‘Wish’ Had One Of Disney’s Worst Openings Ever For An Animated Movie—Here’s Why

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Topline

Disney’s “Wish” failed to take off at the box office last weekend, adding a dismal theatrical opening to the film’s already poor reviews, making it Disney’s latest in a series of financial disappointments as the company struggles to bring audiences back to theaters.

Key Facts

Disney’s “Wish” debuted in third place at the box office last weekend, falling well below projections to gross $19.5 million in its three-day domestic opening weekend and $31.7 million over the five-day Thanksgiving weekend.

Days before the film’s Nov. 22 opening, Deadline and Variety projected a five-day domestic opening of up to $50 million for the film, which cost $200 million to produce.

“Wish” fell behind the opening weekend gross of nearly every other film produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios, only surpassing the openings of a few flops like “Strange World” and “Raya and the Last Dragon,” and it failed to reach the highs of its seven films that opened with more than $45 million in the 2010s.

Though Disney’s animated films produced by Pixar tend to perform better at the box office, “Wish” did not surpass the opening weekend gross of any of them (not including the limited openings for “Toy Story 2” and “A Bug’s Life”), even those released in the 1990s without adjusting for inflation.

Deadline attributed the film’s underperformance to its trailer, which it stated does not make the plot of the film clear, and its premise, which it considered a “plug-and-play princess movie” with the “silly sidekicks (a talking goat and puffy star)” that is derivative of other Disney animated films.

Some critics noted the film, which was intended to celebrate the Walt Disney Company’s 100th anniversary, appeared to be more of a “corporate product than a magical event” and a “forced attempt to recapture some sliver of movie magic.”

An anonymous feature distribution analyst told Deadline audiences are likely waiting to watch “Wish” at home once it streams on Disney+, stating the studio failed to create an urgency for audiences to head to the theaters and criticizing the film as being “more about a celebration of the company’s birthday than a compelling piece of content.”

Disney CEO Bob Iger acknowledged the studio’s box office struggles in an earnings call earlier this month, stating the company “lost some focus” by prioritizing quantity instead of quality and would shift toward emphasizing quality output.

Key Background

“Wish” opened in theaters just two weeks after “The Marvels,” another major flop for Disney this year. “The Marvels” opened with a disappointing $46.1 million in its opening weekend, the worst domestic opening weekend performance for any Marvel Cinematic Universe film and less than a third of the opening weekend of 2019’s “Captain Marvel,” the film’s predecessor. Some industry experts attributed the film’s underperformance to “superhero fatigue.” “The Marvels” has grossed $188 million worldwide to date, far behind “Captain Marvel,” which topped $1.1 billion, and many other Marvel films, which had historically been reliable hits. In another box office bomb this year, Disney’s “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” debuted with just $60 million in its opening weekend and grossed $383 million worldwide, a major disappointment considering its nearly $300 million budget. “Dial of Destiny” is the worst-performing Indiana Jones film at the domestic box office, without adjusting for inflation—despite being released more than 40 years after the original film. “Haunted Mansion” was another bomb this year, making just $24 million in its domestic opening weekend and $117 million in total worldwide against a $150 million budget. “Haunted Mansion” may have failed to attract audiences because of its July release, Variety reported: The then-ongoing actors strike prevented its stars from promoting it, and some industry experts felt the film would have better suited the Halloween season. “The Little Mermaid” and “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” other Disney films released this year, were considered disappointments for falling below industry projections despite grossing more than double their budgets.

News Peg

“Wish,” an animated musical starring Ariana DeBose and Chris Pine, failed to outgross “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes,” which surpassed expectations to win its second straight weekend at the box office, and Ridley Scott’s historical epic “Napoleon,” which also beat expectations to place second. “The Hunger Games” grossed $42 million at the domestic box office over the five-day Thanksgiving weekend, while “Napoleon” grossed $32.5 million, just $800,000 more than “Wish.” The Thanksgiving box office totaled about $172 million, the best outing since the pandemic, but theaters still haven’t recovered to pre-pandemic levels when Thanksgiving weekend regularly surpassed $250 million in total gross, CNBC reported.

Chief Critics

“Wish” has just a 50% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, making it one of the worst-reviewed Disney animated films of all time. According to the Rotten Tomatoes critics consensus, although the film “warmly references many of the studio’s classics,” a focus on nostalgia is “no substitute for genuine storytelling magic.” Vulture critic Bilge Ebiri wrote the film “fails on every level,” calling it an “ultimate cop-out — a lifeless, uninspiring mess of bland brand management.” The Daily Beast critic A. A. Dowd called the film “flimsy as a star decal stuck to a wall” because of thin characters, lackluster songs and a focus on Disney’s anniversary rather than a coherent story.

Surprising Fact

Disney had an even worse box office flop over last year’s Thanksgiving weekend. The animated film “Strange World” grossed just $11.9 million in its opening weekend and $18.6 million over the five-day Thanksgiving weekend. Variety projected as much as $40 million for the film over the holiday weekend, which it noted still would have been a poor performance for the $180 million-budgeted film. The Variety report said “Strange World” would have needed to gross $360 million worldwide to break even—but after its theatrical run, it grossed just $73 million. “Strange World” was the biggest box office bomb of 2022, according to Deadline, with estimated losses of $197 million for Disney.

Contra

Box office flops still have the potential to perform well on Disney+, Deadline reported. “Elemental,” which initially disappointed at the box office, became one of the streaming service’s most-viewed films with 26.4 million views in its first five days of release.

What To Watch For

Whether Disney’s shift to focus on quality over quantity will help its box office performance. Only one Marvel film is set to open in theaters in 2024: “Deadpool 3,” the anticipated followup to “Deadpool” and “Deadpool 2,” both of which surpassed $700 million at the global box office. Disney released four Marvel films in 2021 and three in 2022 and 2023. Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore, told CNBC a “less-is-more approach” and an emphasis on quality is what Disney needs to boost Marvel box office numbers.

Further Reading

‘Songbirds & Snakes’ Reigns Supreme Over Thanksgiving Stretch With $42M 5-day; ‘Napoleon’ Steps On Disney’s ‘Wish’ With $32M+ — Box Office (Deadline)

Disney’s box office problems ramp up pressure on CEO Bob Iger and studio chief Alan Bergman (CNBC)

How Disney can save the Marvel Cinematic Universe (CNBC)

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