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‘Secret Life of Pets’ chows down on both ‘Dory’ and box office records

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Taking a bite out of the competition — and a box office record — “The Secret Life of Pets,” from Illumination Entertainment and Universal Pictures, pulled in an estimated $103.2 million in ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada. This is the sixth-biggest opening for any animated film.

Such a performance is far better than expected — analysts projected $75 million, which still would have been an impressive opening. The film also pulled in $42.6 million internationally, as it waits for an Aug. 2 debut in China.

“We’re really happy,” said Nick Carpou, Universal’s domestic distribution chief. “It’s a great turnout.”

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“Secret Life’s” debut is also the biggest opening ever for an original film, animated or otherwise, supplanting last year’s “Inside Out” ($90.4 million). Its historic performance has made it Universal’s highest-grossing title of 2016 and Illumination’s second-highest opening ever, behind last year’s “Minions.”

It continues Illumination’s unbroken streak of having all its films open No. 1 at the box office. Run by Chris Meledandri, the company has tapped into a profitable business model by focusing on animated films that generally cost much less to produce than the output of rivals such as Disney-owned Pixar and DreamWorks Animation, which was recently acquired by NBCUniversal for $3.8 billion.

The last Illumination offering, “Minions,” grossed more than $1.1 billion worldwide after costing just $74 million to make, following up on the commercial success of the first two “Despicable Me” movies for which the animation studio is also responsible. “Secret Life” only cost about $75 million to make.

“I think it’s a safe thing to say that Illumination is an absolute leading force to be akin to [major family-oriented animation studios],” Carpou said. “They just have this knack to deliver high quality films within reasonable budget limits.”

Featuring the vocal contributions of Louis C.K. as a Jack Russell terrier, Kevin Hart as a rabbit and Jenny Slate as a white Pomeranian, “Secret Life” envisions what pets do when their owners have left for the day. The comedy appears to have largely charmed critics and audiences. It received an A-minus CinemaScore, and 75% of Rotten Tomatoes critics rated it positively.

Universal will release another Illumination title, “Sing,” in December, a film Carpou predicts will continue the animation studio’s record.

“Secret Life,” which benefited from children being on summer break as well as a marketing campaign that courted adult animal lovers as well as children, is another welcome boost to an unpredictable year at the box office. Prior to the weekend, movies in the U.S. and Canada had grossed $5.6 billion this year, down 2.5% from the same time a year ago, according to the entertainment data firm comScore.

Hollywood is coming off a rocky July Fourth weekend in which two big budget movies performed poorly — Warner Bros.’ “Legend of Tarzan” and Disney’s Steven Spielberg-directed “The BFG.”

But families have again generated reliably robust movie ticket sales this year, propelling “Finding Dory” to box-office dominance three weekends in a row. This weekend, it fell to third with $20.4 million, but still has a domestic gross to date of $422.6 million. Internationally, the “Finding Nemo” sequel has pulled in $220.2 million.

“Dory” has surpassed “Captain America: Civil War” to become the top film of 2016 at the domestic box office.

Slighting inching out “Dory” over the weekend was Warner Bros.’ “The Legend of Tarzan,” which pulled in an estimated $20.6 million in its second week. The live action retelling of the classic tale dropped only 46% from its debut over the July Fourth weekend for a total domestic gross to date of $81.4 million. This suggests that word of mouth has served the film well week to week.

Internationally, “Tarzan” has grossed only $54 million to date, but will open July 19 in the largest international market, China. The film cost about $180 million to make.

The weekend’s only other new release, the R-rated comedy “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates” from 20th Century Fox, landed in fourth place with an estimated $16.6 million. This is significantly better than the $12 million to $14 million analysts projected the film would take in.

“The prognosticators had us as low as $10 million — we never believed that — but this has even exceeded our pre-release expectations,” said Chris Aronson, the studio’s domestic distribution chief. “This is a great result, and the party will continue on.”

“Mike and Dave” stars Zac Efron and Adam Devine as hard-partying brothers who post an online ad to find their perfect female counterparts — and get more than they bargain for when they meet characters played by Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza.

Though the picture appeared that it might attract a largely male audience, moviegoers were relatively split along gender lines at 48% male, 52% female.

“That says, ‘hey, this is a movie for everybody. It’s for men and for women, anyone who’s alive — and over the age of 17,” Aronson said.

But although audiences gave the picture a B CinemaScore — and those younger than 25 years old gave it a B-plus — only 41% of Rotten Tomatoes critics favored the picture.

Rounding out the top five was Universal’s “The Purge: Election Year,” the most recent film in James DeMonaco’s “Purge” series, produced by Blumhouse and Platinum Dunes. The third film in the franchise, set in a futuristic United States where crime is legal for 12 hours each year, grossed an estimated $11.7 million in its second week.

Next week, the much talked about “Ghostbusters” from Sony premieres, directed by “Spy’s” Paul Feig. The reboot of the 1984 classic stars Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon. It will be accompanied by a wide release of Broad Green Pictures’ “The Infiltrator” starring Bryan Cranston.


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