Although nobody ever questioned the enduring strength of Disney’s fine-tuned movie machinery, it has proven to be uniquely capable of producing massive profits while the broader industry desperately struggles just to break even, even with presumably “can’t miss” blockbuster properties. Summer 2017 proved to be the worst turn at the box office in over a decade. Follow-ups to beloved classics, made with auteur directors and A-list actors, struggled to find an audience, as did superhero mega-crossovers centered around that genre’s most iconic and historically profitable figureheads.
The company’s live-action remake of their animated classic Beauty and the Beast made well over a billion dollars at the global box office back in February. Despite a mixed reception, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales both turned a massive profit and teased a sequel that people (not me, but others) appear to be genuinely excited about. All three of their 2017 Marvel movies — Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming and Thor: Ragnarok — were both critical and popular successes. And those year-round successes continued in their animated features, both Cars 3 and now Coco.
Thanksgiving has always proven to be a major windfall for the film industry in general and for family-friendly movies in particular, with reunited families in want of something to do while they digest their turkey typically turning to what’s showing at their local multiplexes. Although less profitable than typical for this time of year, it never-the-less proved to be the case for the latest Disney-released Pixar film: Coco. Since its Tuesday debut, the film has earned an impressive $71 million. Even ignoring those weekday screenings, it still managed to gross $49 million over the Holiday weekend.
Those numbers are thanks largely to its strong reviews and word-of-mouth, both of which have been in short supply in 2017. The film earned a 96% score on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes (showing that it was universally liked by those who saw it). It was awarded an 80 on MetaCritic (showing that it was deeply loved by those same people). Finally, it received A+ on Cinema Score (showing that it delivered exactly what it advertised to the public). Compare those number to Justice League (40%, 46, B+) and it’s obvious why that film has bombed while its competition has soared over the same period of time.
As for Justice League, that movie failed to find its second wind over the holiday weekend. Some DCEU hopefuls maintained through the film’s second week that it would received a commanding boost when “true fans” (unlike those who showed up for its opening weekend?) showed up during the Thanksgiving holiday. However, the film’s returns plummeted by 57% from its debut, earning only $40 million in its second weekend.
Industry insiders suggest that between its $300 million budget and comparable advertising and distribution costs, Justice League could lose more than $100 million over the course of its theatrical run. The initial estimates of its breaking even at the $600 million mark have been re-evaluated at $700 million and its presumed losses have been increased to as much as $150. These problems are compounded by The Last Jedi‘s impending release, which will likely push Justice League out of theaters entirely. Meanwhile, Coco is looking to earn a steady profit through the Christmas season, where demand for family films is always at a premium.
Good movies will always be in demand, which is probably why so few people want to pay to see DC’s superhero crossover despite those same people flocking to see Pixar’s DÃa de los Muertos adventure. In fact, it’s why so many movies have failed to capture audiences this year. Hopefully studio executives will take note of this and redouble their efforts: for both our sakes.