“Finding Dory” is swimming toward a record-breaking $130 million opening weekend, early estimates showed Friday.
Disney/Pixar’s animated sequel — playing in 4,305 North American theaters with Ellen DeGeneres in the lead voice role — is completely dominating moviegoing, set to earn more than $50 million on its opening day Friday. That includes $9.2 million from Thursday night, the biggest debut of all time for an animated film.
Action-comedy “Central Intelligence,” teaming Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart, is launching with a solid $35 million at 3,508 sites this weekend.
The most conservative estimates Friday were in the $115 million to $130 million range. Sunday’s telecast of the NBA final game may hold down some business at the end of the weekend, but it’s likely that “Dory” will break the nine-year-old record for best domestic animated opening, set by “Shrek the Third” in 2007 with $121.6 million. “Minions” is in second at $115.7 million, followed by Disney/Pixar’s “Toy Story 3” with $110 million.
Should “Dory” hit $130 million this weekend, it will rank as one of the top 20 domestic openers of all time. Marvel-Disney’s “Captain America: Civil War” had the year’s highest-grossing launch with $179 million, the fifth-biggest debut of all time.
Early indications are that Disney has a blockbuster that’s going to perform similarly over its life to 2003’s original “Finding Nemo,” the story of a fish separated from his father, which grossed $936.7 million globally and won an Oscar for best animated feature. “Finding Nemo” had a solid $70 million domestic opening weekend, then gained traction in the subsequent weeks to finish its initial run with $340 million.
The sequel reunites original director Andrew Stanton with DeGeneres returning to voice Dory along with Albert Brooks voicing her friend Marlin. Stanton’s co-director Angus MacLane is making his filmmaking debut. The new story centers on Dory — a blue tang — suffering from short-term memory loss and scouring the ocean in search of her long-lost parents. Disney did not provide a budget, but Pixar films typically carry price tags between $175 million to $200 million.
“Finding Dory” is enjoying a 95% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It should also jolt the summer box office, which has declined from last summer and seen disappointing returns from “Warcraft” and sequels such as “Alice Through the Looking Glass” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” in recent weeks.
Online ticket service Fandango reported this week that “Finding Dory” had become its top pre-selling animated movie ever. DeGeneres has been celebrating the movie this week on her TV talk show with “Finding Dory Week.”
“Central Intelligence” is also making a sturdy debut that underlines the appeal of Johnson and Hart, who are paired for the first time after establishing strong credentials as box office draws and indefatigable promoters. Johnson plays a high-school geek who grows up to be a crack CIA agent and enlists high-school buddy Hart to help him on a mission.
New Line is handling the release domestically and Universal will handle it internationally, with the studios co-financing the $50 million film. “Central Intelligence” reviews have been mixed with a 65% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
New Line’s second weekend of “The Conjuring 2” should finish a strong third with more than $20 million following its $40.4 million launch last weekend. The horror sequel hit $53.2 million at the domestic box office on Wednesday.
The box office will receive another jolt next weekend when Fox opens the tentpole sequel “Indepedence Day: Resurgence,” 20 years after the original blockbuster launched.
Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst with comScore, said “Dory” may reverse the recent declining momentum at the summer box office, which is down 18% over the same point last year.
“Hollywood has been fishing for a box office hit and may have finally found it with ‘Finding Dory’ which is on track for a spectacular weekend that, along with ‘Central Intelligence,’ could boost us out of the summer doldrums and get the momentum going in a positive direction,” he noted.
Fox is opening another tentpole sequel next weekend with “Independence Day: Resurgence,” two decades after the original dazzled with more than $800 million.
“Depending on the calendar, the percentage deficit vs. 2015’s rip-roaring summer is sizable, but not unconquerable and a $100 million-sized debut goes a long way toward shedding the negative perception of a summer that still has a lot of time left and enough potential hits to make up the difference,” Dergarabedian said.