‘Bob’s Burgers’ Has Soft Linear Ratings, So Why Could the Movie Help Save Theaters?

From "Flee" to "Apollo 10 1⁄2," adult animation is having a theatrical moment. And "The Bob's Burgers Movie" is part of that streaming-fueled phenomenon.
(L-R): Louise Belcher (voiced by Kristen Schaal), Gene Belcher (voiced by Eugene Mirman), and Tina Belcher (voiced by Dan Mintz) in 20th Century Studios' THE BOB'S BURGERS MOVIE. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2022 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.
"The Bob's Burgers Movie"
Courtesy of 20th Century Studios

Before its 13th season premieres this fall, the adult animated sitcom “Bob’s Burgers” is hitting the big screen. “The Bob’s Burgers Movie” opens on the prime Memorial Day weekend — even as the show was one of the least-watched broadcast series of the 2021-22 season, according to Nielsen. An average of 1.61 million people watched episodes on Fox (and that includes one week of DVR viewing), ranking “Bob’s” right between the off-time-slot episodes of “Kenan” at 8:30 p.m. and “Home Sweet Home” — two cancelled NBC shows that won’t get a film adaptation anytime soon.

So what gives? It comes at a time when adult animation has never been hotter, particularly for younger audiences. (See: historic Oscar nominations for “Flee,” or the 40 new anime titles Netflix will launch in 2022.) Those are the same audiences who flock to streaming platforms, not all of which are measured by Nielsen. According to Fox figures, which include proprietary data shared with IndieWire for this story, “Bob’s Burgers” is the network’s second-most-streamed show, behind the long-running “Family Guy,” averaging 5.2 million streaming viewers between Hulu and Fox Now.

A closer look at Fox’s data tells an even more compelling story. Nearly three-quarters of the 7 million Live + 7 Day multiplatform viewers (Fox, Fox Now, Hulu, etc.) for “Bob’s Burgers” come from Hulu and Fox Now, enough to lift its broadcast-only Live + Same Day audience by a whopping 447 percent. “Bob’s Burgers” is no longer a passable broadcast show; it’s a Hulu hit, with the added bonus of linear TV ad revenue from Fox.

Third-party data suggests a sizable audience eager for the movie’s release. According to data crunched by streaming service aggregator Reelgood for IndieWire, streaming and engagement activity on the series was 1.31 times higher than typical for the show the week of April 13, 2020 — just as the pandemic delayed the release of “The Bob’s Burgers Movie.” It spiked again at the beginning of last year, when the movie’s release plan was scrapped again. Finally, streaming and engagement activity for “Bob’s Burgers” was 1.84 times higher than average in the lead up to Friday’s movie release.

According to Diesel Labs, which tracks social media engagement for film and TV, engagement levels for “The Bob’s Burgers Movie” are similar to those of “Jungle Cruise,” “Dog,” and “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” in the lead-up to the launch of those films.

“Bob’s Burgers” joins other animated series that have found their way to the big screen, like “South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut,” which grossed $83.14 million worldwide when it was released in 1999, and “The Simpsons Movie,” which made $536.41 million back in 2007. Sony found the next Marvel pot of gold when 2018’s “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” grossed $375.5 million; two sequels are on the way. Even Bong Joon Ho is prepping his first animated film for 2026 release.

Given the ongoing pandemic slump at the box office, expectations for the “Bob’s Burgers” opening weekend are well under $20 million. However, the theatrical engagement will be just like the show’s first run on Fox — the first pool of revenue on its way to streaming. The movie’s value in theaters also makes sense given the industry’s emerging logic that movies don’t need to entirely earn back their budgets through theatrical grosses alone.

Animation for older audiences was the subject at a Cannes panel earlier this week, “What Is Adult Animation Film’s Strategy and Where Is It Headed?” While panelists were from more of the “Flee” side of the genre than “Bob’s Burgers,” they agreed that streamers helped build a taste for adult animation among younger audiences. And that’s a reason why the genre could make a good theatrical bet.

“We are all suffering – theaters and distributors – because the market is not returning to pre-COVID levels. We must collectively take good care of the cinema experience if we don’t want to lose an entire cinema generation, and adult animation is one way of doing that,” said Amel Lacombe, CEO of French indie distributor Eurozoom. “I am confident about the figures when it comes to adult animation in cinemas, it’s an extremely rich environment and a major asset for theaters to lure back the public.”

Tony Maglio contributed reporting.

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