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Disney D23: Box Office Outlook for 2011-13, John Carter’s Marketing Challenge, Muppets Make Comeback

Disney D23: Box Office Outlook for 2011-13, John Carter's Marketing Challenge, Muppets Make Comeback

Disney’s weekend of fan love at D23 Expo in Anaheim offered a preview of the studio’s fall season as well as its upcoming 2012 and 2013 slate. Anthony D’Alessandro assesses the playability of the studio’s upcoming projects.

On Saturday Disney trotted out its 2011-2013 film slate, including some major gambles, from The Muppets reboot and the $250 million sci-fi epic John Carter to Pixar’s first femme-led toon The Brave and Sam Raimi’s Oz: The Great and Powerful.

Absent from the studio’s presentations was anything from the DreamWorks lineup – which make up half of Disney’s remaining four 2011 releases: Steven Spielberg’s The War Horse and kid actioner Real Steel, which one Disney senior exec exclaimed back in July was “The Real Deal” this October.

The Muppets (November 23):
Except for the September 16 re-release of The Lion King in 3-D (which screened Saturday night at D23), this is the Disney label’s only new entry still to come in 2011, and marks Disney’s shot at restoring the brand across a wide box office demo after relegating the lovable Henson puppets to the under-tweens with such mid-90s non-starters as Muppet Treasure Island ($34.3 million) and The Muppet Christmas Carol ($27.3 million). During Jim Henson’s ‘70s/’80s golden age, The Muppet Movie was a top grosser in 1979 with $65.2 million drawing both adults and kids. Judging from the Anaheim Convention Center crowds’ howls on Saturday as Miss Piggy roared onstage Hells Angels-style to wrangle with Kermit and writer/actor Jason Segal, Disney has the audience in their hands again. Not to mention, the Muppets have been working overtime on the web, reminding the world that their timing isn’t rusty. Check out the 22 million views for their outrageous 2010 Webby-winning outrageous Bohemian Rhapsody parody.

The biggest challenge for The Muppets: There’s an avalanche of family films over Thanksgiving, spelling either utter hell at the B.O. or reciprocal business. Opening the Friday before Thanksgiving is Happy Feet Two while Muppets will battle Sony/Aardman Animation’s Arthur Christmas (in 3D) and Martin Scorsese’s 3-D Hugo. Making matters worse is that The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn (Part 1) will be playing into its second weekend, potentially foiling a No. 1 win over three-days for any newcomer; much like its 2009 Thanksgiving chapter New Moon.

Upside for The Muppets: Thanksgiving is a five-day fight. When New Moon played, it had a strong hold due to lackluster competition, which isn’t the case this year. Disney usually wins Thanksgiving frame with tentpoles, i.e. Tangled and Enchanted, also starring Amy Adams. Child lit property Hugo could skew toward Scorsese’s core adult fans. Brit toons like Arthur have limited appeal. Above all, Disney has done an excellent job at generating early WOM about The Muppets with multiple online trailers.

John Carter (March 9):
Disney has its work cut out in order to convince filmgoers that this is the must see sci-fi film of the spring. Of all their reels at D23, John Carter received the most muted response–especially compared to the rousing applause awarded The Avengers. Working to John Carter’s advantage is that it occupies the wondrous first weekend of March, a spot where Alice in Wonderland pulled in a pre-summer opening record of $116.1 million. With Easter falling on April 8 next year, Disney is banking that the under-25 set will show up in droves. Attempting to rally the Mouseketeers at D23 was put John Carter on their radar–but it would have played a lot better at Comic-Con last July. The Edgar Rice Burroughs Martian novels are no longer familiar to the current generation. Disney might have been better off handing out copies of the Princess of Mars books than movie posters for Pixar’s Brave at D23.

The Avengers (May 4):
This movie will have no trouble nabbing a number one box office spot. The real question is what records will this sum of Marvel’s superhero parts break. Avengers‘s ability to kill Spider-Man 3’s $151.1 million May record is in its sights if the movie itself delivers on its promise to be a game-changer for the superhero genre. The marketing machine is already greased. Similar to 2010 Comic-Con, the fans went nuts with glee at D23 as three quarters of the cast appeared onstage, albeit briefly. Disney/Marvel have fans salivating with each frame that leaks online. Robert Downey, Jr. requested that Saturday’s exclusive clip be played twice, triggering deafening cheers.

Brave (June 22):
Two clips from the movie were shown to great applause. One showed Scottish heroine Merida bussing her horse while the second displayed the lass kicking ass in an archery face-off (a nice homage to Disney’s Robin Hood). Pixar is selling it as their first animated film with a female lead, which shouldn’t be a hindrance, as this princess has the chops to appeal to boys. Final domestic B.O.: At least $200 million based on what girl-leading toons pull in ( Monsters vs. Aliens and Tangled are decent comps), not to mention its Scottish adventure theme is in the vein of DreamWorks’ How to Train Your Dragon ($218 million).

Frankenweenie (Oct. 5):
For Disney, it doesn’t matter if this black and white stop-motion production based on Tim Burton’s 1984 featurette about a boy who brings his dog back to life grosses as much as 2005’s Corpse Bride ($53.4 million) in its first go-round. To the company, it’s a cult film, lucrative in its seasonal re-release much like The Nightmare Before Christmas (domestic lifetime $75.1 million) and a gold mine of licensing dollars.

Wreck-It-Ralph (Nov. 2):
Arena crowds enjoyed the wry clips featuring John C. Reilly as a self-deprecating videogame lug head villain who is constantly upstaged by a Mario Brother-type, Fix-it-Felix, voiced by 30 Rock‘s Jack McBrayer. It’s in that sweet slot that has historically belonged to either a Pixar or DreamWorks toon, wedged right between Halloween and Veterans Day when some kids are out of school. It’s a no-brainer: it will open well.

Oz: The Great and Powerful (March 8, 2013):
With its rich-earth color tones, the behind-the-scenes clip looked gorgeous. On video, director Sam Raimi and lead thesp James Franco (Oz) talked about this prequel about the Wizard’s arrival in Oz, based on the books by L. Frank Baum. If Raimi could bring one of the best comic books to screen, why not one of the most beloved literary series? Adults are sure to show up, since the film stars rising actresses Michelle Williams (Glinda the Good Witch), Mila Kunis (Theodora) and Rachel Weisz (Evanora). Like John Carter, Oz benefits from being in that Alice in Wonderland spot. Raimi should be able to avoid going too-dark, which dive-bombed Disney’s 1985 train wreck Return to Oz ($25 million budget, $11.1 million domestic B.O.).1978’s The Wiz was another commercial blunder ($21 million gross). It’s tough to attack this property, as the 1939 MGM original is a sacred cow.

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