served up $47.2 million in theaters this weekend, according to studio estimates from box office trackers Nielsen EDI.
The animated story about a rat who yearns to be a chef fell about $4 million short of most analysts' projections and had the lowest opening of any Pixar film since 1998?s A Bug?s Life
, which opened to $33.3 million.
But the studio, which released hits including Finding Nemo
and The Incredibles
, enjoyed its eighth wide-release debut at No. 1, easily beating out Live Free or Die Harder
. The fourth installment of the Die Hard
franchise did $33.2 million, slightly higher than projected.
Executives at Disney, which distributed Ratatouille
, were confident the movie would play through Labor Day.
"With the Fourth of July holiday coming up, we see this as essentially a 10-day opening period," says Chuck Viane, distribution chief for Disney. "And with the reaction we're getting from critics and audiences, I'm confident we'll be talking about this as one of the biggest movies of the year."
It's a bold assertion, given that the film centers on three things American moviegoers seem to have little craving for: rats, bistros and the French.
But the movie has enjoyed some of the strongest reviews of the year, earning recommendations from 95% of critics, according to the survey site RottenTomatoes.com. Live Free
also did surprisingly well with reviewers and audiences, who did not seemed bothered that the franchise had been dormant for 12 years. The Bruce Willis action film took in $2 million more than expected.
"People still love (Willis' character) John McLane," says Bert Livingston of 20th Century Fox, which distributed Live Free
. "He's one of those few heroes that really does seem like an Everyman, and people haven't forgotten about him."
They might be forgetting about Evan Almighty
, which dropped 52% from its No. 1 debut to take third place and $15.1 million. With a reported budget of $175 million — one of the most expensive comedies in Hollywood history —Evan
has taken in $60.6 million so far and appears to be fading.
The Stephen King horror film 1408
was fourth with $10.6 million, followed by Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surver
with $9 million.
The only other newcomer in wide release, the Michael Moore documentary Sicko
, was No. 9 with a middling $4.5 million, about $3 million less than expected. Playing in 441 theaters, the film did a solid if unspectacular $10,200 a theater.
Hollywood broke its four-week slump as ticket sales were up 2% over the same weekend last year.
Final figures are due Monday.