Can ‘Finding Dory’ and Kevin Hart Save the Summer Box Office?

Finding Dory
Courtesy of Disney/Pixar

The summer box office is sinking fast. With ticket sales down more than 20%, and high-profile would-be blockbusters such as “Alice Through the Looking Glass” and “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” tanking  or falling short at the multiplexes, it’s enough to send studio executives clamoring for the lifeboats.

“It’s all cyclical,” said Shawn Robbins, senior analyst at BoxOffice.com. “Audiences are conserving their money. They’re looking at their options and thinking the slate’s not as good as in years past.”

But moviegoers may be willing to crack open their wallets when “Finding Dory” hits theaters this weekend. The sequel to “Finding Nemo” will easily top $100 million, and could be looking at a debut of more than $115 million from 4,305 North American theaters. That would establish a new opening record for a Disney/Pixar release, lapping “Toy Story 3’s” $110 million launch.

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It’s an impressive feat, but then “Finding Dory” is benefiting from some impressive lineage. Released in 2003, “Finding Nemo,” the story of a fish separated from his father, went on to become the second highest-grossing film of the year, racking up a massive $936.7 million globally and nabbing an Oscar for best animated feature. The sequel reunites original director Andrew Stanton with stars Albert Brooks and Ellen DeGeneres. Stanton’s co-director Angus MacLane is making his feature debut as a filmmaker.

The new adventure finds Dory, a fish who suffers from short-term memory loss, scouring the ocean in search of her long-lost parents. Disney did not provide a budget, but Pixar films typically carry price tags of between $175 million to $200 million. “Finding Dory” is enjoying some critical love, as well. The film has a 92% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, signalling that the reviews are almost universally positive.

“Finding Dory” will dominate ticket sales in a way that few other films have managed of late. However, it’s success won’t prevent the weekend’s other newcomer, “Central Intelligence,” from sticking the landing. The action-comedy is projected to open to $30 million, a healthy debut that demonstrates the enduring appeal of stars Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson. In the comedy realm, few actors have been as consistent draws as Hart, who can claim “The Wedding Ringer,” “Get Hard” and “Ride Along” among his hits. At the same time, Johnson has emerged as one of the most bankable action headliners, scoring with the likes of “San Andreas” and “Furious 7.” Both are indefatigable promoters, who are prized by studios for going anywhere and everywhere to talk up their new films.

“Central Intelligence” is the story of a geek who grows up to be a crack CIA agent (Johnson). He enlists Hart, playing the former campus king, to help him on a mission. New Line will release the film domestically and Universal will handle its international roll out. The two studios co-financed the $50 million film.

Despite a rough few weeks, some analysts believe that “Finding Dory” could kick off a turnaround. Though the summer is nearing mid-point, there are still a number of promising films left to debut, including “Jason Bourne,” “Star Trek Beyond,” and “Independence Day: Resurgence.”

“The rest of the summer slate has their work cut out for them but as we all know, box office fortunes rise and fall like the stock market so we still have a lot of time to make up the shortfall,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at comScore.

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  1. dory says:

    i watched nemo movie when i was child now im going to watch Finding dory

  2. David K says:

    It is not all Cyclical!! That is the biggest cop out and lame excuse I have ever heard. Movie going has never been threatened like this-it is being replaced with entertainment from all avenues & platforms, including people’s phones. There are some who do not even go to the theater anymore-why when they can binge watch their favorite show instead. The studios need to increase the quality of the product and stop with this re imagining, reboot, and sequel nonsense.
    Cyclical, you must be kidding me.

  3. Decker says:

    Kevi Hart? Just because he’s in a bunch of middling comedies doesn’t make him a star. Central Intelligence is the Rock movie with that short side kick. Let’s be real.

  4. EricJ says:

    Many of the big tentpoles that flopped this year (BvS, X-Men, Turtles), had a common running theme to what was wrong with them.
    And hint: It’s not “sequels” and it’s not “superheroes”.

    Correctly guess the common reason WHY they all flopped, and you’ve just taken the first step on the long road to a cure, and execs will bow and praise in gratitude.
    But if Star Trek: Beyond and Jason Bourne flop and you still can’t guess why, don’t come running to the rest of us.

    • drogo says:

      Age of Ultron was the most peculiar box office flop. Even Disney themselves thought it was a flop.

    • HAL says:

      Batman v Superman was not a flop, it did 870+ million on a 250 million budget. And that’s not even including the merchandising, which brought in additional 100’s of millions.
      It was a disappointment though.

    • Flop is not correct. Disappointment is correct. All three of those (with the exception of the Turtles, because I don’t know what they expected, made money, although not what the studios wanted them to make.

      Alice was a flop.

      • EricJ says:

        Alice was a flop, Turtles was a disappointment. Batman was a flop, X-Men was an…aging disappointment. Last year, The Good Dinosaur was a disappointment, Tomorrowland was a flop.
        You’re correct in that “Disappointment” means you actually -expected- something to be good given the material, and you were “disappointed” that it ended up being a victim of circumstance (bad timing, bad promotion, competition, editing troubles). A Flop is an utterly misfired mistake that broke every common bit of audience logic in concept or execution, and paid the audience price.

        This is my SECOND hint about What Went Wrong With the Summer of ’16.

  5. Drew Gars says:

    Brett. Fucking. Lang. Always being Variety’s main whiner. Just stop it.

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