Top 10 Box Office Takeaways: Animation Rules as ‘The Secret Life of Pets’ Soars to Record Heights

With ten number one openers in 2016 so far, more than double 2015, animated family features are not only dominating but saving the domestic box office. And they're also printing money worldwide.
The Secret Life of Pets
"The Secret Life of Pets"

The twisty summer of 2016 is taking some surprising turns. Unexpectedly, the most recent new animated film, Universal/Illumination’s “The Secret Life of Pets,” topped $100 million for the weekend. That makes it the biggest ever opening for an original animated feature. It’s not quite the level Pixar sequel “Finding Dory” reached three weeks ago (the year’s highest-grosser is one of Disney’s biggest cartoon features), but its achievement is incredible. This one movie could make the summer box office, with some promising films still to come, not fall off as steeply from 2015.

The other opener, comedy “Mike and Dave’s Wedding Date” (Twentieth Century Fox) did about a sixth as well, about where it was expected. There is always room for comedy in the market, especially when the public could use a diversion. But that need is better served at the moment by the significantly more successful “Central Intelligence” (Warner Bros.).

Read last week’s Top 10 Box Office Takeaways.

Of note in the Top Ten is the Bollywood worldwide release “The Sultan.” On under 300 screens, it achieved a five-day gross of $3.2 million— a level that most specialized companies would love to see for their English-language indie releases. More on this and other specialized films in Arthouse Audit.

The Legend of Tarzan

The Top Ten

1. The Secret Life of Pets (Universal) – Cinemascore: A-; Metacritic: 61; est. budget: $75 million

$103,170,000 in 4,370 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $23,609; Cumulative: $103,170,000

2. The Legend of Tarzan (Warner Bros.)  Week 2; Last weekend #2

$20,615,000 (-46%) in 3,591 theaters (+30); PTA: $5,741; Cumulative: $81,413,000

3. Finding Dory (Buena Vista) Week 4; Last weekend #1

$20,351,000 (-51%) in 3,871 theaters (-434); PTA: $5,257; Cumulative: $422,580,000

4. Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (Twentieth Century Fox) – Cinemascore: B; Metacritic: 51; est. budget: $33 million

$16,600,000 in 2,982 theaters; PTA: $5,567; Cumulative: $16,600,000

5. The Purge: Election Day (Universal)  Week 2; Last weekend #3

$11,700,000 (-63%) in 2,821 theaters (+25); PTA: $4,147; Cumulative: $58,110,000

6. Central Intelligence (Warner Bros.) Week 4; Last weekend #6

$8,125,000 (-35%) in 2,841 theaters (-325); PTA: $2,860; Cumulative: $108,325,000

7. Independence Day: Resurgence (20th Century Fox) Week 3; Last weekend #5

$7,700,000 (-54%) in 3,061 theaters (-1,030); PTA: $2,516; Cumulative: $91,496,000

8. The B.F.G. (Buena Vista) Week 2; Last weekend #4

$7,604,000 (-59%) in 3,392 theaters (+25); PTA: $2,242; Cumulative: $38,739,000

9. The Shallows (Sony)  Week 3; Last weekend #7

$4,800,000 (-%) in 2,406 theaters (-556); PTA: $1,995; Cumulative: $45,825,000

10. Sultan (Yash Raj) NEW

$2,216,475 in 287 theaters; PTA: $7,832; Cumulative: $3,228,560

Zac Efron, Aubrey Plaza, Anna Kendrick, and Adam Devine in Mike And Dave Need Wedding Dates
“Mike And Dave Need Wedding Dates”

The Best News of the Summer?

If the weekend estimates hold, the Top Ten total will come in at $203 million. That would place it about $1 million over last year’s same weekend, a seemingly impossible achievement. Universal/Illumination’s presold sequel “Minions,” on a prime date—not an original animated feature— started $12 million higher than “The Secret Life of Pets,” and with the $75-90 million range more typical of similar films (“Inside Out” managed $90 million) this number is vastly better than expected. This comes on the heels of a huge animated smash —more on “Finding Dory” below —during a summer when exceeding expectations is rare.

To achieve the $203 million, the rest of the field provided more of the margin than the top 10 last year. The difference? The second new release, “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates,” took in almost $7 million more than “The Gallows” last year, and the holdovers were stronger.

It’s going to be a week by week battle to keep pace with last year and improve the dismal shortfall since the start of summer in May. “Ghostbusters” next weekend remains a question, but prospects are strong for “Suicide Squad,” “Star Trek Beyond” and “Jason Bourne.” Only one film (“Straight Outta Compton”) managed to open as high as $60 million over the second half of the summer last year.

Finding Dory
“Finding Dory”

Animation Steamroller “Pets” Soars, “Dory” One of Disney’s Best Ever

Whatever the mixed news this year so far (the many high-end flops, the struggle until recently for mid-budget entries to thrive, while the high-end seemed bigger than ever), the one mainstay has been animation. Here’s how stellar the year has been. At this point last year, four weekends saw an animated feature at #1. For 2016, “Pets” makes it 10 weekends. That’s five different titles. “Dory” seems headed to $500 million domestic, “Zootopia” got to $340 million, “Pets” could top $300 million. Last year only “Inside Out” and “Minions” reached those numbers ($356 and 336 million respectively).

