Disney: Strange World animation flops at box office, Disney+ blamed

It was supposed to be a Disney must see Christmas movie – but it seems audiences hadn’t got the message and have failed spectacularly to actually go and see it.

Strange World opened last week in the US over the key Thanksgiving holiday weekend. It was released in Australia on November 24.

According to Variety magazine the animation, about three generations of a family of explorers, needs to claw back more than $538 million overall to beat its production and marketing costs.

Yet it made less than $18 million (US$11.9m) on its critical opening weekend and is expected to lose almost $150 million on its theatrical run.

Website The Wrap has called Strange World a “historic bomb” for the studio.

With a voice cast that includes Jake Gyllenhaal and Dennis Quaid, Strange World was comprehensively beaten by Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Although that film comes from Marvel Studios, itself also part of Disney.

It’s the second box office animation flub from Disney this year. Lightyear, the Toy Story spin off from sister company Pixar, has barely broken even and brought in far less cash than previous instalments of the franchise.

The box office fails come at a tricky time for the giant Hollywood company, which also owns theme parks, Twentieth Century Studios and the US ABC television network.

Last week, Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Chapek stood down to be replaced by his predecessor Bob Iger.

There had been rumblings that part of the reason for Strange World flopping was its inclusion of a gay character and a focus on environmental issues.

Indeed, Disney made the decision not to release Strange World in the Middle East, Indonesia and a number of other overseas markets where the mere mention of LGBTI issues could see the film cut or banned altogether.

But analysts have suggested Disney, and specifically the way it has been releasing kids films in recent years, is likely the major factor behind the movie’s underperformance.

That and audiences simply not loving it.

Variety put the production costs for Strange World at US$180m (A$269m). However, add in marketing and other costs on top of that and it has to gross an estimated US$360m (A$538m) to break even.

It had been expected to rake in up to US$40m during the five day Thanksgiving holiday. It brought in just US18.6m and a measly US$11.9m on the weekend.

That’s a bad result for Disney. It means Strange World has made only slightly more on its opening weekend than 2021’s West Side Story reboot and far less than Encanto, released during Thanksgiving 2021.

According to some estimates, Strange World could now lose around US$100m (A$149m) during its cinema release. Even it subsequent inclusion on the Disney+ streaming platform may not get the film to turn a profit.

Reason Strange World flopped

Like all US films, Strange World has suffered by not being distributed in Russia.

While China – which limits the number of foreign films in cinemas – has not picked the Disney offering as one of the chosen few US movies to get a release.

It was also a weak weekend for just about every new film released in the US.

However, Disney’s strategy around releasing new films is thought to be a key reason in Strange World falling flat.

During the pandemic, Disney enthusiastically put particularly children’s films on its streaming platform with no theatrical release. These films included Pixar’s Soul and Turning Red.

It’s speculated that may have harmed subsequent theatrical releases.

Even through Strange World is currently only in cinemas, families may be holding off on heading to movie theatres with the expectation it will likely reach Disney+ before Christmas.

Why bother forking out for high price cinema tickets now where can you watch it at home for far less within weeks?

Hocus Pocus 2, which went straight to Disney+, has become the streaming service’s most watched movie ever.

In addition, there have been questions raised about the marketing of Strange World, as there was with Lightyear.

Film gets a shrug from critics, audiences

And then there is the fact that, compared to other Disney fare, it’s just not all that great.

The New York Times said the film was “all too familiar”. It’s been called “agreeable but unremarkable” and a solid Disney animation but far from a classic.

On movie review website Rotten Tomatoes it received a lukewarm 61 per cent audience score.

Now under the leadership of Bob Iger, the relationship between cinema releases and Disney+ is set to be a major focus.

In 2021, Scarlett Johansson launched a lawsuit against the movie giant, alleging that the debut of her Marvel movie, Black Widow, on Disney+ was a breach of her contract.

Sources revealed Johnson has lost more than $67 million as a result of the Disney+ release. Johansson reached a private settlement in October.

Mr Iger is thought to be considering allowing more Disney movies to get a theatrical release and having a larger gap between cinema and streaming to encourage families to trek out and pay the higher ticket prices.

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