"Raya and the Last Dragon" "Raya and the Last Dragon"

There’s a new chapter in the great rewriting of film distribution rules. Raya and the Last Dragon, the latest feature from Walt Disney Animation Studios (WDAS), has come out simultaneously in theaters and for a $30 premium fee on Disney+. This is Disney’s first such release, and the initial results are a little underwhelming.

Raya debuted at the top of the still-tiny domestic box office, taking an estimated $8.6M from 2,045 theaters. It opened with around 39% less than Tom & Jerry last week, which took $14.1M, even though Disney’s release was better-reviewed than Warner Bros.’s hybrid cat-and-mouse reboot. What’s more, Tom & Jerry launched day-and-date on HBO Max — for free. Of course, it had world-famous characters on its side, while Raya is an original story.

Then there’s the fact that Raya wasn’t played by Cinemark, the U.S.’s third-biggest theater chain. Disney’s terms were reportedly unappealing to the company, which told Deadline: “While we are having conversations with The Walt Disney Company, we have not yet reached agreeable licensing terms for Raya and the Last Dragon.

Disney has not reported data on the film’s digital sales. Nor did it do so with Mulan, which it released on Disney+ (and not theaters) for the same premium fee in September. In the pandemic, other studios have at times trumpeted stats that suggest successful digital premieres of tentpole titles.

Tom & Jerry came in second over the weekend, adding $6.6M for a $22.3M domestic total. Across all films, the box office was around 14% higher than last weekend; New York City’s cinemas reopened after almost a year, albeit with 25% capacity.

Raya didn’t stun overseas either. It took $17.6M from 32 markets for a $26.2 worldwide cume. In its biggest foreign market, China (where Disney+ doesn’t exist), it opened with $8.4M, coming third behind two local holdover titles. The film topped a number of markets in Southeast Asia (where its story is set), including Thailand, Indonesia, and Singapore; it came second in Vietnam.

Directed by Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada, Raya is WDAS’s first original feature since Moana, which opened on Thanksgiving Weekend in 2016 to $56.6 million (Fri–Sun).

Obviously, current grosses can’t fairly be compared to pre-Covid releases. Yet Raya’s performance will feed into speculation about Disney’s long-term distribution strategy, which is slowly crystallizing. Last week, CEO Bob Chapek hinted that the company would move away from traditional theatrical windows, while making sure not to “cut the legs off a theatrical exhibition run.”

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