It has made all the difference. Through this weekend, animated features have taken in around $1,125,000,000: that’s $400 million more or 66% higher. With the overall year to date up about $170 million, that alone accounts for the improvement and then some.

With smart moves by multiple studios and the increased number of releases not cannibalizing titles too much, this genre seems to be the safest bet both domestic and foreign.

“Pets” had (adjusted) the sixth-best opening ever for an animated release. But here’s the standout stat: the other five were all sequels. This is an original, and the best ever. That shows the momentum animation has after “Zootopia” and “Dory” clearly not only satisfied their audiences but left them hungry for more. And the norm, more than for any other kind of high-end opening gross, is for a multiple closer to 4X than 3. No guarantees here, but even thinking this could be based on early performance a worldwide $1 billion total (a figure “Zootopia” just hit, which is second best for the year so far) just shows how these films are close to printing money at the moment.

Oh—the latest “Ice Age” film (“Collision Course”) scored $32 million in its initial foreign dates this weekend. Its domestic date is July 22.

“Finding Dory” Is Huge, But It’s No “Snow White” or “The Lion King”

In its fourth weekend “Finding Dory” is already the biggest 2016 domestic release (besting fellow Disney release, Marvel’s “Captain America: Civil War”). Even with a bigger than usual drop (caused by “Pets”) of 51% this is likely to hit $500 million.

That’s a huge number. But one thing it isn’t, as some are claiming, is the biggest Disney animated film ever.

With reasonable adjusting for inflation, at $500 million it would fall short of their Top Ten (including Pixar films). Eight of these were pre-1970 classics (often aided by multiple re-issues no longer standard with other viewing options), led by “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” which is estimated to have grossed (adjusted) around $935 million (#10 ever, edging out “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”).

As huge as “Dory” is, it won’t beat out “The Lion King” (adjusted $765 million). It does have a shot at equaling earlier entry “Finding Nemo” ($528 million).

That’s exalted territory. We’re talking doing better than “Alladin,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Frozen,” and “Inside Out.” “Dory” was expected to be strong, but at that level? And this summer, with its uneven results and multiple animated (and other family viewing) alternatives!  This year at least, animation has managed to surpass Marvel’s comic book movies as the most certain to succeed movie genre. And Marvel remains very strong.

“Mike and Dave” No Threat to “Central Intelligence” Among Summer Comedies

“Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates” teamed Zak Efron with a rising star (Adam Devine) along with two talented actresses (Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza) to take a stab at R-rated mid-summer comedy, revisiting a matrimonial setting. It came in around where expected ($16.6 million) and a Saturday up around $600,000 over the Friday gross without previews added. With a $33 million budget before marketing, uncertain overseas prospects and no guaranteed strong multiple, it comes in at best middling.

Comedies are not boosting the box office this summer as they had in recent years (the “Hangover” series, Melissa McCarthy’s early hits, “Trainwreck”). But one is stands out, looking better every week it sticks around.

“Central Intelligence” had a decent opening of $35 million that only looked a bit short because it fell below Kevin Hart’s “Ride Along” opening. Others in the same range opened in lesser time periods. And this added the on fire Dwayne Johnson to the mix.

The wariness was premature. At $108 million so far, and a small drop of only 35% (best in the Top Ten) this looks headed to $140 million or vicinity. That could be triple where “Mike and Dave” ends up. That level would make it the biggest buddy comedy (of all genders; the female variety has been thriving) since “22 Jump Street” two summers ago.

And, unlike previous Hart efforts, with the pairing with Johnson, this looks to add at least half as much to the take, quite good for a $50-million film. And it’s proof that comedy, when the elements work and have some originality to them, can sustain a longer run in the summer than many more highly touted films.

“The BFG”


All holdovers had to contend with comparisons to a holiday weekend. The second weekends provided one mixed bag (“The Legend of Tarzan”), one disaster (“The BFG”) and one not unexpected (“The Purge: Election Year”).

“Tarzan” is the toughest to assess. At 46% down, after a better than expected but still inadequate total for its $180 million budget, it managed to grab second place just ahead of “Dory” (or at least until final numbers come in Monday). Factoring in the extra post-holiday drop, it’s not a bad performance.

That projects to around $125 million in its domestic take, around what seemed likely initially. So it still will need a much bigger foreign take. It’s slower opening overseas because of broadcast sporting events in Europe. But unlike some other high-end releases, it’s not an obvious flop.

The same can’t be said for “The BFG.” Down 59%, dropping to a sad 8th place, Steven Spielberg’s latest once again shows that Cinemascore (this got an A-) can’t be relied upon as a predictor of future performance. This is going to struggle to hit $50 million.

“The Purge: Election Year” as a third go-round dropped 63%. That’s actually the best hold of the series. $75 million domestic for a $10 million budget plus foreign will help Universal to counter its loss on “Warcraft.”

“Independence Day: Resurgence” in its third weekend managed to edge out “The BFG,” though it dropped 54%. It’s going to top out a bit over $100 million domestic. The $214 million additional overseas makes its ultimate fate ($160 million initial budget) still in doubt.

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