Live-action Beauty and the Beast has record-breaking opening weekend, taking US$350 million worldwide

Disney hails ‘incredible, amazing’ box office results for film’s opening weekend, the best yet in US for a live-action production from studio, which came amid controversy over a brief gay scene

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 March, 2017, 2:46pm
UPDATED : Monday, 20 March, 2017, 2:46pm

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast brought so many guests to cinemas over the weekend that the live-action remake became the biggest box-office opener in the United States so far of the year, and the seventh-best debut of all time.

The film brought in an impressive US$170 million, well above analyst expectations of US$130 million to US$150 million. It’s the highest domestic debut ever for a Disney live-action title and the seventh Walt Disney Studios release to open at more than US$150 million. The picture also brought in US$180 million internationally.

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“It’s incredible. It’s amazing,” said Dave Hollis, the studio’s distribution chief. “There are almost no words to fully capture how gratifying it is to see a result like this from a team that has been working on telling stories like this for years.”

The picture, which cost US$160 million to make, stars Emma Watson of the Harry Potter franchise as Belle and Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) as the cursed prince. The story stays fairly close to the beloved 1991 animated original, a box-office smash that became the first animated movie to earn a best picture Oscar nomination. Directed by Bill Condon, known for The Twilight Saga and the musical Dreamgirls, the new film is well on its way to following in its predecessor’s history-making footsteps.

Beauty and the Beast is expected to reach the coveted US$1 billion mark in global receipts before the end of its cinematic run.

Disney has built a successful business out of turning its old cartoons into live-action spectacles with Maleficent, Cinderella and The Jungle Book . The studio is now working on remakes of Dumbo and Mulan. Dusting off the oldies can be tough, but technology has become so advanced that live-action versions can do the originals justice in the eyes of some film-goers and critics.

Expect to see a lot more live-action remakes of Disney animated classics

Such technology has helped catapult Beauty into IMAX history books. The film got US$21 million of its worldwide gross from IMAX, a record for a PG-rated movie, surpassing Jungle Book’s US$20 million.

Beauty received an A Cinemascore from audience members (60 per cent female; 50 per cent families) and a 71 per cent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Online ticket seller Fandango said the film is the best advance-selling family movie in the Los Angeles company’s 17-year history.

Despite the picture’s massive positive reception, it did debut to some controversy. The addition of a minor story line featuring the company’s first openly gay character ruffled some feathers: a cinema in the US state of Alabama won’t show the film, Russia banned children younger than 16 from seeing it and Malaysian censors requested the scene be removed (Disney refused).

Beauty and the Beast gay scene backlash from Singapore to Malaysia and Hong Kong

Still, the picture has all the makings of a hit that will continue to dominate the box office in the weeks to come. With the massive recent success of La La Land (more than US$417 million in worldwide sales), it proves that escapist song-and-dance fantasy still sells, even in countries that haven’t traditionally responded to the format.

Additionally, following in the footsteps of Frozen, the hope is that the Beauty and the Beast’s classic songs will help drive repeat business, the way tunes such as Let It Go did for the computer-animated musical in late 2013.

Landing in second place in its second week was Warner Bros.’ Kong: Skull Island with US$28.9 million domestically. The film has pulled in US$110.1 million to date. Fox’s Logan took third place domestically in its third week. The latest in the X-Men franchise added US$17.5 million, for a domestic gross of US$184 million.

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The Jordan Peele-written-and-directed film Get Out, from Universal Pictures and Blumhouse Productions, pulled in US$13.2 million in the United States its fourth week, for a fourth-place finish. The social thriller has brought in more than US$133 million in the US alone. It began its international release last week, grossing US$2.9 million from nine territories, including the UK.

In fifth place is Lionsgate’s The Shack, with US$6.1 million, for a total of US$42.6 million in US sales in its third week.

The only other significant new release was BH Tilt’s The Belko Experiment, about 80 Americans forced into a sick social experiment in a corporate tower in Colombia. The horror film, which cost less than US$5 million to make, grossed US$4.1 million. It stars Tony Goldwyn, Michael Rooker and John McGinley and is directed by Greg McLean.

In limited release, Sony’s T2: Trainspotting opened with US$180,000 from five locations, a per cinema average of US$36,000. The sequel to 1996’s Trainspotting , with a return in cast and Danny Boyle as director, has already succeeded in its home country of the UK, with takings of US$21 million, and has thus far taken in US$34 million internationally.