LOS ANGELES — Proving that family entertainment from trusted brands has become more powerful at the box office than A-list stars, Pixar’s “Toy Story 3” did nearly as much business on its second weekend in theaters as new movies starring Adam Sandler and Tom Cruise did combined.
“Toy Story 3” sold a studio-estimated $59 million worth of tickets in the U.S. and Canada, making it No. 1 against a solid $41 million debut for “Grown Ups,” an ensemble comedy starring Sandler, Chris Rock and Kevin James, and a tepid $20.5 million first weekend for the Cruise-Cameron Diaz action comedy “Knight & Day.”
“Toy Story 3” dropped 48 percent on its second weekend, relatively high for a Pixar movie but not for a picture that opened to $110.3 million. In just 10 days, “Toy Story 3” has grossed $226.6 million, the second highest total for any animated film in the same length of time. The only one bigger, “Shrek 2,” had the benefit of playing on a holiday weekend.
The key factor: Phenomenal weekday ticket sales. “Toy Story 3” grossed about $15 million Monday and Tuesday and $13 million Wednesday and Thursday, setting non-holiday records all four days for an animated film that didn’t open mid-week.
“The thing that’s really impressing me is even during the week you’re seeing nighttime shows around the country doing so well, so we’re not just family-centric,” said Chuck Viane, president of distribution for Walt Disney Studios.
Though 3-D surcharges and rising ticket prices explain some of the advantage for “Toy Story 3” over past animated films, it’s undeniably being fueled by excellent word-of-mouth and is now almost certain to be the first Pixar movie to gross more than $400 million domestically.
While it has yet to open in most foreign markets, “Toy Story 3” has reached a total of $100 million overseas so far in 32 countries. It has performed extremely well in Mexico, becoming the nation’s second highest grossing animated movie of all time with $34 million.
“Knight & Day” marked the lowest opening for a big budget event movie this summer and an evident lack of interest in its stars among moviegoers under 25, who made up only 44 percent of its opening weekend audience. Pre-release tracking had indicated the movie’s advertisements, which in still images replaced Cruise and Diaz with silhouettes, failed to catch on, so Fox sneak previewed “Knight & Day” last weekend and opened it on Wednesday instead of Friday in an effort to build buzz going into the weekend.
That effort bore some positive results, as ticket sales for “Knight & Day” rose significantly from Thursday to Friday and again from Friday to Saturday, signs that word-of-mouth is good. Audiences gave the spy caper, which received mixed reviews, an average grade of B plus according to market research firm CinemaScore.
Still, with total ticket sales of just $27.8 million since Wednesday, “Knight & Day” is in a weak starting position given the $117 million — $107 million after tax credits — that Fox and its partners New Regency Pictures and Dune Entertainment spent on production. Although poor performing movies can disappear from theaters quickly in the crowded summer market, Fox is hoping that as the only adult-targeted picture in theaters nation-wide until “Inception” launches July 16, “Knight & Day” will stand out among a surplus of sequels and animated fare.
In the best-case scenario, “Knight” could follow the pattern of certain past Cruise movies such as “Valkryie” and “Collateral,” which had similar-sized openings and ended up with domestic totals of $83 million and $101 million, respectively.
Fox has higher hopes for “Knight & Day” overseas, where Cruise’s star power is stronger in some countries. It debuted in only 12 foreign markets this weekend and collected $12.6 million, including No. 1 starts in Russia, South Korea and Taiwan.
“Grown Ups” opened in the same territory as successful Sandler comedies such as “Click” and “Big Daddy” have in the past. It’s a good debut for a movie that cost Sony Pictures and Relativity Media between $70 million and $80 million to make and evidence that an aggressive marketing and publicity campaign including appearances by Sandler, Rock and James at numerous sporting events and awards shows in the past several months worked.
In a surprising turn of events as pre-release surveys had indicated men were more interested in the comedy about high school basketball teammates who reunite in middle age, 53 percent of the opening-weekend audience for “Grown Ups” was female.
“I am a little bit surprised, but the story is really relatable to both men and women,” said Sony distribution president Rory Bruer.
Despite largely negative reviews, Sony hopes good buzz will benefit “Grown Ups” in the weeks to come. But with “Knight & Day” and “Toy Story 3” looking for modest declines as well as “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” and “The Last Airbender” opening with big box office expectations Wednesday and Thursday, respectively, the upcoming July 4 weekend will be a particularly competitive one at movie theaters.
“I think it’s going to be a huge weekend,” predicted Bruer.
In limited release, the John C. Reilly-Jonah Hill comedy “Cyrus” continued to play well, collecting $300,000 at 17 theaters on its second weekend and bringing its total to $565,000. Afghanistan war documentary “Restrepo” opened to a healthy $30,453 at two theaters in Los Angeles and New York.