Two films cross $50 million mark: Are Americans returning to movies?

After a long slump, Hollywood scores big with Disney Animation Studio's 'Big Hero 6' and Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi epic, 'Interstellar.'

This image released by Disney shows animated characters Hiro Hamada (l.), voiced by Ryan Potter, and Baymax, voiced by Scott Adsit, in a scene from 'Big Hero 6.'

Hollywood trades are crowing about this weekend's box office numbers, as the two top films take in more than $50 million domestically – only the fourth double-header in movie history.

Early estimates give Disney Animation Studio's "Big Hero 6" a $56.2 million haul, with Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi epic, "Interstellar," close behind at $50 million.

Not only do the twin successes show the power of family friendly films, such as Disney’s animated kid-and-a-robot tale, but they cap a rebound that has been building from a "bummer summer," says Paul Dergarabedian, media analyst for the global tracking firm, Rentrak. At one point during the warm months, receipts were down nearly 20 percent from the previous year, he points out.

But now, with successful films such as "Gone Girl," "The Equalizer" and "The Maze Runner" opening in September, new audience momentum is building. These two latest high-water films in one weekend is a sign that Hollywood’s new strategy is paying off.

“For so long, we only had big films during the summer and holidays," says Mr. Dergarabedian. But now, he says the post-Labor Day months are actually seeing big names and big successes, such as Denzel Washington in "The Equalizer" and Ben Affleck in "Gone Girl."  And here, he says, "we have two really big films coming out pre-holiday and post-summer."

Beyond that, look no further than the face-off between these two high-profile films for proof that families will turn out for good films, says Dergarabedian.

The previous three other $50 million match-ups  paired a popular animated film with a live action film, he points out. They were "Monsters University" and "World War Z"; "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa" and "Prometheus"; and "Wall-E" and "Wanted." Notably, in each case, the animated, family-friendly film took in more than the live-action film.

"This just shows you that there is pent-up demand for family-friendly films out there," says Dergarabedian, adding that when Hollywood puts out the product that families like, "they will go in droves."

The numbers are particularly meaningful if one considers that children’s tickets are cheaper. "Every child’s ticket sold usually means at least two more with a mother and father," he says. "And more often than not, there is more than one child.”

Both films cost some $165 million to make, so have some catch-up to do before heading into the black. However, both look to have strong legs at the multiplex, he adds.

"Big Hero 6" pulled in an unusually large number of adults, according to The Hollywood Reporter; while "Interstellar" managed to hold its numbers, despite its nearly three-hour running time.

Director Nolan has a track record of producing films with staying power, says Dergarabedian. Even if it doesn’t quite feel like it, "there is still time before the holiday rush officially begins," he adds, with a laugh.

If the numbers keep heading in this direction, the industry could be on track for a $10-billion-plus year, he adds.

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