Director Bill Condon’s Beauty and the Beast opened over the weekend to a monstrous $170 million from 4,210 theaters at the North American box office. Overseas, the female-fueled update of the classic 1991 animated musical also dazzled, earning $180 million for an elegant global bow of $350 million.
Beauty set a number of new records, including the biggest start ever for a PG title both in North America and abroad (last year’s Finding Dory was the previous champ domestically with $135 million). And it surpassed the $166 million domestic debut of last year’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice to land the top March opening of all time. Just as impressive, the family-friendly movie boasts the seventh-biggest domestic opening for any film, and the biggest outside of summer save for December 2015 bow of fellow Disney blockbuster Star Wars: The Force Awakens, not accounting for inflation.
Several rival studios have Beauty and the Beast coming in higher ($173 million-$174 million); a final figure will be released by Disney on Monday. Either way, it will be the largest domestic opening since Marvel/Disney’s Captain America: Civil War ($177 million) almost a year ago.
Internationally, Beauty placed No. 1 almost everywhere. It was huge in the U.K. with $22.8 million — one of the top five openings ever there — and impressed in China with $44.8 million, already topping the entire runs of Maleficent and Alice in Wonderland.
The $160 million tentpole is yet another win for Disney, where studio chairman Alan Horn — who worked with British star Emma Watson on the Harry Potter franchise when running Warner Bros. — and production chief Sean Bailey have been intent on mining the studio’s classic animated vault and building a stable of live-action movies. Past hits include The Jungle Book, Maleficent, Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland.
“There were a combination of factors that made this a recipes for success. There was a nostalgia for the original and the Disney brand. Plus, there is an iconic soundtrack with old and new songs. Emma Watson was perfectly cast as Belle. The visual effects were also their own character,” said Disney distribution chief Dave Hollis. “And I love our date. We have five weeks of rolling spring break ahead of us.”
Beauty and the Beast stars Watson as Belle and Dan Stevens as the Beast. The cast also includes Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ian McKellen and Emma Thompson. David Hoberman and Todd Lieberman of Mandeville Films produced the pic.
The tale follows the bookish Belle, who attempts to rescue her father from the castle of a terrifying beast, and instead becomes his captor. But she soon starts to fall for the Beast and the enchanted staff of his castle, who were all put under a spell by a witch.
The film saw a nice boost from a full run in Imax theaters, generally known as a haven for fanboys. But with PG films booming, Imax is expanding its programming to include family-friendly fare. The large-screen exhibitor worked with Condon on making a special version of Beauty that allows more to be seen on the screen because of a different aspect ratio. Also, Imax offered a 2D version of the movie throughout the day so that it would be a more affordable outing for families. The scheme worked, with Imax locations contributing $12.5 million in North America and $21 million worldwide, beating Jungle Book ($18 million) for the top PG title.
Beauty caused some consternation in a smattering of foreign markets after Condon recently revealed that Gad’s character LeFou, Gaston’s sidekick, is gay. Russia gave the movie a restrictive 16 rating, but it still earned $6 million, on par with Cinderella.
Censors in Malaysia have gone one step further and asked Disney to cut what it deems a “gay moment,” but the studio says it won’t make any changes.