Hollywood rolls out two big movies this week that could debut with more than $50 million apiece at the box office, a feat that's only happened three other times in history.
The release of Christopher Nolan's "Interstellar" and Disney's "Big Hero 6" couldn't come at a better time for the film industry as it gears up for the crucial holiday season. They could help the movie business make up for lost ground after it experienced one of the worst summer domestic box-office seasons in recent memory.
Studios and movie chains are still holding out hope that ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada might come close to matching last year's record of $10.9 billion. The current box office is down almost 4% year to date.
"In the wake of a summer that ended up down 15%, we needed the post-summer period to perform," said Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst with Rentrak. "Otherwise we were just going to get this negative momentum situation. Luckily, right when we needed it, the fall season has delivered."
A weekend with two big movies is not always the best-case scenario for studios, which worry that their films will suffer from such direct competition. But the two films launching this week — one animated family, the other sci-fi action — will draw completely opposite crowds to movie theaters, allowing both to flourish.
The right combinations have been box-office magic.
In June 2013, "Monsters University" opened to $82.4 million and "World War Z" opened to $66.4 million in the same weekend. "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted" opened to $60.3 million the same weekend in 2012 that "Prometheus" opened to about $51 million. And in 2008, "Wanted" opened to $51 million the same weekend that "Wall-E" opened to $63 million.
"Big Hero 6" could open to $70 million, putting it slightly ahead of the roughly $60-million forecast for "Interstellar," according to people who have seen pre-release audience surveys.
The new releases would provide a much-needed boost for the film industry after a group of successful fall movies, including 20th Century Fox's "Gone Girl" and Warner Bros.' "Annabelle," have helped kick off a comeback. Other big movies still on deck include "The Hunger Games — Mockingjay Part 1" and "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies."
Paramount Pictures began releasing "Interstellar" in select theater Tuesday night. Advance showings of the space drama will play on 240 film-only screens — including 70-mm Imax, 70-mm and 35-mm — in 77 markets across the U.S. and Canada before expanding to more theaters.
The studio hoped that the midweek release would help generate buzz for the film. It used a similar tactic in 2011 with the launch of "Mission Impossible — Ghost Protocol" five days before the film opened in wide release. The action film, starring Tom Cruise, grossed about $209.4 million in the U.S. and Canada.
Nolan's almost three-hour film follows Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), an engineer and pilot who has been called upon to find a hospitable new planet because Earth is turning into a giant dust bowl.
The film, co-financed by Paramount and Warner Bros., cost about $165 million to make.
Heavy marketing also played a large part in the lead-up to the release. The studios partnered with Google to create an immersive website called "The Interstellar Space Hub." They also partnered with Fandango and Vice Media's Motherboard channel to create a sweepstakes that would send one ticket buyer to the edge of space.
Many observers are likening Nolan's latest film to Alfonso Cuarón's 3-D space drama "Gravity," which opened with a robust $55.6 million in October 2013 — the biggest October debut to date.
Meanwhile, Disney's "Big Hero 6," which also cost about $165 million to make, will open in 3,761 theaters this weekend.
The CG-animated film follows a rebellious robotics prodigy named Hiro Hamada (voiced by Ryan Potter) and a guileless healthcare robot named Baymax (Scott Adsit).
The film comes on the heels of Disney's 2013 hit "Frozen," the winter musical that went on to become the highest grossing animated film of all time. It has generated more than $1 billion in ticket sales worldwide.
Staff writer Ryan Faughnder contributed to this report.