Disney-Pixar’s Cars 3 launched in the United States this weekend with an estimated $53.5 million, enough for first place at the box office, but weaker than the first two films in the series (Cars earned $60.1M in 2006, Cars 2 earned $66.1M in 2011).
The film is Pixar’s second-weakest summer launch of all-time, beating only Ratatouille, which opened with $47M in 2007. But the reality is that even if Cars 3 had made $10 million more, it would have made little difference to the Disney Company’s bottom line. That’s because the Cars sequels are designed to be commercials that refresh the franchise and keep it relevant for the studio’s other operating segments, notably consumer products and theme parks.
Disney-themed products generated $56.6 billion in retail sales in 2016, more than any other corporation in the world, and Cars licensing plays a role in those numbers. While specific figures aren’t known, the John Lasseter-created franchise generated over $10 billion in retail sales in its first five years alone. Add to that, the Disney Company opened Cars Land in 2012 at California Adventure, a theme park that draws over 9 million visitors per year, and it becomes easier to understand why the box office figures of Cars 3 are less important than the simple fact that the studio produced a Cars 3.