At the beginning of January this year, sonic the hedgehog 2 sparked a strong domestic box office boom when it opened to $72.1 million in theaters. Paramount insiders estimated that nearly 60% of opening weekend audiences were children and parents, proving that families were indeed willing to put aside concerns about the ongoing pandemic and return to the movie theater. Hollywood and theater owners breathed a huge sigh of relief.
But when Pixar and Disney toy story spin off Light year debuted in theaters on Father’s Day weekend, only about 38% of those who showed up were families, which is why the film launched at $50.6 million, instead of the $70 to $85 million forecast. Worse, he bowed to second place behind the maintenance Jurassic World Dominion in a shocked surprise, even though it might boast the best opening of the pandemic for an animated film (Sonic was a live-action/CGI hybrid).
On the Sunday night of the June 17-19 weekend, everyone in Hollywood was asking the same question, since the opening couldn’t be pinned solely on the pandemic: what happened?
Disney insiders privately point to mixed reviews from critics — at least for a Pixar offering — less than rave audience scores, plus marketing and brand confusion.
Pixar movies have always been known to appeal to younger and older adults who don’t have kids, but family involvement for Light year was particularly light. In June 2019, around 45% of ticket buyers for toy story 4 were children and parents. Children are known to be avid viewers, which can propel a movie onto the big screen to enjoy incredible multiples.
That didn’t help either Light year became a political punching bag for conservative Republican lawmakers when a gay kissing scene was reinstated in the film after Pixar employees said Disney was censoring “openly gay affection” following the uproar over Disney CEO Bob Chapek’s management of “Don’t Say Gay” in Florida. ” invoice.
After the film opened on Father’s Day weekend, U.S. Representative Jim Jordan (Ohio), who is the minority member of the House Judiciary Committee and has 2.8 million followers, tweeted on 21 June: “Buzz Lightyear woke up. Disney went bankrupt. And a verified Twitter account for the GOP Judiciary Committee with over 223,000 followers followed by tweets, “make toy story great again.
There’s no hard evidence proving the political conversation hurt Light year, although the film was under-indexed by a sizable margin in the Midwest, according to a source with access to Comscore regional data. (toy story 4 was within the normal range three years ago in the Midwest.)
Disney insiders counter that red-leaning states contributed the same percentage of global gross for Light year what they did for Sonic 2.
Light year also under-indexed in the Northeast, where many places are Democratic-leaning, as well as in Canada. It outperformed in the West and Southeast, including many Hispanic-dominated markets (Hispanics made up over 30% of the audience).
Boxoffice Pro analyst Shawn Robbins says there are bigger issues at play beyond politics, but adds that the latter can’t be entirely ignored. “We should further consider an unfortunate throwback to the film’s same-sex relationship from ultra-conversational families, who have also been educated for two years to expect Pixar films to be released as soon as possible. “says Robbins, referring to Disney’s decision to send several Pixar. titles at Disney+ since the pandemic. “The combination of these two sentiments seems to have instilled a ‘We’ll watch it before we let our kids see it’ mentality in some communities, particularly those with strict religious views, contrary to the filmmakers’ intentions of championing equality. and representation for all.
Many studio cast honchos and box office pundits don’t buy the argument that sending the latest Pixar movies straight to Disney+ hurts Light year. “Consumers certainly have plenty of viewing options, but nothing replaces theatre. Disney inspired over 4 million people to quit TV and live Light year in a way that can’t be replicated at home,” says Steve Buck of EntTelligence, a box office-focused analytics firm.
The film currently has a 76% score on Rotten Tomatoes and an 86% Audience Score. This compares to 96% and 94%, respectively, for toy story 4.
The general consensus: There was confusion as to exactly how the film related to the iconic toy story franchise and the character Buzz Lightyear, who was voiced in the main series by conservative actor Tim Allen. This time, the Space Ranger is voiced by Chris Evans.
“The movie didn’t push the right buttons,” says a rival veteran studio executive.
Robbins adds, “Marketing took on a nostalgic tone, but one that leaned heavily on the toy story branded older millennial audiences and announced minimal comedic elements, which often drive the biggest four-quadrant animated movies to the box office.
Competition from Jurassic World was another problem for Light year. “Kids love dinosaurs,” notes another veteran Hollywood executive. And then there is Top Gun: Maverickwhich turned into a smash hit blockbuster and is also receiving love from families nearly a month after its debut.
In 2007, Pixar Ratatouille opened at just $47 million – as with Light yearheadlines everywhere drew attention to the lukewarm number – but then started boiling over to grossing $206.4 million domestically and $626.5 million worldwide.
Ironically, toy story 4 also made negative headlines when it opened at $118 million domestically, as pre-release tracking had suggested it would open closer to $140 million, if not higher. This film went on to exceed $1 billion at the global box office. Abroad, Light year started with $34.6 million from its first 43 markets. It did particularly well in Latin America, which is a huge market for animation.
On July 1, Universal and Illumination open the animated sequel Minions: The Rise of Gru in another test for the family box office, the full recovery of which is key to the success of the legacy Hollywood studio system. Just as this story was going to press, Paramount announced that Sonic 2 crossed the $400 million mark worldwide, becoming the only second family photo since COVID-19 to achieve the feat behind Sing 2. Pre-pandemic family movies could do so much more. (In 2019, for example, four family photos topped $1 billion worldwide.)
Disney and Pixar hope that Light year plays throughout the summer, but its staying power remains to be seen once the pesky and ever-disturbing little yellow critters (i.e. the Minions) invade the multiplex.