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Weekend Report: Disney's 'Big Hero 6' Eclipses Nolan's 'Interstellar'

by Ray Subers
Big Hero 6
 

 
November 9, 2014

In what could be considered a minor upset, Disney Animation's Big Hero 6 took the top spot at the box office this weekend ahead of Christopher Nolan's sci-fi epic Interstellar.

Playing at 3,761 theaters, Big Hero 6 opened to $56.2 million this weekend. That's up 15 percent from fellow Disney Animation movie Wreck-It Ralph, which opened to $49 million around the same time in 2012. Big Hero 6 also had the second-highest animated opening of the year ahead of How to Train Your Dragon 2 ($49.5 million).

This is undeniably a strong start for Big Hero 6: it's rare that an original animated movie opens to $50-million-plus. By promoting the unique, humorous robot Baymax, Disney managed to get huge turnout from family moviegoers (they represented 72 percent of attendance this weekend). Still, there was an assumption that Frozen's phenomenal success had elevated the Disney Animation brand to a new level, and that didn't exactly prove true this weekend.

With an "A" CinemaScore and strong reviews, Big Hero 6 should play well in the coming weeks. If it holds up like Wreck-It Ralph, it will end its run with over $215 million.

At 3,561 theaters, Interstellar opened to $47.5 million (Paramount's weekend projection had it at $50 million, which is a full five percent higher). Including two days in limited release, Interstellar has so far earned $49.7 million. The five-day opening is below Nolan's Inception ($62.8 million), last year's Gravity ($55.8 million), and Ridley Scott's Prometheus ($51.1 million).

The movie earned $13.2 million from 368 IMAX theaters, which is ahead of recent November movies Skyfall ($12.75 million) and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire ($12.6 million). IMAX accounted for 28 percent of the overall weekend, which is an incredibly high percentage that's indicative of some of the movie's marketing challenges.

Christopher Nolan's diehard fans showed up this weekend, and did so in the filmmaker's preferred format (IMAX). Outside of that group, though, the movie didn't really connect. Non-IMAX screens earned less than $35 million this weekend; compare that to recent mindbending sci-fi movie Lucy, which opened to $43.9 million without an IMAX run.

Why didn't Interstellar connect more with average moviegoers? While it had some strong visuals, there wasn't anything particularly memorable—at least, there was nothing on par with Inception's folding city or spinning hallway. It also appeared to be light on action compared to Inception or last year's Gravity. Add in mixed reviews (73 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) and a publicity campaign that focused overwhelmingly on the science (to the point where this seemed like a homework assignment), and this wound up being a tough sell.

There's a lot of talk about how the movie's 169-minute runtime may have affected opening weekend. That argument doesn't seem to hold much water, though. Audiences have consistently demonstrated in the past that they're willing to sit through very lengthy movies—Nolan's last three outings are all over 145 minutes long, and two of them debuted north of $155 million (yes, both of those do feature Batman).

It's also unlikely that the runtime significantly limited showtimes: with weak holdovers, many theaters were able to run Interstellar on more than one screen. In other words, supply equaled demand here.

Interstellar
's saving grace could be its longevity. The audience was split evenly between men (52 percent) and women, and skewed much older (75 percent over the age of 25); that's the kind of crowd that doesn't necessarily rush out on opening weekend.

Word-of-mouth on it could help as well. While it's decidedly mixed ("B+" CinemaScore), there does seem to be a certain "must-see" quality to it—both to experience the visuals on the big screen and to join in the conversation.

If Interstellar holds up as well as Skyfall—which opened around the same time in 2012—it will wrap up with over $160 million.

As expected, the rest of the field was pretty quiet this weekend. In its sixth weekend, Gone Girl took third place with $6.2 million (off just 27 percent). It has now earned $145.5 million, and is virtually guaranteed to close north of $160 million (an exceptional result for this type of movie).

Ouija
was off 45 percent to $5.9 million, which brought its 17-day total to $43.3 million. Fury rounded out the Top Five with $5.6 million, which is off 36 percent. To date, the World War II drama has earned $69.4 million.

St. Vincent took sixth place with $5.4 million—down just 25 percent—and has so far earned $27.1 million total.

In its second weekend, Nightcrawler fell 49 percent to $5.4 million. To date, it's banked $19.6 million total, and may have a tough time getting to $30 million.

Birdman
doubled its theater count to 460, but was off three percent to $2.31 million. Fox Searchlight plans to expand the movie nationwide (around 800 theaters) on Friday.

Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything opened at five locations this weekend and earned $208,763. That translates to a very good $41,753 per-theater average.

Around the same time last year, Focus Features opened Dallas Buyers Club to $260,865 at nine theaters; ultimately, that movie wound up with $27.3 million. Similar to Dallas Buyers Club, The Theory of Everything is being sold as a true story with awards-worthy performances, so it will be interesting to see how it plays in comparison.

Around-the-World Roundup: 'Interstellar' Opens to $82.9 Million Overseas >>

Discuss this story with fellow Box Office Mojo fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @boxofficemojo, and follow author Ray Subers at @raysubers.

This Weekend's Forecast:
'Interstellar,' 'Big Hero 6' to Achieve Liftoff This Weekend

This Weekend in Past Years
• 2013 - 'Thor' Sequel Gets Boost from 'The Avengers'

• 2012 - 'Skyfall' Scores Best Bond Debut Ever
• 2011 - Olympian Debut for 'Immortals'
• 2010 - 'Megamind' Stays on Track, 'Unstoppable' Holds the Denzel Washington Line
• 2009 - '2012' Plagues the Box Office
• 2008 - James Bond Takes 'Quantum' Leap
• 2007 - 'Bee' Keeps Buzzing as 'Fred,' 'Lions' Don't Roar
• 2006 - 'Borat' Schticks to First

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Weekend Box Office Results
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