3D toon from Universal is No. 1 with estimated $56.4 million

Minions were the filet mignon of the weekend as Universal’s 3D toon “Despicable Me” overperformed in bowing to an estimated $56.4 million from 3,476 theaters at the domestic B.O. in a much-needed victory for the studio.

(Editor‘s Note: On Sunday, Universal estimated that “Despicable Me” opened to $60.1 million. Actual numbers released on Monday showed the film opening to $56.4 million.)

Film is a fortuitous first outing for Chris Meledandri’s Illumination Entertainment, U’s animation venture, particularly since “Despicable Me” is an original story — always a tough proposition.

In another big win for the Universal fold, Focus Features’ “The Kids Are All Right” nabbed the best opening screen average of the year at $72,127 as it grossed an estimated $504,888 from seven locations.

Twentieth Century Fox’s male-driven “Predators” redux also overperformed in its debut, grossing an estimated $25.3 million from 2,669 runs to place No. 3 at the domestic B.O. after “Despicable Me” and Summit Entertainment’s “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse.”

“Eclipse” grossed an estimated $33.4 million from 4,468 locations in its second sesh for a domestic cume of $237 million, on par with “New Moon.” “Eclipse” dipped 49% from last weekend, although it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, since the film debuted over six days.

Overseas, “Eclipse” easily topped the international B.O. chart, grossing an estimated $81.1 million in 63 markets for a cume of $219 million and impressive worldwide haul of $456 million.

B.O. observers have been questioning whether “Eclipse” will be able to match “New Moon’s” numbers. Through Sunday, “Eclipse” was running slightly ahead of “New Moon.”

The overall strength of the market was good news for the film biz, with domestic B.O. revs up as much as 38% over the same frame last year. A number of titles have underperformed this summer, leading to a rocky start to the most prosperous season of the year.

Some have blamed ticket price hikes for the rollercoaster ride, especially the cost of taking a family to see 3D titles. But strong performance of current 3D titles such as “Despicable Me” counters those concerns.

With a voice cast led by Steve Carell, “Despicable Me’s” victory was more impressive for the fact that it is the third 3D film in the market after Disney/Pixar’s “Toy Story 3″ and Paramount’s “The Last Airbender.”

Universal — which has suffered a number of box office misses over the past year — said “Despicable Me” cost $68 million to produce, meaning the studio is already on firm ground. Pic was produced by Illumination Entertainment, headed by Meledandri, who left Fox Animation in 2007 to form his own production company. Overseas, “Despicable Me” opened in only four markets to $5 million for a global total of $65.1 million.

“It is a wonderful start for our relationship with Chris. And it says there is so much room and growth for quality family product. Families want to be entertained outside the home,” U prexy of domestic distribution Nikki Rocco said.

Some 55% of the toon’s audience were under the age of 12, while 24% were parents. Film received an A+ CinemaScore in 3D houses and an A in regular theaters, a precursor for strong word of mouth.

Holdover “Toy Story 3″ also made headlines, despite the competition posed by “Despicable Me.” Three-quel ended the weekend with an estimated cume of $340.2 million to supplant “Finding Nemo” ($339.7 million) as the top Pixar toon of all time domestically and the No. 2 Disney title of all time after “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” ($423.3 million).

Placing No. 4 domestically for the frame, “Toy Story 3″ dipped only 27% in its fourth sesh to an estimated $22 million. Overseas, it generated an estimated $39.1 million from 6,992 screens in 39 territories for a foreign total of $213.1 million and worldwide cume of $553.3 million.

Weekend take included a $10.6 million debut in Japan from 456 theaters, the best showing for a Disney animated pic.

Paramount and DreamWorks Animation’s 3D entry “Shrek Forever After” had an even bigger footprint overseas, grossing an estimated $56.2 million from 7,022 screens in 47 territories to come in No. 2 for the frame behind “Eclipse.”

“Shrek” debuted in 17 markets, including a record-breaking launch in Brazil, where it grossed an estimated $7.4 million from 456 locations, an all-time high for a toon.

“Shrek’s” foreign total is $210 million for a worldwide cume of $443.7 million. “Shrek Forever After” opened in May to $70.8 million.

“Predators,” produced by Robert Rodriguez, is an update of the 1987 sci-fi horror pic “Predator.” Serving as counterprogramming to family fare and the femme-fueled “Twilight” franchise, “Predators’?” aud was 69% male, while 60% were over the age of 25.

Nimrod Antal directed “Predators,” which toplines Adrien Brody, Laurence Fishburne and Topher Grace.

“Predators” also got off to a strong start overseas, hunting down $18 million from 3,100 screens as it launched day and date in 22 territories. The U.K. led with $3.5 million at 391, followed by Japan at $2.8 million from 373 and Russia at $2.8 million from 700 screens.

That puts the film’s worldwide debut at $43.3 million — meaning it has already made up its production budget of $38 million, according to the studio.

However, “Predators” only got a C+ CinemaScore. Fox exec VP of distribution Bert Livingston said he was surprised by the low score. “Robert Rodriguez absolutely has a following and Nimrod has a following, too. This movie was back to the basics of the franchise. People liked the movie and it delivers.”

Mediocre CinemaScores will often hurt a film’s playability, but not always. “Shutter Island” and “Cloverfield” both received C CinemaScores, yet were box office successes.

Like “Predators,” M. Night Shyamalan’s “Airbender” also overperformed when it debuted to a four-day total of $69.3 million over July 4, despite receiving a C CinemaScore. “Airbender” fell 57% in its second sesh to an estimated $17.2 million from 3,203 runs.

A clutch of pics jumped the $100 million mark this weekend: “Airbender” has already passed the mark domestically, with a cume of $111.3 million through Sunday. Pic placed No. 5 for the weekend.

At the international B.O., “Airbender” debuted in four markets, grossing $10 million in 1,205 locations for a worldwide total of $121.3 million.

Sony’s Adam Sandler-led ensemble comedy “Grown Ups” also crossed $100 million at the domestic B.O., declining a mere 14% in its third sesh to an estimated $16.4 million from 3,463 theaters for a cume of $111.3 million. It is Sandler’s 11th film to gross north of $100 million.

“Grown Ups” placed No. 6 domestically, followed by Fox’s “Knight and Day,” which fell 25% in its third sesh to an estimated $7.9 million from 2,628 screens for a cume of $61.9 million.

“Knight and Day” launched in an additional five markets overseas, including China, where it opened at No. 1, earning $4.4 million from 1,158 screens. Film grossed an estimated $10.4 million overall from 2,437 screens in 30 markets for a foreign cume of $38.5 million.

That puts “Knight and Day’s” worldwide haul at $100.4 million.

Sony’s “Karate Kid” came in No. 8 for the weekend domestically, with a cume of $164.6 million. Worldwide, it jumped the $200 million mark, grossing an estimated $12.3 million for the weekend at the foreign B.O. for an international total of $43.1 million and global haul of $207.5 million.

Fox’s “The A-Team” placed No. 9 domestically, with a cume through Sunday of $74 million. Foreign cume through Sunday was $57.8 million for a total $131.8 million.

Fox Searchlight’s “Cyrus” rounded out the top 10 at the domestic B.O. as it expanded to 200 theaters, grossing $1.4 million.

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