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‘The Jungle Book’ opens to a wild $103.6 million

LOS ANGELES — “The Jungle Book” dominated the weekend box office, grossing a massive $103.6 million, and extending the Walt Disney Company’s success in transforming its animated classics into live-action hits.

The debut for the Rudyard Kipling adaptation ranks as the second-biggest April opening in history, behind only “Furious 7’s” $147.2 million launch. With “Cinderella,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “Maleficent” and now “The Jungle Book,” this strategy of revitalizing fairy tales has become a virtual brand onto itself — one that nearly rivals Disney’s Marvel, Pixar and LucasFilm projects.

The studio will continue to mine its library; “Beauty and the Beast” with Emma Watson hits theaters on March 17, 2017, and new movies based on Cruella De Ville and Dumbo are in the works. With “Star Wars,” “The Avengers,” animated films and now fairy tales in its arsenal, Disney has left the rest of the Hollywood studios punching up.

“They’re on another playing field and everybody just has to watch in awe,” said Jeff Bock, box office analyst with Exhibitor Relations. “Disney is going to be number one for the next decade. Audiences are completely buying into what they’re making.”

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Critics loved “The Jungle Book” handing it a 95% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Word-of-mouth for the film also looks strong. The picture received an A CinemaScore, which could set it up for a healthy run in the days and weeks ahead. The film performed well in Imax, earning $10.4 million. Forty three percent of its domestic opening weekend gross came from 3D screens, with RealD locations making up $31 million of the weekend’s total. Families made up 49% of the opening weekend audience, but the picture also brought in older crowds, with adults comprising 43% of ticket buyers. Females and males were nearly evenly split, with women making up 51% of crowds.

“This is as close to a four quadrant film as I’ve ever worked on,” said Dave Hollis, Disney’s distribution chief.

Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba and Scarlett Johansson head up the vocal cast with Neel Sethi making his feature film debut as Mowgli, the feral child at the heart of the story. Jon Favreau (“Iron Man”) directed the $175 million production, which used digital wizardry to conjure up Kipling’s jungle setting.

“What they were able to pull off was to push the technology in the way that ‘Avatar’ and ‘Life of Pi’ did,” said Hollis. “They put something up on screen that had people not believing their eyes.”

Despite the shadow cast by “The Jungle Book,” New Line and MGM scored with “Barbershop: The Next Cut.” The third film in the “Barbershop” series racked up a sterling $20.2 million from 2,661 locations. Women comprised 54% of ticket buyers, and 66% of consumers were over the age of 25. Ice Cube, Regina Hall, Nicki Minaj and Cedric the Entertainer star in the comedy.

“We are thrilled with it,” said Jeff Goldstein, distribution executive vice president at Warner Bros., New Line’s parent studio. “The cast was tremendous and it just looked like fun.”

The weekend’s other new entry, Lionsgate’s action thriller “Criminal,” sputtered to a $5.8 million debut from 2,683 locations and a sixth place finish. The story of a convict who is implanted with the memories of a dead CIA agent in order to finish a mission stars Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones and Gary Oldman. It cost just north of $30 million to produce.

Last weekend’s champion, the Melissa McCarthy comedy “The Boss,” dropped 57%, taking third place with $10.2 million. The story of a business icon whose career is derailed by insider trading has earned $10.2 million in two weeks of release.

“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” captured fourth place, adding $9 million to its $311.3 million domestic haul. “Zootopia” rounded out the top five, picking up $8.2 million and bringing its stateside total to $307.5 million.

In limited release, the Weinstein Company opened the musical dramedy “Sing Street” in five locations, where it grossed $68,979 for a per-theater average of $13,796. A24 debuted the horror-thriller “Green Room” in three locations, earning $91,000, for a leading per-theater average of over $30,000. It will expand nationally on April 29.

It also looks like moviegoers haven’t seen the last of Mowgli. Warner Bros. is planning its own version of the Kipling tales, with Andy Serkis directing, and news broke this week that Disney is moving forward with a sequel to “The Jungle Book.”

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