By Seth Kelley
LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) – The tiny, yellow, animated blobs have done it again.
Illumination and Universal’s “Despicable Me 3” is cruising to an easy box office win during a busy holiday weekend. The latest in the franchise is opening to $75.4 million from 4,529 locations — the widest domestic release ever. That total is lower than earlier estimates, which pegged the film above $80 million (earlier tracking suggested it could land even higher), but nevertheless it remains the weekend’s big winner.
Steve Carell plays double duty in “Despicable Me 3” as the series’ protagonist Gru, and now also his twin brother, Dru. The plot centers on the brothers, as they team up for a criminal heist. “South Park” co-creator Trey Parker joins the franchise to voice the villain. Critics are generally on the movie’s side, earning it a 62% on Rotten Tomatoes. The movie earned an A- CinemaScore from audiences, which is lower than the A earned by the first two installments and “Minions.”
“With these characters that have reached a level of ubiquity in our culture, these movies continue to create this want to see,” said Nick Carpou, Universal’s domestic distribution chief, who added, “I think we have the best marketing group in the business.”
Despite “Despicable’s” rule, perhaps the more interesting stories for the industry reside further down the box office chart.
Starting with “Baby Driver,” from Sony’s TriStar Pictures, MRC, and Working Title. Edgar Wright’s latest also appears to be his biggest box office hit, as it’s cruising to $30 million from 3,226 locations — that’s including the $5.7 million head start the movie got by opening early in previews on Tuesday.
The movie centers around a character named Baby (Ansel Elgort), who becomes the getaway driver for a kingpin named Doc (Kevin Spacey). Music plays an integral role in the film since Baby suffered a traumatic experience as a child that left him with tinnitus, which he blocks out with music. The rest of the cast includes Lily James, Jon Bernthal, Eiza Gonzalez, Jon Hamm, and Jamie Foxx.
“Edgar and our partners at MRC and Working Title have made one of the most original and entertaining films in recent memory, and we’re so thrilled to see it received as a bonafide hit in a crowded summer season,” said Sony’s distribution chief Adrian Smith.
“Baby Driver,” like “Get Out” earlier this year and “The Big Sick,” currently showing strong in limited release, is the kind of project that gets Hollywood excited about the chance for original ideas to also be financially viable. Wright’s film picked up buzz when it won the Audience Award and positive early reviews at the SXSW Film Festival. The movie’s marketing capitalized on its colorful aesthetic and emphasis on music.
Amy Poehler and Will Ferrell’s “The House,” meanwhile, is having trouble attracting visitors. The R-rated comedy from New Line, Warner Bros., and Village Roadshow is opening to $9 million from 3,134 locations.
“The House” is the story of a husband (Ferrell) and wife (Poehler) who start an underground casino to help raise money for their daughter’s college fund. Andrew Jay Cohen directed from a script that he wrote with Brendan O’Brien — the two previously collaborated on the “Neighbors” movies.
For the weekend’s top five, Paramount’s “Transformers: The Last Knight” should land in third with $17 million during its second weekend. “Wonder Woman” continues to be a force for Warner Bros., and is on its way to $15.6 million domestically during its fifth weekend. The movie has crossed $700 million worldwide and passed “Suicide Squad” and “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” at the domestic box office. And Disney and Pixar’s “Cars 3” should take the five slot during its third week with $9.5 million domestically.
After a strong start to 2017, a rather slow summer box office overall has brought the year-to-date box office numbers down to about even with last year.
“A weak May followed by a June that failed to become the savior of the summer now puts July in the hot seat to deliver the goods and get us out of the summer season doldrums,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at ComScore.
Outside of the major release circuit, the arthouse appears to have some juice for the first time this summer with strong numbers from “The Little Hours,” “The Beguiled,” and “The Big Sick.”
Gunpowder and Sky’s first theatrical release, “Little Hours” posted the highest per screen average from two locations this weekend. The nun-centric religious satire starring Alison Brie and Aubrey Plaza should open to $61,560. Meanwhile, Sofia Coppola’s “Beguiled” expects to crack the top ten in limited release, after expanding to 674 locations. The Focus Features release should make an estimated $3.3 million over the three-day weekend. And Kumail Nanjiani’s semi-autobiographical romantic comedy “Big Sick” expanded to 71 locations, posting a three-day total of $1.67 million. Lionsgate and Amazon Studios are planning to push the film to wide release on July 14.