There's a new boss at the box office

Boss Baby. (AP)
Boss Baby. (AP)

New York — The taskmaster toddler of The Boss Baby dethroned Disney's Beauty and the Beast at the box office with a $49m debut, handing its star Alec Baldwin what President Donald Trump might call a "huge" no. 1 opening.

Paramount Pictures suffered another flop with its controversy-plagued Ghost in the Shell.

The DreamWorks Animation release from 20th Century Fox, starring Baldwin as a suit-clad baby, narrowly edged out the previous two-week leader, according to studio estimates Sunday. 

The live-action Beauty and the Beast took in $48m in its third weekend. Final North American ticket sales will be released Monday.

"We expected a decent opening. We didn't expect to be number one," said Chris Aronson, Fox distribution chief.

Despite the popularity of Beauty and the Beast (nearly $400m domestically in 17 days, and $876.3m globally), Boss Baby was able to attract its own family audience.

Aronson credited that partly to the appeal of Baldwin, whose impression of Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live has lately been ubiquitous. Boss Baby also evokes Baldwin's old "Glengarry Glen Ross" character with quips like "Cookies are for closers."

"Alec Baldwin's voice is recognisable, in general. But he's so topical now because of some of the other things he's doing right now," Aronson said. "It's a very distinctive voice, and if you put it on a baby, it's funny."

Another flop for Paramount

Ghost is a Shell, a remake of a classic 1995 Japanese anime film, couldn't compete with either family-friendly release. The dystopian science-fiction thriller, starring Scarlett Johansson, opened with just $19m, a poor showing for a film that cost about $110m to make.

Many took issue with the casting of Johansson as the cyborg protagonist who was Japanese in the original, calling it another example of Hollywood "whitewashing."

"We had hopes for better results domestically. I think the conversation regarding casting impacted the reviews," said Kyle Davies, domestic distribution chief for Paramount. "You've got a movie that is very important to the fanboys since it's based on a Japanese anime movie. So you're always trying to thread that needle between honouring the source material and make a movie for a mass audience. That's challenging, but clearly the reviews didn't help."

Audiences appeared to agree with critics, giving the film a mediocre B CinemaScore.

Paramount has recently suffered a string of box-office disappointments. Last week, Viacom Inc. hired former Fox film head Jim Gianopulos to turn around its film division.

In limited release, Focus Features' The Zookeeper's Wife, starring Jessica Chastain, opened well with $3.3m at 541 locations. Based on Diane Ackerman's non-fiction book, the film is about a woman's efforts to save Jews during the Holocaust.