This year’s Thanksgiving box office was both feast and famine Walter Disney.
While “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” added $64 million to its domestic tally during the five-day time frame, Disney’s latest animated film “Strange World” failed to entice moviegoers, making just $18.6 million between Wednesday and Sunday and a dismal $11.9 million for the traditional three-day opening.
That’s the worst three-day opening for a Disney animated film since 2000’s “The Emperor’s New Groove,” which grossed just under $10 million on its debut, according to Comscore data.
The dichotomous weekend comes as CEO Bob Iger returns to the helm of the company, vowing to restructure Disney in a way that puts creativity at the forefront. Iger is expected to explain these plans Monday at a company town hall.
The week of Thanksgiving is typically a busy time at the checkout. Over the past decade, not counting 2020 and 2021, the five-day Thanksgiving spread — consisting of the Wednesday before Thanksgiving through Sunday — has resulted in more than $250 million in ticket sales each year.
This year, the domestic Thanksgiving box office was about $121 million. “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” led the pack, with “Strange World” in second place. All other movies, inclusive from Sony “Devotion”, “The Menu” by Disney and Searchlight, Warner Bros.“Black Adam” and Universals “The Fabelmans” grossed less than $10 million each.
Not in the mix Netflix “Glass onion.” The streamer declined to share box office receipts for the latest Rian Johnson film, though it is believed to have grossed between $13 million and $15 million over its five-day stretch.
While “Strange World” outperformed a number of other films this weekend, its muffled opening raises concerns about Disney’s animation strategy and whether Iger can save the ship.
Disney’s previous CEO Bob Chapek, who took over from Iger just as the pandemic began in early 2020, made a series of decisions that alienated the company’s creative leaders following the movie theater’s closure.
For starters, he reorganized the company to run creative decisions through a single executive, rather than each studio, taking power away from the people responsible for Disney’s biggest blockbusters.
Chapek then opted to release a number of Pixar and Disney Animation films directly on the company’s streaming service rather than in theaters. This was partly because children were unvaccinated at the time and families avoided theaters, but also to try to bolster Disney+’s library with new content.
These decisions have led to much confusion among the public when animated Disney movies have been released in theaters. Either these moviegoers don’t know the movie is being released, or they think it’s coming to Disney’s streaming platform.
This happened when Disney released “Lightyear” in theaters in June. While the two previous Toy Story franchise films grossed more than $100 million each domestically, “Lightyear” only pulled in $50 million in ticket sales during its debut.
Disney Animation’s “Strange World” follows the Clades, a family of explorers whose disagreements threaten to overthrow their newest – and by far – most crucial mission.
This strategic decision is reinforced by the fact that family films have been scarce at the box office in the wake of the pandemic. This means there are fewer opportunities for studios to market movie trailers to their designated audiences in movie theaters and they rely more on television and digital advertising.
There is no question that a sluggish overall market and lack of awareness to build horsepower for ‘Strange World’ is hurting its potential to follow the tradition of Disney’s long line of animated hits during this very important holiday weekend in theaters, said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore.
The crowning glory of the Thanksgiving box office has long been held by Disney and its animated films, with films like “Frozen II,” “Coco,” “Moana,” and “Ralph Breaks the Internet” leading the way over the past decade.
Even “Encanto,” which was released during the Thanksgiving frame last year, managed to gross more than $27 million during its three-day opening and more than $40 million during its entire five-day holiday weekend.
Maybe “Strange World” will follow a similar path to “Encanto” and get more attention from families once it’s added to Disney+.
Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and TBEN. NBCUniversal distributed “The Fabelmans”.