‘Beauty and the Beast’ sets record for biggest debut of all time for a female-fueled film

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Dan Stevens plays The Beast, left, and Emma Watson plays Belle in the live-action adaptation of the animated classic "Beauty and the Beast." Disney photo

Dan Stevens plays The Beast, left, and Emma Watson plays Belle in the live-action adaptation of the animated classic “Beauty and the Beast.” Disney photo

Disney’s live-action remake of “Beauty and the Beast” proved magical, setting several box-office records over the weekend.

The lavish movie-musical version of the fairytale story conjured up an incredible $170 million in North America and $350 million globally.

Along the way, it became the biggest debut of all time for a female-fueled film, according to The Hollywood Reporter, seeming to prove yet again that female protagonists can be strong both on screen and at the box office.

The film’s success once again underscores the buying power of women and girls. On Friday, more than 70 percent of ticket buyers were females, although that percentage over the weekend came in 60 percent, the trade publication reported, citing numbers from Disney.

No movie driven by women of all ages in this numbers has ever opened so powerfully. To compare, “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” debuted to $158.1 million in November 2014, while “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” took in $142 million in November 2009 for a series-best mark for each.

As I noted in my “Beauty and the Beast” review, unlike “Cinderella” or “The Jungle Book” — other titles in its animated canon that the Mouse House has lately reimagined in live action — the beloved “Beauty and the Beast” didn’t need to be remade to freshen outdated themes or improve on flimsy storytelling. The 1991 blockbuster not only won Oscars for Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman’s exquisite score and iconic title theme, but it also became the first full-length animated movie in cinema history to receive a best picture nomination.

Plus, “Beauty and the Beast” was the first of a new and improved generation of Disney animated princesses, a much-needed course correction after the wishy-washy Ariel of “The Little Mermaid.” The 1989 “under the sea” spectacle ushered in a new golden age for Disney’s animated films but also arguably delved to a new low for its princesses, with a teenage royal who falls in love at first, distant sight with a prince and then gives up her very identity in order to be with him.

Although she doesn’t have the vocal range of Paige O’Hara, the original voice of Belle, Emma Watson captivates as one of Disney’s best fairytale heroines, the brave and brainy small-town girl who longs for a bigger life. Her capabilities were already well-established before the live-action version made her an inventor, too, while her protective father (Kevin Kline, bringing dignity to the role) is an artist and music-box designer.

Read more of my “Beauty and the Beast” review, click here.

Not accounting for inflation, Bill Conden’s  (“Dreamgirls,” “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn” Pars 1 and 2) “Beauty and the Beast” remake also broke the records for the top domestic opening of all time for a film rated PG (the previous record-holder in North America was Disney/Pixar’s “Finding Dory,” opened with $135 million in summer 2016); best March opening (topping “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” which bowed to $166 million over the March 25-27 weekend last year); and the best of Disney’s live-action remakes (topping the $116.1 million debut of Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland) over the March 3-5 weekend in 2010).

Plus “Beauty and the Beast” was the biggest North American debut in almost a year, when Disney/Marvel’s “Captain America: Civil War” scored $179.1 million on its first weekend in early May 2016. It even beat out Disney/Lucasfilm’s “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” which launched in December to a $155 million launch.

The fairytale narrowly beat out the final “Harry Potter” movie ($169.2 million) – Watson’s career-making franchise — to rank No. 7 on the top 10 list of biggest bows in North America, according to The Hollywood Reporter. When final weekend receipts are tallied, “Beauty and the Beast” could even come in as high as $174 million, which would tie it with “Iron Man 3” for No. 6.

With the number of potential box-office breakthrough movies for women that have come along – dating back in my memory to at least “Thelma and Louise” 25 years ago – it’s hard to keep hoping, but since hope spring eternal, hopefully the success of “Beauty and the Beast” will help prompt the studios to make more movies centering on realistic, empowering female protagonists.

The success of “Beauty and the Beast” bodes well for other female-fueled films coming up this year, especially the highly anticipated live-action movie debut of DC Comics venerable superhero Wonder Woman. According to Variety, the latest trailer for Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman” was second only to the new trailer for “The Fate of the Furious” – the latest installment in the long-running “Fast and Furious” franchise – in generated social media buzz.

“Wonder Woman” generated 110,000 new conversations after stars Gal Gadot and Chris Pine introduced a new trailer at the March 11 Kids’ Choice Awards, following a new teaser poster and trailer teaser on the previous day. The trailer reveals more of Diana/Wonder Woman’s origins on her homeland of Themyscira, where she is trained much more vigorously than her peers before Steve Trevor (Pine) crash-lands on her mystical island.

To see the trailer, click here. “Wonder Woman” opens in theaters June 2.


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