'Kung Fu Panda 3' tops box office – how DreamWorks is winning with the 'Panda' franchise

'Panda' came in first place at the box office this past weekend, while the sea drama 'The Finest Hours' had more trouble financially. The 'Kung Fu Panda' movies star Jack Black.

DreamWorks Animation/AP
'Kung Fu Panda 3' stars Jack Black and Bryan Cranston.

Animated panda Po found himself on top of the box office this past weekend, while the sea-set drama “The Finest Hours” had trouble setting sail.

The animated movie “Kung Fu Panda 3” starring Jack Black came in first at the domestic box office, grossing $41 million. 

By contrast, “Finest” opened in fourth place in its first week, taking in only more than $10 million. The film stars Chris Pine as a member of the Coast Guard who was involved in a rescue mission in the 1950s and co-stars Casey Affleck and Holliday Grainger. 

Monitor film critic Peter Rainer gave the movie a C+ grade, writing, “Director Craig Gillespie and his screenwriters, Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, and Eric Johnson, have crafted a movie that could have been made, except for the CGI effects, in 1952. The same retroness was rampant in ‘In the Heart of the Sea.’ What is it about seafaring movies that compels their directors to go all stiff and stalwart on us?” 

Like “Hours,” “Sea,” another story about a sea disaster near Cape Cod, did not succeed at the box office when it was released this past December.

The awards season favorite “The Revenant,” which stars Leonardo DiCaprio, came in second place, grossing more than $24 million this past weekend, while “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” which is now the highest-grossing film of all time domestically without adjusting for inflation, placed third, taking in more than $10 million.

The comedy “Ride Along 2,” which stars Kevin Hart and Ice Cube and opened earlier this month, placed fifth, grossing more than $8 million. 

“Kung Fu Panda” has proven to be a strong franchise for its studio, DreamWorks. The studio releases animated movies in a marketplace dominated by films created by Disney and Pixar.

DreamWorks hit it big early in its history with the 2001 animated movie “Shrek,” which became a box office hit and was also liked by critics. 

Its other big successes came in recent years with the “Kung Fu Panda” series and the “How to Train Your Dragon” series, entries in which are the highest-grossing DreamWorks Animation movies after “Shrek” along with an entry in the “Madagascar” animated series. 

While both studios have stumbled, Disney and Pixar’s strengths have been releasing movies that have been hailed as some of the best animated films of all time. (Pixar in particular has had only one or two critical misfires in its history.)

Before "Kung Fu Panda," the only DreamWorks movie besides "Shrek" to have done well enough financially to spawn a sequel was the movie "Madagascar," but those films haven't been as positively reviewed.

However, reviewers have seemed to enjoy both the “Panda” and “Dragon” series. With these franchises, DreamWorks has movies that were box office hits and were well-received by critics.

Jocelyn Noveck of the Associated Press wrote that “Kung Fu Panda 3” has “just enough heart, witty dialogue, and kid-friendly humor… to make this an all-around extremely satisfying third installment,” while Mr. Rainer gave the latest “Dragon” installment, 2014’s “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” a B+ grade, writing that the movie is “overlong and overly busy but more emotionally powerful than its predecessor… the dragons in this movie are expertly brought to life.”

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