‘Beauty and the Beast’ roars to historic $170-million debut

‘Beauty and the Beast’ roars to historic $170-million debut

Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” brought so many guests to movie theaters this 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 picture 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 over $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 film, 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 predecessors 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 turning its old cartoons into live-action spectacles with “Maleficent,” “Cinderella” and “The Jungle Book.” The Burbank company is working on remakes of “Dumbo” and “Mulan” to continue the strategy. Dusting off the oldies can be tough, but filmmaking technology has become so advanced that the live-action versions can do the originals justice in the eyes of some moviegoers and critics.

“These stunning visual effects have been leveraged to transport audiences [into the story],” Hollis said.

Such technology helped catapult the film into IMAX history books. “Beauty” got $21 million of its worldwide gross from IMAX, a record for a PG-rated film, surpassing “Jungle Book’s” $20 million.