Pixar’s catch o’ the day

B.O. is wholly mackerel as 'Nemo' gulps $70 mil

This article was updated at 6:08 p.m.

Family toon “Finding Nemo” was the big fish in this weekend’s box office pond, with a splashy $70.6 million in estimated grosses giving co-prod partners Disney and Pixar their best opening ever.

Boffo bow — biggest in history for any toon — validates summer-launch strategy for the pic following a series of November outings by its collaborators. Perf bested the $62.6 million posted by Disney-Pixar’s “Monsters, Inc.” in 2001.

Universal/Spyglass’ Jim Carrey laffer “Bruce Almighty” was runner-up in the latest frame with an estimated $35.6 million, posting a relatively modest 48% drop from a Friday-Sunday opening over the robust Memorial Day sesh.

Paramount remake “The Italian Job” was third, with heist actioner boosting $19.3 million in a bow roughly meeting pre-release expectations. Warner Bros./Village Roadshow sequel “The Matrix Reloaded” finished fourth, tumbling another big 59% in its third weekend to $15 million.

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20th Century Fox/New Regency’s “Wrong Turn” debuted weakly, as expected, with just $5 million. That parked horror pic in a seventh-place tie with Fox’s “X2: X-Men United,” which dropped 52% while bumping five-week cume to $199.3 million.

Warners’ soph-sesher “The In-Laws” landed in eighth, as comedy remake fell 50% to $3.7 million.

Industrywide, the weekend repped a whopping 42% uptick from the same frame a year ago with $174 million in estimated total grosses, according to B.O. tracker Nielsen EDI. But at $3.46 billion in year-to-date grosses, 2003 is still 4% behind a comparable portion 2002, even accounting for differences in the box office years.

Monstrous numbers

Prior to the release of “Nemo,” some thought that it would open just below “Monsters” but that summer playtime would help fish tale outpace the $253 million domestic run of its wintertime predecessor. Big bow makes that latter ambition more certain.

Mouse distribution prexy Chuck Viane said “Nemo” exploited great reviews and surging interest in moviegoing.

“Everything is just roaring out of the shoots right now,” Viane said. “But we knew we had a great movie, and the reviews have been the best this summer without question.”

Produced for an estimated $80 million-$90 million, “Nemo” grabbed toon records for best opening-day and single-day grosses, at $21 million and $29 million, respectively. Its Friday opening bested the $17 million first day for “Monsters,” and Saturday’s gross outpaced a $26 million single-day haul for that same 2001 toon.

“Nemo” is the fifth Disney-Pixar collaboration. Head Mouseketeer Michael Eisner, who’s been in talks with Pixar chief Steve Jobs about extending the companies’ co-prod pact, Sunday issued a rare statement about pic’s opening.

“We are thrilled for Andrew Stanton and (Pixar creative chief) John Lassiter, for the strength of family films, and for Disney and Pixar,” he said.

Stanton-helmed “Nemo” — which features voice perfs by Albert Brooks and Ellen DeGeneres — also delivered Disney a studio record for a three-day bow.

Femmes catch “Italian”

“The Italian Job,” an updating of the 1969 original costing $70 million-plus to produce, reversed a male bias from week-earlier sneaks to skew 54% female over its opening. Two-thirds of patrons were 25 or older.

Action-laced thriller — helmed by F. Gary Gray (“Set It Off”) — stars Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Edward Norton and four Mini Coopers. Execs expressed satisfaction with its opening.

“It’s a good solid number,” said Par distrib boss Wayne Lewellen.

Exit surveys showed strong positive reactions, he added.

Interestingly, several rival distribs penciled in slightly more bullish projections for the Par pic, with one studio expecting “Job” to gross as much as $20.3 million through Sunday. Pics’ official weekend tallies will be circulated today.

A New Regency pickup for Fox, “Wrong Turn” was produced by creatures master Stan Winston and helmed by Rob Schmidt (“Crime and Punishment in Suburbia”).

“New Regency is pleased with the results,” said Rick Myerson, Fox’s exec VP distribution.

Meanwhile, Warners hopes the addition of 39 Imax venues on Friday will rekindle interest in “Matrix Reloaded.”

“I hope the core ‘Matrix’ fans will reload one more time,” said Dan Fellman, head of distribution at Warners.

“Reloaded” has already surpassed the original $460 million in worldwide grosses with an amazing $232.1 million in domestic B.O. But its big drops from boffo opening grosses mean pic will do well to reach $300 million, falling short of the top dozen or so all-time grossers.

20th Century Fox’s “Independence Day” ranks No. 14 after a $306.2 million run in 1996. Disney’s “The Sixth Sense” sits at No. 15, having rung up $293.5 million in 1999.

“Nemo,” which could also have $300 mil within its domestic reach, faces no direct new family competish next weekend. Universal’s action sequel “2 Fast 2 Furious,” targeting teens and young adults, reps frame’s only wide opener.

“Together” has solid bow

In a solid limited bow this weekend, United Artists debuted drama “Together” in six locations in Gotham, L.A. and San Francisco, grossing an estimated $66,000, or an average $11,000 per site. Chinese music saga travels to six additional cities Friday with 25 total runs.

Magnolia bowed docu “Capturing the Friedmans” in three Gotham locations and grossed an impressive $64,000, or $21,333 per site. Pic broadens to Chicago next weekend and top-10 cities the following frame.

Elsewhere in the specialty market, Paramount Classics expanded drama “The Man on the Train” by nine theaters for a total 55 and grossed an estimated $168,664, or $3,067 per venue with a $671,764 cume.

Sony Classics broadened docu “Winged Migration” by 20 runs for a total 45 and grossed $280,654, a fleet $6,237 per location with a $1.2 million cume.

Distrib also added one playdate for its “Respiro” drama and grossed $55,802, or $6,975 per site with a $168,566 cume.

Fox Searchlight expanded “L’Auberge Espagnole” by 15 engagements for a total 43 and grossed $200,000, or $4,651 per playdate with a $590,000 cume.

Thinkfilm widened docu “Spellbound” by 18 runs for a total 42 and grossed $253,137, an attentive $6,027 per site with a $729,657 cume.

And Miramax expanded drama “The Blue Car” by five theaters for a total 26 and grossed $49,000, or $1,885 per venue with a $296,854 cume.