Steve Carell reprises his villainous role as Gru in “Despicable Me 3.” (Illumination/Universal 2017)

IN THE short term, sure: It’s well and good for Universal and Illumination Entertainment that “Despicable Me 3” just won the weekend in North American theaters. Yet what the solid debut of the fourth film in the Minion universe really illuminates is the rare larger commercial milestone being hit here.

Domestically, the “Despicable” series just became the only animated franchise other than Shrek-world to top the billion-dollar mark (not adjusting for inflation), according to Box Office Mojo. And when you consider that the Minions movies have been made for a fraction of the cost, per boss Chris Meledandri’s business plan, that renders the “Despicable” mother lode one of the more profitable cartoon franchises ever.

The PG-rated “Despicable Me 3” grossed $75.4 million, according to studio estimates Sunday — in the widest North American release for any film to date, animated or live action: 4,529 screens. (This year, for the record, has also given us the widest release for a G-rated film: “Cars 3” on 4,256 screens; and the widest for an R-rated film: “Logan” on 4,071 screens.)

Domestically, that puts the “Despicable Me” franchise at $1.03 billion over its four films since the summer of 2010 — trailing the “Shrek” juggernaut, which has amassed $1.42 billion over five films.

In North America, the Minions movies are ahead of such franchises as Toy Story ($883 million), Ice Age ($792 million), Alvin and the Chipmunks ($663 million), Cars ($556 million) and Kung Fu Panda ($524 million).

“Despicable Me 3” also performed well on foreign shores and has tallied $116 million overseas, with its openings in China, France and Germany still to come next week.

The “Despicable” franchise has grossed an eye-popping $2.87 billion worldwide, with none of the films reporting a production budget of more than $80 million — and all four movies tallying less than $300 million total in production costs.

So “Despicable Me 3,” which stars Steve Carell doing double vocal duty as villainous Gru and Dru, should perfectly set up the next step:

“Minions 2” is due in 2020 — as always, near the Independence Day holiday. Here’s to the free market.