By Erich Schwartzel
LOS ANGELES -- "The Lion King" became Walt Disney Co.'s fifth blockbuster of 2019 over the weekend, with the digital remake grossing an eye-popping $185 million at the domestic box office.
International markets added $269 million to the total. The movie, which opened early in China, has collected $531 million so far.
"The Lion King" appears poised to become the most successful yet of Disney remakes of older animated titles. It opened about $10 million higher than 2017's "Beauty and the Beast," which went on to gross $504 million domestically and $760 million overseas.
Disney is commanding the box office in a way unprecedented in modern Hollywood history. In 2019 alone, it has released the hits "Captain Marvel," "Avengers: Endgame," "Toy Story 4" and "Aladdin," with March's "Dumbo" as its only misfire.
"Endgame" over the weekend became the top-grossing movie of all time at the world-wide box office, collecting nearly $2.8 billion. At least two more virtually guaranteed Disney blockbusters are on the way: November's "Frozen 2" and December's "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker."
Heading into the weekend, Disney movies accounted for about 35% of the box-office market share, according to Box Office Mojo. The No. 2 studio, AT&T Inc.'s Warner Bros., had about 14%.
The new "Lion King," directed by Jon Favreau, uses computer imaging to tell the story of Simba and Nala in photorealistic settings. In many scenes, it is a shot-for-shot re-creation of the 1994 classic, which was the most successful title in the Disney Renaissance of the 1990s.
Even before the remake, the 1994 movie became a textbook example of the "circle of life" that Disney's franchise-management strategy can give a single property. A Broadway adaptation of the movie has collected more than $8 billion in ticket sales, and toys based on its characters sell in stores more than 20 years after its release.
"These movies live on in pop culture," said Cathleen Taff, Disney's head of distribution.
Overseas, the new "Lion King" has been performing especially well in markets like Latin America and Europe, where moviegoers are more acquainted with the original, she said.
Critics were tough on the remake, saying it lacked the emotional pull of the animated original. Audiences seemed more forgiving, giving it an "A" grade, according to the CinemaScore market-research firm.
As with most big Disney releases, rival studios avoided the "Lion King" opening: No significant competition for the family moviegoing audience comes until "Dora and the Lost City of Gold" is released by Viacom Inc.'s Paramount Pictures on Aug. 9.
With no other new wide releases this weekend, holdover "Spider-Man: Far From Home" came in second place, with $21 million contributing to a three-week total of nearly $320 million. "Toy Story 4" held on in third place, adding $14.6 million to its nearly $376 million haul.
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