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'Cars 2' keeps Pixar in driver's seat with $68M

Pixar, animated characters Lightning McQueen, voiced by Owen Wilson, foreground left, Mater, voiced by Larry the Cable Guy, center, and Finn McMissile, voiced by Michael Caine, right, are shown in a scene from "Cars 2." Cars 2 cruised to a No. 1 finish with a $68 million opening weekend, according to studio estimates Sunday, June 26, 2011. That makes 12 wins in a row for Pixar.

Pixar, animated characters Lightning McQueen, voiced by Owen Wilson, foreground left, Mater, voiced by Larry the Cable Guy, center, and Finn McMissile, voiced by Michael Caine, right, are shown in a scene from "Cars 2." Cars 2 cruised to a No. 1 finish with a $68 million opening weekend, according to studio estimates Sunday, June 26, 2011. That makes 12 wins in a row for Pixar.

LOS ANGELES -- Pixar Animation remains undefeated at the box-office races.

The Disney unit's animated sequel "Cars 2" cruised to a No. 1 finish with a $68 million opening weekend, according to studio estimates Sunday. That makes 12 wins in a row for Pixar since the company's first feature film, 1995's "Toy Story."

"It couldn't be any better than that. What an unbelievable track record these guys have," said Chuck Viane, head of distribution for Disney.

"Cars 2" added $42.9 million in 18 overseas markets, giving it a worldwide total of $110.9 million.

Domestically, "Cars 2" nearly matched the $68.1 million debut of Disney-Pixar's "Up" two years ago, though it was well below the company's record of $110.3 million for last year's "Toy Story 3."

The original "Cars" had a $60.1 million debut in 2006, but factoring in today's higher admission prices, it sold more tickets than "Cars 2."

Premiering in second-place was Cameron Diaz's classroom comedy "Bad Teacher" with $31 million. The Sony Pictures release added $12.9 million overseas in about 10 countries.

The previous weekend's No. 1 flick, Ryan Reynolds' "Green Lantern," fell to third-place with $18.4 million. That was off a steep 65 percent from its revenues over opening weekend, raising the domestic total for the Warner Bros. superhero tale to $89.3 million.

Both new wide releases came in ahead of industry projections, which had pegged "Cars 2" at an opening of around $60 million and "Bad Teacher" at about $25 million.

"Cars 2" features Owen Wilson and Larry the Cable Guy reprising their voice roles for race car Lightning McQueen and tow truck Mater as the two are caught up in a spy adventure during an international racing tour.

The movie overcame unusually harsh reviews for Pixar, whose films include such critical darlings as "Ratatouille," ''Finding Nemo," ''The Incredibles" and "WALL-E."

Disney's Viane said audiences gave "Cars 2" top grades in exit surveys, a sign that the movie should have a long life at theaters like previous Pixar flicks.

"I'm always concerned when it comes to dollars and cents. What does the paying public think?" Viane said.

With global settings that include Japan, Italy, France and Great Britain, "Cars 2" also has strong prospects as it continues to roll out overseas.

The international haul for "Cars 2" included $9.3 million in Russia, $8.1 million in Mexico and $7.6 million in Brazil.

While the G-rated "Cars 2" cornered the family market, "Bad Teacher" was the weekend's grown-up choice, starring Diaz as a foul-mouthed, boozy, gold-digging educator.

"She just went with it with great abandonment. She totally just let it go," said Rory Bruer, head of distribution for Sony.

While women accounted for 63 percent of the audience for "Bad Teacher," Sony executives hope word-of-mouth over Diaz's brazen performance will draw more men to see it in the coming weeks.

Overall domestic revenues totaled $176 million, up 6.7 percent from the same period last year, when "Toy Story 3" remained No. 1 in its second weekend with $59.3 million, according to box-office tracker Hollywood.com.

For the year, revenues are down 7.6 percent compared to 2010's, though a strong summer has helped Hollywood erase most of a big downturn in business from the sluggish winter and spring.

The upcoming Fourth of July weekend looks huge as Paramount's sci-fi sequel "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" blows into IMAX theaters Tuesday night and general cinemas Wednesday. That will be followed in mid-July by the Warner Bros. fantasy finale "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2."

"With 'Cars 2' and the one-two punch of 'Transformers' and 'Harry Potter,' I think we have a shot at knocking that revenue deficit down to the break-even point or even pulling a little bit ahead of last year," said Hollywood.com analyst Paul Dergarabedian.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Hollywood.com. Where available, latest international numbers are also included. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.

1. "Cars 2," $68 million ($42.9 million international).

2. "Bad Teacher," $31 million ($12.9 million international).

3. "Green Lantern," $18.4 million.

4. "Super 8," $12.1 million ($10.5 million international).

5. "Mr. Popper's Penguins," $10.3 million.

6. "X-Men: First Class," $6.6 million.

7. "The Hangover Part II," $5.9 million.

8. "Bridesmaids," $5.4 million ($11.5 million international).

9. "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," $4.7 million ($13.5 million international).

10. "Midnight in Paris," $4.5 million.