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Box Office Report

‘Lego Ninjago’ A No-Go At The Box Office

The Lego Ninjago Movie, directed by Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher, and Bob Logan, stumbled big time at the box office, opening with just $20.4 million in its launch, far below the $30-45 million industry projections. Even the modest $27-32M projections of Warner Bros. proved far too optimistic.

When the final numbers are in, Ninjago will be confirmed as the second-weakest opening ever for an animated film launching in 4,000+ theaters. The ignominious record was broken just last month by Open Road Films’s The Nut Job 2, which launched in 4,003 theaters with $8.3 million. Combined with The Emoji Movie (the third-weakest animation launch in 4K+ theaters), the hopeful takeaway for Open Road Films, Sony, and WB is that not every animated feature should be treated as a tent-pole or launched in 4,000+ theaters. It puts unreasonable pressure on all involved when every animated feature is expected to deliver a $40 million opening.

There will be plenty of discussion about why the film failed to attract a bigger audience – yes, Ninjago is a long-running tv series that kids can watch for free; yes, Ninjago is a limited-audience kids’ brand that no adult outside of fandom has heard of or cares about; yes, movie execs should have celebrated the novelty success of the original Lego and not greedily assumed franchise – but the core of the discussion, in my opinion, has to center around the film’s disastrous marketing campaign.

The one time I saw the trailer for this film in a theater, there was dead silence besides the whispers of confusion from the young audience. The trailer sold the film as a wacky comedy about a kid being hated by his father. It was mean-spirited to an unprecedented degree for a kids’ animation trailer, and for parents unfamiliar with the brand, it would be unconscionable to further subject a child to a film that purportedly is all about squeezing laughs out of parental abandonment.

If the weekend estimate holds, Ninjago will have opened lower than Warner Bros.’ last original animation feature, Storks, and that’s problematic since WB really thought the Lego films would be a bread-and-butter flagship franchise, generating consistent revenue thanks to the brand’s built-in name recognition.

But audiences haven’t warmed up to the idea of paying repeatedly at the box office for what are essentially feature-length toy commercials. The Lego Batman Movie delivered nearly $160M less worldwide than the original Lego Movie ($312M to $469.2M), and Ninjago will gross far less than Batman.

Warner Bros. has at least two more Lego films in the works – The Lego Movie sequel and The Billion Brick Race – and they will need to either find a way to convince audiences that these films are worth paying for or cut their losses and move on.

Speaking of animation franchises, there’s at least one company that has figured out how to consistently entertain global audiences. Universal/Illumination’s Despicable Me 3 added $2.9M to its global take this weekend, lifting its worldwide total to $1.02 billion.

DM3 is now just $4M shy of overtaking Zootopia to become the 5th highest-grossing animated feature of all time.

A couple countries in particular on the tail end of DM3′s release schedule – Japan and Italy – have overperformed and driven the film’s continued strong performance at the global box office. In both countries, DM3 is the 2nd highest-grossing film to date of 2017, with over $64M in Japan and over $20M in Italy.

  • Dante Panora

    Cinematic universes are a double-edged sword it seems. If just one film gets panned and bombs it’s losses may be recuperated later. But it’s so hard to back out of it and recover when multiple releases begin to fail, which is probably why Universal still seems willing to do more Dark universe films, just cause they were trying to hard to make it a thing.

  • Jack Newman

    It should have been released in February 2018, it would have had a better opening.

    • Sam Snyder

      but black planther

    • Inkan1969

      I don’t know. September is usually a soft month for animation releases. “Emoji”, “Leap” and “Nut Job 2” pretty much have run their courses, leaving “Ninjago” free of direct competition.

  • Elsi Pote

    I would say the Ninjago movie performed at par of what the franchise is and means for it fans. If they were expecting to reach and gain a wider new audience after years of DVD movies, they were as crazy as a fox.

    Did the father/son feud was too much for a young audience that most likely bonds with their fathers through Lego? Totally! (Not to mention how stupid that was) But the real problem was in the be yourself message which the Lego Movie beat to death.

