The last film to top $100M was Frozen 2 back in 2019. That film was one of six animated films to reach the milestone that year. In fact, over the last decade, at least five animated films have reached $100M at the domestic box office annually.
But ever since the pandemic began, animation has had a diminished presence at the U.S. box office, in stark contrast to a country like Japan, where animation has continued to boom. The year 2020 was obviously a lost cause and no animated film came close to $100M. It was surprising, however, that no animated film netted $100M in 2021, a year in which over 10 live-action films hit the century mark.
Low animation box office in 2021 was partly by design. For example, Disney sent Luca straight to streaming and Sony did the same with The Mitchells vs. the Machines and Vivo. But other films that did receive theatrical releases, and in more normal times likely would have hit $100M, like Disney’s Encanto and Dreamworks’ The Boss Baby: Family Business, sputtered at the box office.
What will happen in 2022 remains an open question since so much of the box office recovery depends on factors outside of the quality of the offerings. Here are some things we don’t know yet: Will theaters remain open in the United States and operate at full capacity? Will there be additional coronavirus surges later in the year? Do parents feel comfortable taking their children to theaters? Will studios actually release films in theaters?
The latter question has become a pressing concern after Disney announced last Friday that it would skip the theatrical release for Pixar’s Turning Red and launch it exclusively on its Disney+ streaming service. It would not be a shock if other studios decide to follow suit and debut some of their kid-friendly features on streaming or to push films onto video-on-demand shortly after a theatrical launch.
But studios also have plenty of reasons to release films theatrically in 2022. The key reason being that they’re presenting the strongest slate of animated features in quite a few years. Every studio looks like it has a winner of one kind or another, including Dreamworks Animation’s The Bad Guys, Warner Animation Group’s DC League of Super-Pets, Disney-Pixar’s Lightyear, Illumination’s Minions: The Rise of Gru (as well as its untitled Super Mario film), Sony Pictures Animation’s Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, and Disney’s Strange World.
Whatever happens, Sing 2 marks a solid start to the year. At a time when a lot of feature animation artists are frustrated that their work is being seen exclusively on tvs, Illumination’s latest is a psychological boost for the animation industry and serves as a reminder to studios that some families still want to experience animated features in theaters.