Beauty and the Beast will waltz its way into audiences’ hearts this weekend. It’s a tale as old as time, set to the music of clinging and clanging cash registers.
A combination of nostalgia for the original Disney animated classic and the recent popularity of live-action fairy tales is translating into massive ticket sales. Nearly every person of speaking age on the planet is aware of the story of Beauty and the Beast, both from the French fairy tale and the 1991 animated smash. The new, Bill Condon-directed version has been praised by critics for honoring the sense of romance and magic that made the cartoon so beloved, while updating it for a new generation of moviegoers.
“It’s going to pull from a lot of different audience segments over the weekend,” said Eric Handler, an analyst with MKM Partners. “Disney has sold millions of copies of the first film on home entertainment. Millions of people saw it in theaters. There have been Broadway shows and tours and consumer product lines.”
That universal recognition will translate into big business. Beauty and the Beast is expected to open to more than $120 million domestically, with some rival studios and tracking services projecting a debut in the $140 million range. Fandango is reporting robust pre-ticket sales — the film is the top-selling family title in the company’s history and is outpacing blockbusters such as Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War at the same point in their sales cycle.
Overseas, the story of the bookish French girl who melts a monster’s hardened heart will open in nearly 70% of the global market, including such major territories as China, Russia (where it’s received a 16+ rating for its inclusion of a gay character), Brazil, Spain, Mexico, and the United Kingdom. Despite the controversy surrounding an overly hyped “gay moment,” the film should add between $80 million and $110 million to its haul from those countries. That means that Beauty and the Beast may have racked up as much as $240 million globally by the time Monday comes around.
Disney spent $160 million making the movie. The cast includes Emma Watson, who turned down the lead in La La Land to bring Belle to life, and Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens as her horned love interest. The supporting players include Luke Evans as the villainous Gaston, Josh Gad as his sidekick LeFou, and the likes of Emma Thompson, Ian McKellen, and Ewan McGregor representing a wide array of talking household items. The soundtrack revives the animated film’s classic score, reprising such favorites as “Be Our Guest” and “Belle.”
Beauty and the Beast is expected to dominate the multiplexes, but there is one other new release hoping to appeal to older crowds, The Belko Experiment. The horror film presents a new twist on corporate Darwinism. It follows 80 Americans, locked in a high-rise office in Bogotá, Colombia, who are ordered by a voice on the intercom to kill one another in a lethal demonstration of survival of the fittest. The low-budget release will open in between 1,250 and 1,300 locations, roughly a third of the theater count for a major studio release. The theaters are chosen because they are more popular with horror fans. Orion, an MGM label, backed the film and is distributing it with BH Tilt, which is an experiment by “The Purge” producer Blumhouse to find more cost-efficient ways to bring smaller films to the masses. The partners are looking for a $4 million opening.
It may not be the preferred choice for horror movie lovers, but surveys suggest that “Beauty and the Beast” has wide appeal across various age groups. Fandango polled ticket buyers and found that 44% plan to see the movie with their families, while 43% will see the film with a date, significant other, or friend. To help whet appetites, Disney is doing a series of special fan screenings on Thursday that will include behind-the-scenes footage and a 3D version of Ariana Grande and John Legend’s music video tied to the film’s theme song. RealD handled the conversion for the promotion.
Beauty and the Beast is the latest animated film to receive a live-action sprucing up. The studio previously scored with the likes of Cinderella ($543.5 million worldwide), Maleficent ($758.5 million worldwide), and The Jungle Book ($966.6 million worldwide). Remakes of Dumbo and Mulan are already in the works, with Disney basically eyeing every animated property save for The Rescuers Down Under as a potential new live-action hit.
“This won’t be the last time Disney does this with one of these animated properties,” said Handler.
WATCH: Emma Watson and the cast of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ bring the classic songs to life
Watch Josh Gad and Luke Evans joke about a LeFou-Gaston spin-off: