LOS ANGELES -- Turns out zombies and Superman are no match for monsters.
Disney's "Monsters University" is the weekend box-office winner, according to studio estimates released Sunday. The animated family film, which reunites stars Billy Crystal and John Goodman and their characters from the 2001 hit "Monsters, Inc.," debuted in first place with $82 million, beating out swarming zombies in "World War Z" and Superman himself in "Man of Steel."
"The diversity of this weekend is part of what makes this business so great," said Dave Hollis, Disney's head of distribution. "It's a really extraordinary weekend for the industry."
Especially for "Monsters University," Pixar's 14th consecutive film to open in first place. Such expectations of excellence put a "healthy pressure" on filmmakers, Hollis said: "To deliver that kind of quality consistently is a differentiator in the marketplace."
Still, the film exceeded studio expectations with its domestic totals, he said.
Paramount's Brad Pitt zombie romp overcame critical advance publicity to open in second place with $66 million. Media reports months ahead of the film's opening chronicled its problems, including a revamped ending that delayed its release.
Rewrites and reshoots sent the film over budget. It ended up reportedly costing more than $200 million to make, but early reviews were positive.
"What 'World War Z' proves is that all the negative back story that can be thrown at a movie doesn't matter if the movie's good," said Paul Dergarabedian of box-office tracker Hollywood.com. "I don't think the audience cares one lick if they had to reshoot the ending if they like the ending and like the movie."
The success of the film means it could be a franchise in the making. Paramount's president of domestic distribution, Don Harris, called the opening "spectacular."
"It's the biggest live-action original opening since `Avatar,"' he said. "(It's) Brad Pitt's biggest opening ever, and in terms of Paramount's recent history, it ranks behind `Iron Man' and `Transformers' as the third largest potential franchise opening in the history of the company."
Warner Bros. "Man of Steel" was third at the box office, adding another $41.2 million to its coffers and bringing its domestic ticket sales over $210 million in just the second week of release.
The Sony comedy "This Is the End," which stars Seth Rogen, James Franco and Jonah Hill as versions of themselves trapped in a mansion during the apocalypse, finished in fourth place.
Summit Entertainment's magic-heist thriller "Now You See Me" held onto fifth place in its fourth week in theaters.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Hollywood.com. Final domestic figures will be released on Monday.