PIXAR JUST had its second-lowest opening weekend ever when adjusting for inflation.
This is why the studio should lose very little sleep over that fact.
Breaking down the numbers, “Cars 3” grossed $53.5 million in its domestic debut, according to studio estimates Sunday, handily winning the weekend ahead of the still mighty “Wonder Woman” ($40.8 million) and the new Tupac Shakur biopic, “All Eyez on Me” ($27 million). (Note: Monday’s final numbers upped “Cars 3” to $53.7 million and “Wonder Woman” to $41.3 million, while “All Eyes” dipped slightly to $26.4 million).
So while the animated film about a car’s aging crisis will go down as the weekend box-office champ — which nearly every new Pixar movie does — that total represents the next-to-worst domestic debut when adjusting for inflation, according to Box Office Mojo. Only “The Good Dinosaur,” which opened to $39 million in 2015, has opened lower.
Yet “Cars 3″ has so many upsides that a $53 million debut is well within the range of acceptable.
First, the new movie is generally receiving better reviews than 2011’s “Cars 2.” The third film in the franchise scores a 66 percent “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes, compared with just 39 percent for “Cars 2” and within drafting distance of the 74 percent score for 2006’s “Cars.” The latest film also received an “A” from filmgoers via CinemaScore.
Second, “Cars” as a franchise has historically drawn more male than female viewers, with “Cars 2″ skewing 53 percent male. “Cars 3” is slightly more even, at 51 percent male, which bodes well for the growing future of the franchise. (The new film even provides a breakout female character strong enough to be featured in a “Cars 4,” if one gets a green light.)
But the ultimate safety net, of course, is the franchise’s significant horsepower as a merchandising engine. The first two films didn’t simply gross more than $1 billion worldwide; by 2011, the franchise was pulling in twice that much annually in global retail sales, according to the Hollywood Reporter — making this a $10 billion merchandising giant even before “Cars 3″ began assembly.
Beyond the franchise’s hundreds of die-cast vehicle types and thousands of retail items, “Cars” also spawned Disney’s “Planes” spinoff films and a raft of video games. The films also paved the way for Cars Land, the themed attractions at Disney California Adventure in Anaheim, Calif., that was central to a $1.1 billion renovation five years ago.
Coincidentally, the worldwide gross for the “Cars” trilogy now sits at $1.1 billion — a grand total indeed for any franchise, but one that pales next to the consumer retail take.
Which becomes part of the meta-humor in “Cars 3,” as characters wink over just how much product — right down to the mud flaps — that a star like racer Lightning McQueen can move.
With this franchise, fact seems even to outpace fiction.
This post has been updated.