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Joshua Rich's weekend wrap-up: ''Cars'' is No. 1, but with less than expected. Disney/Pixar's latest can't match the debuts of ''Nemo,'' ''The Incredibles,'' or even ''Ice Age: The Meltdown''

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My goal for today is to make it through this column without using a single car-related pun. Fingers crossed. It'll be hard, because Disney/Pixar's Cars premiered with a $62.8 million gross, according to Sunday's estimates, and it did indeed cross the finish line this weekend in first place. (Horse racing metaphor, folks — jeez!)

Now, listen, Cars' tally is in line with Monsters Inc.'s $62.6 mil opening in 2001, the G-rated animated flick garnered terrific reviews from critics, it earned a solid-A rating from audience tracker CinemaScore, it drew adults and kids and men and women all about equally, it averaged $15,759 per screen, and it stands to have long legs this summer as schools let out and families scamper into air-conditioned multiplexes to escape the heat. Plenty there for DisPix to boast about. But that's the yang, if you will. The yin here is a little more sobering. Cars' bow is substantially below the $70 mil-plus openings of The Incredibles and Finding Nemo. It is the first premiere in weeks to come in significantly under industry projections. And, in fact, it's not even the best animated debut of 2006 — Ice Age: The Meltdown scored $68 mil three months ago. All I'm saying is that we should get ready to pour a few grains out of the salt shaker when the DisPix spinners start touting this result with big smiles on their faces. Because, privately, they know that Cars could — and should — have done a whole lot better.

There were few surprises in the rest of the top five. The Break-Up dropped a reasonable 48 percent to come in at No. 2 with $20.5 mil. X-Men: The Last Stand and The Omen were in a virtual dead heat for No. 3 with $15.6 mil and $15.5 mil, respectively — the former became the first 2006 release to cross the $200 million barrier, while the latter landed a poor C+ CinemaScore and proved a disappointment following its strong opening last Tuesday. And Over the Hedge fell 50 percent against Cars, coming in fifth with $10.3 mil.

Moving down the chart, the week's smaller openers — in this case, A Prairie Home Companion ($4.7 mil in 760 venues) and Miramax's basketball documentary The Heart of the Game ($12,200 at three sites) — were once again overshadowed by the tremendous continuing run of the Al Gore global-warming doc An Inconvenient Truth, which expanded to 122 theaters and brought in $1.5 mil for a $12,077 average.

Overall, this weekend was up 8.44 percent from the same frame a year ago, when Mr. & Mrs. Smith bowed to $50 mil, says the most excellent Paul over at Exhibitor Relations. But while this summer is now running even with a year ago, adds the great John at Nielsen EDI, we're currently a huge 10 percent down from the record-breaking summer of 2004, when Spider-Man 2, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and The Day After Tomorrow set the pace, and Shrek 2 took the checkered flag. Oh, damn.

Originally posted Jun 11, 2006
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