Bad News: “Coco” will likely gross around $60 million-$65 million, which would rank as one of least-impressive Thanksgiving box office returns in years. To be a blockbuster, “Coco” would need a very strong multiple and an international performance better than most Pixar films.
At $65 million for five days, it would be the lowest (in adjusted numbers) top grosser for the holiday weekend since the barely remembered “Four Christmases” in 2008. It also would fall short of the top 25 for the date; top animated titles on that list include Disney’s non-Pixar “Frozen,” (over $100 million), “Moana” ($83 million), and the original “Toy Story” and “A Bug’s Life,” both of which opened to over $80 million.
However, other than “The Good Dinosaur” two years ago ($58 million for five days), Pixar has avoided the date this century, with partner Disney frequently taking it for its top animated releases. (They did choose earlier in November for two titles, “The Incredibles” and “Monsters, Inc.”).
Calculations of potential profit are tricky with the privately held Pixar never releasing production costs (though estimates for their top entries, like “Coco,” are around $200 million). There’s also early signs that this might have more international appeal. Disney released this in Mexico, its setting, in late October to dovetail with the Day of the Dead holiday central to its plot. So far, it has grossed $50 million (in unadjusted figures a record total), and that could portend a stronger response in other territories.
Pixar is coming off of last year’s “Finding Dory.” Like “Finding Nemo,” it took in over $500 million. But its other two most recent releases, “Cars 3” and “The Good Dinosaur,” rank dead last among their films in domestic ticket sales.
They also have lagged somewhat behind other top animation studios in international performance. Like most franchise films, animated hits from Disney, Dreamworks, and Universal do 66 percent-75 percent of their business overseas. For Pixar, it’s usually 60 percent or less. “Finding Dory,” the top animated domestic hit of the past four years, made 53 percent of its gross on international box office. (By comparison, “Despicable Me 3” did $768 million foreign.) No other studio is so reliant on domestic totals to make a profit.
For strong animated hits that play through Christmas, the range of multiples is between three times (“Moana”) and four (“Frozen”). So at $65 million, the anticipated total would be between $195 million and $260 million. That would mean, with high-end international results, a worldwide total of about $650 million. With production and marketing costs in excess of $300 million, that puts Pixar at breakeven before ancillary revenues.
That doesn’t leave a lot of room for error or shortfalls. On the domestic side, one potential worry is the surprise success of Lionsgate’s family-friendly “Wonder,” which likely thrives this weekend and beyond while competing for much of the same audience. Apart from “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” (also Disney), Fox Animation has “Ferdinand” and Sony’s “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” looming among other late-year releases.
However, what made “Coco” so big in Mexico also might elevate it here, as well as enhance interest elsewhere in the world. That remains to be seen, but in the meantime it has already banked $50 million in a country that usuallyaccounts for three percent of worldwide totals.
Pixar and Disney might be lowballing their expectations. But even if it grosses $80 million or more for five days, “Coco” would still only be in a normal, not extraordinary, range.