'The Secret Life of Pets' Is Box Office Top Dog

Americans once again proved their fascination with domestic animals this weekend by giving Universal's "The Secret Life of Pets" a weekend over $100 million, easily landing it in the No. 1 spot. "Finding Dory," the three-week box office champ, fell to third, its core demographic of family audiences obviously distracted by the new animated film in the marketplace. Meanwhile, "Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates" was a surprisingly strong box office presence, once again showing the appeal of R-rated wedding comedies. Altogether, the top twelve grossed a stellar $206 million, up 13% from last weekend and about even with the same frame a year ago.

Ever since Universal started the marketing campaign for "Pets" over a year ago, it was clear that the studio had a box office winner on its hands. The trailer for the film played before "Minions," hooking younger audiences, and has played before half the movies in Hollywood since. Awareness for the film was therefore high, with corporate partners such as McDonald's and PetSmart also helping.

Of course, the awareness for the movie would have mattered significantly less if Universal didn't have an appealing product on its hands. But that it did. The concept of the movie--what do our pets do while we're away?--is universally relatable. The pet industry grows every year, and just as people are willing to spend big bucks on their companion animals, they are obviously also eager to bring the family to a film that features pets as the main characters.

Adding to the appeal of "Pets" was the Illumination Entertainment brand, which has arguably become just as popular as Pixar among kids in the last few years. The animated film production company has made such hits as "Dr. Seuss' The Lorax" and all of the "Despicable Me" films. It has yet to have a box office miss--all six of its films have been (or, in the case of "Pets," will be) profitable. And compared to Pixar, which usually spends about $200 million on its movies, Illumination makes its films for dirt cheap. In fact, the average opening for an Illumination Entertainment film--$77.8 million--is higher than the budget for any of the company's movies. All of its films' budgets hover around $75 million, which was exactly how much "Pets" was produced for.

Given the thriftiness of the film's budget, "Pets" is already well on its way to profitability. Even considering Universal's huge marketing spend for the movie, "Pets" should easily be able to recoup its budget domestically, making all foreign grosses (which have been strong) the cherry on top. Given the film's A- CinemaScore, and the dearth of family competition over the next month, it seems clear that "Pets" will continue drawing in audiences in the weeks to come. In fact, it seems likely that "Pets" will claim the No. 1 crown again next weekend, barring a breakout performance from 'Ghostbusters'. Overall, look for the movie to finish with about $375 million, which would make it one of the highest-grossing films of the year.

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