    What Warner is suffering now is of the overthinking paradigm Pixar and DreamWorks have felt victims of, while Illumination is keeping it simple all the way. The same way the old masters did with the 1920’s slapsticks.

    They have to realize its think tank is leaking all over the place. They went from the don’t say no attitude of the Lego movie, to the play it safe, plug the formula, even if you don’t have a socket, and don’t rock the boat mentality of the Ninjago movie. Along the compounding fact that Miller and Lord are spreading themselves way too thin with the many things they have going on at this moment, to enjoy and appreciate the taste of one more entree on their plates.

    Hope this kick to the teeth wakes them up! They have something very special in their hands to let it die just because it is not making more money.than they thought they’d get.

    • ZibZabZo

      Best double check yer usage of crazy as a fox.

    • Dave 52

      Illumination is too simple for their own good. All the movies they make nowadays are plain generic, cookie cutter films whose trailers are more interesting than the actual movie. They want to be the studio that has a more Looney Tunes inspired style but lack the wit, cleverness, and comedy that those shorts had in them. Warner Animation Group on the other hand, has MASTERED the Looney Tunes style that Illumination lacks. Films like Storks, The LEGO Movie, The LEGO Batman Movie, and yes, even Ninjago have that Warner Brothers feel. The films are clever, witty, hilarious, and they feel director driven rather than studio driven just like how the Looney Tunes cartoons were director driven rather than studio driven. Illumination doesn’t have that like they did when the original Despicable Me came out. The think tank Warner Brothers has are able to make the films they want to make, throw out any ideas no matter how bizarre or wacky they are, and can write films that they can enjoy as well as others can enjoy. What Warner Brothers is doing with their animation studio is very similar to how the the boys back at the Termite Terrace made their shorts. I can’t say that for Illumination at all. Their films feel very studio driven, they aren’t very creative, any idea or concept that could have been interesting in one of their movies they deliver it in a very generic way, and they care more about the advertisement for the movie than the actual movie. Yeah, Ninjago is the weakest of the LEGO films but that doesn’t make it bad. It still has a lot of funny moments, clever gags, great action sequences, breath taking visuals, and heart. It’s good, not great and that’s not bad.That’s a lot more than I can say for Despicable Me 3. I mean you can watch both Ninjago and Despicable Me 3 and you could easily tell who has more creativity and who is willing to take more chances with something bizarre or “out there”.

      • Barrett

        Illumination has a mixed track record, but better than Dreamworks has been in recent years I’ll venture. Other than the Panda and Dragons franchises, the last Dreamworks movie that really drew my interest enough to see at all was The Croods. I’ve enjoyed most of Illumination’s films, though the Despicable Me franchise is starting to show diminishing returns, and The Secret Life of Pets was kind of underwhelming. But Sing was seriously underrated, and The Lorax was better than a lot of people made it out to be.

      • Roman Reigns Owns The IWC

        I saw Despicable Me 3 and I laughed and had fun, I don’t get it.

    • HN

      There you said it. Illumination’s movies are so simple. They are so generic, case in point being the Despicable Me franchise. Yes, they are fun movies and make lots of money, but I haven’t seen a movie from them that is Oscars-worthy, or even Annies or BAFTA or Golden Globe worthy. I repeat, very generic films. They should try to raise the creativity levels of their films. An animation studio can be well-made, Award-winning, and money making (also billions of dollars) at the same time. I have an example of a studio (2 studios actually) but I won’t mention them because that would trigger your ire, I think. I saw your other comments in other articles and you seem to be triggered by these 2 studios that I have in mind.

      • James STanley

        It seems strange that for all their cheapness, people have yet to grow tired of Illumination’s output (Despicable Me) or otherwise or even start demanding it do something fresh or unexpected if the Box office figures are any indication. It’s basically doing what other, older companies have been doing and yet it stays afloat (Unlike let’s say Ice Age which is starting to crack at the 5th one).

