By Brent Lang
LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - Family audiences turned out in droves over the weekend, propelling "Finding Dory" to a massive $136.2 million debut and establishing a new record for an animated film opening.
The sequel to 2003's "Finding Nemo" was bolstered by strong reviews and residual affection for the Oscar-winning first film. It's a return to form for Pixar after the animation studio behind "Toy Story" and "The Incredibles" suffered its first box office failure last year with "The Good Dinosaur." But its decades of excellence continue to be the brand's major selling points.
"It's amazing when you look at the longevity of this brand, the viability of it, and the unfettered enthusiasm pretty much everyone has for Pixar," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at comScore.
"Finding Dory" centers on a blue tang fish with short term memory loss (Ellen DeGeneres) and her quest to be reunited with her long-lost parents. Its opening weekend results sailed past the previous high-water mark for an animated film -- "Shrek the Third's" $121.6 million launch in 2007 -- and ranks as the second-best June debut, behind "Jurassic World's" $208.8 million bow. Overseas, "Finding Dory" added another $50 million to its haul from 29 international markets, including Australia, Argentina, Russia and China, where its $17.5 million debut ranks as the biggest ever for a Pixar release.
The success of "Finding Dory" comes as Disney, Pixar's parent company, has dominated the movie business, fielding the year's three highest-grossing pictures globally in "Zootopia," "The Jungle Book" and "Captain America: Civil War." "Finding Dory" seems destined to join those films among 2016's top earners, partly because it is appealing to all age groups. Disney distribution chief Dave Hollis predicted that the film was gearing up for a "run for the ages," noting that it was playing well with both families (65% of ticket buyers) and older audiences, with adults comprising 26% of crowds.
"We became a film for everybody," said Hollis. "We tapped into something really meaningful."
The weekend's other major newcomer, New Line's "Central Intelligence," also resonated with moviegoers, racking up a healthy $34.5 million from 3,508 locations. Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart star in the $50 million action comedy. "Central Intelligence" revolves around an ex-geek (Johnson) who returns to his high school reunion as a muscular special agent and enlists the former class jock (Hart) to help on a dangerous mission. The opening weekend crowd was nearly evenly matched between men (49% of ticket buyers) and women (51%), with 57% of customers clocking in over 25 years old. Universal co-financed the picture and is releasing it overseas.
Johnson and Hart were indefatigable spokespeople for the movie, plopping down on late night television couches and showing up on daytime programming to hawk "Central Intelligence," while exploiting their presence on Facebook and Twitter to gin up excitement.
"They're comfortable with and connected to social media," said Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros. distribution executive vice president. "They're very involved with their fan base and they're always tweeting non-stop."
Last weekend's box office champ, New Line's "The Conjuring 2," slipped to third place. The horror sequel slid 62% from its opening to $15.6 million. It has grossed $71.7 million in two weeks of release.
Lionsgate's "Now You See Me 2" and Universal's "Warcraft" rounded out the top five, grossing $9.7 million and $6.5 million, respectively. The sequel to "Now You See Me" has grossed $40.8 million in two weeks while the video game adaptation has netted $37.7 million over the same time span. "Warcraft," with its $160 million budget, would be a financial catastrophe were it not for China, where the fantasy adventure has earned more than $200 million.
"Finding Dory" injects some energy into a domestic box office that had been sluggish in recent weeks, as several high-profile films such as "Alice Through the Looking Glass" and "Warcraft" collapsed and sequels like "X-Men: Apocalypse" failed to match their predecessors' receptions. Still, the weekend ticket sales could not match the year-ago period when Pixar's "Inside Out" debuted to $90.4 million and "Jurassic World" racked up $106.6 million in its sophomore frame. Final numbers are still being tallied, but it looks like revenues will be down roughly 4%.
"That's still a really good result," said Dergarabedian. "We needed a box office hero and we got one with this little fish."