By Brent Lang
LOS ANGELES, (Variety.com) - "Minions" ruled the weekend box office, racking up a massive $115.2 million in North America, for the second biggest animated film opening in history.
The Universal and Illumination Entertainment spin-off to "Despicable Me" just missed the domestic record set by "Shrek the Third's" $121.6 million kickoff in 2007, while continuing animation maestro Chris Meledandri's hot streak at the multiplexes. What makes Meledandri so valuable to studios is that he keeps budgets low. "Minions" cost $74 million to produce, a modest number considering that Pixar and DreamWorks Animation routinely spend north of $100 million on their animated features.
The studio left nothing to chance when it came to reminding moviegoers why the loved the nattering, mischievous, highlighter-hued critters. Universal partnered with the likes of Snapchat, McDonald's, and Amazon to deliver nearly $600 million in publicity and promotions, according to a recent article by Bloomberg. The titular characters were ubiquitous popping up on everything from Twinkies to Chiquita bananas.
"With anything that opens to over $100 million, you breach all demographics," said Jeff Bock, an analyst with Exhibitor Relations. "The Minions are the stars of the 'Despicable Me' franchise...kids love them, teens love them, and adults love them."
"Minions" also enjoyed a sprawling rollout, debuting in 4,301 theaters. In recent months, there's been a lot of celebrating taking place on the Universal lot. The studio is the leader in market share thanks to hits like "Pitch Perfect 2" and "Fifty Shades of Grey," and has two films that have crossed $1 billion at the global box office with "Furious 7" and "Jurassic World."
"Minions" was such a behemoth that two newcomers, "Self/Less" and "The Gallows," risked getting washed away. Of them, "The Gallows" fared better, picking up $10 million, across 2,720 locations. The Warner Bros. found footage chiller cost less than $2 million to make, so it could be profitable. Entertainment 360 and Blumhouse Productions backed the picture about a high school play gone terribly, terribly wrong...and not in that teenagers putting on "The Crucible" kind of way.
Warner Bros. executives say the film is a modestly priced single, but was an important showcase for writers and directors Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing.
"We're cultivating young filmmakers and giving them a chance to grow and prosper," said Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros. distribution executive vice president. "These are really sharp guys, who have a long career in front of them."
Focus Features' "Self/Less" was not so fortunate, picking up roughly $5.4 million from 1,953 locations. The science-fiction thriller about a radical medical procedure is the latest film fumble for Ryan Reynolds, who is still laboring to get out from under the massive flops that were "The Green Lantern" and "R.I.P.D." The good news for the actor is that a trailer for "Deadpool," his upcoming R-rated comic book adaptation, rocked the Comic-Con crowd. Box office redemption may be nigh.
"Self/Less" was produced for $26 million, but the blow is softened in part by foreign pre-sales that limited Focus' and co-backer Endgame's financial exposure.
"Minions" also took a chunk out of some of the turbo-charged blockbusters still kicking around cinemas. "Jurassic World" slid 54% to $18.1 million, bringing its stateside haul to $590.6 million, while "Inside Out" dipped 43% to $17.1 million, pushing its domestic total to $283.6 million.
Overall ticket sales were robust, improving nearly 40% over the year-ago period when "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" kicked off with $72.6 million.