'Playmobil': Anatomy of an Epic Box Office Bomb

PLAYMOBIL- THE MOVIE-Publicity -H 2019
STX Films

Not even $5 tickets could save STXfilms’ animated pic, which is being called the biggest test to date of variable pricing by U.S. movie theaters.

Think of Playmobil: The Movie as a pop quiz that went horribly wrong.

Over the Dec. 6-8 weekend, the long-delayed animated pic opened to a horrible $656,500 domestically from 2,337 theaters — the third-worst debut of all time for a title rolling out in 2,000 or more locations — despite cinemas across the country offering discounted $5 tickets for kids and adults alike.

The only two movies to have fared worse were 2012's Oogieloves and the Big Balloon Adventure ($443,901) and 2008's Delgo ($511,920), according to Comscore and not adjusted for inflation.

STXfilms — which is distributing the pic domestically, but has no equity in the independently produced movie — says Playmobil is the first major test of variable ticket pricing in the U.S. The indie Hollywood studio knew the family film would face fierce competition from Disney's Frozen 2, so it approached theater owners with the idea of offering reduced prices.

The entreaty clicked, resulting in a "be a kid all day" campaign that saw the vast majority of exhibitors offering $5 tickets. (Year to date, the average cost of a movie ticket in the U.S. is $9.08, although the price can be $17 or $20 in major cities such as L.A. and New York.)

“We are in a business that focuses on growing box office gross. But in this case we were looking beyond that. We were working closely with our exhibitor partners on a strategy to stimulate not only gross but growth within our business," STXfilms distribution chief Kevin Grayson said in a Sunday statement following the movie's opening. "We have many challenges these days with growing attendance and this was an attempt at stimulating growth through experimentation with a value pricing model."

STXfilms is hardly alone in urging exhibitors to consider variable pricing as a means of supporting titles that aren't major event pics.

However, box office analysts say Playmobil isn't an accurate barometer, noting that only a minimal $3 million was spent on marketing the movie, far from enough to ignite widespread awareness.

"If you can't make over $1 million in a wide release weekend, it's not a fair test. Try it with a film which can do over $10 million," says Erik Handler of MKM Partners. "It was likely a movie that wasn't going to do well, and this was a desperate measure."

STXfilms picked up domestic rights to Playmobil last year after Open Road Films imploded. A slew of companies were involved in financing and producing the film, including the French-based ON Animation, Wild Bunch and Pathe. The film's budget is reportedly as high as $75 million. Internationally, it has earned roughly $13 million to date.

Playmobil isn't lacking talent pedigree, boasting a voice cast that includes Anya Taylor-Joy, Daniel Radcliffe, Jim Gaffigan, Kenan Thompson and Meghan Trainor.