Families flocked to "Monsters University" pushing Disney and Pixar's 3D animated movie to $82 million in its debut to capture the U.S. box office crown this weekend, but Brad Pitt's zombie movie nearly stole the show.
The "Monsters U" opening is the 14th consecutive No. 1 debut for Pixar, and is the storied animation unit's second-largest debut weekend ever, behind only the $110 million rung up by "Toy Story 3" in 2010.
Paramount's "World War Z" took in a surprising $66 million in its first three days – about $15 million over analysts' projections – to finish a strong second and cap a remarkable turnaround.
The $190 million-budgeted action thriller was plagued with cost-overruns and expensive re-shoots, including an 11th-hour decision to cook up a new ending. Just two months ago, it was tracking to open at $35 million, but the studio mounted a massive marketing campaign behind it, and days before its debut, analysts had revised their projections up to $50 million.
Last week's No. 1 movie, "Man of Steel," was third with $41.2 million. The top three films dominated the action, taking in a combined $209 million. Thats roughly 82 percent of the overall box office, which was up 43 percent from last year, when another Disney-Pixar production, "Brave," led the way with $66 million.
Sony's raunchy comedy, "This is the End," was fourth with $13 million and Summit Entertainment's magic-themed heist thriller "Now You See Me" was fifth with nearly $8 million.
The "Monsters U" audience predictably skewed young, with 60 percent under 25 years of age, and was 56 percent women. It received an "A" CinemaScore from first-night audiences at its 4,004 theaters (2,907 of which were 3D), and that strong word of mouth contributed to the big turnout on Saturday and Sunday.
Billy Crystal and John Goodman return as Mike and Sully in this prequel to Disney's 2001 "Monsters Inc.," which opened to $62 million and went on to bring in $290 million domestically. Dan Scanlon is the director and wrote the screenplay with Daniel Gerson and Robert L. Baird.
"World War Z" is the biggest box-office opening ever for Pitt, topping the $50.3 million debut of "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" in 2005. He stars as a United Nations worker battling a global zombie pandemic in this adaptation of Max Brooks' bestseller, directed by Marc Forster. It received a "B+" CinemaScore from audiences in 3,607 theaters.
"World War Z" bounced back spectacularly from where it was in April. That's when screenwriter Damon Lindelof revealed in a Vanity Fair interview that he'd been called in to write a new ending after the original was scrapped. The thriller also suffered rampant production snafus and budget overruns at its far-flung foreign locations.
That set off a storm of bad buzz, most of which was countered by good reviews (80 percent positive on Rotten Tomatoes), a barrage of TV ads and a series of highly publicized personal appearances by Pitt. Now, in the wake of the film's success, Paramount said Sunday that a sequel is likely.
The studios head of distribution Don Harris said that the actor's efforts went a long way toward erasing any early negativity consumers might have had surrounding the film.
"He went everywhere on behalf of this movie and he worked hard," Harris said. "He was proud of what he did to make this movie the best that it could be, and I think he wanted people to know that."
Pitt's presences no doubt helped the film play broadly, with the crowd at 51 percent women -- high for an action movie, especially with zombies -- and 33 percent under the age of 25.
Pitt's Plan B produced the film, which was co-financed by Skydance Productions, in association with Hemisphere Media Capital and GK Films.
Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures' "Man of Steel" raised its domestic total to $210 million. It had a strong Saturday and wound up down 65 percent from its $116 million debut last weekend.
Seth Rogen's R-rated comedy "This Is The End" held well for Sony in its second week, dropping just 37 percent from its opening weekend. It has now taken in nearly $58 million, impressive given its $32 million production budget.
"Now You See Me" is on its way to $100 million. It fell off just 29 percent from last week and its domestic total is now $94.2 million.