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While Sheriff Woody, Buzz Lightyear and Bo Peep weren’t entirely immune to franchise fatigue over the June 21-23 weekend, they were far less infected than other sequels have been at the 2019 summer box office.
It’s undeniable that Pixar and Disney’s critically acclaimed Toy Story 4 came in behind expectations, despite glowing reviews and pristine exit scores.
Prerelease tracking — which has been off of late — had predicted a domestic opening in the $140 million-$165 million range. Instead, the movie landed at an estimated $118 million domestically (that figure could rise to $122 million by the time final weekend numbers are tallied). Globally, it soared to $238 million-plus, a record for an animated film.
It’s also undeniable that Toy Story 4 did big business in its own right. The tentpole opened ahead of the three previous films in the beloved series, unadjusted for inflation. And when accounting for inflation, only 2010’s Toy Story 3 opened higher ($126 million), no small feat.
“The trouble is, if a movie doesn’t hit some assigned number, it is suddenly perceived as an underperformer. The expectations were overblown. In a vacuum, Toy Story 4 had a spectacular weekend,” says box office analyst Paul Dergarabedian of Comscore.
He continues, “Toy Story 4 is the fourth installment. It gets tougher to get audiences enthused. It’s impressive that they’ve been able to maintain this level of interest and reviews.”
Other stats: Toy Story 4 is only the third movie of 2019 thus far to cross $100 million in its launch, following fellow Disney releases Avengers: Endgame and Captain Marvel.
It also sits at No. 4 on the list of biggest animated openings ever behind fellow Pixar titles Incredibles 2 ($183 million), Finding Dory ($135 million) and DreamWorks Animation’s Shrek the Third ($125 million), not adjusted. Dergarabedian and other analysts note that Incredibles 2 and Finding Dory were both direct sequels, while Incredibles 2 also had the advantage of playing to superhero fans.
“Did Toy Story 4 have a phenomenal opening? No. But it’s a great opening. And it’s wrong to compare Toy Story 4 to Incredibles 2. This is the fourth film,” says Wall Street analyst Eric Handler of MKM Partners.
Franchise fatigue has been an ongoing issue at the summer box office, where domestic revenue is running 6 percent behind last year.
Among other family films, Illumination and Universal’s animated tentpole The Secret Life of Pets grossed $46.7 million earlier this month in its North American debut, less than half the $104.4 million bow of the first film in July 2016 (or $110 million when adjusted for inflation). And, like Toy Story 4, Pets 2 came in notably behind tracking.
Live-action summer franchise installments that have badly disappointed domestically include X-Men entry Dark Phoenix, Godzilla: King of the Monsters and Men in Black: International. All launched well below their predecessors.
In that regard, Toy Story 4 stands apart.
Toy Story 3 debuted in June 2010 to $126 million, preceded by Toy Story 2‘s $101.8 million bow in 1999 and Toy Story‘s $60.4 million launch in 1995. (All grosses have been adjusted for inflation. Unadjusted, the same grosses are $110.3 million, $57.4 million and $29.1 million, respectively.)
Toy Story 3 went on to earn north of $1 billion at the worldwide box office. It also won the Oscar for best animated feature. It remains to be seen how high Toy Story 4 soars.
“Talk to me after its run,” says Handler.
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