Walt Disney Co. (DIS:US)’s “Frozen” is poised to reclaim the top spot in ticket sales in its seventh weekend in theaters, a rare event in a business where hit films lose their first-place rankings after a couple of weeks.
The animated movie, about two sibling princesses in an icy land, may gross as much as $20 million in the U.S. and Canada from Friday to Sunday, said BoxOffice.com. Box Office Mojo, another forecaster, predicts $18.2 million, for second place.
The film highlights a resurgence in the Disney unit that made “Sleeping Beauty” and “The Little Mermaid.” The picture is the biggest hit for the namesake animation division since “The Lion King” in 1994, and has passed the Pixar hits “Cars” and “Toy Story 2.” Chief Executive Officer Robert Iger bought Pixar for $7 billion in 2006 to revive animation.
“It’s been a marathon runner,” said Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst at Rentrak Corp. “All the other films have been dropping away.”
As of Jan. 2, “Frozen” had taken in $544 million worldwide, including domestic sales of $277 million, according to Box Office Mojo. The only animated film to do more in the U.S. in 2013 was Universal Pictures’ “Despicable Me 2” at $368 million.
“Frozen” is also a hit with stores selling kids merchandise. Two of three plush toys based on the snowman Olaf have sold out in Disney stores, according to the Burbank, California-based company, and “Frozen” products accounted for half of the top-25 selling items in Disney stores over the holidays.
“The movie is probably the best non-Pixar Disney movie since the classics of the 1990s,” said Jim Silver, editor of Time to Play Magazine, a toy publication. “The ‘Frozen’ toys are some of the hottest toys at retail right now.”
Walt Disney Animation Studios has been making progress under Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter and President Ed Catmull, who hold the same titles at Pixar. The division has produced hits in three of the past four years, including “Tangled” in 2010 and “Wreck-It Ralph” in 2012.
“We were very fortunate to have space in the market for ‘Frozen’ to come in so strongly and be the family choice throughout the holiday season,” Disney said in a statement.
Disney fell 0.2 percent to $76.11 yesterday in New York. The stock rose 53 percent last year, compared (DIS:US) with 30 percent for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.
Not all forecasters expect “Frozen” to lead the weekend. Box Office Mojo sees $23 million for “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones,” opening yesterday from Paramount Pictures. “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” from Warner Bros. has led the past three weeks.
The Disney film is benefiting from favorable reviews and little family friendly competition. “Frozen” received 89 percent approval from critics and 90 percent from filmgoers, according to RottenTomatoes.com, a website that aggregates fan and critic data.
“The film’s success proves that word of mouth after a film opens can be immensely more powerful than the marketing blitz that happens before release,” said Phil Contrino, chief analyst for BoxOffice.com.
“Avatar” was No. 1 for seven weeks in 2009 and 2010, and the raunchy comedy “There’s Something About Mary” scored its first weekend at No. 1 in its eighth week in 1998, according to Box Office Mojo. Only six films since 1984 have risen or returned to No. 1 after seven weeks, according to Rentrak data.
“Frozen” follows two princesses, Elsa and Anna, in an snow-covered kingdom. Anna undertakes an epic journey to find her sister Elsa, whose powers have trapped the kingdom in permanent winter.
The film opened in one theater Nov. 22 and extended to 3,742 locations a day before Thanksgiving, according to Box Office Mojo, eventually rising to No. 1 by Dec. 8. Christmas and New Year’s Day, falling on Wednesdays, created a two-week stretch for holiday movie going.
Families amounted to 81 percent of the opening weekend audience for “Frozen,” according to Disney. That compares with 68 percent for “Wreck-It Ralph” and 65 percent for “Brave,” the company’s last two big-budget animated releases. “Frozen” cost $150 million to make, according to Imdb.com.
The film was released during Disney’s fiscal first quarter, which runs from October to December. The company’s studio division earned $234 million on revenue of $1.55 billion in last year’s fiscal first quarter.
Overall, the movie industry’s domestic movie sales rose 1 percent to a record $10.9 billion last year, according to Rentrak. Disney, the world’s largest entertainment company, finished second behind Time Warner Inc. (TWX:US)’s Warner Bros. unit with $1.69 billion in domestic ticket sales in 2013, according to Box Office Mojo.
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