Bullock and McCarthy in 'The Heat'
Bullock and McCarthy in 'The Heat'

Led by two movies not primarily targeted at the studios' preferred young male demo (16-25) for summer fare-- Disney/Pixar's "Monsters University" and the female buddy cop comedy "The Heat" (Twentieth Century Fox) -- the weekend box office top 10 totaled some $182 million, down $7 million from last year. 

Family and female audiences tend not to be opening-night driven, but a stronger than usual Saturday led to a rebound in grosses this weekend from Friday (which was down 20% from last year's more conventional lineup). So many action/tentpole films playing at the same time, with budgets usually $150 million or higher, remind that pursuing a diverse market is a smart way to stay in the game.

Three action films ate into each others' grosses, as Paramount's "World War Z" took a higher than usual drop, Sony's "White House Down" opened much weaker than expected and Warner Bros.' "Man of Steel" fell to fifth place in only its third week. Despite the industry's focus on the male audience, particularly at this time of year, too much of one thing has limits, even if each film is individually satisfying.

With the rest of the summer somewhat less frantic and more diverse (although no tentpole looks to reach the level of last July's "The Dark Knight Rises") further stabilization could still salvage the season. But catching up to 2012's total domestic gross remains a major challenge.

1. Monsters University (Buena Vista) Week 2 - Last weekend: #1

$46,180,000 (-44%) in 4,004 theaters (unchanged); PSA (per screen average): $11,534; Cumulative: $171,006,000

The second week drop is in normal range for a summer animated film, but it's more impressive because it comes from a higher than usual opening figure, as this latest Pixar film retains the #1 spot for a second weekend.

Internationally, with about half of territories already opened and grossing $129 million so far, this already has a combined worldwide gross of $300 million. With a lot more to come in the U.S./Canada and many more openings ahead, this looks to score $750 million or better before it's through.

What comes next: International so far has been competing with "Despicable Me 2," which opens domestically this Wednesday and provides bigger than normal head to head competition among animation fans.

2. The Heat (20th Century-Fox) NEW - Cinemascore: A-; Criticwire grade: B-; Metacritic score: 60

$40,000,000 in 3,181 theaters; PSA: $12,575; Cumulative: $40,000,000

It isn't unusual for female-centered films to thrive in the summer -- "Bridesmaids," "The Help," "Julie and Julia" all dodged the action and franchise-centered summer fare to find success. But they all opened at lower levels, and as is typical for such films, thrived with much higher than normal multiples of the opening weekend grosses -- films about women tend not to drive crowds to the first few days with the same level of intensity as front-loaded male-oriented fare.

The result is that "The Heat" opened to not only the highest gross of any film in Melissa McCarthy's recently thriving career, but also the best in veteran star Sandra Bullock's, even adjusting for higher ticket prices. "Bridesmaids" ((also directed by Paul Feig) did $26 million (getting to $169), while "Identity Thief" rose to $34.5 and $134.5 among McCarthy's films. Bullock has been at her strongest recently -- "Blind Side" launched to $34 million on its way to $256, while "The Proposal" initially did $33 million, getting to $164.

This is a strong gross, but not the best for a recent comedy. A year ago, the unheralded "Ted," starring the reliable but hardly iconic Mark Wahlberg with a teddy bear as his co-star, and also R-rated, opened to $54 million. Still, with audience surveys showing an 85% "definite recommend," this could hold much better than male-centered comedies.

The unanswered question is whether this has performed  as an immediate hit more like male-centered movies, or whether it will have longer term appeal and do far better than the standard three-times opening weekend ultimate gross. With a thrifty $45 million budget, if it is the latter, it will turn out to be one of the more profitable films of the summer.

What comes next: Based on past history of female-based films, international will not be as big as whatever the U.S. take is, though Bullock has scored well in the past ("The Proposal did over $150 million internationally).