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Pixar’s ‘Onward’ Opens to Modest Box Office With Weekend Down $100 Million From Last Year

Coronavirus is not to blame, but there’s reason for concern if other major films move off their dates.

In Disney and Pixar’s “Onward,” Ian Lightfoot, a newly 16-year-old elf, yearns for the father he lost back before he was born. Featuring Tom Holland as the voice of Ian, “Onward” opens in U.S. theaters on March 6, 2020. © 2019 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

“Onward”

Disney/Pixar

Anyone looking for signs of moviegoing resistance due to health concerns might see a couple pieces of evidence: the low-end Pixar opening of “Onward” (Disney) and an overall total way down from last year (although, that was anticipated).

Other titles were as anticipated, or better. These included wider releases like “The Way Back” (Warner Bros.) and the expansion of “Emma” (Focus), as well as some reasonable holds.

But it is worrisome that total grosses this weekend are only half of last year’s — more than $100 million off. Marvel’s “Captain America” did $155 million last year, and nothing here was going to come close to that. The net result is, for the first time in 2020, grosses are down from 2019. That makes the move of the Bond film “No Time To Die,” and the risk of moving other top titles like “A Quiet Place Part II” (Paramount) and “Mulan” (Disney), more troublesome.

In Disney and Pixar’s “Onward,” brothers Ian and Barley (voiced by Tom Holland and Chris Pratt) are given a gift that allows them to conjure their dad—half of him, anyway—for one magical day. Their subsequent quest to conjure the rest of him is filled with magic, impossible obstacles and some unforgettable moments. Directed by Dan Scanlon and produced by Kori Rae, “Onward” opens in U.S. theaters on March 6, 2020.  © 2019 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

“Onward”

Disney/Pixar

Pixar titles often show their greatest strengths in the domestic performance. Their sophistication, intelligence, reviews, and often-American themes and references have helped them build a niche that doesn’t rely on franchises and separates them from other Disney and competing studios.

So “Onward” as an apparent standalone title isn’t unusual. But it is a return of sorts after they domestically scored with features “Toy Story 4” and “The Incredibles 2” the last two years. Being original is tougher.

Distributors are experimenting with variable placement of top titles. Pixar has almost always come out in either the summer or the end of the year. Disney usually holds the spring date going into school breaks for live-action films (like “Mulan,” scheduled for three weeks from now). Animated titles in March have usually been from Universal or 20th Century Fox.

The game plan here was to open early in the month before vacations started, get established, hope for word of mouth (Cinemascore was A-, OK but below normal), then flourish through Easter. That could still happen, but it will need to sustain good holds, particularly since the initial foreign openings of $28 million were not impressive.(China, South Korea, and Japan, of course, aren’t contributing in the wake of the virus.)

“The Way Back”

The Ben Affleck-starring “The Way Back” opened smack dab in the middle of the $7 million-$10 million projected. Even though this is a mid-level title ($25 million or a little under), that’s mediocre at best. Like a slew of the studio’s recent attempts at quality dramas that defy recent business logic, its elements were good enough to warrant some attention, but not enough to justify the costs of theatrical release.

Does this reinforce the challenge of such films when streamers are out there as alternatives? It depends on the case. Adult-oriented films like this one need reviews to elevate them — here, they were mildly positive, particularly for Affleck’s performance as a high school coach struggling with drinking. But the added element — some sense of originality? — was missing and thus a lackluster result.

It also competed for older audiences with the expansion of “Emma,” with a reasonable $5 million take. Among the three “new” titles, it was the sole one to land at the top end of hopes.

"The Invisible Man"

“The Invisible Man

Universal

Blumhouse’s “The Invisible Man” (Universal) performed better than many horror-genre films’ second-week results, with a drop of 46%. That’s even more impressive, since the initial number was quite good. This $7 million production and its hold are perhaps the best evidence that so far it’s business as usual. Look for this to be on track for a $90 million domestic haul.

The standout — and is it ever — among holdovers remains “Bad Boys for Life” (Sony). This January release, now in week 8, fell only 30% while losing a good-sized chunk of theaters. Nothing is holding back ticketbuyers from coming out for films they hear good things about. It has passed the $200 million mark domestically. And, it had the luck to open early enough in the year to avoid any virus concerns, and it never expected a release in China.

The Top Ten

1. Onward (Disney) NEW – Cinemascore: A- ; Metacritic: 62 ; Est. budget: $(unknown, but Pixar budgets range between $100-200 million)

$40,000,000 in 4,310 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $9,281; Cumulative: $40,000,000

2. The Invisible Man (Universal) Week 2; Last weekend #1

$15,150,000 (-46%) in 3,610 theaters (no change); PTA: $4,197; Cumulative: $52,694,000

3. The Way Back (Warner Bros.) NEW – Cinemascore: B+; Metacritic: 68; Est. budget: $21 million

$8,500,000 in 2,718 theaters; PTA: $3,127; Cumulative: $8,500,000

4. Sonic the Hedgehog (Paramount) Week 4; Last weekend #2

$8,000,000 (-51%) in 3,717 theaters (-460); PTA: $2,152; Cumulative: $140,818,000

5. Call of the Wild (Disney) Week 3; Last weekend #3

$7,000,000 (-48%) in 3,914 theaters (+49); PTA: $1,788; Cumulative: $57,484,000

6. Emma. (Focus) Week 3; Last weekend #13

$5,000,000 (+331%) in 1,565 theaters (+1,468); PTA: $3,195; Cumulative: $6,892,000

7. Bad Boys for Life (Sony) Week 8; Last weekend $56,892,000

$3,050,000 (-30%) in 2,159 theaters (-549); PTA: $1,413; Cumulative: $202,028,000

8. Birds of Prey (Warner Bros.) Week 5; Last weekend #6

$2,160,000 (-47%) in 2,173 theaters (-951); PTA: $893; Cumulative: $158,294,000

9. Impractical Jokers: The Movie (truTV) Week 3; Last weekend #7

$2,078,000 (-65%) in 1,775 theaters (-125); PTA: $1,171  Cumulative: $8,980,000

10. My Hero Academia: Heroes Arise (Funimation) Week 2; Last weekend #4

$1,520,000 (-74%) in 1,403 theaters (-408); PTA: $1,272; Cumulative: $11,762,000

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