
Release Date: 12/21/16
Distributor: Universal
Box Office: $271,032,100

Top Animated Films, Foreign (2012-2017)

1) “Frozen”
Release Year: 2013
Distributor: Disney
Box Office: $875,742,326

2) “Minions”
Release Year: 2015
Distributor: Universal
Box Office: $823,352,627

3) “Ice Age: Continental Drift”
Release Year: 2012
Distributor: Fox
Box Office: $715,922,939

4) “Zootopia”
Release Year: 2016
Distributor: Disney
Box Office: $682,515,947

5) “Despicable Me 2”
Release Year: 2013
Distributor: Universal
Box Office: $602,700,620

6) “Finding Dory”
Release Year: 2016
Distributor: Disney
Box Office: $542,275,328

7) “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted”
Release Year: 2012
Distributor: Paramount
Box Office: $530,529,792

8) “The Secret Life of Pets”
Release Year: 2016
Distributor: Universal
Box Office: $507,073,607

9) “Inside Out”
Release Year: 2015
Distributor: Disney
Box Office: $501,149,463

10) “Monsters University”
Release Year: 2013
Distributor: Disney
Box Office: $475,736,673

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