“Finding Dory” shattered box office records this weekend, setting a new high-water mark for an animated film debut with its $136.2 million opening.
The sequel to 2003’s “Finding Nemo” succeeded where many followups this summer have failed, nearly doubling the original film’s $70.2 million launch. Its impressive results come amidst fears that the movie business is suffering from “sequelitis,” as one by one spinoffs and fresh installments such as “Alice Through the Looking Glass” and “X-Men: Apocalypse” sputter at the box office.
1.) Pixar is the Movie Business’ Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval
Over the course of 17 films, Pixar has established a reputation for excellence that is nearly unparalleled. Perhaps only Miramax during its ’90s heyday rivals the Pixar association with quality films, and its run of “Pulp Fiction,” “The English Patient” and “The Crying Game” was pitched to a markedly different demographic.
With the exception of the “Cars” films, critics have embraced the company’s films, treating them as works of art, not craven cash grabs. And audiences have responded in kind, handing every film the studio makes an A CinemaScore rating. Consequently, moviegoers know that when Pixar’s name is attached to a film, attention must be paid.
2.) Girl Power Matters
Dory, the short-term memory addled fish voiced so memorably by Ellen DeGeneres, swims into center stage in the sequel. Disney films have historically catered to young girls. After all, the Magic Kingdom’s riches come from its Disney Princess franchise. But in recent years, the studio has done an admirable job of moving beyond royal wedding wish fulfillment. Characters such as Judy Hopps (“Zootopia”), Riley Andersen (“Inside Out”), Merida (“Brave”) and, yes, Dory represent a wider range of female experiences and boast character traits beyond simply waiting around for their prince. They are archers, cops, teenage girls, even forgetful fish.
That diversity has paid off at the box office. “Inside Out,” “Zootopia” and “Finding Dory” have all drawn more females than males, with comScore’s post-track service reporting that 62% of the opening weekend crowd for the “Finding Nemo” follow-up was comprised of women. After a summer where major movies such as “Captain America: Civil War” and “X-Men: Apocalypse” have largely centered on men, having a woman in the central role is a refreshing change of pace.
Having one of the most powerful women in entertainment didn’t hurt matters. DeGeneres worked her passionate network of fans, debuting trailers for “Finding Dory” on her talk show and tweeting about the movie to her 60.4 million followers.
3.) Where’s the Competition?
With school getting out, there’s been a dearth of films geared at families. Well, at least films that people wanted to see. “Alice Through the Looking Glass” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” were rejected by audiences, and it’s been a month since “Angry Birds” debuted. The lack of compelling entertainment options had audiences primed to hit the multiplexes for Pixar’s new release, and expect healthy business on Sunday as dads and kids hit the theater in celebration of Father’s Day.
Looking ahead, “Finding Dory” will continue to benefit from a lack of competition. “The BFG” doesn’t open for another two weeks and is tracking poorly, and the next likely family fueled smash doesn’t land until July 8 when “The Secret Life of Pets” debuts.
4,) Adults Came Too
Pixar films aren’t just for little kids. “Finding Dory” attracted a diverse crowd, with adults making up 26% of its audience and teenagers accounting for 9% of ticket buyers. In another sign of its all-ages appeal, “Finding Dory” continued to do well in later showtimes when younger children are typically in bed. The sequel did $4 million worth of business after 7 p.m. on Friday and roughly the same amount after that time on Saturday. That’s double what “Inside Out” did in those opening weekend slots, and a signal that adults are nearly as eager to see Dory reconnect with her long-lost parents as kids are.
5.) Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder
In the 13 years since “Finding Nemo” became a blockbuster success, the film has expanded its fan base. The kids who made the first film a smash may have moved on to high school, college and young adulthood, but they still showed up to support the sequel. Plus, thanks to a steady stream of showings on television and home entertainment platforms, new generations have been turned on to the ocean creatures who populate the animated hits.
More importantly, at a time when there have been sequels to films that people didn’t enjoy the first go round (see: “The Huntsman: Winter’s War”) or ill-conceived followups that felt like rush-jobs (we’re looking at you “Allegiant” and “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising”), “Finding Dory” co-writer and co-director Andrew Stanton took the time he needed to have his eureka moment. Too often these films seemed to have been jerry-rigged by committee, tossed together in the hopes of meeting some arbitrary release date, selected so a studio can hit its quarterly numbers. It’s not like “Finding Dory” was a difficult greenlight for Disney, but Pixar deserves credit for having the patience to let Stanton and company cogitate until they could find a fresh way to continue the saga of Dory, Nemo and Marlin.
For audiences and for Pixar, “Finding Dory” proves that some things are worth the wait.