As ‘Toy Story 4’ Opens to $118 Million, Do We Need to Reset Theatrical Expectations?

The much-anticipated Pixar sequel fell short of Disney's conservative predictions of $140 million.
forky in "Toy Story 4"
"Toy Story 4"

This is a weekend of twin disappointments. First up: While “Toy Story 4” handily crossed a $100 million three-day opening, at $118 million in sales it fell significantly short of Disney’s (conservative) $140 million three-day estimate.

Second, and somewhat related: Year over year, box-office totals fell at least $75 million below the same three-day period in 2018. Expect the 2019 shortfall to be around $540 million by the end of this weekend. Still, there are three more top franchises or sequels between now and the end of July; June and July last year had only two, so the outlook for improvement remains.

Disney spin is already in play, but the “Toy Story 4” performance comes as concern rises that the sequel/franchise theatrical model is losing currency. Of course, $118 million is a strong number, but the degree to which this fell short of minimal expectations has to scare careful observers. It creates pressure to find alternatives, whether that means theatrical windows or considering if streaming and cable are better for a swath of creative ventures.

The “Toy Story” franchise has lasted nearly a quarter century, and each installment earned more than its predecessor. The last one was in 2010; has the market changed so much in nine years? It’s still the seventh-best (adjusted) animation opening ever, second to “Toy Story 3” — but “Minions,” a far less-anticipated sequel, opened better in mid-July 2015.

“Toy Story 4”

More recently, last year Pixar’s “Incredibles 2” opened to $182 million. Yes, it had the benefit of Father’s Day to boost it, but how much additional revenue did that provide? “Incredibles 2” also faced competition from a very strong second weekend of “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom;” there was nothing remotely as competitive for “Toy Story 4.” It’s clear something has changed.

Disney correctly claims that the initial international grosses for “Toy Story 4” are slightly ahead of “Incredibles 2” last year at $120 million. That includes some strong, even record-breaking showings in some territories. However, “Toy Story 4” opened everywhere outside of three top countries; “Incredibles 2” missed far more with delayed debuts. In recent years, international has accounted for slightly more than half of Pixar’s revenues; other studios, including Disney, often see animation gross 75% or more overseas.

"Child's Play"
Child’s PlayUnited Artists/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

“Child’s Play” places at the lower end of classic horror genre remakes or updates. No one expected anything like “Halloween” last October, which earned $76 million. But “Pet Sematary” managed $24 million in April. Among others that fared better in recent years are “Carrie,” “Evil Dead,” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street.”

From its start in 1988, with six entries through 2004, the Chucky series became one of the best-known horror franchises. In adjusted terms, this weekend falls just below the debut, and a further distance behind two of the sequels. With a $12 million budget before marketing, the likely muscles its way into eventual breakeven. But that counts little for domestic theaters.

Not even initially making the Top 10 (though only $20,000 out in the estimate, so that could change), Luc Besson’s “Anna” only managed $3.5 million. Lionsgate has a strong relationship with Besson’s studio, which also produces the “Taken” franchise. This variation on Besson’s strong, sexy women gunslingers (see: “Nikita,” “The Professional,” “Lucy”) was unlikely to strike a chord here, and Besson’s recent brush with #MeToo issues likely didn’t help. Regardless, this is a film made to find its primary audience outside North America.

Men in Black: InternationalSony Pictures

The second weekend of “Men in Black: International” dropped 64%, salting the wounds after a tepid opening. The $110 million-budgeted film will struggle to gross $70 million domestically. Foreign has $129 million in, so it’s not a total disaster. But hard to see it as the start of a rebooted franchise.

“The Secret Life of Pets 2” dropped 58% its third weekend, for $118 million. The first “Pets” dropped 42% its third weekend, and already had reached $261 million. More grist for the mill.

Three other retreads had further similar falls. “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” “Dark Phoenix,” and “Shaft” all fell around 60% to continue their weak domestic showings.

Much better holds were seen by “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” — down $36 million, already at $156 million — and “Rocketman,” off 40% and headed toward a domestic total between $90 million-$100 million. It’s no “Bohemian Rhapsody,” but with its equivalent international take, it should get into profit.

The Top Ten

1. Toy Story 4 (Disney) NEW – Cinemascore: A; Metacritic: 84; Est. budget: $200 million

$118,000,000 in 4,575 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $25,792; Cumulative: $118,000,000

2. Child’s Play (United Artists) NEW – Cinemascore: C+; Metacritic: 48; Est. budget: $12 million

$14,055,000 in 3,007 theaters; PTA: $4,674; Cumulative: $14,055,000

3. Aladdin (Disney) Week 5; Last weekend #3

$12,200,000 (-29%) in 3,435 theaters (-121); PTA: $3,552; Cumulative: $287,510,000

4. Men in Black: International (Sony) Week 2; Last weekend #1

$10,750,000 (-64%) in 4,224 theaters (no change); PTA: $2,545; Cumulative: $52,690,000

5. The Secret Life of Pets 2 (Universal) Week 2; Last weekend #2

$10,290,000 (-58%) in 3,804 theaters (no change); PTA: $2,705; Cumulative: $117,584,000

6. Rocketman (Paramount) Week 4; Last weekend #4

$5,650,000 (-40%) in 2,414 theaters (-607); PTA: $2,341; Cumulative: $77,328,000

7. John Wick 3 (Lionsgate) Week 6; Last weekend #8

$4,075,000 (-36%) in 1,607 theaters (-426); PTA: $2,536; Cumulative: $156,067,000

8. Godzilla: King of the Monsters (Warner Bros.) Week 4; Last weekend #7

$3,700,000 (-581%) in 2,368 theaters (-839); PTA: $1,563; Cumulative: $102,346,000

9. Dark Phoenix (Disney) Week 3; Last weekend #5

$3,600,000 (-61%) in 2,054 theaters (-1,667); PTA: $1,753; Cumulative: $60,159,000

10. Shaft (Warner Bros.) Week 2; Last weekend #

$3,555,000 (-60%) in 2,952 theaters (no change); PTA: $1,672; Cumulative: $10,673,000


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