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Disney to showcase new Pixar short 'Party Central' in front of 'Muppets Most Wanted' - EXCLUSIVE

As any Jim Henson fan could tell you, Muppets and monsters are an ideal match, like chocolate and peanut butter or Cookie Monster and sugary baked treats. It’s only fitting, then, that Disney is set to unveil the latest Pixar short film — a Monsters University spinoff titled Party Central — in front of Muppets Most Wanted when that movie hits theaters on March 21.

In the six-minute short, which Disney first debuted at last year’s D23 Expo, Mike and Sulley and their Oozma Kappa frat brothers try to throw a monster blowout party but are dismayed to find that no one is showing up. Fortunately, they have some extra inter-dimensional doors handy, which they put to creative use (we won’t spoil how here) to get the party rocking.

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'Despicable Me 2,' Monsters U' in Oscar mix for Best Animated Film nominations

Nineteen movies are in the running for this year’s Oscar nominations for Best Animated Film. The Academy today released its long list of submitted films, including box-office winners like Monsters University and Despicable Me 2, as well as movies that haven’t yet hit theaters, like Frozen and Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises.

In recent years, Pixar has dominated the competition, winning last year for Brave and taking five of the last six Oscar trophies. At least two and no more than five animated features will be nominated from the list below:
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'Monsters University' Blu-ray: See the fourth-grade Mike/Sulley meeting that never happened -- EXCLUSIVE VIDEO

Monsters-U-clip.jpg

Even before Monsters University opened in theaters in June, a few devout fans of the original 2001 movie expressed irritation that the prequel seemed to violate one aspect of Monster history. In Monsters, Inc., Mike playfully responds to an insult from Sulley with, “You’ve been jealous of my good looks since the fourth grade, pal.”

In Monsters University, however, the entire premise is built around the two monsters meeting for the first time in college. It was initially a problem for director and co-writer Dan Scanlon, who was determined to resolve the two storylines. “As much as we could, we wanted to be totally respectful of the continuity of the first film,” says Scanlon. “Our first inclination was to try to make it work, to do versions where they became friends in fourth grade. Basically, after trying it a lot, we felt like it was robbing the audience of the experience of really watching a relationship grow. And we realized we were going through all these hoops for this one line that doesn’t affect the story in a negative way. It was really [Monsters, Inc. director] Pete Docter and John Lasseter who said, ‘It’s not as important as you think. You’re not hurting the movie to ignore that line.’”

That Docter himself made the suggestion was crucial, since Monsters had been his baby and he remained involved as executive producer of the prequel. “I think Pete really pushed us to make big changes,” says Scanlon. “He was really good at standing back and going, ‘Oh, you want to make Sulley a jerk? Great.’ Nothing was precious. Pete was really a reminder of, ‘No, for characters to be interesting, they have to go through these changes.’ He really empowered us.”

But before the filmmakers decided that the fourth-grade zinger from Monsters, Inc. had to be ignored or simply written off as a flippant retort, playground scenes were written and artwork was commissioned. In the Monsters University Blu-ray, which comes out Oct. 29, one of the extras includes what could have been Mike and Sulley’s first childhood meeting. If you don’t want to wait until then, click below to see an exclusive video clip.
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Is the 3-D fad over?

All the way back in 2009, eager studio executives eyed Avatar‘s $2.8 billion worldwide gross and gushed “I see you” to the film’s groundbreaking 3-D technology. A few months later, Alice in Wonderland became a $1 billion hit, and before Johnny Depp had even wiped the makeup off his face, the industry had decided 3-D would be its savior.

Fox, Paramount, Disney, and Universal collectively shelled out $700 million to help equip theaters with new projectors, and the number of 3-D releases jumped from 20 in 2009 to 45 in 2011. Perhaps most importantly, audiences proved willing to pay an extra $3.50 per ticket, so Hollywood made a point of “enhancing” every film into a “premium” 3-D experience. Oh, what a difference four years makes: 3-D box office receipts are taking a serious tumble these days, and audiences are increasingly opting for cheaper 2-D tickets. So how did the format fall so far so fast? READ FULL STORY

Box office preview: Will 'Pacific Rim' sink or swim?

