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While Disney’s live-action/vfx hybrid Star Wars: Star Wars: The Force Awakens continued to rule the mainstream box office, two new animated features debuted in limited release last weekend: Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson’s Anomalisa and Isao Takahata’s Only Yesterday.

The stop motion Anomalisa, produced by LA-based Starburns Industries, attracted big buzz on the festival circuit before Paramount picked up distribution rights for around $5 million. The film launched in four theaters in Los Angeles and New York last weekend, earning an estimated $135,222, and a total of $210,632 since its release last Wednesday.

Anomalisa’s per-theater average was a strong $33,806. It’s the second-highest per-theater average at the U.S. box office last weekend, behind The Revenant. It’s even more impressive when you consider that the film is an R-rated psychological drama, which is something that has never before been attempted in an American animated feature.

Anomalisa will continue its theatrical expansion throughout the month of January, and while it obviously won’t maintain this per-theater average when it expands to more theaters, this early success with the general public bodes well for its future expansion.

I was surprised to read Indiewire’s analysis of the Anomalisa launch described as “decent but not sensational.” Any discussion of this film’s box office results must take into account that Paramount is literally pioneering a new market for animation. Mature animated features are unheard of in the United States, especially ones released by major distributors. Give Paramount a lot of credit for handling the launch as smartly as they have.

When I saw the film in Manhattan over the weekend, the packed theater was comprised almost exclusively of hip twenty- and thirty-somethings, many of whom appeared to be on dates. In all my years of watching animation, I’ve never witnessed this type of crowd at a 9pm screening of a theatrical animated feature. Paramount told Deadline that the film’s audience was slightly more male than female, and about half were 35 and younger.

GKIDS released Only Yesterday in New York City, picking up $14,970 from one theater. A wider expansion will follow next month. The Isao Takahata film was released in Japan twenty-five years ago, but remained the only Studio Ghibli theatrical feature that had never been released in the United States. The new Ghibli-produced English voice cast includes Daisy Ridley (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire).

In China, Little Door Gods, a locally produced animated feature directed by tech entrepreneur Gary Wang, opened with $10 million. Produced by Wang’s Light Chaser Animation, the film had a generous budget of around US$12 million and a lengthy production schedule that attempted to replicate American feature animation standards.

Other notable weekend grosses for animation or partly-animated films include:

  • $22.1M for Fox’s Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip with $11.8M domestically and $10.3M international. Global gross now at $91.7M.
  • $17.4M for Fox-Blue Sky’s The Peanuts Movie with $550,000 domestically and $16.8M international. Global gross now $205.9M.
  • $13.5M for Disney-Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur with $4M domestically and $9.5M international. Global gross is now $243.8M.

(Top: “Anomalisa” ©2015 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.)

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