Disney probably wishes it could redo the rollout of its latest animated movie.
That's because Wish, the fantastical story of a teenage girl who literally wishes upon a star (for a good cause!), fell short of expectations. Analysts had predicted that the film, conceived in part to honor the storied studio's 100th anniversary, would earn between $40 million and $50 million in its debut, but it ended up with $31.7 million domestically over the five-day holiday weekend.
"The numbers on [Wish] were really low," Gitesh Pandya, founder and editor of Box Office Guru, told Yahoo Finance, "even by Disney standards and Thanksgiving standards."
Here's what you need to know about Wish's underperformance in theaters.
What was Wish up against at the box office? And how did those films do?
The family-friendly movie was running on screens down the hall from Napoleon, Ridley Scott's epic tale of the French emperor, his relationship with wife Josephine and his professional battles, as well as The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. The former brought in an estimated $32.5 million, while moviegoers shelled out $42 million for Songbirds and Snakes, which spent its second weekend atop the box office. Wish had been one of the more anticipated films of the year.
So what went wrong?
The question that many a studio exec asks themselves on a Monday morning. And, of course, it's not a simple one.
David A. Gross, who runs Franchise Entertainment Research, a movie consultancy that publishes a newsletter on box-office trends, tells Yahoo Entertainment that, for a 2023 movie, streaming has a lot to do with it.
"At the beginning of the pandemic, the industry embraced short-term thinking and threw itself into the streaming business without thinking about what that might do to moviegoing when the pandemic ended. The stock market rewarded it," Gross says. "Traditional release windows were blurred and moviegoers were trained to watch what had been theatrical stories at home. Audiences became comfortable, and the value of the big screen dropped. We had at least two years of that, before the industry realized what was happening. By the time Wall Street pulled the plug, the theatrical experience was damaged."
There was also the fact that, until Nov. 8, the cast, which includes Ariana DeBose, Chris Pine, Alan Tudyk and Natasha Rothwell, was unable to promote the project due to the actors strike.
All this plus, when it came down to it, viewers had so many more choices when it came to which stories to watch. Again, much of it without leaving your couch.
"Against the backdrop of saturation on streaming, audiences are less committed now if they have a doubt about something new," Gross says.
What does this mean long-term?
Studios, too, have long been much more skittish about original stories, like Wish, than known properties, such as The Hunger Games, author Walt Hickey documents in his 2023 book You Are What You Watch. Wish tried to be both.
"I think that Wish was in a really interesting position because it was trying to have its cake and eat it too, when it came to the nostalgia play and when it came to the original idea," Hickey tells Yahoo. "A lot of the ad campaign was really hyping up like, 'Oh, this is the wish from 'When You Wish Upon a Star.' It's celebrating 100 years of Disney. It's aggressively making an attempt to hit that nostalgia angle that has been so lucrative for these theaters and for these movie producers. But, at the same time, it obviously had its original story and it's also new characters."
The idea seemed to be attracting adults and kids at the same time but for different reasons. Reviews were mixed, with just 50% of 154 critics approving of the film on Rotten Tomatoes.
"It appears that they kind of got the worst of both worlds," Hickey says, "where some of the most heavily negative reviews came from people who were just tired of the dreck of the nostalgia jammed in there and the shoutouts and allusions and callbacks that they felt distracted from the film. While at the same time, it kind of had the promotional rollout of an original [intellectual property], where people really didn't know a lot about it."
He notes that Wish could still have a happy ending. It could be like the company's 2021 animated film, Encanto, which earned $40.3 million in its opening weekend, earning it the top spot at a disappointing moment at the box office that was very much still recovering from the pandemic. That movie "had a potentially weak box office, but then went on to build and build and build," Hickey says.
"I don't know if it's necessarily time to call it, but more importantly, I don't think that this is necessarily a paragon example of an original IP flopping," Hickey says. "This really did kind of seem like it was trying to have a larger conversation about the past century at Disney, and potentially that was intimidating to parents."
What else is coming up for Disney?
Looking forward, Gross notes, Disney's Planet of the Apes franchise entry, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, which is slated for May 2024, "looks very strong."
Meanwhile, there are still a few weeks where families will be getting together for the holidays and possibly heading to the movies, which is good for Wish. The studio can hope it follows a similar trajectory to another recent release.The Disney-Pixar summer release Elemental failed to clear $30 million in its opening weekend, leading to many thinkpieces devoted to the studio's presumptive downfall. But powered by word of mouth, the film wound up persevering and grossing just under $500 million to become one of the year's top performers.
"If you think back over the past couple of years, some of the most successful of Disney's animated films were completely original concepts, things like Frozen, Encanto," says Hickey. 'Whereas some of the more reliable performers, but not necessarily compelling stuff from the animation department, things like Lightyear, Frozen II, these were things that did well, absolutely, but also were kind of designed to reliably make back money. Not just through the cinema but also through merchandising and things like that, to reinvigorate interest in existing, beloved characters. So you do have to strike a balance."
Companies must continue to crank out profitable content.
"You never want to be in a position where you're only exploiting nostalgia-based entertainment and not coming up with anything new," Hickey says, "because, at a certain point, the well's going to go dry."