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Weekend Fun: Disney Edition

I hope all the American readers of JTA have digested their turkeys by now and you are all having a great weekend, no matter where you are from. Since nothing all that much is going on in Star Wars land (and that won’t really change until the next Disney+ show is released, which will probably be Skeleton Crew), I would like to talk about something that is at least tangentially related to Star Wars: everyone’s most favorite movie studio in the entire multiverse, Walt Disney. Because Disney’s fate will of course ultimately have an impact on Star Wars.

So what exactly do I want to talk about? Well… as it seems Disney may have set a new world record this November, and for the full year even. They have lost the most money with their entertainment division ever, as in “the entire history of Hollywood”, this November alone sets a new record and all time high for how much money a studio can lose in just a couple of weeks. How? Why? Click through for more!

Disney's Wish

They have all the reason to be shocked

Two weeks ago The Marvels came… and crashed like the Hindenburg… and now Wish, the new animated movie meant to celebrate 100 years of Disney, came… and will sink like the Titanic. In fact, current projections say Wish may only be the #3 movie for the entire 5-day Thanksgiving weekend at the domestic box office, with an expected total box office of $32-$33 million, losing even to an almost 3-hour Napoleon movie. And this number includes ALL the previews, and Wish already had a sneak preview one week ago on Saturday (for $500k), plus previews throughout the week.

This is more than 50% below already dismal estimates from just four days ago when tracking suggested Wish may rise as high as 67 million for the 5-day weekend. And while it is difficult to say with absolute certainty what the total worldwide box office will be, it is quite likely the movie may barely reach $200 million worldwide. Elemental however, which had a really bad $29 million opening weekend, proved to have excellent word of mouth which gave the movie very good legs, however, it seems Wish has abysmal word of mouth, a 7.0 user rating for Elemental on IMDB vs 5.9 for Wish (which is terrible) seems to further hint at the fact that Wish will have bad word of mouth. Rottentomatoes ratings have become entirely meaningless ever since it was revealed earlier this year how PR companies buy reviews and game the scores on that site, so before anyone says “but the movie has a 83% user rating on RT” – it means nothing anymore. Even The Marvels has a 83% user rating on RT and this movie has abysmal word of mouth as is proven by its disastrous box office drop, an objective gauge for true audience reception and word of mouth.

But let’s just recap Disney’s dismal 2023 at the box office, a comedy of errors:

Ant-Man And The Wasp Quantumania: $476 million box office / cost: $200 million budget + ca $100 million marketing / loss: -$60 million (est.)
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3: $845 million box office / cost: $250 million budget + ca. $100 million marketing / earning: +$75 million (est.)
The Little Mermaid: $569 million box office / cost: $297 million budget + ca. $150 million marketing / loss: -$162 million (est.)
Elemental: $496 million box office / cost: $200 million budget + ca. $100 million marketing / loss: -$50 million (est.)
Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny: $384 million box office / cost: $300 million budget + ca. $150 marketing / loss: -$258 million (est.)
Haunted Mansion: $117 million box office / cost: $150 million budget + ca. $100-$150 million marketing / loss: ca. -$191-$241 million (est.)
A Haunting In Venice: $122 million box office / cost: $60 million budget + ca. $60-$80 million marketing / loss: ca. -$59-$79 million (est.)
The Creator: $104 million box office / cost: $80 million budget + ca. $80-$100 million marketing / loss: -$108-$128 million (est.)
The Marvels: est. $220 million box office (if at all) / cost: $272 million (does not include 2023 reshoots) budget + $100 – $150 million marketing / loss: -$260 – $310 million (est.)
Wish: est. $200 million box office (very tentative estimate, usually animated movies have better legs at the box office than superhero movies, thus far Wish only has approx. 3/4 of The Marvels opening weekend) / cost: $200 million budget + $100 million marketing / loss: -$200 million (est.)

This is just a list of the major movies released in theatres, Disney made a ton of movies for Hulu and Disney+ not included here, since they, technically speaking, will earn the company nothing. The Marvels will be the new #1 biggest box office bomb ever, especially when the budget is updated to include the costs for the 2023 reshoots, that $272 million figure is for September 2022.

For the full year Disney movies lost the staggering amount of ca.  -$1.3 – $1.4 billion. For movies just released in November Disney will lose something in the ballpark of -$500 million. Which is a new world record. No studio has ever lost so much money in the span of just a couple of weeks. So… congratulations??? Bob Iger, Jennifer Lee (CCO of Disney Animation), Kevin Feige, Kathleen Kennedy, you all did it!

