With an underwhelming box office opening, it’s not surprising to see Warner Bros. “Justice League” slip into second place over the family-friendly holiday weekend while Pixar’s animated “Coco” took the top spot.
“Coco” rode strong reviews and an A-plus CinemaScore from audiences to the top spot at the domestic box office. According to studio estimates Sunday, it grossed $49 million from Friday to Sunday. Centered on the Mexican holiday Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead), “Coco” has already set box office records in Mexico, where it has made $53.4 million in three weeks.
After a disappointing debut last weekend, the much-maligned DC Comics superhero team-up film “Justice League” slid to second with $40.7 million. In the five-day holiday frame, it earned about $60 million. “Justice League” is faring better overseas, where it has made more than $300 million.
The two top spots told a familiar tale: Quality is trumping mediocrity at the box office, where Rotten Tomato ratings bear considerable weight and where word-of-mouth spreads lightning quick. “Coco” is Pixar’s sixth release to land an A-plus CinemaScore from audiences. The film’s Rotten Tomatoes rating, 96 percent fresh, is more than double that of “Justice League” (41 percent).
“In a world where moviegoing and quality seem to be connected, having a brand that has as consistently as Pixar has delivered on very high expectations definitely makes our work a little easier,” said Dave Hollis, distribution chief for the Walt Disney Co., which owns Pixar. “Consumers have really come to expect high quality. This is once again Pixar doing what they do best.”
The movie takes place on Día de los Muertos and follows Miguel, a boy from a family of shoemakers whose quest to reignite his musical roots sends him on a journey through the underworld. Pixar put extra care into ensuring the movie was culturally accurate, and audiences and critics responded strongly: The movie received an A-plus grade from ticket buyers in CinemaScore exit polls and a 96 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the review aggregation site.
With school out, families propelled “Coco” over the holiday weekend, making up 73 percent of the audience. The turnout made “Coco,” which opened in nearly 4,000 theaters, the fourth-highest-grossing Thanksgiving opener of all time, behind its Disney predecessors “Frozen” ($94 million), “Moana” ($82 million) and “Toy Story 3” ($80 million). (It probably didn’t hurt that “Coco” was paired with a 21-minute “Frozen” offshoot, “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure,” with new songs performed by Josh Gad, Kristen Bell, and Idina Menzel.) Audiences didn’t seem to be deterred by recent allegations against the Pixar founder John Lasseter, who has taken a leave from the company.
Ticket purchases for “Coco” poured in internationally, too. The movie continued its record-setting run in Mexico, where it became the biggest release of all time. More unexpected was the movie’s success in China, where it hit No. 1 with an estimated $18.2 million over three days, according to Disney. The movie will receive an extended international rollout, with France, Germany, and Spain up next.
The success of “Coco” came just as reports of sexual misconduct were published regarding Pixar co-founder and Disney Animation Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter. On Tuesday, Lasseter announced that he was taking “a six-month sabbatical.” He acknowledged “missteps” and “unwanted hugs” with employees. Disney has said it supports Lasseter’s leave of absence.
Lasseter has been foundational to the rise of Pixar and the revitalization of Disney Animation. “Coco” is the latest in a long line of hits he’s overseen.
After some early blunders (Disney tried to trademark “Dia de Los Muertos,” sparking a backlash), the studio strove to capture Mexican culture authentically in “Coco,” enlisting cultural consultants for their feedback. The film, directed by Lee Unkrich and co-directed by Adrian Molina, is one of the largest U.S. productions ever to feature a largely all-Latino cast.
That makes “Coco” an anomaly in the Pixar canon but also in Hollywood. Hispanics made up 23 percent of frequent moviegoers last year, but they’re seldom catered to. Disney didn’t share ethnic demographics for “Coco” ticket buyers but said signs pointed to a high turnout among Latinos. But “Coco” also performed well elsewhere, like in China where it made $18.2 million.
“Telling great stories that represent the audience is a part of what makes a film successful, especially when you get it right,” said Hollis.
Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for comScore, called the film’s result a positive story in “a week that was pretty challenging for Pixar.”
“The future may lie in content like this, where you’re telling stories about real human beings and about diversity,” said Dergarabedian. “The Hispanic audience is key to the success of any given box office year, given the frequency and passion for moviegoing.”
Still, the most profitable movie currently at the box office might be the Lionsgate family release “Wonder,” directed by Stephen Chbosky. Starring Jacob Tremblay and Julia Roberts, the film — which carries a production budget of $20 million — has made $69.4 million. It slid just 19 percent in its second week, with $22.3 million in ticket sales.
A number of specialty releases with Oscar ambitions also hit theaters over the weekend. Of them, Sony Pictures Classics’ “Call Me By Your Name” came out with the best per-screen average: $101,219 in four theaters. Not since “La La Land” has a film so packed theaters in specialty release. The movie, starring Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer, is about a young man’s coming of age in 1980s Northern Italy.
“Darkest Hour,” with Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill, debuted with $176,000 on four screens. The expanding releases of Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird” ($4 million on 791 screens) and Martin McDonaugh’s “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” ($4.4 million on 614 screens) also drew crowded theaters.
Less successful was the national rollout of “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” with Denzel Washington. Though it bested the other releases with $4.5 million on 1,665 screens, it’s an atypical downturn for one of the movies’ most consistently bankable stars. Not since Washington’s 2002 directorial debut, “Antwone Fisher,” has a film starring Washington performed as weakly nationwide.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to comScore. Where available, the latest international numbers for Friday through Sunday are also included. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.
- “Coco,” $49 million ($30.7 million international).
- “Justice League,” $40.7 million ($72.2 million international).
- “Wonder,” $22.3 million.
- “Thor: Ragnarok,” $16.8 million.
- “Daddy’s Home 2,” $13.3 million.
- “Murder on the Orient Express,” $13 million.
- “The Star,” $6.9 million.
- “Bad Moms Christmas,” $5 million.
- “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” $4.5 million.
- “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” $4.4 million.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at international theaters (excluding the U.S. and Canada), according to comScore:
- “Justice League,” $72.2 million.
- “Coco,” $30.7 million.
- “Murder on the Orient Express,” $17.2 million.
- “Daddy’s Home 2,” $13.8 million.
- “Manhunt,” $11.6 million.
- “Thor: Ragnarok,” $11 million.
- “The Swindlers,” $10.5 million
- “Paddington 2,” $9.1 million.
- “Explosion,” $4.9 million.
- “Happy Death Day,” $4.7 million.