Pixar in driver’s seat

'Cars' races to $63 mil

“Cars” easily took the box office trophy this weekend, but the toon got off to a slower start than recent Pixar predecessors.

While its $62.8 million gross marks a strong perf, take is well behind that of the last two Pixar toons, “The Incredibles” and “Finding Nemo,” which both bowed to more than $70 million. Last pic from the CG animation pioneer — recently acquired by Disney — to open in this territory was “Monsters, Inc.,” in November 2001.

Along with decent debuts for “The Omen” and “A Prairie Home Companion,” strong frame pulled this summer’s B.O. tally even with last year’s. But it’s still 10% behind where the record summer of 2004 was at this point, according to Nielsen EDI.

Although the bow makes Pixar seven-for-seven with pics opening at No. 1, “Cars” clearly lost some luster from the animation studio’s last few films, especially given rising ticket prices.

Still, Pixar pics typically hold extremely well, and the final take for its last summer opener, “Finding Nemo,” more than quadrupled its bow, thanks in part to kids out of school going to weekday shows. Company purposely shifted all its releases to the summer starting with “Cars” in hopes of repeating those legs.

Initial canvassing by the Mouse House found the “Cars” aud crossed all groups, as is typical for a Pixar toon: 60% of moviegoers were over 18 and gender split was almost even.

Disney distribution prexy Chuck Viane said, “$60 million is a threshold that’s unbelievable no matter what. Sixty-one percent of kids are out of school this week and 81% next week, so it gets easier and easier for us to do the numbers.”

Toon averaged $15,759 at 3,985 playdates.

“The Break-Up” didn’t freefall, as some had expected, but it didn’t show particularly strong legs, either. Jennifer Aniston/Vince Vaughn starrer declined 48% from its boffo $39.2 million opening to post a $20.5 million soph sesh. Romantic comedy took in $6,665 per play at 3,075 theaters and brought its cume up to a very healthy $74.1 million.

Despite what seemed like a close race going into the frame, “Break-Up” ended up well ahead of “The Omen,” which was No. 4. Fox’s horror remake grossed a decent $15.5 million at 2,723 theaters over the weekend, averaging $5,674. But thanks to a strong $12.6 million opening Tuesday, the pic’s cume is already up to $35.7 million.

“If we opened Friday, I would have guessed we would be in the low 20s for the weekend, but I definitely don’t think we’d be where we are now after six days,” said Fox distrib topper Bruce Snyder.

Horror film came in just a hair behind “X-Men: the Last Stand,” which grossed $15.5 million in its third frame to bring its total take to $201.7 million — making it the first pic to cross the $200 million threshold this year.

Smaller fare

Picturehouse bowed “A Prairie Home Companion,” its first wide release, to a solid $4.7 million on 760 screens. Robert Altman-helmed radio show saga had a per-engagement average of $6,147.

“We played across the board from New York to Minnesota to Anchorage, Alaska,” said Picturehouse topper Bob Berney.

Indie is looking to expand the pic by July 4.

“An Inconvenient Truth” continues to dominate in limited release. Par Classics expanded the global-warming documentary from 77 to 122 playdates and took in $1.5 million, or $12,077 per theater. Cume is $4 million.

Next frame it gets a big jump to around 400 locations.

Miramax didn’t get much response to “The Heart of the Game.” Well-reviewed basketball docu bowed to a weak $12,200, or $4,068 per play, at three theaters.

ThinkFilm expanded Gael Garcia Bernal starrer “The King” from one to five locations and grossed only $20,330, or $4,066 per play.

Overall frame was up 7% from a year ago. For the year to date, 2006 box office is 3% ahead of 2005.

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