A three-way battle for box office supremacy is brewing between Pacific Rim, Grown Ups 2, and Despicable Me 2 — all of which could potentially earn grosses in the mid-$40 million range this weekend and continue the film industry’s winning streak. The biggest question mark stomping into theaters is undoubtedly Warner Bros.’ ultra-expensive robot adventure Pacific Rim, whose earning potential has proven notoriously difficult to predict. But predict, I must! So without further ado, here’s how I think the box office might look this weekend:

1. Pacific Rim – $52 million
Look, people. I know that tracking for this $190 million Guillermo del Toro-directed tentpole has been woefully weak — down in the $25 million to $35 million range. I know Warner Bros. has repeatedly said it only expects $30 million for it this weekend. I know that everyone on the Internet has already declared Pacific Rim a bomb. But I just don’t believe it. Fandango reports that over 60 percent of daily sales are for Pacific Rim and that the film is outselling World War Z, which opened with $66.4 million, at the same point in its pre-release cycle. Of course, Pacific Rim‘s core demographic of male geeks is exactly the type that would purchase online tickets en masse — but even so, those sorts of pre-sales do not suggest an embarrassing opening.

Pacific Rim has surged on social media this week, which makes sense, since Warner Bros. saved most of its marketing budget for the release phase, and awareness is rising quickly. Plus, the film has earned strong reviews overall, which should lead to solid word-of-mouth. Though there are no bona fide movie stars in Pacific Rim‘s cast (the film has been advertised mostly with robots and monsters), the appeal of Del Toro may connect with film buffs. With 3-D and IMAX prices factored in — plus the groundswell of excitement for an original story — I think Pacific Rim could earn $52 million out of 3,275 theaters this weekend. I’m very aware that might be too high, but really, who knows where this film ends up?
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3-D hits an all-time low with 'Despicable Me 2'

Blockbuster sequel Despicable Me 2 earned $143 million over the extended Fourth of July weekend — and although its debut marked a high point at the summer box office, it also marked a low point for 3-D ticket sales.

According to Universal, only 27 percent of Despicable Me 2‘s opening-weekend gross came from 3-D tickets, the lowest 3-D share in modern box office history. Notably, the record low comes just two weeks after Monsters University notched a 31 percent 3-D share on its opening weekend, which at the time was the worst 3-D performance ever. Poor 3-D ticket sales aren’t just plaguing recent animated films, either. Brad Pitt’s live-action zombie thriller World War Z only earned 34 percent of its debut total from 3-D tickets, and The Great Gatsby fared even worse. Despite the fact that Baz Luhrmann’s use of 3-D was a primary selling point for Gatsby, 3-D ticket sales only accounted for 33 percent of its opening weekend.

These percentages mark a decisive downturn in 3-D’s popularity with American moviegoers, who have generally embraced the enhanced format over the last five years.

In 2009 and 2010, during the heyday of 3-D, films like Avatar (71 percent share), Alice in Wonderland (70 percent), and Tron Legacy (82 percent) added tens of millions of dollars to their opening-weekend grosses with 3-D ticket sales. Hollywood quickly doubled down on the format — sending the number of 3-D wide releases skyrocketing from 15 in 2009 to 36 in 2012. By 2012, though, it already appeared that 3-D was losing some of its luster, as the industry observed lower shares for films like Transformers: Dark of the Moon (60 percent), Thor (60 percent), and The Avengers (52 percent). These days, even highly anticipated box office titans like Iron Man 3 (45 percent), Star Trek Into Darkness (45 percent), and World War Z have trouble cracking the 50 percent threshold.

Family films have been hit particularly hard lately. Of course, it should be noted that they’ve never been quite as popular as live-action films in 3-D — presumably because it costs so much to purchase 3-D tickets for an entire family — but animated titles like Shrek Forever After (60 percent), Toy Story 3 (60 percent), and The Lorax (52 percent) did prove that moms and dads were willing to shell out big bucks on the format. Not so much over the past year, though. Recent films like Brave (34 percent), The Croods (38 percent) and, obviously, Despicable Me 2 haven’t connected with 3-D ticket-buyers despite the fact that they succeeded at the box office.

