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.