The reasons for Disney’s downfall at the box office are manifold, some would say the ongoing “culture war” in the US is a major contributor, but fact is, box office for Disney movies has even much more collapsed outside the US, where literally no one cares about what Disney and Ron DeSantis or parts of the US population may be arguing about. This hints at a much more fundamental issue: most of Disney’s movies are simply no longer good. And this is not just an after effect of the pandemic, since audiences worldwide still flock to things like Avatar (the last movie distributed by Disney to earn a lot of money), Barbie or Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer made 66% of its money outside North America, which is in the pre-Covid range of foreign box office for a successful Hollywood blockbuster. Even Disney’s Elemental earned almost 70% of its money overseas, which is in the upper range of modern Hollywood blockbusters even. But Elemental is the rare exception in Disney’s catalogue this year. The Little Mermaid is at merely 48%, Indiana Jones 55%, Ant-Man 55%, The Marvels ca 58% (not final), Wish could end up in the low 50% range, maybe even below 50%. When in 2019 things like Endgame, Lion King or Frozen II had close to 70% overseas box office.

Alleged Disney sources claim that one reason so many movies now fail is that Disney is simply hiring the wrong people with the wrong priorities who are then tasked with writing and directing the movie. Allegedly people working on Wish reached out to YouTube channel Film Threat and they had few positive things to say. The inital pitch for Wish about half a decade ago was much, much different, where it was supposed to use the “When You Wish Upon A Star” song as inspiration for a true celebration of all animated Disney movies, but this transformed into “the heroine is an activist” when the people tasked with writing and directing where hired. Also, many of the people responsible for successful Disney Animation movies of the past have left the company or were let go, Disney is bleeding talent and the studio has completely lost the capacity and basic skill to even attempt the making of an old-school handdrawn movie in the classic Disney style. Adding to the soulless empty nature of Wish’s animation style.

No matter what the exact reason is, much has been said about how Disney (most of Hollywood) is creatively bankrupt these days with an endless barrage of remakes, sequels, prequels or superhero franchise movies, Disney is hit the worst, by far, even worse than Warner/Discovery who also had a terrible year with their superhero movie flops, but at least they had Barbie, which is currently the #1 title of the year.

But what should have Disney really worried is that their original core movie business, the family focused animated movies, are failing so hard and that Universal of all things is the #1 studio. This year alone the Super Mario movie and the second Miles Morales Spider-Verse movie made more than $2.1 billion at the worldwide box office, something Disney can only dream about.

Disney’s last two animated movies, Strange World and Wish, will have a combined total box office of maybe $270 million. Even if you throw in the Pixar movies Lightyear and Elemental that only adds up to $975 million. Universal’s 2022 animated Minions movie alone made $939 million. This shows you the magnitude of Disney’s fall from grace that goes far beyond any political squabbles in the US, as mentioned, no one outside the US cares or even knows much about any of that.

On Disney+ things are not that much better… The Mandalorian season 3 lost about 40% of the audience compared to season 2, when you consider total number of views across the entire season, Ahsoka barely managed to get 50% of The Mandalorian’s numbers, Secret Invasion performed worse than Ahsoka, and as of episode 3, even the positively received Loki season 2 only has about 60% of its season 1 numbers. The made for Disney+ movie Peter Pan crashed and burned on the streaming service with abysmal numbers. The Little Mermaid left little impact, it is once again Elemental that turns out to be a hit on Disney+, which is the sole ray of sunshine.

So whatever the reasons are… maybe it’s time for Disney to acknowledge that they are just completely out of tune with audiences. And maybe it’s time for a complete reboot of the entire entertainment division, maybe it’s time Bob Iger admits defeat and realizes he, Kevin Feige, Kathleen Kennedy and Jennifer Lee all need to go, to make place for new and fresh people who can maybe turn the ship around again.

Disney was in a similar situation before, about 40 years ago. Back then Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg lead the Disney ship out of a decade long decline, resulting in the eventual return to form with The Little Mermaid in 1989. It is telling that the 2023 remake is a sign of everything that is wrong with Disney in the modern era.

And then you look ahead and see things like The Acolyte or that Rey movie on the horizon for Star Wars. And you begin to wonder if Star Wars still has it coming.

But what are your opinions here? Why do you feel Disney is failing so hard at the box office and even with Disney+? And do you fear that the rot that is destroying both Marvel and Disney Animation may also infest Star Wars, much more than the sequels even ever did? And again, this is nothing specific to the US, since Disney is basically failing worldwide, where US sensitivities do not matter at all. How could a company that ruled the entire box office world in 2019 and whose animated movies enchanted familes for decades and decades fall from grace all across the globe in just four short years to where we are now?


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