'The Little Mermaid' becomes a blockbuster in the Philippines amid racist backlash elsewhere in Asia

‘The Little Mermaid’ becomes a blockbuster in the Philippines amid racist backlash elsewhere in Asia

The little Mermaid it may have bombed in a few key film markets in Asia, but in the Philippines it was a roaring success. Disney’s live-action remake of its 1989 animated classic is currently the year’s biggest hit in the Southeast Asian country, having earned $5.8 million and surpassing Hollywood’s two biggest global hits of the year, Universal’s The Super Mario Bros. Movie ($2.2 million) and Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 ($4.7 million).

“The Philippines, obviously, is a tremendous market for us,” says John Hsu, Disney’s senior vice president of studios for Asia-Pacific. “It’s rare, but it’s the largest territory for The little Mermaid by far in Southeast Asia, our third-highest-grossing market in Asia-Pacific after Australia and Japan, and our 11th-highest-grossing territory globally,” he says.

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Elsewhere in Asia, the picture has not been so bright. In the much larger markets of China and South Korea, The little Mermaid noticeably underperformed due to a racist social media backlash over the casting of black actress Halle Bailey as Ariel. The film only made $3.6 million in China and $5 million in South Korea, a fraction of what other Disney live-action remakes have grossed there. THE Jungle Book (2016) e The Lion King (2019) were smash hits in China, grossing $150 million and $120 million. In South Korea, Aladdin (2019) requested $91 million and The beauty and the Beast (2017) grossed $37.5 million. Disney declined to comment The little Mermaidperformance in those countries.

In the Philippines, not only were such negative elements absent, but Bailey’s performance was widely received by Filipino viewers, according to Hsu. “They really loved Halle Bailey’s performance as Ariel, and they really liked her as the new princess,” she says.

The little Mermaid this year is a huge success for the Philippine market,” says Rance Pow, president of Artisan Gateway, an exhibition industry consultancy specializing in Asia. Pow points out that the film is doing better this year than any other film by Hollywood, but still won’t reach the heights of other live-action Disney remakes released in the Philippines pre-COVID — Aladdin made $11 million there, and The Lion King he took $10.2 million.

“This may be because the Philippines is still recovering,” as the theater market continues to recover post-COVID, says Pow.

Hsu sees many other contributors to The little MermaidThe huge success of in the Philippines: the country’s youthful demographics, strong nostalgia in the market for original Disney animation, and an abiding love of music and singing run deep into Filipino culture. And he thanks Disney’s marketing team based in the Philippines for leaning on these factors to mount a particularly effective campaign for the film.

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A poster for ‘The Little Mermaid’ on Manila’s Primex Tower, the largest billboard in the Philippines.

“They campaigned fully across all media, but really focused on social media, leaning into the music and nostalgia and Princess Ariel,” he says, noting that Bailey’s rendition of “Part of Your World,” the lead single of The little Mermaid soundtrack, reached number one on Spotify in the Philippines and has over 13 million plays there.

“Post-COVID, internet usage in the Philippines has increased significantly,” he adds. “So the team did a lot of work on TikTok, recruiting influencers to promote the film by performing their own versions of Ariel’s songs. This really built awareness and word of mouth for the film, which culminated in the strong opener.

Some of the viral comic posts created by Filipino TikTok influencers, using the brand Mermaid effect created by Disney, are below. Elsewhere in the Manila area, fan excitement showed in moviegoers dressing up in mermaid and merfolk cosplays to attend special screenings of the film.


The Little Mermaid is my FYP content here on TikTok. So, I’m ready! haha! 🤣🤣🧜‍♀️🧜‍♀️🧜‍♀️#little mermaid2023 #disney #lipsync #ariel #good feelings

♬ Part of Your World (Reprise) – From “The Little Mermaid”/Trailer Version – Halle


I’m so excited to watch the live action LittleMermaid, it’s been my favorite #Disney princess movie! I don’t want to miss the first screening on May 24, 2023.🧜‍♀️🌊✨️ Try this filter too and enjoy!😁 #Little MermaidPH #DisneyPH #HallyuTalkPH #BTS #EntertainmentPH

♬ Part of Your World (Reprise) – From “The Little Mermaid”/Trailer Version – Halle