'The Secret Life of Pets' Is the Top Dog at the Weekend Box Office

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Americans once again proved their fascination with domestic animals this weekend by giving Universal's "The Secret Life of Pets" a weekend over $100 million, easily landing it in the No. 1 spot. "Finding Dory," the three-week box office champ, fell to third, its core demographic of family audiences obviously distracted by the new animated film in the marketplace. Meanwhile, "Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates" was a surprisingly strong box office presence, once again showing the appeal of R-rated wedding comedies. Altogether, the top twelve grossed a stellar $206 million, up 13% from last weekend and about even with the same frame a year ago.

Ever since Universal started the marketing campaign for "Pets" over a year ago, it was clear that the studio had a box office winner on its hands. The trailer for the film played before "Minions," hooking younger audiences, and has played before half the movies in Hollywood since. Awareness for the film was therefore high, with corporate partners such as McDonald's and PetSmart also helping.

Of course, the awareness for the movie would have mattered significantly less if Universal didn't have an appealing product on its hands. But that it did. The concept of the movie--what do our pets do while we're away?--is universally relatable. The pet industry grows every year, and just as people are willing to spend big bucks on their companion animals, they are obviously also eager to bring the family to a film that features pets as the main characters.

Adding to the appeal of "Pets" was the Illumination Entertainment brand, which has arguably become just as popular as Pixar among kids in the last few years. The animated film production company has made such hits as "Dr. Seuss' The Lorax" and all of the "Despicable Me" films. It has yet to have a box office miss--all six of its films have been (or, in the case of "Pets," will be) profitable. And compared to Pixar, which usually spends about $200 million on its movies, Illumination makes its films for dirt cheap. In fact, the average opening for an Illumination Entertainment film--$77.8 million--is higher than the budget for any of the company's movies. All of its films' budgets hover around $75 million, which was exactly how much "Pets" was produced for.

Given the thriftiness of the film's budget, "Pets" is already well on its way to profitability. Even considering Universal's huge marketing spend for the movie, "Pets" should easily be able to recoup its budget domestically, making all foreign grosses (which have been strong) the cherry on top. Given the film's A- CinemaScore, and the dearth of family competition over the next month, it seems clear that "Pets" will continue drawing in audiences in the weeks to come. In fact, it seems likely that "Pets" will claim the No. 1 crown again next weekend, barring a breakout performance from 'Ghostbusters'. Overall, look for the movie to finish with about $375 million, which would make it one of the highest-grossing films of the year.

"The Legend of Tarzan," from Warner Bros., hung onto its second place position at the box office, falling 46.5% from last weekend to $20.6 million. When actuals come in, it could swap places with "Finding Dory," which is estimated to be only $250,000 behind "Tarzan." Even if it does fall to third, this is a strong hold for a poorly reviewed blockbuster and shows that word-of-mouth is clearly stronger than critical reviews. "Tarzan" is still financially in trouble, given its huge $180 million budget, but it's not the outright bomb that many expected it to be just a couple of weeks ago. The film's ten-day total is $81.4 million, and it should end up around $120 million domestically by the time all is said and done.

In third place, we find "Finding Dory," which fell an understandable 51% to a $20.35 million weekend. The Disney/Pixar sequel obviously faced strong competition from "Pets," and this weekend drop over 50% should be an anomaly in the long run. The film has displayed strong legs (fins?), as it has already more than tripled its opening weekend gross. "Dory" has grossed $422.5 million thus far, overtaking the $415 million gross of "Toy Story 3" as Pixar's biggest movie domestically. The film will now set its sights on surpassing the $441.2 million all-time animated record next weekend, which "Shrek 2" has held onto for the past 12 years.

"Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates" may have only opened in fourth place, but the film was still a box office win for Fox. The R-rated comedy made $16.6 million, already more than half of its $33 million budget. Summer has been a popular time to release raunchy wedding comedies, with films such as "Wedding Crashers" and "The Hangover" pulling in big numbers in the past. While "Mike and Dave" didn't come close to the $33.9 million and $45 million openings of those films, respectively, this is still a strong result for a modestly-priced comedy.

It is also a much-needed box office win for star Zac Efron, whose past three movies have all been box office disappointments. The opening of "Mike and Dave" shows that, when paired with strong material, Efron can still be a draw. His other three co-stars--Anna Kendrick, Adam DeVine, and Aubrey Plaza--deserve some credit for this opening as well. They are all recognizable actors, if not huge stars, to younger audiences--Kendrick and DeVine for the popular "Pitch Perfect" franchise, and Plaza for her role on the TV show "Parks and Recreation." The film saw a strong 50% of its ticket sales come from moviegoers under 25 and scored a decent B CinemaScore from polled audience members. By the end of its run, "Mike and Dave" should be looking at a solid domestic total of $55 to $60 million.

Universal bookended the Top 5 with "The Purge: Election Year," which dropped 63% from its opening to an $11.7 million weekend. While that may look like a steep drop, it is fairly average for horror movies, and actually much better than the previous two "Purge" films. The movie seems to be having good word-of-mouth and should add at least another $15 million over the course of its run to the $58 million its grossed already. That means "Election Year" will surpass the $72 million that the previous "Purge" film grossed at the box office, making this franchise one of the rare cases where each film grosses more than the next.

Looking ahead to next weekend, the much-discussed "Ghostbusters" reboot will finally arrive in theaters. The movie should be able to open over $50 million, but that may not be enough to steal the box office crown from "The Secret Life of Pets." The Bryan Cranston thriller 'The Infiltrator' will also be released into theaters, but it will likely see modest box office results. Check back on Thursday for official box office predictions.

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