Over the extended 4th of July weekend, a lot of Americans lit up the grill and spent time with family. A lot unfolded lawn chairs and watched a fireworks show. And a whole lot bought tickets to see Despicable Me 2.
The $76 million animated film from Universal and Illumination Entertainment crushed the competition in its first five days in theaters, earning a jaw-dropping $142 million – $82.5 million of which came in during the traditional Friday-to-Sunday frame. In fact, Despicable Me 2, which features the voice work of Steve Carrell and Kristen Wiig, led the box office to the best July 4th weekend of all time. Over the Friday-to-Sunday period, the Top 12 movies grossed $220.7 million, which marks the 10th-strongest weekend in box office history.
Despicable Me 2’s $82.5 million start just barely beat Monsters University’s $82.4 million debut (though that film opened on a Friday, not a Wednesday), and its $142.5 million start stands as the best ever five-day opening for an animated film ahead of Shrek 2’s $128.9 million haul in May 2004. Like that film, Despicable Me 2 earned an “A” CinemaScore grade from audiences. Universal reports that crowds were 60-percent female and 55-percent below the age of 25 – the studio adds that 27 percent of viewers were Hispanic.
“We knew it was going to be hugely successful,” admits Nikki Rocco, Universal’s president of distribution, who says family business was “phenomenal” and made up “the bulk of business” She also points to the film’s prime summer release date and the fact that families were together for the July 4th holiday as contributing factors.
Internationally, Despicable Me 2 topped the box office in 36 of the 38 countries it played in this weekend and has earned $151.1 million overseas, which brings its very early worldwide total to $293.2 million.
Notably, only 27 percent of Despicable Me 2’s domestic weekend gross came from 3-D ticket sales – a low for the format. Still, that doesn’t take away from the sensibly budgeted film’s incredible success. At this point, it’s already a lock for $300 million.
It was a very different story for Disney’s $225 million western The Lone Ranger, which only lassoed a dismal $48.9 million – $29.4 million of which poured in during the Friday-to-Sunday period. The film, which stars Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer, joins Cowboys and Aliens and Wild Wild West as films that attempted (unsuccessfully) to turn the western genre into widely-appealing, popcorn-munching spectacles.
For director Gore Verbinski and Depp, who previously collaborated on the ultra-successful Pirates of the Caribbean films, the terrible opening is particularly distressing. Depp’s last two films, Dark Shadows and The Rum Diary, also severely under-performed. The reality is, though, that westerns have always been a tough sell at the box office. The highest grossing western of all time, Dances with Wolves, earned $184.2 million in 1990. The Lone Ranger’s budget (which does not include substantial marketing and distribution costs), was a full $41 million more than that – so the bar for success was set incredibly high. And the financial setback for Disney will likely be incredibly high as well.
“Obviously you’re always hoping that your movies are going to connect with the broadest audience possible,” says Dave Hollis, Disney’s president of distribution, “so when it doesn’t, it’s disappointing.” The exec acknowledges that young people were largely unfamiliar with the 80-year-old character of the Lone Ranger, as evidenced by the fact that audiences were 68 percent above the age of 25. Those crowds issued the film a fair “B+” CinemaScore.
In third, Fox’s $43 million buddy-cop comedy The Heat fell 36 percent in its second weekend to $25 million, giving the Sandra Bullock/Melissa McCarthy title a strong $86.4 million after ten days.
Fourth place belonged to Monsters University, which took a whopping 57 percent hit due to the arrival of Despicable Me 2. Still, the film grossed $19.6 million this weekend, which gives it $216.1 million total and makes it the 11th Pixar film (out of 14) to surpass the $200 million mark domestically. Worldwide, Monsters University, which likely cost about $200 million to produce, reached the $400 million milestone.
World War Z rounded out the Top 5, dipping 39 percent to $18.2 million. The Brad Pitt zombie thriller has now earned $158.8 million after three weekends and could reach $190 million total – the same amount that Paramount says World War Z cost to make.
1. Despicable Me 2 - $82.5 million
2. The Lone Ranger - $30.2 million
3. The Heat - $25 million
4. Monsters University - $19.6 million
5. World War Z - $18.2 million
In eighth place, Lionsgate’s comedy Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain grossed a remarkable $17.5 million from just 786 theaters over its first five days. Of that, $10.1 million came in over the three-day period, which is even more impressive given the film’s teensy $2.5 million budget. Lionsgate targeted African-American viewers for Let Me Explain, the same demographic that pushed Hart’s breakout film, Laugh at My Pain, to a $7.7 million gross in 2011.
Check back next weekend for more summer box office coverage.