"Cars 2" will get a checkered flag by the end of this box-office weekend, but it won't be traveling in the fast lane.
The latest release from Walt Disney Co.-owned Pixar Animation Studios will continue the studio's unblemished record of No. 1 openings, but it is expected to debut with only $50 million to $55 million worth of tickets, according to people who have seen pre-release surveys. That would be the second-lowest opening in the last decade for a Pixar movie, ahead of only "Ratatouille's" $47 million in 2007.
If predictions prove true, the "Cars" sequel will even come in behind the $60.1-million opening of the original in 2006, despite five years of ticket-price inflation and the fact that the new movie is in 3-D, for which moviegoers pay a premium.
With a $462-million worldwide gross, the first "Cars" was one of the lowest box-office performers for Pixar. However, the brand went on to become a merchandise bonanza for Disney, generating global retail sales of close to $10 billion.
Families with young boys who scooped up those products are expected to be the primary audience this weekend for "Cars 2," which comes outfitted with an even bigger merchandising and licensing blitz of about 300 new toys.
Other Pixar movies with less-than-impressive openings, such as "Ratatouille," went on to gross well over $200 million domestically, thanks to strong word of mouth.
However, "Cars 2" is the first Pixar movie to receive predominantly negative reviews, which may mean it may have a short box-office life. The movie cost Disney about $200 million to make and tens of millions more to market around the world.
The movie is Pixar's second of three sequels, following last year's hit "Toy Story 3" and before 2013's "Monsters Inc." follow-up. In a research note released Thursday, Cowen & Co. analyst Doug Creutz expressed concern that an emphasis on sequels "could be diluting Pixar's creative edge" given the poor critical reaction to "Cars 2."
Unlike the first "Cars," which took place on the all-American Route 66, the sequel has a globe-spanning story line. Disney is hoping that means the new film will gross much more internationally than the original's $217.8 million. This weekend, it opens in 18 foreign markets, including Italy, Russia, Brazil, Mexico and Australia.
The only other new movie to open nationwide this weekend is the low-budget Cameron Diaz comedy "Bad Teacher," which is generating the most interest among women under 25. It should launch to about $25 million, a solid start because the R-rated film, which costars Justin Timberlake and Jason Segal, cost Sony Pictures only $19 million to produce.
"Bad Teacher" may be in a tight race for No. 2 at the box office with "Green Lantern," which should take in $20 million to $25 million if it sees a typical second-weekend drop after its $53.2-million opening.
In limited release, Summit Entertainment is opening the Mexican immigrant story "A Better Life" at two theaters in Los Angeles and two in New York.