It's impossible to discuss Brave's opening weekend potential without first reviewing the unprecedented history of Pixar Animation Studios. Beginning with Toy Story 2 in 1999, Pixar rattled off an incredible nine-straight $200 million movies, which culminated in 2010 with Toy Story 3 (their highest-grossing movie ever with $415 million). Aside from this incredible commercial success, the studio was also being praised for its artistic accomplishments: through their first 11 movies, Pixar racked up 39 Oscar nominations and 10 wins, including six of the first 10 Best Animated Feature awards. Last June's Cars 2, though, proved that Pixar isn't invincible. Not only did it end the company's $200 million streak, but it was also Pixar's first major creative disappointment—it's the company's only "rotten" movie on Rotten Tomatoes, and its only movie to have an IMDb rating below 7.0.
One dud doesn't kill a brand as strong as Pixar, though: many previews for Brave emphasize that it's from the same studio as Toy Story 3, Up and WALL-E, which is quite the compelling pitch. Otherwise, advertisements have made Brave look like a pretty standard princess movie, with the bow-and-arrow-wielding red-head Merida taking the place of more traditional Disney princesses like Snow White and Belle. That 21st-century approach to the princess story will certainly have strong appeal among younger girls and their mothers, though it's unlikely the movie connects with men in the same way as Pixar movies like Finding Nemo or The Incredibles.
Excluding Ratatouille, which was about rats in Paris, every Pixar movie for the past decade has opened to at least $60 million. Current expectations have Brave earning slightly less ($55-$60 million), though no matter what happens it will become Pixar's 13th-straight movie to open in first place.
For a while, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was looking like it could be a bomb on par with 2010's Jonah Hex—after all, it's opening at the exact same time, and also features a titular hero fighting off an army of foes hell-bent on conquering 19th century America. While its initial marketing material was a bit muddled, though, the latest round of commercials has been more successful in establishing the conflict between our country's 16th president and an undead army of vampires, and has also showcased some unique action. It's still only going to reach a very specific audience (young males old enough to buy R-rated tickets), but it should get a large portion of that group given Prometheus's steady decline and That's My Boy's disappointing start. Distributor 20th Century Fox is expecting between $15 and $16 million this weekend.
Debuting at only 1,618 theaters, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is targeting a much more modest opening than Brave or Abraham Lincoln. That's logical, considering the movie's apparent blend of comedy and apocalyptic drama looks like a tough sell. Steve Carell's presence should at least give the movie a bit of a boost: the actor helped similarly-tricky Dan in Real Life open to $11.8 million in 2007, and his brand has held up fine in the years since then. Seeking a Friend's best chance at true success is if it generates strong word-of-mouth coming out of opening weekend, though a 55 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes suggests that might not happen.
Woody Allen's To Rome With Love is opening at five locations—three in New York, two in Los Angeles—this weekend. Last year, Allen's Midnight in Paris had one of the best limited debuts ever with $599,003 at six theaters, and went on to set a new record for the writer-director with $56.8 million. While that's surely given the Allen brand a boost, the success of his movies is almost directly correlated to perceived quality. For example, Allen was hot coming off 2008's Vicky Cristina Barcelona ($23.2 million), but his next movie Whatever Works received a middling 50 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and wound up earning just $5.3 million. While To Rome with Love will benefit from a stronger cast and a higher-grossing predecessor, it also doesn't seem to be clicking with critics and, anecdotally, with those who saw the movie at its LA Film Fest premiere last week. Sony Pictures Classics is planning an aggressive expansion that culminates with a July 6 nationwide launch.
Weekend Forecast (June 22-24)
1. Brave - $64.7 million
2. Abraham Lincoln - $17.1 million
3. Madagascar 3 - $15.3 million (-55%)
4. Prometheus - $10.7 million (-48%)
—. Seeking a Friend - $8.2 million
Bar for Success
It's okay if Brave misses the $60 million standard Pixar opening, though not by much—it really ought to be earning at least $50 million this weekend. With a very wide release and 3D ticket pricing, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter needs to earn a minimum of $20 million this weekend, while Seeking a Friend at the End of the World should be in good shape anywhere close to $10 million.
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