'Finding Dory' sets animation film record with $136 million opening weekend

A still image from "Finding Dory."
Source: Disney
A still image from "Finding Dory."

A forgetful blue fish voiced by Ellen Degeneres is now the queen of the animated box office.

"Finding Dory" raked in a whopping $136.2 million domestically over the weekend, according to Disney estimates released midday Sunday. Official numbers have yet to be released by the company.

"That's the number right now," Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at comScore, told CNBC. "But it can even go up."

The animated feature outpaced "Shrek the Third" as the highest opening weekend earner of any animation film. DreamWorks' third installment of the Shrek series garnered $121.6 million at the box office in 2007, about $140.9 million when adjusted for inflation.

The driving force behind "Finding Dory" was an audience of young and female viewers. Some 62 percent of people who saw the film this weekend were female; 66 percent were under age 25, according to comScore data.

"There may be no more consistent brand at the box office than Pixar," Dergarabedian said, explaining that the company has managed to retain incredible fan loyalty in its 20-year history. It has also benefited from the strong marketing and distribution acumen of its parent company.

"Finding Dory" went on to earn an estimated $186.2 million globally, after grossing $9.2 million during Thursday night previews, the highest of any animated film in history.

Earlier this year, Disney's "Zootopia," produced through Disney's animation studio, dethroned "Frozen" for the highest opening weekend earner for the company's animation unit. It grossed more than $75 million during its domestic opening weekend and garnered $1.01 billion globally.

"Finding Dory," however, was produced through Disney's other animation arm, Pixar. Last summer, the company garnered a whopping $90.4 million during the weekend opening of "Inside Out," which previously held the record for the highest opening weekend for an animated film by Pixar. It went on to gross $869 million globally.

Of course, a strong opening weekend doesn't constitute box office longevity. Still, praise has been high from both critics and audience members for Disney's latest flick. "Finding Dory" has a rating of 95 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

"Pixar movies appeal to everyone," Dergarabedian said. "You don't have to be a kid to enjoy it."

Dergarabedian points to the strong writing, animation quality, humor and pathos of Pixar's animated features. The animation company has won eight Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature since the category was established in 2001 — "Finding Nemo," "The Incredibles," "Ratatouille," "WALL-E," "Up," "Toy Story 3," "Brave," and "Inside Out."

Disney's animation studio has won two — "Frozen" and "Big Hero Six."

According to Dergarabedian, the summer box office has hit a slump following the success of "Captain America: Civil War," with several films falling flat of expectations. However, "Finding Dory" could put an end to that drought.

"'Dory' has helped the overall market place to build momentum," he said. "It's a real turning point for the summer box office."