Affable monsters and hordes of zombies converged at the North American box office over the weekend to create a perfect storm for moviegoing.
Disney and Pixar's long-awaited sequel "Monsters University" opened to a sizzling $82 million, the No. 2 Pixar opening of all time after "Toy Story 3"($110 million). Overseas, "Monsters U" took in an early $54.5 million from 35 markets for a worldwide debut of $136.5 million.
Brad Pitt zombie pic "World War Z," from Paramount, also overperformed in opening to $66 million, the top launch for an original live-action tentpole since "Avatar." It also marks Pitt's largest opening domestically, easily outpacing the $50.3 million launch of "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" in summer 2005. Internationally, "World War Z" debuted to $45.8 million from its first 25 markets for a worldwide total of $111.8 million.
"World War Z's" performance is a notable victory for Paramount, considering many in Hollywood left the film for dead after its release was pushed back from December 2012 in order to allow for numerous reshoots required to reshape the ending. Directed by Marc Forsterand co-financed by Skydance Productions, "World War Z" was a passion project for Pitt, who produced the tentpole.
Domestic box office revenue for the weekend reached an estimated $236 million, the second best of the year after Memorial Day weekend and among the top 10 weekends of all time.
Heading into the frame, box office observers believed "World War Z"would end up in a closer battle with Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan's "Man of Steel," with many giving Superman an edge over zombies.
As it turned out, "Man of Steel" fell more than expected for an all-audience tentpole, even as it jumped the $200 million mark domestically. The movie grossed $41.2 million in its second weekend, a 65 percent decline, to come in No. 3 and pushing its North American total to $210 million.
Coming in No. 4 was Sony's innovative comedy "This Is the End," which fell just 37 percent in its second weekend. The R-rated pic grossed $13 million for a domestic cume of $57.8 million.
Rounding out the top five was Summit's sleeper hit "Now You See Me." The magician heist pic has enjoyed a great hold, grossing $7.9 million in its fourth weekend for a domestic total of $94.5 million.
The might of "Monsters U," directed by Dan Scanlon, continues Pixar's winning streak at the box office and marks the 14th Pixar title to open to No. 1. The sequel returns Billy Crystal, John Goodman,Steve Buscemi and Frank Oz in the roles of Mike Wazowski, James P. Sullivan, Randall Boggs, and Jeff Fungus, respectively.
"The consistency of the quality that comes from Pixar and John Lasseter and his team is extraordinary. This movie had to live up to a very had to live up to a very high bar, and it did," said Disney executive vice president of distribution Dave Hollis, also noting that the animated tentpole did strong nighttime business in a sign that adults were turning out in addition to families.
"Monsters U" will have plenty of competition in the coming weeks as a record number of 3-D summertoons open at the North American, but a glowing A CinemaScore should help fuel word of mouth.
Overseas, the 2013 summer animation war began over the weekend in Australia, where "Monsters U" debuted opposite University's "Despicable Me 2" in advance of the winter holidays. "Despicable 2" was the victor, grossing $4.3 million. Combined with previews, the toon has earned a total of $6.4 million. "Monsters U" took in $3.5 million.
Paramount is hoping that "World War Z" -- following the lead of other successful original tentpoles -- enjoys a better-than-usual multiple. "Avatar" debuted to $77 million in December 2009 on its way to cuming $760.5 million domestically, or 10 times its opening number. And in summer 2010, Christopher Nolan's "Inception" grossed $292.6 million, nearly five times its $62 million debut.
"This was an original movie in a summer that's been full of sequels and remakes. I think it captured the public's imagination. Certainly, Brad gave a superb performance," said Paramount vice chairman Rob Moore.
Rated PG-13, "World War Z" earned a B+ CinemaScore.
"World War Z," based on Max Brook's 2006 novel of the same name, was a sizable gamble for the studio, costing $190 million to produce after tax incentives. The budget was originally $150 million, but the additional work -- shepherded by Pitt and Forster alongside Paramount Film Group president Adam Goodman and his team -- bumped up the number.
In the film, Pitt plays a retired U.N. employee who must return to work and stop a worldwide pandemic that is turning humans into zombies. "The Killing's" Mireille Enos stars as his wife.
"World War Z" opened in 25 foreign markets this weekend, including the U.K., South Korea and Australia.
At the specialty box office, Sofia Copolla's "The Bling Ring"came in No. 11 as it made a major push in its second weekend, upping its theater count from five theaters to 650. The indie film, from A24 films, grossed $1.8 million from 650 theaters for a cume of $2.1 million.