Many think the 3-D gimmick has lost — or is losing — its novelty due to over-saturation and shoddy execution, and Avatar director James Cameron agrees. “I do not think Hollywood is using the 3-D properly,” Cameron remarked at the TagDF conference in Mexico City last week. “Man of Steel, Iron Man 3 and all those movies should not necessarily be in 3-D,” he continued. “If you spend $150 million on visual effects, the film is already going to be spectacular, perfect.”

What do you think? Is the 3-D fad officially ending?

Box office report: 'Despicable Me 2' leaves 'Lone Ranger' in the dust

Over the extended 4th of July weekend, a lot of Americans lit up the grill and spent time with family. A lot unfolded lawn chairs and watched a fireworks show. And a whole lot bought tickets to see Despicable Me 2.

The $76 million animated film from Universal and Illumination Entertainment crushed the competition in its first five days in theaters, earning a jaw-dropping $142 million — $82.5 million of which came in during the traditional Friday-to-Sunday frame. In fact, Despicable Me 2, which features the voice work of Steve Carrell and Kristen Wiig, led the box office to the best July 4th weekend of all time. Over the Friday-to-Sunday period, the Top 12 movies grossed $220.7 million, which marks the 10th-strongest weekend in box office history.
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Box office preview: Minions will attract millions to 'Despicable Me 2' on July 4th weekend

Thanks to Man of Steel, Fast & Furious 6, Monsters University, and the surprising success of Now You See Me, the box office climbed to record levels in June, earning $1.25 billion — a 19 percent increase over June 2012. This week, Despicable Me 2 and The Lone Ranger, which both begin showing tonight to take advantage of the July 4th holiday weekend, will try to keep the box office firing on all cylinders. The former is poised to dominate the field, but the latter seems unlikely to lasso a big enough audience to justify its gargantuan budget. Here’s how I think the box office might shake out over the Wednesday-to-Sunday period:

1. Despicable Me 2 – $130 million
The original Despicable Me was a surprise success in 2010, opening with $56 million en route to a $251 million finish. Adults enjoyed the sly edge of the animated feature, and their kids fell in love with the yellow “minions,” which became breakout characters in the same vein as Madagascar‘s penguins or Ice Age‘s acorn-chasing squirrel, Scrat. For Despicable Me 2, Universal is plastering the minions on any free ad space they can. The studio has inked licensing deals with Wal-Mart, Toys-R-Us, Progressive, Chiquita, Cheetos, McDonalds, and other national brands. Plus, they’ve got a “Despicablimp” flying around the country.

But those promotional efforts wouldn’t matter all that much if audiences didn’t genuinely love the original — and boy did they. In fact, Universal could have a Shrek 2 situation on their hands here — while the original movie became a word-of-mouth smash (Shrek earned $267 million), the sequel could be a slam dunk right out of the gate (Shrek 2 wound up earning $441.3 million.). Despicable Me 2 does face animated competition from Monsters University, which has topped the chart for two weekends, but Despicable Me 2 is fresher in kids’ minds, since its predecessor came out just three (not 12) years ago, and it’s safe to say there’s more built-in excitement for the young franchise. Opening in over 3,900 theaters, Despicable Me 2, which cost Universal and Illumination Entertainment only $76 million to produce, may earn about $130 million over the five-day period.

2. The Lone Ranger – $58 million
Disney spent at least $225 million on this Gore Verbinski-directed western, which stars Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer (though many commercials seem to ignore Hammer’s presence altogether), but with terrible reviews and a major lack of social media activity, The Lone Ranger looks likely to become an expensive misfire for the studio. Just to earn back its budget domestically, The Lone Ranger will have to earn $40 million more than the highest-grossing western of all time, Dances with Wolves, which took in $184 million in 1990. That seems very, very unlikely.

Audiences have just never flocked to desert-set movies the way they have superhero flicks or lush adventures like Depp and Verbinski’s Pirates franchise. Recently, western blockbuster Cowboys and Aliens underperformed with a $36.5 million opening and a $100.2 million total against a $163 million budget. That seems like a fair comparison for The Lone Ranger — though Depp’s appeal does boost prospects considerably (especially on the international front, where westerns often toil). Tracking suggests that The Lone Ranger could gallop away with about $70 million over five days, but in a marketplace stuffed with well-liked releases, that sounds quite high. Debuting in about 3,700 theaters, The Lone Ranger could wrangle about $58 million in its first five days. For a standard Hollywood release, that result would be just fine. For a $225 million tentpole with bad reviews and limited international appeal — that could spell trouble.

