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Box Office Report: 'Planes' Breaking Animation Curse, Headed for $30 Million Debut

Sci-fi epic "Elysium" could find itself in a close race with the "Cars" spinoff for the weekend crown.

Leave it to Pixar -- even when Pixar doesn't have official billing.

Disney's Planes, a Cars spinoff originally intended for a direct-to-DVD release, is doing strong matinee business at the North American box office, putting it on course for a three-day debut in the $30 million range and restoring some luster to the family animation business after the disappointing performances of Turbo and The Smurfs 2.

Pixar did not produce Planes; rather, it was the brainchild of DisneyToon Studios, Disney's direct-to-DVD unit. The 3D animated pic cost a modest $50 million to produce.

Last weekend, Sony's Smurfs 2 grossed a tepid $17.5 million for a five-day debut of $27.1 million. DreamWorks Animation's Turbo, which opened last month, took in $21.3 million for the weekend and $31.5 in its first five days (both films opened on a Wednesday).

Box office observers blame the soft showing of Turbo and Smurfs 2 on a glut of family product. (They opened in the wake of Monsters University and Despicable Me 2.) Pundits believe families may be ready to return to the multiplex in force.

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Dane Cook leads the voice cast of Planes, playing the role of Dusty Crophopper, who dreams of being able to fly at high speeds.

The marquee is especially crowded this weekend, considering Planes is one of four new releases. Also opening nationwide on Friday is Neill Blomkamp's Elysium, the high-profile sci-fi epic headlining Matt Damon and Jodie Foster.

Many had tipped Elysium to win the three-day weekend, but it could find itself in a close race with Planes.

Blomkamp became an overnight sensation when his District 9 opened to $37.4 million in mid-August 2009 on its way to earning $210.8 million worldwide. That film, however, cost only $30 million to produce. Sony paid $115 million for worldwide rights to Elysium, which was packaged, financed and produced by MRC. (It's not clear what the exact budget was.)

The other two new entries are New Line's R-rated comedy We're the Millers and 20th Century Fox's sequel Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, both of which opened Wednesday.

We're the Millers, which amassed a pleasing total of $11.5 million in its first two days, is almost assured of posting a five-day debut north of $30 million.

Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber, We're the Millers stars Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Emma Roberts and Will Poulter as a fake family who smuggle marijuana out of Mexico. Ed Helms also stars in the film, which should benefit from an A- CinemaScore.

The film is tracking better than fellow New Line comedy Horrible Bosses, which posted a three-day opening weekend gross of $28.3 million. Aniston and Sudeikis also starred in that pic.

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters earned $8.9 million in its first two days, and should post a five-day debut in the $27 million to $28 million range.

Sea of Monsters, earning a B+ CinemaScore, is based on the best-selling YA series by Rick Riordan. The sequel was directed by Thor Freudenthal.

Sea of Monsters cost $90 million to produce and returns Logan Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson and Alexandra Daddario in the top roles.