'Zootopia' opens big with $73.7m debut

The animated story about a rabbit who joins the police force ranks as Disney's biggest animation launch.

Singer Shakira and actors Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman pose with Nick Wilde and Judy Hopps characters during the Los Angeles premiere of Walt Disney Animation Studios' 'Zootopia' on February 17, 2016 in Hollywood, California. Picture: Zootopia official Facebook page.

LOS ANGELES Disneys Zootopia scored the fourth biggest March opening ever, debuting to $73.7 million over the weekend.

The animated story about a rabbit who joins the police force ranks as the biggest Disney Animation launch, outstripping Frozen, the 2012 blockbuster that bowed to $67.4 million. With no major family film opening until The Jungle Book lands on April 15, Zootopia is well positioned to be the de facto choice for moviegoers with children for the next month.

Theres an absence of competition, said Dave Hollis, Disneys distribution chief. We are set up to have a big, big run.

Disney did not release a budget, but most animated films cost in excess of $100 million. Zootopia screened in 3,827 locations.

Overseas, where Zootopia has been playing for three weeks, the film added another $63.4 million to its haul, pushing its global total to $232.5 million. The film continues a sterling comeback run for Disney Animation, which had reached a creative and commercial nadir in the early aughts with the likes of Home on the Range and Treasure Planet.

Since Pixars Ed Catmull and John Lasseter took the reins following Disneys 2006 acquisition of their company, the animation arm has roared back to life, fielding hits such as Frozen, Tangled, and Wreck It Ralph, and winning Oscars.

They brought a focus on quality, said Hollis. They recognise that quality is the best business plan.

Beyond the bunnies, Gerard Butler managed to wash out some of the sour taste in his mouth after Gods of Egypt flopped spectacularly. London Has Fallen, the Scottish actors followup to Olympus Has Fallen, opened solidly to $21.5 million from 3,490 locations for a second place finish. That does, however, trail the first films $30 million debut.

Focus Features fielded the picture, which carried a $60 million price tag. It played older, with more than 76 percent of the audience clocking in over the age of 25, while men made up 60 percent of ticket buyers.

Were really pleased with the opening and we think were going to leg out well from here, said Jim Orr, Focus distribution chief. That older demographic doesnt necessarily rush out on opening weekend.

Tina Fey was not as lucky as Butler. The actress Whiskey Tango Foxtrot stumbled with a $7.6 million launch from 2,374 venues. Paramount backed the $35 million dramedy about a war reporter who gets hooked on the adrenaline rush of covering Afghanistan.

War films and political comedies can be tough sells, witness the financial failures of Charlie Wilsons War, Our Brand is Crisis, and Jarhead, and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot appears to be no exception. The studio isnt ready to wave a white flag yet.

Paramount Vice Chairman Rob Moore said that he hoped the audience would build in the coming weeks, as it did for Feys recent hit Sisters.

We were hoping for more, he said. But Tinas last movie played to a good multiple and we had a good Saturday, so we have a chance of playing for a little while to a reasonable outcome.

After four weeks in theaters, Deadpool barreled past the $300 million mark. The comic book movie finished in third place with $16.4 million, pushing its domestic haul to $311.1 million.

Gods of Egypt rounded out the top five, picking up $5 million. The $140 million action epic has earned a meager $22.8 million domestically after two weeks, a terrible result for a picture that was intended to usher in a new franchise.

Fresh off its best picture win at last weekends Academy Awards, newspaper drama Spotlight capitalised on the Oscar love by pulling in $1.8 million. The film has netted $41.6 million during its theatrical run.

In limited release, Broad Green debuted Knight of Cubs, Terrence Malicks lyrical portrait of the spiritual journey of a writer (Christian Bale), in four theaters where it earned $56,688 for a $14,172 per-screen average.

March was once seen as a dumping ground for movies, but the success of spring releases like The Hunger Games, Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella, and now Zootopia has shattered that prejudice, analysts say.

This proves March is now a blockbuster month, said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at ComScore. You can open a blockbuster any time of the year.