    • Inkan1969

      I don’t think the father conflict is such a big deal. Kids should easily recognize this plot thread as a parody of Luke Skywalker/Darth Vader, and the villain in the trailer was played so comically that he did not seem very threatening (I never watched the show and so I have no idea how serious a villain he is in in the series.).

  • It is probably a combination of all these factors. The audience was limited
    to mostly fans of the tv show, thus some kids and most adults didn’t bother.
    The trailers and short film that played before Lego Batman didn’t bring any
    newcomers. In addition, the reviews were mixed. Still, I thought that this
    would make more money because there’s really no competition to speak of.

    • Inkan1969

      I have no idea whether or not “Ninjago” has an adult fandom. It might, but it doesn’t seem as visible as the fandoms for “Spongebob” or “My Little Pony”.

  • Mary

    I had a gut feeling Ninjago wasn’t gonna meet the expectations. If the (current) score of 53% on RT is anything to go by, I think WB is going too fast. Perhaps they should stick to making a Lego movie every other year or so.

  • Patrick

    i heard they animated this movie in like 4 months.

  • Dave 52

    I feel like Ninjago will slowly but surely make it’s budget back. I doubt it will be considered a “bomb” in the near future. As for the movie itself, it’s the weakest of The LEGO Movies but it’s still pretty good even though it does have some flaws. Their is a lot to like and enjoy from the gags to the action sequences to the animation and the movie does have a heart to it. It’s an overall fun time at the theater. This is coming from someone who isn’t even a fan of Ninjago.

    • Barrett

      It’s something I’m willing to watch on Netflix on my couch, but not nearly interesting enough looking for me to shell out $15 a ticket plus the costs of snacks, parking etc. to see in a theater.

  • HN

    I can see diminishing returns here.

    The Lego Movie- $469.2 million
    The Lego Batman Movie- $312 million

    I remember when many people were predicting that The Lego Batman Movie will top the earnings of the The Lego Movie just because of Batman’s popularity. It never happened. I think there are some people who are now experiencing fatigue on this franchise. We’ll see The Lego Movie Sequel’s gross but I think the first film’s gross will be the highest in the franchise.

    On the other hand, I still think that The Lego Batman Movie is the front runner for the Academy Awards Best Animated Feature so far. Unless Pixar’s Coco proves to be really good, then I think TLBM will continue to be the frontrunner heading into the Oscars on March 2018.

    • A Stranger in the Alps

      I hope you’re wrong about that, but I could see it as a sympathy Oscar to make up for not nominating the first Lego Movie. Not that Lego Batman was bad, but it didn’t have half the creativity or heart of the first one. Still, the fact that the Oscars are unlikely to look past the relatively weak studio films to see legitimately great films like The Breadwinner, The Girl Without Arms or Lu Over the Wall means you probably aren’t far off.

      • Roman Reigns Owns The IWC

        It didn’t have half the creativity or heart? I have to strongly disagree with you there.

  • Jordan Newell White

    To be honest, these Lego movies are getting more publicity than My Little Pony: The Movie, another film based around a toy line. I heard from Michel Gagne, an effects animator who worked on the movie due out October 6, that the film held it’s premiere in NYC yesterday and the response from the people who were invited, including critics, was enthusiastic, yet they are withheld from posting reviews until the review embargo is lifted. This gives me as sign that much like the original Lego movie, MLP: The Movie has the potential to be excellent for something that could have easily been a feature length toy commercial. Maybe the trick is to not think so much about selling toys and think more on the story, along with many other factors that contributed to The Lego Movie’s success.

    • I’m sure it’s a hard stigma to break when it comes to toyetic properties.

    • Too Many Cooks

      The My Little Pony movie is actually based on a successful children’s TV series. The Ninjao movie is based on the same toyline as the show, but shares no continuity with it.

  • Doconnor

    The Lego movies aren’t really a franchise, since they don’t really have shared characters or settings. It’s more like a animation technique that is a subset of the 3D computer animation technique. Just like other techniques audiences can like or dislike it, but the technique itself generally isn’t enough to convince people to buy tickets.

