Disney-Pixar's "Cars 2" raced to one of the biggest over-performances of the year Friday, grossing more than $25 million on its first day. It's pacing to take in more than $70 million domestically for the weekend, according to one rival studio's estimates.
The animated 3D film was only expected to gross between $50 million – $60 million this weekend.
Also out-performing its pre-release expectations, Sony’s Cameron Diaz comedy "Bad Teacher" grossed $12.1 million Friday. Predicted to take in around $25 million its first weekend, the R-rated movie is on pace to surpass $30 million.
Last weekend's domestic box-office champ, Warner superhero movie "The Green Lantern," grossed only $6 million Friday. That's an 89 percent drop from its opening day a week earlier (which did include midnight shows).
Among notable benchmarks this weekend, Disney's fourth "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie added $1.5 million domestically to its astounding global haul Friday and should surpass $1 billion globally in the coming week.
And among limited openings, Summit's Chris Weitz-directed "A Better Life" opened to a solid $68 million at four L.A. and New York locations, averaging $17 million an engagement.
Arriving in 4,115 theaters this weekend, 2,508 of them showing the film in 3D, Disney-Pixar's second "Cars" movie is predicted to lead the domestic box office with a gross somewhere between $50 million to $60 million.
Given that the last animated family film released into the market, DreamWorks Animation's "Kung Fu Panda 2," had almost identical tracking before it was roundly criticized for its $66.7 million Memorial Day holiday opening, the $50 million-$60 million range doesn't seem so spectacular.
Consider that the "Panda 2" opening sent DreamWorks' stock price into yet another dive.
But Disney and Pixar executives — who will see their follow-up to 2006's "Cars" open against Sony's R-rated Cameron Diaz comedy "Bad Teacher" this weekend — are unlikely to break a sweat in regard to how "Cars 2" starts out.
The "Cars" franchise, after all, is tied to one of the most successful toy-licensing initiatives of all time, which has generated around $10 billion for the studio over the last five years.
Introducing new characters — including the Michael Caine-voice Finn McMissile and the Eddie Izzard-tongued Sir Miles Axlerod — outlets ranging from big-box retailers to local super-market chains were re-stocked this spring with new lines of die-cast Mattel "Cars" cars and plush toys.
Reviews aren't great — Rotten Tomatoes is scoring "Cars 2" at a soft 38 percent as of mid-day Thursday — but 5-year-old boys aren't thinking about Roger Ebert when they bug their moms for one of those metalic blue Finn McMissle European sports car Hot Wheels.
Besides licensing, international box office promises to be big for the sequel, with 3D as hot overseas as it is cold domestically.
Disney's last movie shipped abroad, "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," has proven just how incendiary the foreign market is for 3D family-targeted films, grossing more than $740 million so far overseas and possibly passing the $1 billion mark globally by the end of the weekend.
"We're faced with a global situation," conceded the man overseeing Disney' foreign bonanza, Chuck Viane, the soon-to-retire global theatrical distribution chief for the studio.
"Cars 2," which moves off the Stateside stock-car track setting of the original and into a sprawling, worldwide espionage theme, will open up in about 25 percent of global markets concurrent with the U.S. this weekend, Viane said.
Pixar chief John Lasseter himself returned to the directors chair, along with Brad Lewis, for the sequel. Core voice-cast members from the original "Cars" return, including Lightning McQueen himself, Owen Wilson, as well as Larry the Cable Guy and Bonnie Hunt.
The first "Cars" grossed $462 million globally for Disney and Pixar in 2006. Disney, which spent over $300 million to produce and promote "Toy Story 3" last summer, is pouring comparable money into "Cars 2."
Produced for just under $20 million, meanwhile, Sony's "Bad Teacher" will arrive in 3,049 theaters in the U.S. and Canada this weekend, with various box office watchers outside the studio listing the film's opening at around $30 million.
The R-rated comedy stars Cameron Diaz alongside Jason Segel and Justin Timberlake; Jake Kasdan directed the movie, which was written by Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg. Mosaic's Jimmy Miller produced the film.
Rotten Tomatoes scored the comedy at as soft 47 percent as of mid-day Thursday.
Meanwhile, among a flurry of limited indie releases this weekend, Summit's "A Better Life" will debut in two Los Angeles and two New York locations.
The film is directed by Chris Weitz ("About a Boy") and stars Demian Bichir as a Mexican immigrant struggling to keep his son on the straight in narrow while raising him as a single father in East Los Angeles.
Overall, the domestic market looks to be narrowly off the same weekend in 2010, when Disney-Pixar's "Toy Story 3" led the market with $59.3 million.