- Pixar’s “Lightyear” opened with $50.5 million at the US box office this weekend, below projections.
- It debuted at No. 2, behind “Jurassic World: Dominion” in its second weekend.
- Competition, confusing marketing, and streaming expectations could have played a part.
Disney and Pixar’s “Lightyear” opened in theaters over the weekend with $50.5 million in the US, below projections and not enough to top the box office.
“Jurassic World: Dominion” took the top spot in its second weekend with $58 million, down 60% from its debut. “Top Gun: Maverick” finished at No. 3 in its fourth weekend with $44 million, a mere 15% dip from the previous weekend.
Disney’s initial projection for “Lightyear” was in the $70 million range and box-office analysts were bullish. Shawn Robbins, the chief analyst at Box Office Pro, predicted an $84 million debut in the US.
“Lightyear’s” first weekend is among the lowest for a Pixar movie. Just a handful of other releases have done worse business in their debuts, including “Ratatouille,” “The Good Dinosaur,” and “Onward.”
There’s still hope for “Lightyear,” though.
Pixar’s “Coco,” which opened with a similar $50.8 million in 2017, went on to gross $210 million in the US and $807 million worldwide. The coming weeks will determine whether “Lightyear” has those kinds of legs. It received an A- grade from CinemaScore, which surveys audiences on a movie’s opening night, suggesting a positive reception from audiences.
Here are three potential reasons for “Lightyear’s” miss at the box office:
1. Competition in a recovering market
The US theatrical industry is on the rebound from the coronavirus pandemic. The box office is up 285% from this time last year, when movie releases were slim, according to Comscore.
But it’s still down considerably from 2019, and is largely being supported by franchise tentpoles more than ever before.
Family movies have a high bar to clear, as parents and children have been slow to return to theaters, but “Lightyear’s” opening weekend is still the biggest for an animated movie so far during the pandemic.
“Dominion” and “Maverick” likely attracted some of “Lightyear’s” potential audience, as both movies are still playing well. “Maverick,” especially, has had incredible legs, and has grossed $466 million in the US so far.
Both movies are blockbuster sequels that play on nostalgia. Similarly, the focus on the Buzz Lightyear character from the “Toy Story” movies raised the expectations for “Lightyear” — but it’s not a “Toy Story” movie.
2. Confusing marketing
When Chris Evans was first announced as the voice of Buzz Lightyear in 2020, he tweeted that the movie is “the origin story of the human Buzz Lightyear that the toy is based on.”
That’s not exactly true. The title card that kicks off the movie, referencing the Andy character from “Toy Story,” says: “In 1995, Andy got a toy from his favorite movie. This is that movie.”
It wasn’t until the week of the release of “Lightyear” that Disney started using that quote to more easily market the movie.
3. This is the first Pixar theatrical release in 2 years
“Lightyear” is the first Pixar movie to be released exclusively to theaters since “Onward,” which was released in March 2020, just before theaters shut down due to the pandemic.
The last three Pixar movies — “Luca,” “Soul,” and “Turning Red” — were released straight to the Disney+
It’s possible that many potential moviegoers stayed home, expecting the movie to be streaming soon.
And it might be. The theatrical window has shrunk during the pandemic, and 45 days is emerging as a new industry standard. For instance, that’s how long “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” will have been in theaters before arriving on Disney+ this Wednesday.
“Audiences had become somewhat conditioned to think of Pixar releases as ‘free,'” wrote Robbins, the Box Office Pro chief analyst.