Pixar may be rethinking its strategy after releasing its first film ever in the month of March. The numbers for Pixar’s latest work, Onward, were expected to be on the lower end of the scale for the company, but the $40 million opening turned out to even be low for the month in comparison to other animated efforts. The figures come at a time when the industry is potentially facing a new phase where the international dollar cannot be counted on as a safety net if American audiences don’t show up.
When Pixar burst onto the scene with Toy Story in 1995, the Thanksgiving release opened with $29.14 million. Three years later, the studio’s follow-up, A Bug’s Life, opened to $33.52 million. The only other release Pixar has had to start with less than $40 million was their troubled production, The Good Dinosaur ($39.15 million) – more on that in a bit. All three of those were November releases, a strategy that generally paid off over the years with Toy Story 2, Monsters Inc., and The Incredibles – each one with a higher opening than the previous film. It was 11 years before they came back to November with The Good Dinosaur and then two years until they did it again with Coco, which opened to $50.8 million. Only five of Pixar’s films have failed to reach $200 million. Two of them were their first two films, another two were sequels to Cars, and the other was The Good Dinosaur. Onward is looking like the sixth.
It’s not for lack of quality. Of the 21 previously released Pixar films, 15 have retained Tomatometer scores of 90 or above. Onward is close, Certified Fresh at 86%, and is actually the third-best–reviewed wide release of 2020 to date behind The Invisible Man and the other new opener this week. The movie’s $40 million opening weekend haul means it stacks up against other March animated releases like so:
Onward not even cracking that top 10 March animated openings has to be even more disappointing than being on the lower rung of the pretty elevated Pixar ladder. Every film from Peabody above passed $100 million eventually, and the average multiple from Robinsons up is a decent 3.61. That would give Onward a first estimate of $142 million, which would at least be higher than The Good Dinosaur’s $123 million but could end up on the rare red side of the Pixar ledger depending on the final budget, which no one is reporting right now. Onward’s tracking was in the mid-40s range, so we’re showing some skepticism regarding the argument that panic over public health worries stopped people from hitting the cinemas. Whether that is the case overseas remains to be seen.
There have been eight films – by our count – centered around basketball that have opened to $10 million or more: Space Jam, Coach Carter, Uncle Drew, Semi-Pro, White Men Can’t Jump, Glory Road, Like Mike, Blue Chips. The Way Back does not join that list. The Ben Affleck basketball drama, which sees him reteaming with his The Accountant director Gavin O’Connor (who also did sports dramas, Miracle and Warrior), opened to $8.5 million, which is more in line with romantic hoops films like Just Wright ($8.28 million) and Love & Basketball ($8.13 million). Those films ended up with $21.56 million and $27.45 million, respectively. (William Friedkin’s Blue Chips opened to $10.12 million and finished with just $23.07 million.) That is not great for a film budgeted somewhere between $21 million and $25 million, but not a disaster either. The film’s Certified Fresh 87% Tomatometer score is the second-best among 2020’s wide releases and is up there with Affleck’s best-reviewed starring efforts, such as Argo (96%), The Town (93%), Gone Girl (88%), and Chasing Amy (87%).
Last week’s number 1 film, The Invisible Man, fell a decent 49% this weekend to $14.5 million. With $52 million in the bank domestically, that puts it just ahead of The Purge and The Purge: Anarchy with a better second weekend than either Insidious: Chapter 2 or The Purge: Election Year. Last week we placed the film’s first estimate at $77 million. We’re upping that to between $79 million and $83 million. It has grossed $98.2 million worldwide to date and it cost just $7 million to make.
There are two other solid successes still in the top 10, with Sony’s Bad Boys for Life and Paramount’s Sonic the Hedgehog. Bad Boys finally passed $200 million domestic, which is added into its $415 million haul worldwide. Sonic’s success is more…fine…as it approaches $300 million worldwide. It’s in profit, if a small one. But a profit is a profit, especially one delayed for touch-up work.
Not doing so well but still hanging in there is DC’s Birds of Prey, which is up to $82 million domestic and close to $200 million worldwide. That is going to amount to around a $25 million loss for those invested. That is a drop in the bucket compared to The Call of the Wild. The film is still on the path for around $75 million, but is only at $99.5 million worldwide right now and it is chasing down a production budget of $135 million. This film could lose anywhere between $125 million and $150 million when the final numbers are in.
Finally, Focus expanded the new adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma into 1,565 theaters in its third week and it grossed $5 million. How does that compare with Focus’s release of 2005’s Pride and Prejudice?
Pride had already grossed $15.9 million through its third weekend and finished with $38.4 million. Emma is up to $6.8 million. Impractical Jokers: The Movie is now up to $8.6 million after three weekends. Its launch was earlier and wider than Emma, which will eventually pass it. The 1996 version of Emma with Gwyneth Paltrow, released a year after Clueless, never made it into more than 848 theaters and grossed $22.23 million.
Captain Marvel opened to the third-best March weekend ever with $153.43 million. That made up 77.47% of the top 10 revenue for the weekend, with only How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World and A Madea Family Funeral making more than $5 million among the rest of the movies in theaters. They did do a bit better than that, with $14.68 million and $12.46 million, but it trailed off from there with The LEGO Movie 2 and Alita: Battle Angel doing just $3.86 million and $3.21 million in their respective fifth and fourth weekends of release. The documentary, Apollo 11, did break onto the list with $1.25 million in just 405 theaters. The top 10 films grossed a total of $198.06 million and averaged 72.7% on the Tomatometer. This year’s top 10 grossed $92.23 million and averaged 74.1% on the Tomatometer. This is just the ninth time since 2010 that the top 10 films on a March weekend came in with under $100 million.
Next week audiences will finally have an opportunity to see Craig Zobel’s The Hunt, which was delayed last September in the aftermath of a mass shooting. Vin Diesel takes a stroll into comic-book land with Bloodshot and we have another film about a Christian rock star, I Still Believe, which is hoping to break out for Lionsgate the way Roadside’s I Can Only Imagine did back in 2018. Onward is likely to hold onto the number 1 spot for a second week, but this is the one film that could spring an upset. Look out in your area too for Eliza Hittman’s Never Rarely Sometimes Always. The drama, which premiered at Sundance, has maintained a perfect 100% with critics and is being called one of the year’s best films. For more films opening in limited release, check out what critics are saying about them HERE.
Thumbnail image: © Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, © Pixar
[box office figures via Box Office Mojo]