“Wreck-It Ralph” topped the box office at $49.1 million to achieve the highest-grossing opening weekend in Walt Disney Animation history.
Following superstorm Sandy, there actually was an increase in theater attendance in areas affected.
In a distant second place was Denzel Washington’s live-action Flight, which sold $25 million in tickets at United States and Canadian theaters, according to studio estimates Sunday.
Wreck-It Ralph had been predicted to earn grosses in the mid-$40 million range this weekend, said Paul Dergarabedian, president of the box office division of Hollywood.com.
Last weekend, the box office was lukewarm as the U.S. East Coast prepared for Sandy.
Weekend ticket sales at international theaters for films distributed abroad by Hollywood studios put Wreck-It Ralph in fourth place at $12 million.
Movie attendance in areas affected by the storm was “very healthy,” according to Dave Hollis, executive vice-president of film distribution at Walt Disney Studios. School closures Friday boosted matinee screenings, he added.
“In a nice way, Wreck-It Ralph, in areas affected by the storm, ended up actually becoming an opportunity to relieve yourself from the reality that might be going on around you. We saw the theater business around areas affected by the storm very healthy,” Hollis said.
“The storm and its impact — I don’t know if it was a function of cabin fever or just escaping by getting into a movie theater, but there was definitely a gravitating-towards-the-theater phenomenon.
“Wreck-It Ralph became something of a distraction and an opportunity for families to do something separate of the storm. Schools being shut down on Friday also played a role as parents were looking for things to entertain the kids and keep them out of the cold,” Hollis added.
Over a decade in development, Wreck-It Ralph cost an estimated $165 million to produce. It was made by the team behind Disney’s animated movie Tangled, which set the previous highest opening weekend gross with $48.8 million in 2010.
“The Disney movie would benefit from school being out in a large number of big urban and suburban eastern markets, they were always going to have a very good opening, I think they got a little help on Friday,” acknowledged Don Harris, president of distribution at rival studio Paramount Pictures.
Hotel Transylvania was in seventh place at the North American box office with $4.5 million and third overseas with another $13.7 million.
The North American box office gross increased 21 percent over the same weekend last year.
Final domestic figures are scheduled for release Monday.