Cars 2 Takes Checkered Flag with $68 Million

Disney and Pixar scored their latest hit with the animated sequel Cars 2, which easily took the top spot at the North American box office this weekend. The critically-reviled animated feature took the top ten pole position while the Cameron Diaz comedy Bad Teacher was anything but bad in second place. Overall, the box office was up a healthy 10% over the top ten films last year at this time.

While it delivered the lowest approval ratings (33% on Rotten Tomatoes) of any movie in the 16-year production history of Pixar Pictures (check out our Cars 2 review), ticket buyers nonetheless lined up en masse to see the latest adventures of Lightning McQueen and Mater this weekend. Arriving on 4,115 screens, Cars 2 earned a muscular $68 million in estimated ticket sales for a great per-screen average of $16,525. Directed by Pixar CEO John Lassiter (his first directorial effort since the first Cars five years ago), the sequel features the voice talents of Owen Wilson, Bonnie Hunt, Larry the Cable Guy, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Eddie Izzard and John Turturro and sends a few of the characters from the 2006 original overseas for some international intrigue and laughs.

Cars 2 opened slightly better than the 2006 original, which earned $60.1 million (in pre-inflation dollars) in its debut. The $68 million estimate for Cars 2 ranks fifth among the all-time openings for the successful studio behind Toy Story 3 ($110 million opening), The Incredibles ($70.4 million), Finding Nemo ($70.2 million) and Up ($68.1 million). One could attribute the multitude of 3D and IMAX screens that Cars 2 debuted on. But given the measly 38% contribution to the overall total generated from 3D screenings (getting the hint, Hollywood?), chances are that it is most likely the lucrative family and kiddie markets that helped drive the gross. This would be the same demographic that helped the original earn $246 million at the domestic box office while also contributing a whopping ten billion dollars for film-related merchandise over the last half-decade.

Cameron Diaz returned to movie screens this weekend in the raunchy R-rated female comedy Bad Teacher, which taught a very impressive $31 million in its first three days on 3,049 screens for a hot per-screen average of $10,167. The Bad Santa wannabe was extensively marketed by Sony Pictures over the past few months. Those efforts paid off handsomely for the movie, which was directed by Jake Kasdan (The Zero Effect) and co-starred Justin Timberlake and Jason Segel . Critics didn’t care much for it (46% on RT), even though they liked it better than Cars 2.

Last week’s number one film, Warner’s pricey superhero flick Green Lantern, dropped like a stone in its second go-around. Blame it on superhero movie fatigue or simply blame it on the fact that the movie is a brightly colored turd, it fell a disastrous 65.5% from its mediocre opening last weekend to $18.35 million on 3,816 screens this weekend. That brings its ten-day total to an underwhelming $89 million so far. Given its current trajectory the film should finish between $115-120 million, a number I am more than certain Warner execs were not envisioning in their heads when they gave the Martin Campbell-directed dud the green light to begin production.

Paramount’s sleeper hit Super 8 continued to benefit from positive word-of-mouth. In its third weekend, the J.J. Abrams flick earned an estimated $12.1 million (off roughly 44%) to bring its total to the $95 million mark. Like Green Lantern, it could finish with $120 million in the bank when all is said and done. The only difference here is that Abrams’ movie costs roughly 1/5th of what Green Lantern did.

After a soft opening last weekend, Fox’s Jim Carrey family comedy Mr. Popper’s Penguins had a somewhat decent hold in its second round. Off a moderate 44%, the comedy earned an estimated $0.4 million on 3,342 screens to bring its ten-day total to the $39.4 million mark. The film should finish its run between $60-65 million, a far cry from Carrey’s heyday grosses but enough to ensure that the movie should have a long, healthy afterlife on home video in a few months.

Fox also nabbed sixth place with its mutant prequel X-Men: First Class, which was off 44% to earn an estimated $6.8 million in its fourth weekend to bring its total to the $133 million mark. The film’s grosses should mutate to the $145 million mark by the end of its run. Warner’s smash comedy The Hangover Part II continued its merry moneymaking ways in its fifth weekend, adding an estimated $5.8 million to its domestic coffers that now stand at $245 million. It should finish with an impressive $260 million, only a mere $17 million less than the 2009 original.

Rounding out the top ten were Universal’s sleeper hit Bridesmaids in eighth place with $5.5 million on 2,031 screens for a new to-date haul of $147 million, followed in ninth place by Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides with $4.7 million in ticket sales and a new to-date domestic haul of $229 million. The Johnny Depp-starrer has now surpassed the previous chapter in the Pirates saga globally with $971 million in overall sales. The one billion dollar mark should be passed within the next week or so. Rounding out the top ten was Sony Pictures Classics’ Woody Allen hit Midnight In Paris, which snared $4.2 million on 1,038 screens to bring its overall total thus far to $28.4 million.

Starting on Tuesday, Paramount’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon begins its campaign to own the Fourth of July weekend. Universal Studios and Fox will offer counter-programming starting on Friday with the new Tom Hanks/Julia Roberts comedy Larry Crowne and the romantic comedy chick flick Monte Carlo starring Selena Gomez and Leighton Meester.

– Shawn Fitzgerald

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