Weekend Report: ‘Up’ Lifts Pixar to Tenth Smash

by Brandon Gray

June 1, 2009

Pixar's commercial track record ballooned to a sensational ten for ten with the release of Up. The adventure comedy swooped in with a $68.1 million start on approximately 6,700 screens at 3,766 sites, handily perched atop a weekend that grossed a bit less as a whole than the same timeframe last year when Sex and the City dominated.

In the pantheon of Pixar debuts, Up slots in third place, behind The Incredibles and Finding Nemo and ahead of WALL-E, which opened to $63.1 million last year and closed with a $223.8 million total. However, adjusted for ticket price inflation, Up would rank fifth as Toy Story 2 and Monsters, Inc. would rate significantly higher. When those pictures came out, though, computer animation was a fresher format and not dime a dozen like it seems to be today. Pixar has held up as a brand by focusing on story over spectacle, celebrity voices and pop culture references. In its marketing campaign, Up stood out with its tale of an old man who attaches balloons to his house and flies away on an adventure, which the advertising promised would have scope and humor and be less reliant on the crutch of talking animals or creatures than typical animated fare. Ads also cashed in on brand equity with references to Pixar's past movies.

That said, spectacle is also part of the Pixar brand, which is known for raising the computer animation bar, and Up was their first release in 3D, the format that studios are frequently using to distinguish their pictures amidst the C.G. glut. With 1,534 presentations, the format accounted for $35.4 million of Up's gross, which tops Monsters Vs. Aliens' $32.6 million as the new 3D opening benchmark. Furthermore, according to distributor Walt Disney Pictures' exit polling, Up displayed Pixar's usual broad family appeal as 53 percent of the audience was female and 47 percent was under 17 years old.

While Up ascended, the weekend's other nationwide release had descent as its theme and a relatively modest turn-out to boot. Drag Me to Hell conjured $15.8 million on around 2,900 screens at 2,508 sites. That was slightly below average for a supernatural horror movie and lower than The Strangers, which claimed $21 million on the same weekend last year. Despite being dubbed "the return of true horror" in its aggressive marketing, Drag was the latest in a string of movies in which a person is cursed and haunted by demons, from The Unborn (2009) to The Grudge, but offered a lighter, more over-the-top touch that made it a borderline horror comedy, a commercially troublesome sub-genre. Distributor Universal Pictures' research indicated that 52 percent of the audience was female and 54 percent was under 25 years old.

Last weekend's top-grossing movie, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, retreated 55 percent to $24.4 million (including $1.9 million from IMAX theaters), bringing its total to $104.2 million (including $8 million from IMAX) in ten days. The family comedy sequel saw a steeper slide and smaller turn-out than Madagascar, another family movie featuring Ben Stiller that also had a Memorial weekend debut, not to mention its predecessor. The first Night at the Museum isn't an apples-to-apples comparison because its first and second weekends were during Christmas and New Year's, but, nonetheless, its second weekend was $36.8 million for a $115.8 million ten-day tally, and Battle of the Smithsonian is poised to ultimately make significantly less than its $250.9 million final haul.

True to its nature as a fan-driven property, Terminator Salvation declined 61 percent to $16.4 million, increasing its tally to $90.9 million in eleven days. The sci-fi action sequel had a more precipitous fall than Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, which was off 56 percent to $19.5 million at the same point and had generated $104.6 million through its 11th day. The disparity is even greater factoring ticket-price inflation, but Salvation is on course to retain more of Terminator 3's attendance than Terminator 3 did compared to Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

Star Trek, which surpassed Monsters Vs. Aliens on Wednesday to become 2009's top grosser, had the best hold among nationwide releases, down 45 percent to $12.6 million. With $209.3 million in 24 days, the sci-fi adventure soared past Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan to become the Star Trek franchise's third biggest movie adjusted for ticket price inflation, and it's on the verge of eclipsing Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

Meanwhile, Angels & Demons tumbled 48 percent to $11.4 million for $104.9 million in 17 days. Not only are the grosses much lower than The Da Vinci Code, the percentage loss was higher as well. Below Angels, there was very little business, which was a product of a May slate populated by a few big movies and little else.

Last Weekend
• 'Night at the Museum,' 'Terminator' Dominate Memorial Weekend

This Timeframe in Past Years:
• 2008 - 'Sex and the City' Woos Top Spot
• 2007 - 'Pirates' Sinks, 'Knocked Up' Scores
• 2006 - Exes Exceed 'X-Men'
• 2005 - 'Cinderella Man' Pulls Punch, 'Madagascar' Claims Title
• 2004 - Hotter 'Potter:' Summer Start Yields Franchise High
• 2003 - 'Finding Nemo' Makes Big Splash
• 2002 - 'Sum of All Fears' Detonates in First

Related Charts
• Weekend Box Office Results
• All Time May Opening Weekends
• Pixar Franchise
• Computer-Animated Movies
• Supernatural Horror Movies

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