- Pixar’s “Lightyear” opened this weekend with $50.5 million at the US box office, under projections.
- It debuted at No. 2, behind “Jurassic World: Dominion” in its second weekend.
- Competition, confusing marketing and streaming expectations may have played a role.
Disney and Pixar’s “Lightyear” opened in theaters this weekend at $50.5 million in the US, below projections and not enough to top the box office.
“Jurassic World: Dominion” took first place on its second weekend with $58 million, a 60% drop from its debut. “Top Gun: Maverick” finished at #3 on its fourth weekend with $44 million, down just 15% from the previous weekend.
Disney’s initial projection for “Lightyear” was in the $70 million range, and box office analysts were optimistic. Shawn Robbins, the chief analyst at Box Office Pro, predicted an $84 million debut in the US.
The first weekend of “Lightyear” is one of the lowest for a Pixar movie. Only a handful of other releases have done worse in their debut, including ‘Ratatouille’, ‘The Good Dinosaur’ and ‘Onward’.
However, there is still hope for “Lightyear”.
Pixar’s “Coco,” which opened in 2017 at a comparable $50.8 million, went on to gross $210 million in the US and $807 million worldwide. The coming weeks will show whether “Lightyear” has those legs. It received an A grade from CinemaScore, which surveys audiences on a film’s opening night, indicating a positive reception from the audience.
Here are three possible reasons for missing “Lightyear” at the checkout:
1. Competition in a recovering market
The US theater industry is recovering from the coronavirus pandemic. According to Comscore, the box office is up 285% from last year around this time, when few movies were released.
But it’s still significantly lower than it was in 2019 and largely supported by franchise tent poles more than ever.
Family movies have a high bar to clear as parents and kids have been slow to return to the cinema, but “Lightyear”‘s opening weekend is still the biggest for an animated movie to date during the pandemic.
“Dominion” and “Maverick” probably attracted some of the potential audience of “Lightyear” as both movies still play well. “Maverick” in particular has had incredible legs and has grossed $466 million in the US so far.
Both films are blockbuster sequels that play on nostalgia. Likewise, the focus on the Buzz Lightyear character from the “Toy Story” movies raised expectations for “Lightyear” — but it’s not a “Toy Story” movie.
2. Confusing Marketing
When Chris Evans was first announced as the voice of Buzz Lightyear in 2020, he tweeted that the film is “the original story of the human Buzz Lightyear on which the toy is based”.
That is not entirely true. The title card that begins the film refers to the Andy character from “Toy Story,” saying, “In 1995, Andy got a toy from his favorite movie. This is that movie.”
It wasn’t until the week of “Lightyear” release that Disney started using that quote to make the film easier to market.
3. This is Pixar’s first theatrical release in 2 years
“Lightyear” is the first Pixar film to be released exclusively in theaters since “Onward,” which was released in March 2020, just before the theaters closed due to the pandemic.
The last three Pixar films – “Luca”, “Soul” and “Turning Red” – were released directly on Disney+
It’s possible that many would-be moviegoers have stayed home expecting the film to be streamed soon.
And maybe it is. The theater window has shrunk during the pandemic and 45 days is becoming a new industry standard. For example, that’s how long “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” will have been in theaters before it arrived on Disney+ this Wednesday.
“The public was somewhat conditioned to think of Pixar releases as ‘free,'” wrote Robbins, Box Office Pro’s chief analyst.