Pixar’s Coco tops box office despite company drama behind the scenes


Pixar’s Coco sang its way to the fourth best U.S. Thanksgiving weekend ever with an estimated $71.2 million US over the five-day weekend, a total that easily toppled Warner Bros.’ Justice League.

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.

Film Box Office

Ezra Miller, from left, Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot star in Justice League. (Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. via The Associated Press)

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 per cent fresh, is more than double that of Justice League (41 per cent).

“In a world where movie-going 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 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.”

42nd Student Academy Awards

John Lasseter has taken a leave of absence from Pixar after harassment allegations. The company still found success at the box office this week with Coco. (Paul A. Hebert/Invision/AP)

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 per cent of frequent movie-goers 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 movie-going.”

Film Box Office

Jacob Tremblay, right, and Julia Roberts star in Wonder, about a boy with facial differences entering public school. (Dale Robinette/Lionsgate via The Associated Press)

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 per cent in its second week, with $22.3 million in ticket sales.

A number of specialty releases with Oscar ambitions also hit theatres 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 theatres.

Not since La La Land has a film so packed theatres 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 theatres.

Greta Gerwig

Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut Lady Bird expanded its release to more theatre screens this week due to positive initial reception. (Merie Wallace/A24)

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 are for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theatres, according to comScore. Where available, the latest international numbers for Friday through Sunday are also included. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.


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