June 18, 2024

Disney’s Box Office Downturn: ‘Wish’ Marks a New Vulnerability in the Studio’s Formerly Impervious Success

“Wish” stumbled in its debut weekend, contributing to Disney’s disappointing performance at the box office. The animated musical, centered around the iconic Wishing Star from Disney’s extensive history, failed to capture the attention of families during the Thanksgiving holiday. With a lackluster five-day holiday opening of $31.7 million, “Wish” landed in third place, marking a significant departure from Disney’s usual Thanksgiving success. Speculation arises as to whether the film’s villain, King Magnifico (voiced by Chris Pine), is withholding the wishes of Disney executives.

Adding to Disney’s 2023 woes, “Wish” joins a string of underperforming tentpoles, including “The Marvels,” “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” “The Haunted Mansion,” and “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.” While “The Little Mermaid” managed $569 million globally this summer, it falls short of the billion-dollar benchmark set by previous live-action adaptations like “The Lion King” and “Beauty and the Beast.” Pixar’s “Elemental,” despite finishing with a respectable $495 million globally, hasn’t fully restored the studio’s former glory after audiences shifted towards Disney+.

In 2023, Disney’s lone unmitigated success has been “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” generating a healthy $845 million globally since its May release. However, even this falls short of analysts’ expectations for a billion-dollar outcome. This marks the first time since 2014 (excluding the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021) that Disney hasn’t launched a billion-dollar release.

The contrast with Disney’s 2019 peak, when seven releases, including “Avengers: Endgame” and “The Lion King,” surpassed $1 billion globally, is stark. Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at Boxoffice Pro, notes that Disney set an exceptionally high standard during the 2010s, making the current challenging position inevitable as success became expected. “Avatar: The Way of Water,” released by Disney at the end of 2022, outperformed many 2023 releases, emphasizing Disney’s struggle to replicate past successes.

Factors contributing to Disney’s box office challenges include the impact of the pandemic, creative shortcomings, and an overreliance on once-popular brands. The streaming era, accelerated by the pandemic, has also affected the theatrical experience, causing audiences to become more comfortable with home viewing. Analysts note that Disney’s high production budgets, often around $200 million plus $100 million in marketing costs, set a high bar for breaking even, and the studio’s movies must exceed $500 million worldwide to justify their existence.

Looking ahead, the question arises whether Disney’s strategy of revisiting well-known franchises, as seen with the upcoming live-action remake of “Moana” in 2024, will remain financially effective. The struggles of recent Marvel releases, the fifth “Indiana Jones” installment, and “The Little Mermaid” suggest that brand familiarity alone may no longer guarantee success at the box office.

Disney’s Box Office Downturn: ‘Wish’ Marks a New Vulnerability in the Studio’s Formerly Impervious Success

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