In the grand scheme of things, a new Disney animated film opening over a holiday weekend sounds like a sure bet. Kids are home from school, parents are looking for things to do, so traditionally the combination has been a winner. But that was not the case for the latest film from Disney, Strange World.
The movie opened second at the box office on its opening weekend, but failed to gross $12 million over the three days. Add in Thursday and Friday, and the number didn’t even cross $19 million. For a movie that was originally projected to make closer to double that, and cost a reported $180 million, that’s not good. At all.
According to Variety, the math on an opening that low with a budget that high (which doesn’t include publicity and marketing) equates to a loss of about $100 million for the company (welcome home, Bob Iger!). Now, that could change if the film does better in subsequent weekends—which it could, considering it doesn’t have much competition—but almost always, the opening weekend is the most successful one, so it’s unlikely. Also, while the international box office can often help immensely in cases like this, in the case of Strange World, it only grossed a bit over $9 million from 43 markets.
So what happened? Some experts are pointing to Disney’s recent pattern of fast-tracking new releases for Disney+, instilling a “Wait for it to come home” attitude. Others say there are still fears of going to theaters due to the pandemic and the reviews, which were solid (75% on Rotten Tomatoes), were not quite eye-grabbing. All of which is absolutely true and were certainly factors to some degree. Not to mention, it was a weak weekend at the movies in general, with basically every new release severely underperforming.
Another factor though, and one that’s much more difficult to quantify, is the general excitement for the movie. While Disney certainly spent plenty to get the word out about the film (I saw its title all over TV the past few weeks), none of those materials seemed to connect with audiences. You watched them, they looked cool, but never really hooked you in. “It’s about a father and son and the world is pink... okay” was my basic reaction. Again, that’s hard to quantify but if you’re reading this, just think about it. Did you see a commercial or trailer for Strange World and give it a second thought afterward? If so, odds are you’re in the minority.
To be fair though, Disney isn’t always sure what it has with these big animated films. The company famously underestimated Frozen and Encanto only to have the quality of the films, stellar reviews, and word of mouth breathe new life into them. And, over the years, with Disney+, Blu-ray, licensing, and more, maybe Strange World ends up losing less than $100 million. In Hollywood though, the life of the film can be largely predicted by its opening weekend, and the picture here isn’t a bright one.
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