NEW YORK – â€œLet It Goâ€ may be Walt Disneyâ€™s anthem these days, but â€œEverythingâ€™s Coming Up Rosesâ€ might be the more accurate theme song for the Disney juggernaut.
Disneyâ€™s recent streak continued over the weekend with the $70.1 million North American debut of its traditional, sumptuously costumed fairy tale adaptation â€œCinderella,â€ according to studio estimates Sunday. Interest in the film, directed by Kenneth Branagh and starring Lily James of â€œDownton Abbeyâ€œ, was boosted by a â€œFrozenâ€ short, â€œFrozen Fever,â€ that played before the feature.
Disneyâ€™s box-office surge has been propelled partly by the so-called â€œhalo effectâ€ of â€œFrozen,â€ a sequel to which Disney announced last week. But itâ€™s also been driven by the appeal of seeing Disney cartoon classics turned into live-action fantasies. â€œCinderellaâ€ follows previous live-action hits like â€œMaleficentâ€ (whose May 2014 debut of $69.4 million â€œCinderellaâ€ narrowly bested) and â€œAlice in Wonderland.â€
The holiday release â€œInto the Woods,â€ from the Stephen Sondheim musical, added to the live-action trend, and many more are on the way. â€œThe Jungle Book,â€ â€œBeauty and the Beastâ€ and â€œDumboâ€ are all coming in live action, as is a sequel to â€œAlice in Wonderland.â€
Disney has also found big profits in capitalizing on female moviegoers, who made up the largest chunk of â€œFrozenâ€ and â€œMaleficentâ€ fans. The audience for â€œCinderellaâ€ was 66 percent female, Disney said.
â€œThere is seemingly a lot of appetite for these stories to be told, I think, in part because many of them have a female protagonist and weâ€™ve seen thereâ€™s significant box-office success that can come by featuring female-driven stories,â€ said Dave Hollis, head of distribution at Disney.
â€œâ€™Frozen Feverâ€ was certainly part of why weâ€™re seeing the kind of success that we did this weekend,â€ Hollis said. â€œIn and of itself, â€˜Cinderellaâ€™ is absolutely a great, stand-alone experience. But it ends up being a one-plus-one-equals-three thing for the consumer.â€
The success of â€œCinderella,â€ which cost about $95 million to make, was international. It made $62.4 million overseas, including $25 million in China. Disney could also celebrate â€œBig Hero 6â€ becoming the top-grossing worldwide animated release of 2014; the Oscar-winner has made $633 million globally.
With Disneyâ€™s high-priced but lucrative ownership of Marvel, Lucasfilm and Pixar, the studio will be flexing its strength throughout 2015 with releases like â€œThe Avengers: Age of Ultron,â€ â€œInside Outâ€ and â€œStar Wars: The Force Awakens.â€
â€œDisney is just a well-oiled machine that is firing on all cylinders right now,â€ says Paul Dergarbedian, senior media analyst for box-office data firm Rentrak. â€œItâ€™s about this Disney umbrella which encompasses these incredible crown jewel brands they have. â€˜Cinderellaâ€™ is just the latest example.â€
While Disney was flexing its might, the powers of another box-office force, Liam Neeson, were checked. Neesonâ€™s latest thriller, â€œRun All Night,â€ a New York crime saga co-starring Ed Harris, opened with $11 million for Warner Bros.
The filmâ€™s poor performance marks the weakest debut for the â€œTakenâ€ star as an action film lead. Dergarbedian noted Neesonâ€™s appeal is strongest in PG-13 rated films (all three â€œTakenâ€ films, â€œNon-Stopâ€), while weaker in R-rated releases like â€œRun All Nightâ€ and last yearâ€™s â€œA Walk Among the Tombstones.â€
Last weekâ€™s top film, the sci-fi thriller â€œChappie,â€ from â€œDistrict 9â€ director Neill Blomkamp, slid to fifth with $5.8 million for Sony Pictures.
In limited release, the critically acclaimed independent horror film â€œIt Followsâ€ earned a robust $163,000 on just four screens.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Rentrak. Where available, the latest international numbers for Friday through Sunday are also included. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.
1. â€œCinderella,â€ $70.1 million ($62.4 million international).
2. â€œRun All Night,â€ $11 million.
3. â€œKingsman: The Secret Service,â€ $6.2 million.
4. â€œFocus,â€ $5.8 million.
5. â€œChappie,â€ $5.8 million.
6. â€œThe Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,â€ $5.7 million.
7. â€œThe SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water,â€ $4.1 million.
8. â€œMcFarland, USA,â€ $3.7 million.
9. â€œAmerican Sniper,â€ $2.9 million.
10. â€œThe DUFF,â€ $2.9 million.