Box office hits and misses: ‘Cars 3’ narrowly passes ‘Wonder Woman’ with weak debut

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One of Pixar’s biggest franchises could be running out of steam, while the international market continues to prop up some recent flops in U.S. theaters.

Just about the only thing that wasn’t a surprise at the box office over the weekend was the first-place finish for Cars 3, as the latest installment of the blockbuster Pixar franchise bumped Wonder Woman off the top of the box office charts as expected with a good (but not great) $53.5 million opening weekend.

Despite its opening weekend win, Cars 3 under-performed most pundits’ expectations for the 18th film to come out of the massively successful animation studio. If the opening weekends for all 18 films are adjusted for inflation, the premiere for Cars 3 is the second-worst of all time for the studio — beating only 2015’s The Good Dinosaur. Still the Cars franchise appears to have righted itself with audiences in at least one way: Cars 3 received an “A” grade on audience survey site CinemaScore, improving on the “A-” that its 2011 predecessor received. (It’s worth noting that Cars 2 is also the only Pixar film to ever receive lower than an “A” grade.)

Although Wonder Woman is no longer at the top of the box office, there were more than enough reasons for fans of director Patty Jenkins’ record-breaking film to celebrate.

# Title Weekend U.S. Total Worldwide Total
1. Cars 3 $53.5M $53.5M $74.8M
2. Wonder Woman $40.7M $274.6M $571.8M
3. All Eyez On Me $27M $27M $27M
4. The Mummy $13.9M $56.5M $295.6M
5. 47 Meters Down $11.5M $11.5M $11.5M
6. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales $8.4M $150M $650M
7. Rough Night $8M $8M $12.2M
8. Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie $7.3M $57.9M  $62.6M
9. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 $4.9M $374.8M $844.3M
10. It Comes At Night  $2.6M  $11.1M $11.1M

Wonder Woman had an impressively small drop from its second week to third week of only 30 percent, and the $40.7 million it earned brought it up to $274.6 million in U.S. theaters so far. That gives the film the second-highest ticket sales for any Warner Bros. Pictures movie in its third week, just behind the $42.6 million that The Dark Knight earned in its third week. Wonder Woman is now on pace to beat both Man of Steel and Suicide Squad at the box office, and a few more weekends like this one will put it into the upper tier of both the studio’s superhero movies and all superheroes collectively.

Two new releases that definitely didn’t underperform were third-place finisher All Eyez On Me — a biopic of deceased hip-hop artist Tupac Shakur — and the shark-fueled horror film 47 Meters Down. Both films were expected to earn far less than what they ended up raking in, but received distinctly different critical evaluations. Although audiences gave All Eyez On Me a positive grade (A-), professional critics slammed the movie to the tune of a 24-percent approval rating on review aggregator RottenTomatoes.com. Meanwhile, 47 Meters Down received decent reviews from critics (54-percent approval), but was slapped with a “C” grade by audiences.

The outlook was decidedly less optimistic for the dark comedy Rough Night, which was expected to earn around $20 million over its opening weekend, but managed a measly $8 million to go along with poor reviews from professional critics and general audiences alike.

A few more big surprises came in the form of overwhelming international support for films that aren’t having the best runs in U.S. theaters, as The Mummy and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales continued to rake in money internationally despite weak domestic performance so far. Tom Cruise’s horror thriller The Mummy has earned a mere $56.5 million so far in U.S. theaters, for example, but has now taken in almost $300 million worldwide. It’s a similar situation for Dead Men Tell No Tales, which has earned just $150 million in four weeks (which would be fine if it didn’t cost more than $230 million to make), but has earned $650 million worldwide.

Both films are a fascinating study in the diminishing importance of U.S. theater audiences to a film’s overall success, as we’re beginning to this sort of scenario play out more often in recent years with the emergence of major international markets — particularly China.

This upcoming week will certainly be won by Transformers: The Last Knight, which arrives in theaters a few days earlier than usual on Wednesday, June 21. The fifth film in Michael Bay’s blockbuster franchise faces no significant competition at the box office, and now it’s only a question of how much of a bite this week’s strong performers will take out of The Last Knight.

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