"Brave" is expected to take in between $55 million and $60 million at the box office this weekend, crushing the competition and giving Pixar its 13th consecutive No. 1 debut.
Disney is bullish on "Brave" and will roll it out in 4,164 locations. That's the most ever for a Pixar release, with 2,790 of those screens 3D. The studio is confident that family audiences will turn out and that many will pony up for the premium viewing experience.
"We're looking at a crossover of families and fans of Pixar, and there are plenty of both," Dave Hollis, Disney's executive vice-president of exhibition told TheWrap Thursday. The film is tracking strongly, even with young males.
"Early on we had a sense that the action sequences and the Pixar brand were resonating with boys," Hollis said, "but we'll find out for sure this weekend."
This is the first Pixar release since last summer's "Cars 2" opened to $66 million, went on to make $191 million and $560 million worldwide. Those are impressive numbers, but nowhere near "Toy Story 3," which grossed more than a billion dollars globally in 2010.
"A Pixar movie doesn't have to open with $100 million," Jeff Bock, senior analysts at Exhibitor Relations told TheWrap Thursday, "because it can play all summer, and this one certainly could."
"Brave," which carries a roughly $185 million production budget, tells the tale of the red-tressed Princess Merida who, determined to make her own way in the world, defies a custom that brings chaos to her kingdom and family. Granted one wish, Merida must rely on her bravery and her archery skills to undo a beastly curse.
The voice cast features Kelly Macdonald as Merida, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, Robbie Coltrane and Craig Ferguson. Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman direct, with Katherine Sarafian producing and Pete Doctor, John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton executive producing.
The critics liked it. At RottenTomatoes.com, 73 percent of the reviews were positive, as were 68 percent on MovieReviewIntelligence.com. Metacritic.com gives it a 71 rating.
All that good news for "Brave" is bad news for "Abe Lincoln: Vampire Hunter." The historical monster mash-up follows a young Honest Abe bent on beheading the undead after they kill his mother. Fox has the film in 3,106 locations and foresees it opening to around $15 million, in line with analysts' expectations.
The reigning box office champ, DreamWorks Animation's "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted," is on track for a $16 million third week, so it could be a race for No. 2.
Fox has created awareness of the roughly $70 million "Abe Lincoln" — its over-the-top title and premise help — but turning that into box office will be tougher. Reports abound of movie audiences either confused or giggling at the trailer for the film, based on the best-seller by Seth Grahame-Smith. And opening opposite "Brave" complicates things.
"You don't want to butt heads with Pixar," BoxOffice.com editor-in-chief Phil Contrino told TheWrap. "You look at some recent films with what we might call a bizarre premise — "Snakes on Plane" or "Piranha 3D" — and everybody watches the trailers and laughs, but did they spend money on them?"
Action specialist Timur Bekmambetov ("Wanted") directs and is producing along with Tim Burton, Jim Lemley and Broadway's Benjamin Walker ("Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson"), who is starring. Anthony Mackie co-stars.
The critics were mixed at best. MovieReviewIntelligence had 42 percent positive, Rotten Tomatoes just 26 percent. Its Metacritic rating is 49.
Days from its opening, "Abe Lincoln" had around 1,000 "likes" on Facebook — not great for a film that needs to connect with a fanboy base. To put that in perspective, "Scott Pilgrim" had 500,000 before it opened to $10 million in 2010.
It's hard to imagine the film's R-rating boosting crowds, but Fox just weeks ago successfully launched "Prometheus," another violent, R-rated film, albeit one with a Ridley Scott pedigree.
Focus Features will debut its comedy "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" in roughly 1,400 locations. It stars Steve Carell and Keira Knightly in the story of man who seeks out his high school sweetheart when he hears an asteroid may strike Earth and co-stars Patton Oswalt and Rob Corddry. Lorene Scafaria wrote and directed.
Carell's last film, 2011's "Crazy, Stupid, Love," debuted to $19 million and went on to make $84 million for Warner Bros., $143 million worldwide. And "Date Night" bowed to $25 million in 2010, going on to $152 million globally. But those were ensemble films, so analysts see "Seeking" bowing closer to "Dan in Real Life," which opened to $11 million and did $48 million domestically in 2007.
The two wide holdovers, Warner Bros.' "Rock of Ages" and Sony's "That's My Boy," are expected to take in $8 million and $7 million, respectively.
Sony Pictures Classics will roll out Woody Allen's latest, "To Rome With Love," in five theaters.
There are a handful of specialty releases hitting the marketplace: "Grassroots" from Samuel Goldwyn, "The Invisible War" from Cinedigm, "Nate and Margaret" from Breaking Glass Pictures and "Stella Days" from Tribeca Films.