Box Office: 'The Jungle Book' Overcomes PG Stigma, Wowing Audiences of All Ages

"Every studio executive dreams about the day they have a movie that plays to virtually all audiences irrespective of its rating, theme or target audience. 'Jungle Book' is the perfect realization of that dream," says one box-office analyst.

When Disney executives woke up Saturday morning and pored over Friday box-office returns, they did a double take. Jon Favreau's The Jungle Book earned more than $4 million after 8 p.m., almost unheard of for a PG title, which rarely attracts many ticketbuyers later in the night.

Favreau's live-action/CGI hybrid lured all age groups — not just families, a surprise considering Jungle Book features talking animals (gulp) and draws in part from the 1967 Disney animated film, which had been aimed at very young audiences. Generally speaking, a PG rating turns off some demos (which is one reason Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean series is PG-13).

But Disney's marketing campaign overcame that challenge by promoting Jungle Book's cutting-edge technology to adult consumers. It worked. "As with Avatar and Life of Pi, you have to see it to believe it. It's a theatrical experience," said Disney distribution chief Dave Hollis.

Additionally, box-office analyst Jeff Bock noted, "The nuts and bolts of this story is a revenge thriller, thus action is inherent throughout. You can't discount how big of a sell that is when trying to net older audiences."

Yet not even Hollis anticipated that Jungle Book would play as broadly as it did, resulting in a stunning domestic debut of $103.6 million. Heading into the weekend, it had been expected to open on par with fellow Disney PG live-action titles such as Maleficent, Oz the Great and Powerful and Cinderella, which debuted between $67 million and $79 million.

Weekend Box Office 4/17/16

Comscore Actuals for Weekend of 4/17/16
Weekend Cume Theaters Week
1. The Jungle Book $103.3M $103.3M 4,028 1
2. Barbershop: The Next Cut $20.2M $20.2M 2,661 1
3. The Boss $10.0M $40.1M 3,495 2
4. Batman v. Superman $9.0M $311.3M 3,505 4
5. Zootopia $8.1M $307.4M 3,209 7
6. Criminal $5.8M $5.8M 2,683 1
7. My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 $3.3M $52.1M 2,297 4
8. Miracles From Heaven $1.9M $57.0M 2,082 5
9. God's Not Dead 2 $1.7M $17.0M 1,585 3
10. Eye in the Sky $1.6M $13.1M 891 6

Males made up 49 percent of Jungle Book's audience, the largest share ever for Disney's new line of live-action tentpoles spun from its classic animated titles. (Imax theaters turned in $10.4 million, a record for a PG title. And seven of the 10 top-grossing theaters were Imax houses.)

Families may have dominated at 49 percent, but adults represented a hefty 43 percent of all ticket buyers. Also unusual: Eleven percent of the audience was 50 or older, while 19 percent was between 35-49. Teenagers made up 8 percent.

"The perception, generally speaking, is that PG movies are just for kids. That is no longer the case," said comScore box-office analyst Paul Dergarabedian. "Every studio executive dreams about the day they have a movie that plays to virtually all audiences irrespective of its rating, theme or target audience. Jungle Book is the perfect realization of that dream. It's not just a kids movie, it's not just a family movie — it's a movie for everyone. And that's how you get to a $100 million opening weekend."

Jungle Book scored the second-highest debut ever for a live-action PG title behind fellow Disney offering Alice in Wonderland, which opened to $116.1 million in March 2010 thanks in no small measure to the major star power of Johnny Depp and director Tim Burton. Plus, Alice is laced with mature references and was the second major 3D release of the modern era after Avatar.

Alice, like most of Disney's live-action movies, skewed female, or 55 percent.

Favreau's Jungle Book, inspired by both the 1967 animated movie and Rudyard Kipling's eponymous book about an orphaned human boy whose guardians are animals, was no doubt buoyed by rave reviews and an A CinemaScore.

"A film that can be as much for the general audience as for families goes a long way in changing how people view the Disney brand," said Hollis.

The movie's better-than-expected performance comes only days after Warner Bros. announced it is pushing its rival Jungle Book movie, directed by Andy Serkis, from 2017 to 2018. Favreau and Disney are already planning on a sequel to their film, but no release date has been set.

Overseas, Jungle Book is also doing enormous business, grossing $136.1 million over the weekend — including a sizable $50.3 million bow in China — for a foreign total of $187.4 million and an early global tally of $291 million. It began rolling out in some territories a week ago, including India, where it has earned $20.1 million, making it the third-highest Hollywood release ever after only 10 days in release.

The movie introduces Neel Sethi as Mowgli and features the voices of Bill Murray, Idris Elba, Ben Kingsley, Lupita Nyong'o and Scarlett Johansson, as well as the late Garry Shandling.