The Disney/Pixar animated film Cars raced past the competition to finish in first place at the North American box office. Though it did not open as strong as some of its predecessors, the toon easily outdistanced everything else in the current marketplace outselling the second place film by a three-to-one margin.

Also debuting this weekend, the horror remake The Omen scared up a solid debut since its Tuesday launch and the Robert Altman film A Prairie Home Companion also posted healthy numbers in its opening. Overall, the box office remained stronger than last year’s thanks to an assortment of popular films offering something for everybody. Six films reached double-digit millions this weekend as the marketplace displayed great breadth in its product offering.

Crossing the finish line with an estimated $62.8M in ticket sales, Cars easily topped the charts this weekend giving Disney and Pixar their seventh number one hit together. Playing at an ultrawide 3,985 theaters, the G-rated story of a cocky race car who learns that winning isn’t everything averaged a musclar $15,759 per site. The opening did, however, put an end to the decade-long streak that Pixar enjoyed where every film debuted bigger than the previous one. The company’s last entry The Incredibles bowed to $70.5M from 3,933 theaters for a $17,917 average in November 2004 while the previous smash Finding Nemo opened to $70.3M from 3,374 venues for a $20,821 average in May 2003.

Cars did not reach the $70M mark that those two hits surpassed on opening weekend and instead performed just like Pixar’s Monsters, Inc. which launched with $62.6M in November 2001. However, the new automotive adventure enjoyed higher ticket prices and 748 more theaters yet still reached the same figure. Among all animated films, the Cars opening ranks fifth all-time behind Shrek 2 ($108M), The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, and Ice Age: The Meltdown which bowed to $68M this past March. Cars did generate the second largest June opening ever behind Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban which exploded two years ago with $93.7M.

One reason Cars did not surge higher may have been that the marketplace has suffered through a glut of computer animated films this year. Not long ago, the arrival of a digital toon was an event as it only happened once or twice a year. Nowadays with weaker entries like Doogal and The Wild hitting theaters, and more studios jumping into the game, the novelty has worn thin. Over the Hedge and Ice Age have been satisfying families over the past two months grossing a stellar $322M combined. Also not helping matters was the film’s lengthy 116-minute running time which is considerably longer than the typical 90-minute length that most young kids are used to sitting through.

Directed by Pixar veteran John Lasseter (Toy Story, Toy Story 2), Cars features the voices of Owen Wilson, Paul Newman, Bonnie Hunt, and Larry the Cable Guy. Disney pumped in lots of marketing to push its first major entry in the summer sweepstakes and hopes to keep audiences coming back for more with the July 7 release of its Pirates of the Caribbean sequel.

With more and more school children starting their summer vacations every day, mid-week grosses should be strong in the weeks ahead for Cars. Reviews have been good so many fans may end up catching the film in the weeks ahead. The Incredibles went on to reach a final domestic haul of $261.4M which was almost four times its opening weekend. Nemo had even stronger legs finding its way to $339.7M, or about five times its debut. Given its start out of the gate, Cars still looks set to zoom well past the $200M mark in North America.

Following its surprise top spot debut last weekend, the Vince VaughnJennifer Aniston comedy The Break-Up dropped a sizable 48% in its sophomore frame and placed second with an estimated $20.5M. With an impressive $74.1M in only ten days, the Universal release looks to reach the neighborhood of $120M by the end of its domestic run. It was produced for $52M. Overseas, The Break-Up opened in Australia and New Zealand with a combined $2.2M from 230 locations, helped by local appearances by the film’s stars. It ranked number one in both countries on Thursday and Friday, but was bumped by Cars on Saturday and Sunday thanks to the Pixar flick’s strong matinee business with children. Most other major international markets will open after the World Cup.

X-Men: The Last Stand
dropped a hefty 54% in its third weekend and grossed an estimated $15.6M. The super hero hit upped its cume to $201.7M after 17 days and became the top-grossing film of 2006. Fox’s franchise flick is still on course to surpass the $214.9M of its predecessor to become the highest grossing X-Men installment.

