By Brent Lang
LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - Disney’s “Zootopia” scored the fourth biggest March opening ever, debuting to $73.7 million over the weekend.
The animated story about a rabbit who joins the police force ranks as the biggest Disney Animation launch (though not the best Pixar debut), outstripping “Frozen,” the 2012 blockbuster that bowed to $67.4 million. With no major family film opening until “The Jungle Book” lands on April 15, “Zootopia” is well positioned to be the de facto choice for moviegoers with children for the next month.
“There’s an absence of competition,” said Dave Hollis, Disney’s distribution chief. “We are set up to have a big, big run.”
Disney did not release a budget, but most animated films cost in excess of $100 million. “Zootopia” screened in 3,827 locations.
Overseas, where “Zootopia” has been playing for three weeks, the film added another $63.4 million to its haul, pushing its global total to $232.5 million. The film continues a sterling comeback run for Disney Animation, which had reached a creative and commercial nadir in the early aughts with the likes of “Home on the Range” and “Treasure Planet.” Since Pixar’s Ed Catmull and John Lasseter took the reins following Disney’s 2006 acquisition of their company, the animation arm has roared back to life, fielding hits such as “Frozen,” “Tangled,” and “Wreck It Ralph,” and winning Oscars.
“They brought a focus on quality,” said Hollis. “They recognize that quality is the best business plan.”
Beyond the bunnies, Gerard Butler managed to wash out some of the sour taste in his mouth after “Gods of Egypt” flopped spectacularly. “London Has Fallen,” the Scottish actor’s followup to “Olympus Has Fallen,” opened solidly to $21.5 million from 3,490 locations for a second place finish. That does, however, trail the first film’s $30 million debut.
Focus Features fielded the picture, which carried a $60 million price tag. It played older, with more than 76% of the audience clocking in over the age of 25, while men made up 60% of ticket buyers.
“We’re really pleased with the opening and we think we’re going to leg out well from here,” said Jim Orr, Focus’ distribution chief. “That older demographic doesn’t necessarily rush out on opening weekend.”
Tina Fey was not as lucky as Butler. The actress’ “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” stumbled with a $7.6 million launch from 2,374 venues. Paramount backed the $35 million dramedy about a war reporter who gets hooked on the adrenaline rush of covering Afghanistan. War films and political comedies can be tough sells — witness the financial failures of “Charlie Wilson’s War,” “Our Brand is Crisis,” and “Jarhead” — and “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” appears to be no exception. The studio isn’t ready to wave a white flag yet. Paramount Vice Chairman Rob Moore said that he hoped the audience would build in the coming weeks, as it did for Fey’s recent hit “Sisters.”
“We were hoping for more,” he said. “But Tina’s last movie played to a good multiple and we had a good Saturday, so we have a chance of playing for a little while to a reasonable outcome.”
After four weeks in theaters, “Deadpool” barreled past the $300 million mark. The comic book movie finished in third place with $16.4 million, pushing its domestic haul to $311.1 million.
“Gods of Egypt” rounded out the top five, picking up $5 million. The $140 million action epic has earned a meager $22.8 million domestically after two weeks — a terrible result for a picture that was intended to usher in a new franchise.
Fresh off its best picture win at last weekend’s Academy Awards, newspaper drama “Spotlight” capitalized on the Oscar love by pulling in $1.8 million. The film has netted $41.6 million during its theatrical run.
In limited release, Broad Green debuted “Knight of Cubs,” Terrence Malick’s lyrical portrait of the spiritual journey of a writer (Christian Bale), in four theaters where it earned $56,688 for a $14,172 per-screen average.
March was once seen as a dumping ground for movies, but the success of spring releases like “The Hunger Games,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “Cinderella,” and now “Zootopia” has shattered that prejudice, analysts say.
“This proves March is now a blockbuster month,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at ComScore. “You can open a blockbuster any time of the year.”