LOS ANGELES -- Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" brought so many guests to movie theaters over the weekend that the live-action remake became the biggest box-office opener so far of the year, and the seventh-best debut of all time.
The film brought in an impressive $170 million, well above analyst expectations of $130 million to $150 million. It's the highest domestic debut ever for a Disney live-action title and the seventh Walt Disney Studios release to open at more than $150 million. The picture also brought in $180 million internationally.
"It's incredible. It's amazing," said Dave Hollis, the studio's distribution chief. "There are almost no words to fully capture how gratifying it is to see a result like this from a team that has been working on telling stories like this for years."
The picture, which cost $160 million to make, stars Emma Watson of the "Harry Potter" franchise as Belle and Dan Stevens ("Downton Abbey") as the cursed prince. The story stays fairly close to the beloved 1991 animated original, a box-office smash that became the first animated movie to earn a best picture Oscar nomination. Directed by Bill Condon, known for "The Twilight Saga" and the musical "Dreamgirls," the new film is well on its way to following in its predecessor's history-making footsteps.
"Beauty and the Beast" is expected to reach the coveted $1 billion mark in global receipts before the end of its theatrical run.
Disney has built a successful business out of turning its old cartoons into live-action spectacles with "Maleficent," "Cinderella" and "The Jungle Book." The Burbank studio is now working on remakes of "Dumbo" and "Mulan." Dusting off the oldies can be tough, but technology has become so advanced that live-action versions can do the originals justice in the eyes of some filmgoers and critics.
Such technology has helped catapult "Beauty" into IMAX history books. The film got $21 million of its worldwide gross from IMAX, a record for a PG-rated movie, surpassing "Jungle Book's" $20 million.
"Beauty" received an A Cinemascore from audience members (60 percent female; 50 percent families) and a 71 percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Online ticket seller Fandango said the film is the best advance-selling family movie in the Los Angeles company's 17-year history.
Despite the picture's massive positive reception, it did debut to some controversy. The addition of a minor story line featuring the company's first openly gay character ruffled some feathers: An Alabama theater won't show the film, Russia banned kids younger than 16 from seeing it and Malaysian censors requested the scene be removed. (Disney refused.)
Still, the picture has all the makings of a hit that will continue to dominate the box office in the weeks to come. With the massive recent success of "La La Land" (more than $417 million in worldwide sales), it proves that escapist song-and-dance fantasy still sells, even in countries that haven't traditionally responded to the format.