Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken

Universal-Dreamworks Animation’s Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken has entered the record books, but not for the right reason. The film delivered an estimated $5.2 million in its opening weekend, making it the lowest all-time opening for a Dreamworks pic. The previous low was 2021’s Spirit Untamed, which launched with $6.1 million on its way to a $17.7M domestic total.

The Kirk DeMicco-directed film launched in 3,400 theaters, delivering a minuscule $1,529 per screen, worst in the top ten. On the plus side, the film scored an A- Cinemascore from attendees and a 68% positive from Posttrak polling. Kids 12 and under rated it 91% positive.

What kind of hope is there for the film? Well, just a couple weeks ago, Disney-Pixar’s Elemental had the second-worst debut in the studio’s history, but since then the film has recovered somewhat. It was the number one film this past week Tues-Thurs at the box office, and this weekend it landed at no. 3. Elemental, however, was backed by a huge marketing campaign, the kind which Universal didn’t give to Ruby Gillman.

But audiences who discover the film on their own are in for a treat. It’s an above-average entry in the Dreamwork catalog with a particularly appealing title character. Not that it means anything, but I personally found the film more enjoyable than any number of Dreamworks’s other recent films.

Possibly the saddest part of this film’s performance is that we’re going to have to suffer weeks of moronic takes in the mainstream entertainment media about why the film didn’t play well. Deadline has already started the party with this dumb insight: “Don’t make animated movies that have unknown protags in the title, and animation that looks like Strange World.

The film’s box office is especially unfortunate given that Ruby Gillman is the first titular female lead in a Dreamworks animated film. I was a bit surprised when I first heard that considering that this is their 44th theatrical release.

Hopefully Universal execs don’t interpret this as a sign that audiences aren’t interested in female-led films. If anything, I thought they should have leaned harder into the lives of Ruby’s teen friend squad, her crush, and her rivalries, and focused more on the drama of high school prom, which is essentially forgotten after the film’s setup. Instead, they tried to make Ruby’s uncle a central player, which missed the mark. It’s almost like they were afraid to own the ‘teenage’ part of their title, at the risk of losing family audiences.

But this was never going to be a four-quadrant film. If you’re not attracting the mass public, why not create an animated feature that’s laser-focused on young women audiences? The tracking suggests that’s who the audience was anyways, with women repping 52% of opening weekend, and 18-24 crowds the key demo at 42%.

By contrast, the upcoming Barbie knows exactly what type of a film it is and who it wants to speak to, and it’s shaping up to be a huge smash because of that self-confidence. The biggest mistake that the major animation studios keep repeating is trying to play everything straight down the middle, instead of committing to films for different types of audiences.

Despite Ruby Gillman’s stumble, animation remains a potent force at the U.S. box office. In its fifth weekend, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse took second place with an estimated 3-day total of $11.5M. Its overall domestic is a stellar $339.8M, and by next week, it should become the second-highest grossing U.S. release of 2023, behind only The Super Mario Bros. Movie.

Close behind, in third place, was Elemental, which as already mentioned, has made a nice recovery since its crummy launch. The film earned $11.3M in its third weekend, for an $88.7M domestic total. Make no mistake, the film is still an underperformer and will lose money for Disney. Last year’s Lightyear lost $106M for the Walt Disney Company. Current trajectory for Elemental is eerily similar.

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