Metal ruled the North American box office as the robot adventure WALL-E and the assassin thriller Wanted featuring a gun-toting Angelina Jolie rocked the multiplexes hauling in an eye-popping $114M in combined ticket sales. It was the first time in history that two films opened with more than $50M each on the same weekend. Powered by the explosive openings of the pair of new releases, the weekend box office climbed to its highest point yet in 2008.

Robot love was in the air as moviegoers powered WALL-E into the number one spot with an estimated $62.5M in ticket sales. Playing in 3,992 sites, the G-rated space adventure averaged a sizzling $15,656 per theater and gave Pixar its ninth consecutive top spot debut. It was the eighth largest opening ever for an animated film and the fourth highest for Pixar after The Incredibles ($70.5M in 2004), Finding Nemo ($70.3M in 2003), and Monsters, Inc. ($62.6M in 2001). It was the third best bow for a G-rated film after (Nemo and Monsters) and WALL-E also gave Disney its biggest opening in over a year. Film critics were in awe with the computer-animated pic giving it some of the best reviews of any film this year.

Pixar’s last film Ratatouille opened to $47M this weekend a year ago and was equally loved by critics, but featured a premise involving a rat cooking in a kitchen which turned off some audiences. The company’s previous effort Cars bowed to $60.1M in early June 2006 and featured a better premise, but got mixed reactions from critics. This time around, WALL-E successfully delivered a story that could be universally loved and was applauded by reviewers. It even overcame the liability of having very little human dialogue. With a CinemaScore grade of A plus a major holiday weekend coming up for Independence Day, long-term prospects look solid as positive word-of-mouth is sure to spread.

The lonely robot kicked off its weekend with a potent $23.1M on Friday, Saturday sales dipped by 5% to $22M, while Sunday was estimated to drop by 21% to $17.4M. The Saturday decline was a bit unusual, but could be attributed to the upfront demand on Friday when most children were out of school. Studio research showed that 51% of the audience was female while 59% was under 25. Disney did report a high number of couples without children indicating that WALL-E is not only playing as a family film but as a date movie too.

Angelina Jolie‘s latest high-octane action vehicle Wanted may have settled for second place, but the Universal release scored a sensational debut that soared above all expectations. The R-rated pic launched with an estimated $51.1M over the weekend from 3,175 locations for a scorching average of $16,100 per theater. It was the seventh largest opening in box office history for any R-rated film and marks a new career high for the actress for a live-action opener. Her previous bests were also June action titles – 2005’s Mr. and Mrs. Smith ($50.3M) and 2001’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider ($47.7M). Legally speaking, Jolie did not get top billing in Wanted but instead was third-billed in the credits after James McAvoy and Morgan Freeman and received the ‘and’ credit in the titles. Reviews were mostly positive.

The tale of an ordinary office worker recruited by a secret group of elite assassins was sold as a stylish action picture and was backed by a slick marketing campaign that accented the visual effects in the film. Russian director Timur Bekmambetov (Night Watch, Day Watch) put his unique stamp on the $75M production and word of Jolie’s nude scene certainly did not repel any ticket buyers. According to studio research, males made up 52% of the crowd while 51% was under 30. Friday started with a bang with a $19.2M opening day, Saturday slipped 8% to $17.6M, and Sunday is projected to fall 19% to $14.3M. Wanted also generated the third best opening for an R-rated summer film behind only The Matrix Reloaded ($91.8M in 2003) and Sex and the City ($56.8M last month).

Universal also rolled out the assassin pic in 22 international territories and grossed an estimated $33M giving Wanted an explosive global debut of $84.1M. Russia led the way with $11M, the U.K shot up $8M, and South Korea kicked in $6.7M. The hit film is part of the studio’s summer slate of action entries along with The Incredible Hulk from earlier this month, July’s Hellboy II, and August’s The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.

WALL•E and Wanted capped off a sensational June box office that was on fire from start to finish. The marketplace could not be in better shape as it heads into the second half of 2008 which begins with the Fourth of July holiday session which gets an early start at 7pm on Tuesday night with the first showings of Will Smith‘s superhero actioner Hancock.

Dropping from first to third was the action-comedy remake Get Smart with an estimated $20M in its second weekend. Off 48%, the Steve Carell vehicle lost an understandable amount of business given the competition from new releases. The $80M-budgeted film has now grossed $77.3M in its first ten days and seems set to finish with $125-135M for Warner Bros.

The arrival of WALL•E prompted a larger decline than normal for rival animation entry Kung Fu Panda which dipped 47% to an estimated $11.7M in its fourth frame. With $179.3M tallied for Paramount and DreamWorks, the Po pic is running 6% behind the pace of 2006’s June toon Cars which raced to $190.5M at this same point in its release.

Universal’s The Incredible Hulk continues to show rapid audience erosion falling 58% in its third session to an estimated $9.2M. The Edward Norton starrer has smashed up $115.5M in 17 days putting it a scant 1% behind the pace of 2003’s Hulk which stood at $117M at the same point in its run.

Mike Myers saw his latest comedy The Love Guru tumble 61% to an estimated $5.4M lifting the ten-day total to just $25.3M. The $60M production looks to end up with only $35-40M for Paramount.

Studio stablemate Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull came within a hair of joining the triple century club this weekend thanks to another solid hold. The Harrison Ford adventure dropped 41% and collected an estimated $5M in its sixth weekend boosting the cume to a stunning $299.9M. Add in Iron Man, Transformers and Shrek the Third and by Monday Paramount will have distributed four of the last five megahits to break the $300M barrier. Crystal Skull now sits at number 28 on the list of all-time domestic blockbusters after Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl which grossed $305.4M in 2003.

M. Night Shyamalan‘s eco-thriller The Happening collapsed another 63% to an estimated $3.9M for a $59.1M total for Fox. Sex and the City followed with an estimated $3.8M, off 42%, giving New Line and Warner Bros. an impressive $140.1M to date. Adam Sandler rounded out the top ten with Sony’s You Don’t Mess With the Zohan which dropped 57% to an estimated $3.2M giving the comedy $91.2M. Though a solid number, it is the worst total for one of the actor’s broad comedies after the fourth weekend since 2000’s Little Nicky.

A pair of May success stories dropped out of the top ten this weekend. The year’s biggest blockbuster Iron Man finally fell out of the elite list in its ninth frame but still grossed an estimated $2.3M. Off 44%, the Marvel-Paramount smash saw its cume soar to $309.2M putting it at number 24 on the all-time hit list behind Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End which banked $309.4M last summer. With a hefty production cost of $185M, Iron Man should conclude its North American run with roughly $315M while its colossal worldwide total looks to reach beyond $600M.

Universal’s hit horror film The Strangers tumbled 71% in its fifth scare to an estimated $611,000 boosting the total to a solid $51.5M. The R-rated fright flick cost just $9M and looks to end its run with $53M.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $175.9M which was up a sturdy 24% from last year when Ratatouille opened in the top spot with $47M; and up 26% from 2006 when Superman Returns debuted at number one with $52.5M.

Author: Gitesh Pandya,

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