Opening right on the heels of the mutants was the studio’s remake of The Omen which took in an estimated $15.5M over the Friday-to-Sunday period. Fox launched the R-rated thriller with a much-hyped Tuesday debut on 6/6/06 grossing a stunning $12.6M in its first day. That made it the largest Tuesday gross ever for any film. The son-of-the-devil pic settled in to more normal grosses on subsequent days and collected a hefty $20.3M over the Tuesday-to-Thursday mid-week period giving The Omen a strong six-day opening tally of $35.7M. Reviews were not too favorable.

Starring Julia Stiles, Liev Schreiber, and Mia Farrow, the new religious chiller played more to today’s younger horror audience than to the older fans who were spooked by the 1976 original. Studio research showed that 52% of the audience was female and a very high 63% was under the age of 25. Fox estimated that the production cost for the new Damien pic was in the mid-$20M range. The studio’s decision to open the film globally on the devilish date was central to the marketing campaign and made it an event film rather than yet another remake of a horror classic. But with sales eroding over the course of the week, The Omen could be in for some steep declines in the weeks ahead.

The animated comedy Over the Hedge experienced its largest drop yet thanks to the arrival of Cars falling 50% to an estimated $10.3M. The Paramount release has collected a solid $130.3M thus far. Tied for fifth place, Sony’s religious thriller The Da Vinci Code dropped 45% to an estimated $10.3M pushing its domestic total to $189M.

Opening in seventh place with respectable results was Robert Altman’s latest film A Prairie Home Companion with an estimated $4.7M from only 760 theaters. Averaging a solid $6,146 per location, the PG-13 film about the backstage drama behind a country music reunion show featured an all-star ensemble cast including Woody Harrelson, Tommy Lee Jones, Kevin Kline, Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, and Lindsay Lohan. Prairie, which earned mostly positive reviews, was released by Picturehouse and played to a mature adult audience.

Paramount’s spy sequel Mission: Impossible III grossed an estimated $3M, down 35%, giving the Tom Cruise actioner $127.5M to date. Robin Williams saw his family comedy RV dip 38% to an estimated $2M in its seventh weekend giving Sony $65M. Rounding out the top ten was Poseidon with an estimated $1.8M, down 47%, for a $54.9M cume for Warner Bros.

Although the summer season is lacking a $300M+ megahit like last year’s Star Wars Episode III, the most popular films are still pulling in the same amount of business. The collective gross of the top five summer films so far is $722.6M which is up 2.4% from this same point a year ago. However, it is still a far cry from the mammoth $907M that 2004’s five biggest summer hits grossed at this stage two years ago led by the Shrek and Harry Potter sequels.

Three films dropped out of the top ten over the weekend. Paramount Vantage’s global warming hit An Inconvenient Truth widened from 77 to 122 theaters and grossed an estimated $1.5M in its third frame. Though no longer in the top ten, it did still post a strong per-theater average of $12,077. The Al Gore film has taken in just under $4M from its limited release and will expand to about 400 runs nationwide this Friday.

The Lionsgate horror entry See No Evil got hacked 58% to an estimated $860,000 for a cume of $14M. A $15M final seems likely. Lindsay Lohan‘s teen comedy Just My Luck tumbled by two-thirds to an estimated $295,000. The Fox title has grossed a disappointing $16.2M to date and should finish up with only a little more.

Opening this weekend in limited release was the documentary The Heart of the Game which follows a girls high school basketball team and its coach. The Miramax title grossed an estimated $12,200 from just three theaters for a decent $4,068 average.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $146.4M which was up 9% from last year when Mr. & Mrs. Smith debuted at number one with $50.3M; but off 3% from 2004 when Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban remained in the top spot with $34.9M.

Author: Gitesh Pandya,

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