Even before Pixar's animated film Inside Out hit theaters this weekend with a record opening, the machinery inside parent company Walt Disney ( DIS) began milking what is shaping up as the media giant's latest mega-million dollar franchise.
Inside Out, which features five colorful characters depicting emotions inside the mind of an 11-year old girl, generated $91 million in North American ticket sales, according to box office tracking firm Rentrak, a record opening for a non-sequel.
Away from the box office, l store shelves are already filled with dozens of items that Disney produced or licensed, including plush figures, t-shirts and lunch boxes. UGG licensed a line of footwear in colors to match those of the characters' emotions, while KIDdesigns created a line of headphones that light up in the colors.
Disney is collecting revenues from a soundtrack based on the film. It is selling hot dogs at its Disney California Adventure theme park that are named after the film's characters and colored with condiments to match.
Under Disney CEO Bob Iger, the studio produces bigger budget "tent-pole" movies that are designed to be potential franchises with wide appeal that Disney's other units can exploit.
In February Iger told an analysts that the company's mega-hit "Frozen" had become the 11th franchise film to generate more than $1 billion in annual retail sales. That list is believed to include Marvel's Avengers comic evil fighters and Disney classic characters like Mickey and Minnie, although a Disney spokeswoman would not confirm the names of characters on the list.
Inside Out, which cost more than $200 million to produce, is vying to join them. At the box office, it outperformed the most optimistic of industry projections, which had forecast the film to generate around $70 million for its opening weekend.
Pixar films generally end their box office runs with 3.5 to 4 times their opening weekend take, according to Dave Hollis, Disney's executive vice president of distribution.
That could put Inside Out in the range of Toy Story 3, which generated $415 million in domestic ticket sales in 2010, according to Box Office Mojo.
Inside Out will benefit with a three-week clear field at the box office before the release of another large competing family film, when Comcast's (CMCSA) Universal studio releases Minions opens on July 10, said Hollis.
"Inside Out is one of the best reviewed movies of the year will have long term playability all over the world," said Paul Dergarabedian, Rentrak's senior media analyst. "This could clearly become one of Pixar's highest grossing and most beloved movies ever."