Disney's live-action musical Beauty and the Beast took to the ballroom dance floor for its first box-office waltz Thursday night, earning a huge $16.3 million in previews.
That's the biggest preview tally of the year so far, the biggest ever for a Disney live-action title, the second- biggest for a PG film and the third biggest ever in March.
The update of the classic 1991 animated musical, directed by Bill Condon, will earn north of $120 million in its domestic debut. The film is primed to break several records, including top start for a Disney live-action fairy tale, eclipsing the $116.1 million start of Alice in Wonderland in 2010. Disney's live-action take on Cinderella opened in March 2015 to $2.3 million, and went on to earn $67.8 million in its debut.
Read more: 'Beauty and the Beast': Film Review
Beauty, produced by Mandeville Films, should also boast one of the top domestic starts for a March release. The current record-holder is last year's Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice with $166.1 million (it earned $27.7 million in previews), followed by The Hunger Games with $152.5 million in 2012 ($19.7 million in previews) and Alice.
The $160 million tentpole should see a nice boost from a full run in Imax theaters, generally known as a haven for fanboys, and not families. But with PG films booming, Imax is expanding its programming to include such are. Imax worked with Condon on making a special version of Beauty that allows more to be seen on the screen because of a different aspect ratio.
Beauty and the Beast stars Emma Watson as Belle and Dan Stevens as the Beast, and the cast also includes Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ian McKellen and Emma Thompson.
The tale follows Belle, who attempts to rescue her father from the castle of a terrifying beast, and instead becomes his captor. But she soon starts to fall for the Beast and the enchanted staff of his castle, who were all put under a spell by a witch.
Beauty is also opening around the world and should earn at least $100 million overseas. It took in a strong $11.5 million on its opening day, debuting as the No. 1 film in all but one market (Slovakia, where it was the No. 1 non-local film). It is also doing well in Russia, despite a restrictive rating slapped on the film after Condon recently revealed that Gad's character, Gaston's sidekick, is gay.
Censors in Malaysia have gone one step further and asked Disney to cut what it deems a "gay moment," but the studio says it won't make any changes.
The only other film opening this weekend is The Belko Experiment, which earned $305,000 in previews. The film is tracking to open in the $4 million range. Written by James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy), The Belko Experiment is an Orion Pictures' low-budget horror thriller which Blumhouse's distribution arm, BT Tilt, is releasing in 1,250 to 1,300 locations.
The film, directed by Greg McLean, follows a group of 80 Americans who are locked in their high-rise office in Bogota, Colombia, and ordered by an unknown voice coming from the company's intercom system to participate in a deadly game of kill or be killed in order to survive.