Box Office Preview: 'Monsters University' Pacing to Beat 'World War Z'

4:53 PM PST 06/19/2013 by Pamela McClintock
"Monsters University"

"Man of Steel" could also beat Brad Pitt's zombie extravaganza, but even rivals agree that a predicted opening in the $45 million to $50 million range would mark a good start for "World War Z."

Families are expected to flock to the multiplex in big numbers this weekend as Disney and Pixar open Monsters University, the long-awaited sequel to the 2001 pic Monsters, Inc.

Based on pre-release tracking, box observers believe the 3D toon has a strong shot at grossing $70 million or more in its debut, likely enough to beat out Brad Pitt's high-profile zombie pic World War Z and holdover Man of Steel. Both Monsters U and World War Z roll out in select theaters at 8 p.m. Thursday.

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Paramount is predicting an opening in the $40 million to $45 million for World War Z, which is rated PG-13. But more bullish box office observers with access to tracking believe the movie -- produced by and starring Pitt -- could open in the $50 million range, while Man of Steel could earn anywhere from $50 million to $60 million in its second outing.

Versus a big opening, Paramount and co-financing partner Skydance Productions is banking on World War Z to have a better-than-usual multiple, similar to other original tentpoles. 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.

Paramount insiders point out that very few original event pics open to $50 million or higher. And while Pitt may be one of the world's most recognizable stars, his biggest opening was the $50.3 million earned by Mr. and Mrs. Smith in summer 2005.

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World War Z, based on Max Brook's 2006 novel of the same name, is a sizeable gamble for the studio, costing $190 million to produce after tax incentives. The budget was originally $150 million, but extensive reshoots bumped up the number. (It was initially slotted to open in December 2010.)

Directed by Marc Forster, the apocalyptic horror pic is a passion project for Pitt, who produced the movie via his Paramount-based production company Plan B. In the film, he 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, which has received generally positive reviews, will need to make a strong showing overseas, where it opens in 25 foreign markets this weekend, including the U.K., South Korea and Australia.

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Monsters U, directed by Don Scanlon, 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 animated tentpole will have plenty of competition in the coming weeks as a record number of 3D summer toons open. Next up is Universal's Despicable Me 2 on July 3.

New offerings at the specialty box office include Somali pirates drama A Hijacking, from Danish writer-director Tobias Lindholm. Magnolia is distributing the film in the U.S.

Among holdovers, Sofia Copolla's The Bling Ring expands from five theaters to more than 500 locations on Friday.

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