Forecast: 'Monsters University' Set to School 'World War Z'
Friday AM Update: While Game 7 of the NBA Finals drew a ton of attention on Thursday night, the two new nationwide releases still managed to perform well in late shows. World War Z earned $3.6 million on 2,600 screens—that's about even with Prometheus's midnights last year ($3.56 million) and up on The Great Gatsby's late-night shows from last month ($3.25 million). Both of those movies opened just over $50 million, which now seems like a good target for World War Z.

Meanwhile, Monsters University took in $2.6 million. In comparison, Toy Story 3 earned $4 million at midnight. If Monsters University follows the same pattern, it will wind up with over $70 million for the weekend.

Forecast: Coming off Man of Steel's massive opening, the box office is poised for another huge weekend thanks to the debuts of Monsters University and World War Z. The latest outing from Pixar Animation reaches 4,004 locations and should easily take first place, while the Brad Pitt zombie flick goes out to 3,607 theaters and will battle with Man of Steel for second place.

Overall, the domestic box office should have its second-straight weekend over $200 million, which will be the first time that's happened this year.

Monsters University is the 14th movie from Pixar Animation, which has arguably been the strongest movie brand so far this century. From 1999 to 2010, Pixar released nine-straight movies that earned over $200 million at the domestic box office; that streak culminated with their highest-grossing movie yet, Toy Story 3 ($415 million). Pixar did take a hit with 2011's Cars 2 ($191.5 million), which was maligned for being more of a marketing ploy than a creative endeavor, though the brand rebounded a bit with last year's Brave ($237.3 million and a Best Animated Feature Oscar).

In its first 14 years, Pixar only produced one sequel (Toy Story 2). Now, Monsters University is the third Pixar movie in the past four years to use existing characters; while Toy Story 3 and Cars 2 were sequels, Monsters is Pixar's first prequel. Released in November 2001, predecessor Monsters, Inc. opened to $62.6 million on its way to $255.9 million ($358 million adjusted for ticket price inflation). Unlike Cars—the last Pixar movie to get a follow-up—Monsters, Inc. is generally considered one of Pixar's better movies, and lead characters Mike and Sully are widely-liked as well.

The prequel finds younger versions of Mike and Sully entering college to learn how to become scarers, and Disney has put a heavy focus on the ensuing college-related humor. To a lesser extent, they've made clear that Mike and Sully are back, though they aren't the focus of the marketing in the same way they were the first time around. There also hasn't been a big emphasis on story, which may be partly due to the prequel problem—audiences with any knowledge of the original movie already basically know how the prequel ends.

On opening weekend, at least, Pixar has been remarkably consistent: eight of their last 10 movies opened between $60 million and $71 million, and the outliers (Toy Story 3 and Ratatouille) are both unique cases. With an established brand and pent-up demand for family entertainment, it's likely that Monsters University winds up exceeding this level and scoring the second-highest Pixar opening ever. Disney is currently expending somewhere in the $70 million range.

After enduring a troubled production that included an entire third act reshoot, World War Z is finally making it to the big-screen this weekend. While those issues have caused the movie to get endless grief from the entertainment press, they aren't something that general audiences are going to care much about. As usual, potential moviegoers are going to make their movie-going decision by what's presented in the marketing, not by what's happened behind the camera.

Despite how popular zombies seem to be right now, Paramount hasn't shown the creatures up close in World War Z's marketing; instead, they're presented as a faceless horde of unknown origin. Maybe this is for the best: excluding I Am Legend (more vampires than zombies), the highest-grossing live-action zombie movie is 2009's Zombieland ($75.6 million). Paramount is instead positioning World War Z as a global disaster movie, which is a genre with a much better track record. If you're playing the odds, this seems like a good move, though to some extent it has watered down the product and caused confusion.

Another key part of World War Z's marketing is lead actor Brad Pitt. While Pitt is one of the biggest movie stars in the world, it's been a while since he's had a major hit: Inglourious Basterds is his last live-action movie to open over $20 million, and that was four years ago. Unlike Will Smith's role in After Earth, though, Pitt's heroic role in World War Z fits his brand, and so his presence should help improve turnout this weekend.

Ultimately, Paramount has marketed the movie hard enough that it should do solid business this weekend; they're currently predicting high-$30 millions to low-$40 millions, but it wouldn't be surprising if it did slightly better than that.

After averaging $42,879 at five locations last weekend, The Bling Ring is expanding nationwide in to 650 theaters on Friday. This is upstart distributor A24's second girls-gone-wild movie of the year: the first one, Spring Breakers, averaged $4,401 in its nationwide expansion. If The Bling Ring can match that—possible, but far from a guarantee—it will earn over $2.8 million this weekend.

Forecast (June 21-23)

1. Monsters University - $73.9 million

2. Man of Steel - $47.8 million (-59%)

3. World War Z - $46 million

4. This is the End - $13.9 million (-33%)

5. Now You See Me - $7.1 million (-36%)

Bar for Success

Monsters, Inc. opened to $62.6 million over 11 years ago; with no competition in the marketplace right now, it would be disappointing if Monsters University doesn't get to $70 million. Meanwhile World War Z needs at least $40 million this weekend to get a pass—among Brad Pitt movies, that would be above Inglourious Basterds ($38.1 million), but below Mr. & Mrs. Smith ($50.3 million) and Troy ($46.7 million).

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