Box Office Guru Preview: Pixar Flies Into 3D Age with Up

Also: Sam Raimi wants to Drag Me to Hell.

by | May 28, 2009 | Comments

It’s been two full months since a big 3D toon and a horror film hit the multiplexes so fans of both types of entertainment will rejoice on Friday from the openings of the Disney-Pixar animated adventure Up and Universal’s fright flick Drag Me to Hell.

For its tenth animated feature in fourteen years, Pixar goes 3D with its grumpy old man comedy Up which tells of an elderly widower and a young boy who partake in a cross-continental adventure in a flying house. As with previous films from the Disney-owned kings of toonville, this PG-rated offering has attracted glowing reviews from critics. Monsters, Inc. director Pete Docter is back at the helm with Ed Asner and Christopher Plummer heading up the voice cast.

With four of its last five movies winning the animated film Oscar, and with seven consecutive $200M+ grossers, Pixar has remained the industry leader in computer animation with both creative and commercial success. Unless you have a talking rat cooking food, you can count on the company breaking $60M on opening weekend. As Pixar’s first 3D film, Up will benefit from higher ticket prices thanks to the surcharges that audiences seem to have no problem paying given the potent numbers displayed this year by so many films requiring the special black glasses.

As with most recent Pixar titles, Up has a strong brand name that consistently brings out audiences, stellar reviews, and a terrific marketing push. But the big difference will be competition as Disney’s release date comes unusually close to another big hit pulling in family business. The Night at the Museum sequel will be in its second weekend so many parents and kids will have another film to flock to. With over $70M in its four-day holiday debut, the Ben Stiller pic could steal away roughly $30M this weekend from the same folks Up is targeting. Last summer, WALL•E‘s opening saw its biggest competition come from Kung Fu Panda‘s fourth frame take of $11.7M. A year earlier, Ratatouille bowed against the $15.1M sophomore session of Evan Almighty and in 2006, Cars debuted opposite Over the Hedge‘s $10.2M in its fourth round.

Up will enjoy higher admission prices, but that may be cancelled out by the increased competition. Flying into 3,766 theaters, the animated feature could open with about $62M.

Pixar’s Up

After spending this entire decade making two good and one lame Spider-Man films, Sam Raimi returns to the horror genre with the psychological thriller Drag Me to Hell. The PG-13 pic is released by Universal which lately has had a Sony-like track record with its string of successful fright flicks. A year ago, it generated a $21M debut for the home invasion chiller The Strangers and in January it reached $19.8M for the terrorfest The Unborn. Both carried R ratings. In Drag, which should play to a broader age group thanks to the rating, a young woman must fight a curse put on her that will send her to hell for eternity.

Drag has many elements working in its favor that will result in a strong opening weekend performance. The Raimi brand name will help bring in older horror fans while the rating opens the doors to teenagers who will make up a large share of the total audience. The marketing push has been solid and the supernatural storyline makes it a spooky and appealing offering. Plus the last horror film to hit theaters opened two months ago which is an eternity to this crowd. Fans are ready to rally behind a new title that promises thrills and chills. And positive reviews are icing on the cake!

Moviegoers have flocked to scary movies this year making almost every horror pic a winner on opening weekend. Debuts include $21.2M for My Bloody Valentine 3D, $23M for The Haunting in Connecticut, and $40.6M for Friday the 13th. Raimi is no Voorhees, but breaking the $20M mark is certainly possible which is a major win for any film of the genre. Attacking 2,508 theaters, Drag Me to Hell could scare up around $24M this weekend.

Alison Lohman in Drag Me to Hell

With the Pixar army marching into theaters on Friday, reigning box office champ Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian looks to face some major competition for its audience. Families will certainly be tempted by the balloon house, but the Ben Stiller comedy is playing broadly so the non-family crowd may still show up in solid numbers. In 2005, the DreamWorks toon Madagascar opened over the long Memorial Day holiday frame to similar numbers and fell by 41% in the sophomore session. Museum should see a larger decline since it’s a sequel and has direct competition. Look for a 45% drop to about $30M giving Battle of the Smithsonian $108M in ten days.

Terminator Salvation arrived on the scene weaker than expected and even fell by $2M from its original opening weekend estimate. Fan support is not strong enough to prevent a steep decline and much of the excitement surrounding the pic has evaporated already. Second weekend dropoffs for recent action sequels launching over the holiday frame include 55% for last year’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, 62% for 2007’s Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, and 67% for 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand. Salvation had the Thursday launch like Crystal Skull which will soften the Friday-to-Sunday fall, but it also has the intense upfront audience of X-Men. Warner Bros. should suffer a 60% fall for Terminator Salvation and see sales slide to around $17M putting the 11-day total at $91M. T3 cracked the $100M mark in that many days, but T4 will need more time, despite collecting more money per ticket.

Star Trek is poised to become the first film in ten months to break the $200M mark this weekend. The J.J. Abrams reboot looks to dip by 40% to roughly $14M lifting the cume for Paramount to $209M. Sony’s Angels & Demons is on a more downward trend. A 45% decline would put the Tom Hanks sequel at $12M with the total rising to $105M.

LAST YEAR: Cosmo-power propelled the much-anticipated Sex and the City to number one as the New Line film debuted to a stunning $56.8M knocking Crystal Skull down to second in its second weekend with $44.8M. Sex went on to capture $152.6M domestically and a sizzling $410M worldwide. Opening in third with strength was Universal’s horror flick The Strangers with $21M on its way to $52.6M. Rounding out the top five were the effects-heavy franchise films Iron Man and The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian with $13.5M and $12.7M, respectively.

Author: Gitesh Pandya,