    • Barrett

      The Lego Movies at the moment have some tangential connections. The Batman of the Lego Batman movie was clearly the same character as the one in the Lego Movie, but they purposefully made that universe self-contained with no references to Emmett, WyldStyle or the fourth-wall breaking aspects (though they did cross over with other worlds of fiction, just nout “our reality.) I haven’t seen Ninjago but I would imagine it too is a self-contained universe like the Batman world of Lego Batman. I am looking forward to the further adventures of Emmett and his crew, but I wonder if any of the spark will still be there with Miller & Lord neither writing or directing it.

  • Inkan1969

    I’m really baffled as to why anyone would think this movie would even approach $30 to $45 million. You already noted that this is a spinoff specifically of a TV series that appears to have little visibility among adult fans, very unlike the previous two Lego movies. That said, I don’t think +$20M is all that bad an opening for this movie. I was expecting “Nut Job 2” numbers as a worst case scenario. And “The Lego Ninjago Movie” couldn’t have been all that expensive. A $20M opener will probably lead to a BO that’s profitable for this movie.

  • Roca

    My 11 year old is a huge Ninjago fan, but honestly this franchise peaked a couple years ago and it’s a bit late for a movie. Plus, it seems to rehash stories already covered in the animated series, and they decided to change all of the voices from the ones my son is familiar with (i get they wanted star power but Jackie Chan doesn’t even sound remotely like Sensei Wu). That put him off initially. I’ll probably still take him to see the movie in theaters but I get why few other people would want to see it.

  • Cloverena

    The fact that this movie didn’t do as well as it was expected to kind of makes me fear for WAG. Right now they are my favorite animation company and I don’t want them to start losing their luster. They were doing good with the first two Lego movies and Storks so hopefully I’ll like Ninjago as I haven’t yet seen it. It’s just one average movie, they still have time to redeem themselves.

    • Unlike the other two films, Ninjago isn’t a licensed entity Lego went after, but one they created themselves. An original entity, and one perhaps that doesn’t get as much notice or appreciation from the public over using an IP like Batman.

  • I hope this doesn’t adversely affect the cartoon series. :(

  • Rich Gawel

    My kid is now 11 and a few years past his Ninjago phase. Maybe it was just released a little too late. The kids who played Ninjago have moved on to other things.

    • Roca

      I agree. My 11 year old still likes it but kind of forgot about it until the movie was announced.

      • Rich Gawel

        Yep. And when we saw the previews, we wondered why Garmadon was a bad guy again and why none of the voices sounded the same. Were they rebooting the story? That didn’t help either.

    • Roman Reigns Owns The IWC

      I know adults who like Ninjago though, they watch the show.

  • Jonathon Asuna Leafa Richards

    the reason why this film hasn’t done that well boils down to two things number 1) Kingsman 2 came out the exact same day and 2) The lack of trailers or posters being shown in cinemas

  • Too Many Cooks

    The first two LEGO Movies were two of my favorite films of the decade, but the reviews made me decide to wait to see this until later on. I hope this isn’t going to destroy the LEGO Cinematic Universe.

  • Barrett

    As a huge fan of both the original Lego Movie and the Lego Batman film, I can say I had very little interested in seeing this Ninjago movie. When I heard it announced as the follow-up to the Lego Movie years ago, I was disappointed, because while it might make sense if the toy line and Tv show are abig hit with kids (and I have no idea of that’s the case) it was an off-shoot that I had no knowledge and little inclination to get to know. It just sounded to action-y and juvenile.

    I think the trailers were designed to try to rope in the more jaded and snarky adults who loved the first two films, attempting to lead them to think the film had that “Miller & Lord” approach to comedy. But the truth is, Lego Batman wasn’t quite as good as the original, and this doesn’t sound any better (if not worse.) I fear for the actual Lego Movie sequel, because Miller & Lord are not directing or writing it. I feel like a lot of what made the first film a sleeper hit was the quality of their work. The animation on all three of these films looks great, but after the first one, it’s really just a matter of maintaining that level of quality and aesthetic of motion style. The writing and directing are what will make the films what they are.