By Steven Zeitchik
2:59 PM CDT, June 20, 2013
A collection of cute furry creatures will smother the undead this weekend, as "Monsters University" is expected to top zombie tale "World War Z" and several holdovers at the box office, including "Man of Steel."
The new Pixar film, a follow-up to 2001's "Monsters Inc.," is on track to gross $80 million, according to people who’ve seen pre-release estimates. That would make it the fourth-biggest opening of the year and the largest opening for an animated movie since “Toy Story 3” in 2010.
When it was released in November 2001, "Monsters Inc.’s" story of lovable scare-mongers Mike and Sulley became a huge hit and helped usher in the current vogue for computer-generated animation. The film garnered $83 million on opening weekend and went on to gross $739 million around the world, adjusting totals for inflation. Its domestic receipts rank it fourth among the 13 films Pixar has released in its history.
Directed by first-time feature helmer Dan Scanlon, the new movie is a prequel, telling of Mike, the orb voiced by Billy Crystal, and Sulley, the lunk voiced by John Goodman, when they first meet at college and train to become professional monsters. The movie is tracking especially well with females under the age of 25, and the picture is expected to perform strongly at family-oriented Saturday matinees.
Disney’s Pixar could use a major hit, with the John Lasseter-led animation division riding a cool streak recently. Its June releases the past two years, “Brave” and “Cars 2,” were Pixar's all-time bottom two performers at the domestic box office, adjusting totals for inflation.
Meanwhile, a tight battle is unfolding for second place, as Paramount Pictures' "World War Z" looks to come out ahead of last weekend's winner, Warner Bros.' Man of Steel." The 3-D films are expected to gross between $50 million and $55 million each, according to box-office forecasters, though Paramount executives estimate the "Z" take at no higher than the low-$40 million range, pointing to the box-office ceiling on movies not based on a well-known existing property.
Directed by Marc Forster from a novel by Max Brooks, "Z" stars Brad Pitt as a U.N. investigator hopping the globe to combat a deadly zombie outbreak. The film faced numerous production challenges in the past year. A new ending was written and shot after principal photography had wrapped. The studio hopes its reworked conclusion -- along with an extensive marketing campaign -- will boost the film’s word-of-mouth and help it play strongly deep into July.
“World War Z” cost between $200 million and $250 million to produce for Paramount and financing partners Skydance Productions and GK Films. It marks a rare current turn for Pitt as a Hollywood action hero; the A-lister-has recently starred in more prestige-oriented pictures such as "Moneyball" and "The Tree of Life."
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Despite Pitt's strong female fan base, the film is tracking stronger among both younger and older men than any female demographic, with women under 25 particularly weak, according to executives who've seen pre-release surveys.
Paramount, which is in need of new franchises, is also hoping to get a major lift from international playdates. “World War Z” is opening in 25 nations this weekend, including South Korea and Britain.
"Man of Steel," which opened to an all-time June best of $116.7 million last weekend, will look to hold its audience in the face of the new competition. The film has already grossed $162 million in the U.S. and has prompted Warner Bros. to begin developing a sequel.
Also hoping to build on last weekend’s success is “This Is The End,” the Seth Rogen-Evan Goldberg apocalypse comedy in which a number of young actors play distorted versions of themselves. The film has grossed $39 million in just 10 days of release, already surpassing its approximately $30-million production budget.
All of these movies will have challenges in the weeks ahead, which are filled with commercially minded action tales. The Sandra Bullock-Melissa McCarthy cop comedy "The Heat" and the Channing Tatum-Jamie Foxx Washington explosion-fest "White House Down" both open next weekend, while Johnny Depp's "The Lone Ranger" debuts in the July 4 weekend that follows.
On the specialty side, Sofia Coppola's fact-based L.A. tale "The Bling Ring" will look to build on a stellar start as it expands from five theaters to 650. It took in a solid $42,000 per screen last weekend in Los Angeles and New York.
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