Pixar’s “Lightyear” struggled to travel to infinity and beyond at the domestic box office this past weekend, ending up at an estimated $51 million thanks to a perfect storm of headwinds, falling short of industry forecasts of around $70 million .
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Daniel Loria, Box Office Pro’s editorial director and senior vice president of content strategy, told FOX Business that there aren’t many data points to accurately predict families’ movie-going habits post-pandemic.
“Now if you look at the predictions for each title, I think predictions were way off to be honest,” Loria said. “I think when it comes to Lightyear’s opening weekend, if we just look at the raw data that’s been there, the data points that we’ve had since the pandemic reopened theaters, it does well in this strip, but definitely not pre-pandemic levels that we expect.”
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Loria said Lightyear’s box office earnings may have been a victim of increasing competition from Top Gun: Maverick and Jurassic World: Dominion, which Sunday estimates have combined worldwide grossing at $600 million and $885 million, respectively have exceeded Comscore.
“I think the most important lesson, especially when you look at the international numbers, is that the US market is in a position where since ‘Quiet Place Part II’ the US market has been a big movie, every two coming out in three weeks,” he explained. “Last weekend at the box office you had ‘Top Gun,’ you had ‘Jurassic World,’ and you had ‘Lightyear.’ It was a crowded market with three films that were really competitive, and no one took that lion’s share because I think there was so much competition.
Film critic Scott Mantz added that inflation is making consumers more selective about what they see in theaters and that “Lightyear,” a spin-off of the original Toy Story franchise, may have made it harder for families to sell.
“Remember that movie in the first ‘Toy Story’ that Andy, the little boy, was a big fan of which made him get a Buzz Lightyear action figure? This is this movie,” Mantz told FOX Business. “Try to tell families about it. It is confusing.”
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In addition to competition and economic uncertainty, Mantz believes “Lightyear” may have been harmed by families tuned into Pixar’s earlier direct-to-stream releases of “Soul,” “Luca,” and “Turning Red.”
“Pixar used to be the gold standard and I think it still is the gold standard,” Mantz said. “But the adjusted standard in recent years has been to release these Pixar films on Disney Plus because the theaters were closed, but also because Disney was really trying to increase subscriptions.”
Loria argues that the strategy has made the Pixar brand a “think” in Disney’s vast media empire.
“Disney put itself in a very difficult position with a marketing campaign centered around Lightyear because it had to compete with more than two years of marketing for the entire brand to go straight to streaming. And I think a lot of studios are struggling with that,” Loria said. “I think the new paradigm of different theatrical exclusivity periods creates confusion and maybe frustration for the general audience.”
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Although “Lightyear” was banned in Malaysia and other countries over a same-sex kiss in the film, Comscore senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian argues that any controversy over it likely had no impact on the film’s opening weekend.
“Historically, controversy surrounding a movie only serves to generate consumer awareness and curiosity, and as such has had little demonstrable impact on the box office,” he told FOX Business. “Of course, there may have been some potential moviegoers who decided against ‘Lightyear’ for personal or political reasons, but pragmatically speaking, ‘Lightyear’ is for families looking to see a brand new PG-rated animated film in theaters is the only game in town until ‘Minions: The Rise of Gru’ launches on July 1st, and as such the film could see box office gains over time rather than a big launch on opening weekend.
According to Comscore, “Lightyear” is on track to hit $100 million globally this week and could potentially surpass $100 million domestically if it holds steady over the next two weeks.