Defying conventional Hollywood ‘wisdom’ that two major animated films can’t compete at the box office at the same time, Illumination opened The Secret Life of Pets to a massive $104.4 million as Pixar’s Finding Dory earned a stellar $20.8 million in its fourth weekend, overtaking Captain America: Civil War to become the highest-grossing domestic release of 2016.
First, let’s talk about Chris Renaud’s The Secret Life of Pets. The film’s debut is the sixth-best all-time opening for an animated film, and the best opening ever for an original animated film, beating the previous-record holder, Pixar’s Inside Out, which launched with $90.4m last year. (After adjusting for inflation, Pets remains the biggest opening for an original animated film.)
Industry tracking for The Secret Life of Pets was wildly off the mark. Box office pundits estimated an opening range of $65-85m, missing the fact that the film would appeal to an audience that was majority female (59%) and adult (57% over 25). The adult-skewing audience, which resulted in big crowds at evening showtimes, was a key differentiator that allowed Pets to remain competitive in theaters while Dory was still having its boffo run. Box office observers continually misread animation by lumping it together as a single genre, and not recognizing that animated films (like their live-action counterparts) can appeal to different audiences. (Finding Dory was oriented strongly toward kids, with only 44% of its audience above the age of 25.)