3. Monsters University – $34 million
The film may fall by about 50 percent due to direct competition from Despicable Me 2, but that still puts it on track for a $23 million three-day weekend — and about $34 million adding in Wednesday and Thursday grosses as well. All told, Monsters University should have nearly $220 million domestically by the time Sunday night rolls around.

4. The Heat – $32 million
Without any new comedies arriving on the scene, The Heat should continue to play well with adult women in its sophomore frame. The R-rated laugher scored $39.1 million in its debut frame, and it could take in another $32 million over the Wednesday-to-Sunday period, which would give the $43 million Fox film about $82 million after two weekends on the chart.

5. World War Z – $24 million
Brad Pitt’s zombie thriller has been holding up very well on weekdays, but the simple fact that the box office is about to get even more crowded may keep it from notching an exemplary hold. Still, it could score another $24 million in five days, yielding a $156 million gross.

Also keep an eye on Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain, which is opening in about 800 theaters on Wednesday. The comedy film, shot during one of Hart’s stand-up shows at Madison Square Garden, follows in the footsteps of comedy film Kevin Hart: Laugh At My Pain, which broke out with a $7.7 million total in 2011. Since then, Hart has hosted the MTV Movie Awards, starred in BET’s Real Husbands of Hollywood, helped lead Think Like A Man to a $90 million finish, and grown his fanbase substantially. Thus, over the five-day frame, Let Me Explain may take in a very impressive $11 million — not bad considering the film cost only $2.5 million to produce.

Check back to EW on Thursday and Saturday for holiday weekend box office updates, and then again on Sunday for the regular box office report.

Box office report: 'Monsters University' stays on top with $46.2 million; 'The Heat' hot, 'White House Down' not

It’s been a great June at the domestic box office — and thanks to a jam-packed slate of robust earners, the month finished strong this weekend. In fact, the top five films all earned over $20 million.

Monsters University stayed on top of the chart with $46.2 million, marking a slim 44 percent drop over the Friday-to-Sunday period, which was lower than the second weekend declines of Brave (49 percent), Cars 2 (60 percent), and Toy Story 3 (46 percent). The well-received family film has earned $171.3 million total after ten days — and it will definitely surpass the original Monsters Inc.‘s $251 million cume. The film will face a formidable challenge next week, though, when Despicable Me 2, which has been cleaning up overseas (it’s already earned over $50 million from just seven countries), hits theaters on July 3.

In second place, Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy’s buddy-cop comedy The Heat scored an excellent $40 million — a career-best debut for both stars. The film, directed by Bridesmaids helmer Paul Feig, cost Fox only $43 million to make — and it will surpass that figure by Tuesday. The Heat‘s great debut trumps the opening weekend of McCarthy’s other 2013 hit, Identity Thief, which began its run with $36.3 million on the way to a $134.5 million finish.

As might be expected, adult women drove business for The Heat, which carries an R-rating. According to Fox, audiences were 65 percent female and 67 percent above the age of 25. Crowds issued the film an “A-” CinemaScore grade. READ FULL STORY

Box office update: 'Monsters University' and 'The Heat' crush 'White House Down' on Friday

Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock proved they were an appealing comedic duo on Friday — but they couldn’t outpace the animated pairing of Mike and Sully at the box office.

Monsters University topped the chart with $14.3 million yesterday, putting the Pixar sequel on track for an excellent $49 million second weekend. That would give the family film a $175 million total after ten days — a healthy total as it prepares to take on Despicable Me 2 next weekend.

In second place, The Heat scored an excellent $13.6 million, which easily trumps McCarthy’s last two starring efforts: Bridesmaids, which opened with $7.8 million on a Friday, and Identity Thief, which began with $11.1 million on a Friday. The Heat may take in about $39 million this weekend, which would not only be a fantastic start considering its $43 million budget, but also a career-best opening for both Bullock and McCarthy. READ FULL STORY

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