Bruce Willis Takes A Beating From Underachieving ‘Ratatouille’

Acclaimed animated film tops 'Live Free or Die Hard' but falls short of Pixar potential.

The Top Five

#1 “Ratatouille” ($47.2 million)
#2 “Live Free or Die Hard” ($33.2 million)
#3 “Evan Almighty” ($15 million)
#4 “1408″ ($10.6 million)
#5 “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer” ($9 million)

After Pixar produced eight films over 12 years and nearly $2 billion in domestic gross alone, Pixar’s newest flick, “Ratatouille,” raises the question: has the blockbuster animation studio aged like a fine French Bordeaux — meaning it’s gotten better and more valuable with age — or like an Auvergne cheese grown stale and a little stinky?

On one hand, the Brad Bird-directed flick about a Parisian rat who dreams of becoming a world-class chef opened to the best reviews of the year, praised by an overwhelming 95 percent of reviews collected at RottenTomatoes.com. On the other, with only $47.2 million over the weekend, “Ratatouille” was the studio’s lowest grossing opening since “A Bug’s Life” hauled $33.3 million in 1998 — five films ago. It was the second straight box-office disappointment for Pixar after last year’s $60 million opening for “Cars.”

“Cars,” at least, seemed built for the long drive, even if it didn’t have the initial horsepower to break records at the starting gun – the NASCAR themed pic eventually motored to an impressive $244 million domestically. If positive word of mouth (and a little help from the July 4 holiday) can push “Ratatouille” close to or past that mark, it’ll be a huge success. Wine or cheese? Only time will tell.

While “Ratatouille” has analysts scratching heads, “Live Free or Die Hard” has us ready to bust ‘em. The flick posted by far the highest grossing opening of the series — not hard, thought, since the last entry, “Die Hard with a Vengeance,” opened 12 years ago.

Nevertheless, with $33.2 million over the weekend, and $48.2 million since an early opening on Wednesday, the high-octane haul is enough to make Bruce Willis and co. shout yippee-ki-yay — well, you know the rest.

Audiences, meanwhile, have continued to go Old Testament on “Evan Almighty,” which has become the first certified bust of the summer. We’re not ones to put something past God, but bringing the Steve Carell-starring flick into the black will be a miracle on par with walking on water. The flick is the most expensive comedy ever made, sporting a rumored budget of nearly $200 million. With a third place finish and only $15 million over the weekend (and $60 million overall), “Evan” seems officially sunk.

The problem, as we see it, is that the there was an even more spiritual film out this week to compete for “Evan” ‘s dollars. Once again turning over the tables of the sacred temple of money-lenders, Michael Moore can’t heal the lepers, but can he at least get them health insurance? Playing in only 441 theaters, his “Sicko” came in ninth place with a very healthy $4.5 million. It’s already the 14th highest grossing documentary of all time.

How’d We Do?

Forget Pixar — the longest streak in Hollywood belonged to Josh Horowitz, who has a stranglehold on our competition and a nearly insurmountable lead over Larry Carroll and our celebrity prognosticators. But as we’ve seen this weekend, even the surest bets can falter every now and then: Though over by 25 percent, Larry’s prediction of $59 million for “Ratatouille” was close enough to steal the weekend (see “‘Die Hard’ Hero John McClane Faces Tough Foe — A Cartoon Rat — In Projection Booth ). Now 70 percent of the way through the season, here are our standings:

Prognosticator (Weeks Won)

Josh Horowitz, MTV Movies editor (19)
Larry Carroll, MTV News writer (10)
Celebrity guest (6)

In Perspective

“Ratatouille” may be tops this weekend, but it’s Pixar that’s the big cheese of Hollywood animation. Since “Toy Story” debuted in 1995, the Emeryville, California-based company has enjoyed a rare blend of critical acclaim and box-office success, peaking in both categories with “Finding Nemo.” Here are their five biggest earners:

#1 “Finding Nemo” ($339.7 million)
#2 “The Incredibles” ($261.4 million)
#3 “Monsters, Inc.” ($255.9 million)
#4 “Toy Story 2″ ($245.9 million)
#5 “Cars” ($244 million)

Next Week

Next weekend’s box office promises to be more than meets the eye, with the eagerly awaited release of “Transformers.” Could there be another box-office winner out there lurking in disguise? Not likely. The only other new release this week is the comedy “License to Wed,” starring Robin Williams and Mandy Moore.

Check out everything we’ve got on “Ratatouille”, “Live Free or Die Hard,” and “Sicko”.

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