Disney, we know, has problems. There’s streaming, the contentious relationship with 2024 Republican presidential candidate/Florida governor Ron DeSantis, the fate of Hulu and Searchlight, the layoffs – but as the dominant film distributor over the past decade, his movie slate is known as a reliable source of strength. In 2023 it is no longer a sure thing.
In the summer of 2019, Disney films accounted for 43% of the season’s $4.3 billion domestic revenue. Some box office analysts have suggested it’s possible we could see a $4 billion summer, up $600 million from a resurgent 2022. However, May’s shortcomings make that unlikely — and much of that is up to Disney. .
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” opened May 5; the live-action remake of “Mermaid” opened in preview today. Up next are “The Boogeyman” (June 9), “Elemental” (June 16), “Indiana Jones and Dial of Destiny” (June 30), and “Haunted Mansion” (July 28). It’s as mainstream a list as any study can muster.
All but the Fox-produced “Boogeyman” (about $40 million) cost well over $100 million, possibly as much as $300 million. All told, the six films almost certainly cost over $1 billion to produce, so hundreds of millions more to market.
The studio is coming off the lucrative ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ which grossed over $2 billion worldwide before domestic platforms. It also had “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” with an estimated pre-marketing budget of $200 million. With a total of $476 million at the worldwide box office, it will make a small profit at best.
Disney doesn’t make these movies to show a small profit. It makes them get high rating in theaters, get high rating on VOD and then get more subscribers on its streamers. This summer, the Disney slate is full of costly risks.
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” (May)
The key summer Marvel stock rallied from a low opening of $118 million and is on track for a domestic $325 million. Still, with a budget of $250 million, it’s underwhelming. “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” from the same time last year grossed $411 million and with a Cinemascore B+ compared to “Guardians’ A”.
“The little Mermaid”
Estimates differ on how this could open with ranges of $80 million to $130 million for the three-day weekend (Monday’s holiday will add more). With an estimated budget of $200 million (based on previous live-action remakes of animated classics),
As a potential point of comparison, the 1989 animated film ‘The Little Mermaid’ saw about a third of the attendances of the 1994 animated film ‘The Lion King’. 2019’s live-action “Lion King” grossed over $600 million (adapted).
2023’s live-action ‘Mermaid’ found mixed reviews, as did the live-action ‘Lion King’. A potential factor in its reception is celebrating a diverse cast in a moment of right-wing hysteria over a supposedly “woke” Disney.
This Stephen King adaptation cost an estimated $40 million—a low budget by Disney standards. One of the few options for a summer sleeper, any success could push Disney away from all franchises almost forever.
“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” Surpasses $550 Million; “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” is expected to see huge results. As for Pixar’s latest original animated film, file it under To Be Determined.
Just before COVID, Disney Animation’s “Frozen II” grossed $477 million, and its domestic animated titles have struggled ever since. Those released in theaters (two with 30-day windows) failed to reach the $100 million domestic gross. Last year, only the underwhelming “Lightyear” saw a significant theatrical window.
Based on Pixar’s predecessor, the cost here could be approaching $200 million. What helps justify the cost is the same thing that could hurt its takings: During the pandemic, Disney leveraged many of its films (including Pixar releases) for exclusive, same-day or premiere Disney+ play. If that fails, that expectation could be part of the reason.
“Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny”
Certainly Disney hoped that the Cannes magic dust that fell on “Top Gun: Maverick” and Tom Cruise last year would come true for this film and Harrison Ford. Attention achieved, as well as a decidedly lukewarm response and an emphasis on the iconic star of him being 80 years old.
With $300 million as its reported budget, Disney could bring in $200 million domestic, $450 million worldwide, and struggle to turn a profit. Ford’s last film in a lead role to cross $100 million was “The Force Awakens” in 2015; earlier it was “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” in 2008. It also will not benefit from the immediate release that boosted “Maverick”.
Kudos to Disney for awarding top films to directors with creative credibility. Case in point: Sundance discovery Justin Simien (“Dear White People”) directed the latest adaptation of the themed ride, “Haunted Mansion,” joining the franchise’s canon of “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Jungle Cruise” of the 2021.
The latest starred Dwayne Johnson, which hit theaters with Disney+ and PVOD availability on the same day. Even so, it made a domestic $120 million.
“Mansion” could provide late-summer comic relief with a cast that includes Tiffany Haddish, Jared Leto, LaKeith Stanfield, Jamie Lee Curtis, Owen Wilson, Rosario Dawson, Danny DeVito, and Winona Ryder.
It speaks to the nature of the franchise’s current mentality that sounds like the most original and fun title of the bunch.