In the past few months, the Walt Disney Co. DIS has fallen into a peculiar habit of planning smaller films of his 20th century studios and searchlight images Split into theatrical releases against big blockbusters from other Hollywood companies.
The result is always the same: the big films roll through the cinema landscape, while the smaller Disney titles register meager box office results.
What exactly is this strange distribution pattern all about? And what seems like a movie show madness has a method?
What happened: The Memorial Day holiday weekend movie scene is sure to be dominated by Paramount Globals TO THETO THE long awaited Tom cruise Movie “Top Gun: Maverick” – the entertainment industry magazines forecast a $100 million opening weekend.
Only one other film to hit national theaters against Top Gun: Maverick is the animated feature from 20th Century Studios.The Bob’s Burgers movies.” While this film already has an established following from the popular TV show Bob’s Burgers – now in its 12th season – no one can imagine that this animated film will take audiences away from Top Gun: Maverick.
In the second half of 2021, Disney followed the same strategy of pitting films from 20th Century Studios and Searchlight against larger action-adventure competitions. On October 15, Disney stopped showing 20th Century Studios Ridley Scotts medieval epic”The Last Duel” With Ben Affleck and Matt Damon against “Halloween Kills” out of Comcast Corporation CMCSA Universal images. “Halloween Kills” opened with US ticket sales of $50.4 million, while “The Last Duel” only grossed $4.8 million.
On October 22, Disney discontinued the animated film from 20th Century Studios “Ron went wrong” against Warner Bros. Discovery Inc WBD eagerly awaited “Dune.” When ticket sales were counted, “Dune” grossed $40.2 million, while “Ron’s Gone Wrong” grossed just $7 million.
On December 17, Disney discontinued Searchlight’s “Nightmare Alley” against Sony Group Corp SONY “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” This was perhaps its most painful duel: “Spider-Man” grossed $253 million in its US opening weekend, making it the highest-grossing December premiere of all time and only third-biggest after the $257.6 million in gross from “Spider-Man.” Avengers: Infinity War. ‘ in 2018 and the $357.1 million ‘Avengers: Endgame’ in 2019.
“Spider-Man” had the most financially successful US opening engagement of all time. “Nightmare Alley” came in at $2.95 million in its opening weekend.
There was also the case of the Searchlight horror film “Antler” which opened on October 29th. That weekend, however, saw no major movie premiere nationwide: Dune was entering its second week in theaters, and the only new movies in the premiere were smaller, under-the-radar productions. “Antlers” grossed $4.16 million against less than strong anemic competition.
What else happened: To be honest, two films from 20th Century Studios managed to dominate the US box office on their opening weekends: “Free Guy” Grossed $28.4 million when it opened last August “Death on the Nile” earned $12.8 million on its opening weekend in February.
In both cases, however, these films faced very weak competition from new releases: “Free Guy” goaded the horror thriller “Don’t Breathe 2” out Aretha Franklin Biopic “Respect” with the main role Jennifer Hudson while “Death on the Nile” brushed that aside Jennifer Lopez Owen Wilson Rom-Com “Marry Me” and the Liam Neeson Action movie “Blacklight”.
Two more Searchlight titles, “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” and “The French Dispatch” were in limited theatrical release and were never expanded to the 3,000+ screens of the other productions.
Why is this happening?: The films from 20th Century Studios and Searchlight are not works with Disney roots, but rather productions that began to take shape before Disney acquired 21st Century Fox’s film production companies in March 2019. As these films went into production and then into post-production, Disney was contractually bound to give these works a theatrical release.
While these films were conceived before Disney, they were also released in a post-COVID-19 environment where audiences were primarily looking for big, loud, high-energy adventure films with an excess of action and attitude. This new environment only worked for Free Guy, and unsurprisingly, Disney films released under the Marvel banner automatically guarantee ka-ching returns.
Indeed, consider how other films from these departments – “Diary of a Wimpy Kid”, “Home Sweet Home Alone”, “Deep Water”, the new “Cheaper in dozens” and the upcoming gay rom-com “Fire Island” – Bypassed theater completely and went straight to streaming.
Another Disney department pixarsaw his latest animated features “Luca” and “To redden” Go straight to streaming while branded Disney “Raya and the Last Dragon” and “Charm” went to the theaters. The next Pixar title “light year,” is slated for a June 17 theatrical release, although this is an anomaly as the film plays off the strong IP of the Toy Story franchise.
However, this trend could come to an end later in the year. Searchlight only has two films slated for release this fall,”The Banshees of Inisherin” and “The menu,” while 20th Century Studios has “Amsterdam” and “Avatar: The Way of Water” the latter, a follow-up too James Camerons 2009’s blockbuster is sure to bring the division of 20th Century Studios some much-needed exaggerated returns at the box office.
Photo: Bob’s Burgers, courtesy of Disney