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'Toy Story 3' is Pixar's biggest opening, but will it be Pixar's most successful movie?

June 20, 2010 | 12:30 pm

TS3b "Toy Story 3" had the biggest opening day of all time for an animated film -- but not the biggest-ever opening weekend.

Within a few weeks, a comparison of its $41-million Friday to its estimated $109-million weekend could be a meaningless blip in the context of an awesome box-office run. Or it could be the first indication of a relatively short life in theaters for a Pixar movie.

In the past, Pixar pictures ultimately have grossed, on average, slightly more than four times their opening-weekend take in the U.S. and Canada. If the same holds true for "Toy Story 3," it will end up at about $450 million. That's more than $100 million higher than "Finding Nemo," previously the biggest Pixar movie, and just a bit above the most successful animated movie of all time, "Shrek 2," which finished its domestic run at $441 million (grosses are not adjusted for inflation).

All indications are that word-of-mouth, usually the most important driver of a movie's box-office longevity, is fantastic. The average audience grade was A, according to market research firm CinemaScore, and reviews were uniformly positive. Studies of Twitter traffic conducted by Walt Disney Studios indicated that enthusiasm among some fans was so high that they had already seen "Toy Story 3" twice.

"I believe this will ultimately not only be the highest opening for a Pixar film, but the highest total gross," said Chuck Viane, Disney president of distribution.

The reason the record opening day for "Toy Story 3" didn't translate to a record weekend, however, was that ticket sales declined from Friday to Saturday, which was unusual for an animated family film. Much of that can be attributed to the nearly $4 million that the movie grossed in midnight shows early Friday morning. It's extremely rare for an animated picture to get any money from late-night screenings, but "Toy Story 3" drew a significant crowd of adult fans loyal to the 15-year-old franchise.

Even without the midnight shows, however, the $37-million Saturday gross of "Toy Story 3" was essentially flat compared with Friday. Every previous Pixar movie save one has seen a rise in ticket sales on its second day in theaters. The exception, "Wall-E," ultimately grossed 3 1/2 times its opening-weekend take -- an excellent ratio for most movies but the lowest ever for Pixar.

"Toy Story 3" faces an additional challenge in that it will lose many of its 3-D theaters, which have accounted for about 60% of the movie's opening-weekend gross, in two weeks when "The Last Airbender" opens -- and even more theaters the week after that, when "Despicable Me" debuts.

Of course, it's normal for sequels to well-known series to garner a higher proportion of their box-office revenue on opening weekend, since audiences know what they're getting and don't need to wait to hear the buzz. Even if "Toy Story 3" has a short run for a Pixar film, it's virtually certain to gross more than $300 million in the U.S. and Canada and about the same amount or more overseas, making it a success by any measure.

For more on the opening on "Toy Story 3," "Jonah Hex" and "Cyrus," see our initial box office post.

Here are the top 10 movies at the domestic box office this weekend according to studio estimates and Hollywood.com:

1. "Toy Story 3" (Disney/Pixar): Opened to $109 million. $44.8 million overseas in 25 foreign markets.

2. "The Karate Kid" (Sony): $29 million on its second weekend, down 48%. Domestic total: $106.3 million.

3. "The A-Team" (Fox/Dune): $13.8 million on its second weekend, down 46%. $14 million in 48 foreign markets. Domestic total: $49.8 million. International total: $34.7 million.

4. "Get Him to the Greek" (Universal/Relativity/Spyglass): $6.1 million on its third weekend, down 38%. $3.2 million overseas in five foreign markets. Domestic total: $47.9 million. International total: $4.9 million.

5. "Shrek Forever After" (DreamWorks Animation/Paramount): $5.5 million on its fifth weekend, down 65%. Domestic total: $223 million.

6. "Prince of Persia" (Disney): $5.3 million on its fourth weekend, down 19%. $10.2 million overseas. Domestic total: $80.5 million. International total: $213.1 million.

7. "Killers" (Lionsgate): $5.1 million on its third weekend, down 36%. Domestic total: $39.4 million.

8. "Jonah Hex" (Warner Bros./Legendary): Opened to $5.1 million.

9. "Iron Man 2" (Marvel/Paramount): $2.7 million on its seventh weekend, down 41%. Domestic total: $304 million.

10. "Marmaduke" (Fox/New Regency): $2.7 million on its third weekend -- with many Saturday night shows replaced by "Knight & Day" sneak previews -- down 56%. Domestic total: $27.9 million. International total: $10.9 million.

-- Ben Fritz

Photo: A scene from "Toy Story 3." Credit: Disney / Pixar

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