Pixar’s Elemental debuted over the weekend with the second-lowest three-day opening – for a wide release – in studio history at an estimated $29.5 million while Warner Bros.’s latest cg-heavy DC hero flick bombed with just $55.1 million grossed over the frame.
The only Pixar film to ever make less than Elemental over a three-day opening was the original Toy Story, which made $29.1 million over its first three-day weekend. The debuts of the two films cannot really be compared, however, and Elemental being second-worst is merely a technicality. There is simply no historical precedent for a Pixar film opening as poorly as Elemental.
Toy Story, for starters, opened on a Wednesday, so it had already made $9.9m before its $29.1m weekend. It also played in 1,500 fewer theaters than Elemental. And Toy Story opened multiple generations ago, in 1995, when the average U.S. movie ticket price was less than half of what it is today. Adjusted for inflation, Toy Story’s three-day weekend gross would be closer to $57 million today.
Peter Sohn’s Elemental vs Andrés Muschietti’s The Flash was meant to be the box office battle that kicked off this summer’s theatrical season. Instead, the two films fell flat, failing to hit even their most modest predictions that had been lowered several times in recent weeks.
Domestic box office prognosticators had The Flash tagged to debut at around $70 million and Elemental at $35 million. Those figures would have been seen as failures for either film. The fact that neither even came close is a disaster. According to The New York Times, both films had budgets exceeding $200 million.
Things weren’t any better abroad, with Elemental only making $15 million from 17 markets and The Flash pulling in $75 million from 78 markets. With fairly weak competition, that meant The Flash finished first at the global box office, followed by Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, and Elemental in fourth.
It’s fair to say that Elemental has been the biggest bust in Pixar’s history, but it’s also important to look at the circumstances that led to this point. By most accounts, Elemental isn’t a bad film. Critics have mostly liked or at least tolerated it, and audiences have generally enjoyed it. Elemental has an A Cinemascore, a 92% Rotten Tomatoes audience score, and strong Postrak results with 85% of those polled giving it a positive score and 68% saying they would recommend the film to others.
So why did Elemental bomb so badly? Although the film’s recent reviews have been mostly positive, the film bombed with critics at its Cannes debut. More recent reviews have been far more enthusiastic about the film, but you never get a second chance at a first impression, and Elemental was introduced to the world as a dud at its high-profile French Riviera debut.
There is also almost definitely some truth to the theory that Disney’s streaming-heavy distribution plans in recent years have caused severe damage to the theatrical prospects of its family-focused films. After sending title after title straight to Disney+ during and after the worst of the pandemic, short theatrical windows for many of its features since then have conditioned parents to save time and money by waiting for films to hit Disney+.
It’s also almost certainly true that Pixar’s brand has been damaged. After years of no Pixar theatrical releases, Lightyear failed to launch with audiences and Disney’s Strange World probably caused some collateral damage as well.
Making matters worse for the company’s distribution wing, Disney’s remakes have been struggling too. The Little Mermaid only managed to splash up $11.6 million domestically and $15.3 million internationally over the weekend, its fourth in theaters.
Disney needs to hit it out of the park with Wish later this year. It’s still way too early to predict how that film will perform, or if it will be any good, but reactions after last week’s Annecy first look were favorable and there is a bit of buzz building around the film.
It wasn’t all bad news at the Father’s Day weekend box office for animated films. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse was third domestically and globally, pulling in $27.8 million at home and $27.6 million abroad. The film’s domestic cume now sits at $280 million and its international at $209 million, putting the latest Spider-flick just short of the half-billion mark at $489 million grossed.
Box office figures are estimates. taken from Box Office Mojo and Comscore.
Pictured at top: Elemental