“Finding Dory” is on pace to give Pixar the biggest opening in its history when it hits theaters on June 17. The sequel to 2003’s “Finding Nemo” is eyeing a debut of between $115 million and $120 million, a massive number that should help reinvigorate a sluggish summer box office.
“We’re pretty bullish on it,” said Shawn Robbins, senior box office analyst with BoxOffice.com. “It’s way ahead of pace in terms of where other Pixar releases have been. Given ‘Finding Nemo’s’ status as a modern classic, it’s going to be huge.”
It’s a return to form for the animation company after last fall’s “The Good Dinosaur” became the first Pixar release to lose money. Prior to that rare misstep, the studio had developed a reputation for quality and commercial success that has rarely been equaled. Its hits include “Wall-E,” “Inside Out” and “Toy Story,” films that were praised for their creative daring and movies that ushered in an animation renaissance.
“Finding Dory” looks like it will continue what is shaping up to be a very good year for Disney, Pixar’s corporate parent. The studio has racked up more than $4 billion in global ticket sales in record time, and has fielded three of the year’s four highest-grossing films with “Captain America: Civil War,” “Zootopia” and “The Jungle Book.”
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It’s also welcome news for theater owners. Summer box office returns are down roughly 15%, as blockbusters such as “Captain America: Civil War” and “X-Men: Apocalypse” are struggling to match such 2015 heavyweights as “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” “Pitch Perfect 3” and “Mad Max: Fury Road.” Many analysts expected that 2016 would suffer in comparison. Last summer established a new record, helping to push the annual domestic box office over $4 billion for the first time.
When a film is generating the kind of excitement that “Finding Dory” is with consumers, tracking can become unreliable. It’s possible that the film could come up short of that $115 million threshold. However, if it does reach those heights, it will pass “Toy Story 3’s” $110.3 million bow as the company’s best debut. “Finding Nemo” opened to $70.2 million, going on to make $380.8 million domestically and $936.7 million worldwide.
Unlike other summer blockbusters, Pixar movies don’t gobble up a disproportionate amount of their ticket sales in their initial weekend of release. Animated films tend to enjoy repeat business. Looking at the calendar, “Finding Dory” has a relatively open field when it comes to family pictures. “Alice Through the Looking Glass” bombed and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” disappointed, leaving few options for consumers with children. The next film geared at kids, Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s “The BFG,” doesn’t debut until two weeks after “Finding Dory” launches.
“Finding Dory” brings back Ellen DeGeneres and Albert Brooks, the two lead voice cast members from the original film. “Finding Nemo” co-director and co-writer Andrew Stanton handled the screenplay for the sequel and co-directs with Angus MacLane. The film follows Dory, a fish with short-term memory loss, as she tries to reunite with her parents.
“There’s a lot of anticipation,” said Erik Handler, an analyst with MKM Partners. “The trailers look cute. All the favorite characters are there. There isn’t much out there for kids. So I’m expecting big things.”