NEW YORK — Disney's live-action Beauty was a beast at the box office, opening with an estimated $170 million in North American ticket sales and setting a new high mark for family movies.
Beauty and the Beast blew past the previous record-holder for G- or PG-rated releases, according to studio estimates Sunday. Last year, Disney's Finding Dory debuted with a then-PG-best $135 million.
Beauty and the Beast felled many other records, too. It's the year's top opening so far and a new best for March releases, and it ranks seventh for all time, not accounting for inflation.
The film, made for about $160 million, is the latest effort by Disney to re-create one of its animated classics with live action. The makeover of the 1991 Oscar-winning film follows previous live-action remakes such as Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella, Maleficent and The Jungle Book. Many more are on the way, too, including Dumbo, Mulan, Aladdin and The Lion King.
"Nostalgia is a very powerful driver for these films," says Dave Hollis, Disney's head of distribution. "There's an opportunity to see these beloved stories in a way that's never been seen before, but you get to build that on the foundation of something that's very familiar.
"But you don't get to $170 million because of nostalgia," Hollis adds. "You have to ultimately make these movies great."
Beauty and the Beast, starring Emma Watson and Dan Stevens, found widespread acclaim and some backlash for including what has been called Disney's first openly gay character. Josh Gad plays Gaston's sidekick, LeFou, who has a very brief "exclusively gay moment," as director Bill Condon described it, late in the film.
Though many applauded the character's subtle twist as overdue progress, some derided it. An Alabama drive-in theater canceled showings. And after Malaysian censors required the scene be edited, Disney pulled the film from release there; an appeal will be heard this week.
None of that dragged down the movie's massive opening. It took in $180 million overseas.
Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for comScore, says any backlash may have only helped Beauty and the Beast, which he predicts will eventually top $1 billion globally.
"This was a real tempest in a teapot," Dergarabedian says. "This obviously had zero impact on the movie. ... I don't think that was going to dissuade anyone except the most narrow-minded from seeing this film."
Beauty and the Beast also got a boost from good word-of-mouth and largely good reviews.
Other studios stayed clear of the juggernaut. Last week's top film, Kong: Skull Island, slid to second place with $28.9 million. The King Kong relaunch has thus far earned $110.1 million domestically.
The R-rated X-Men spinoff Logan, starring Hugh Jackman, added $17.5 million for third place ($184 million total). Jordan Peele's horror sensation Get Out slid to fourth with $13.3 million ($133.1 million). Faith-based film The Shack finished fifth with $6.1 million ($42.6 million).
The only film that tried to open nationwide against Beauty and the Beast was the microbudget horror release The Belko Experiment, which earned $4.1 million.
Danny Boyle's Trainspotting sequel, T2: Trainspotting, made its debut in five theaters in New York and Los Angeles, earning $180,000 for a strong per-theater average of $36,000.
Final figures are expected Monday.