Brad Pitt's zombie thriller "World War Z" is gaining momentum and could open as high as $50 million at the box office this weekend -- but Disney's animated "Monsters University" looks too tough to catch.
The 3D prequel to 2001's "Monsters Inc." is expected to open with around $70 million over the three days and give Pixar its 14th consecutive No. 1, analysts say.
That should be enough to top Paramount's "World War Z" and the reigning No. 1 film, "Man of Steel," which is projected to finish with around $50 million in its second weekend. Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures' Superman sequel has averaged more than $10 million per day since Sunday. and its domestic total will be more than $170 million by Friday.
"'World War Z' is an original movie opening in a very competitive market," Paramount's head of distribution, Don Harris, told TheWrap. "Our marketing team has done a really good job of bringing this to a boil at just the right time, so we feel good."
Harris sees it finishing in the high-$30 million-low $40 million range. To get higher than that will probably take a record-breaking overall weekend -- but that could happen. The box office has been red hot, running 13 percent over last year in terms of grosses.
The G-rated "Monsters University" will be the first animated family film to hit the market in a month, and that will help -- not that it needs much help. The Disney and Pixar brands have become so entrenched in families' consciousness -- they've taken in $7.8 billion at the global box office over the past 18 years -- that big openings are nearly a given.
Last summer's "Brave" debuted to $66 million on this weekend last year and went on to take in $538 million globally. Thursday, online ticket broker Fandango reported sales for "Monsters University" were 50 percent higher than they were for "Brave" at this point prior to that film's release.
"Monsters University" features Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sully (John Goodman) in a look at their younger days on campus, when they weren't the best of friends. Dan Scanlon directs from a script by Pete Doctor and Andrew Stanton, and Helen Mirren, Steve Buscemi, Sean Hayes and Aubrey Plaza are among those providing voices.
The reviews are good (79 percent positive on Rotten Tomatoes), and the social media signs are strong. It had more than 12.2 million "likes" on Facebook three days from its release, far better than the 3.6 million that "Cars 2" had prior to its $66 million opening in 2011.
But it will be interesting to see if "Monsters University" can match the performance of the original film, even with inflation. It should top the original's $62 million opening but might have a tougher time equaling its $290 million domestic total. And it will need a strong overseas performance to top its $563 million global haul.
Disney is opening "Monsters University" in a whopping 4,004 theaters, 2,907 of which will be 3D. It also will roll it out in around 25 foreign markets this weekend, including Russia, Germany and Australia.
The stakes on "World War Z" are high for Paramount, which is behind the film along with Skydance Productions, GK Films and Hemisphere Media Capital. It's one of just two summer releases for the studio -- "Star Trek Into Darkness" is the other -- and Paramount puts the production budget at $190 million. It's by far the most expensive zombie movie ever made, and the studio has mounted a major marketing campaign behind it.
It seems to be working. "World War Z" is tracking far higher now than it was back in April. That's when screenwriter Damon Lindelof, in a Vanity Fair interview, detailed a new ending he'd been called in to write after the original was scrapped, rampant production snafus and budget overruns at the film's far-flung foreign locations.
That set off a storm of bad buzz, most of which seems now to have been countered by good reviews (80 percent positive on Rotten Tomatoes), a barrage of TV ads and a series of highly publicized personal appearances by Pitt.
Based on a bestselling 2006 novel by Max Brooks, the PG-rated "World War Z" film follows a United Nations bureaucrat (Pitt) racing from South Korea to Jerusalem to the U.K.'s Cardiff and finally the U.S. to stop a zombie pande mic from decimating humanity. Marc Forster ("Quantum of Solace") directs from a screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan and Drew Goddard and a story from Carnahan and J. Michael Straczynski. Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner and Ian Bryce co-star.
The marketing on "Z" has de-emphasized the zombies -- they're seen only from afar in the commercials -- and accentuated the action elements. That's because the highest-grossing zombie movie to this point is "Zombieland," which took in $75 million domestically and $24 million overseas in 2009, and Paramount is looking for this one to play much more broadly.
Thanks largely to Pitt, who is also a producer, "World War Z" is expected to do well overseas. Paramount is rolling it out in 25 foreign countries this weekend -- about 30 percent of the marketplace. The U.K., Korea and Australia are the largest territories.
Paramount has the PG-13 rated "World War Z" in more than 3,500 theaters in the U.S. and Canada. Roughly 2,500 of them will begin screenings at 8 p.m. Thursday night.
On the specialty front, upstart distributor A24 is expanding "The Bling Ring" into 500 theaters. Sofia Coppola's crime comedy managed a strong $42,000 per-screen average when it debuted in five theaters last weekend.
Emma Watson stars along with Taissa Farmiga, Leslie Mann and Kirsten Dunst. It's based on the Hollywood Hills Burglar Bunch -- aka the Bling Ring -- a group of teenagers who pulled off a series of brazen heists of celebrity homes.
The Weinstein Company is rolling out the comedy-drama "Unfinished Song (formerly
"Song for Marion"), written and directed by Paul Andrew Williams, in two theaters. Terence Stamp stars as a grumpy pensioner who honors his recently deceased wife's passion for performing by joining the local choir to which she used to belong. Christopher Eccleston and Gemma Arterton co-star.
Also opening is Magnolia Pictures' Somali pirates drama "A Hijacking," from Danish writer-director Tobias Lindholm.
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