Strange World Strange World

Disney’s latest animated feature is facing one of the company’s worst-ever box office debuts, and the future looks even grimmer for Strange World.

Box Office Bomb

The film opened its theatrical run well short of expectations, pulling in just $11.9 million from 4,174 locations over the weekend and $18.6 million over the five-day Thanksgiving holiday period. Initial projections had Strange World bringing in between $30 – $40 million over its first five days, and even that would have been a brutal start for a Disney animated feature opening.

By comparison, Encanto earned $40.3 million over the same five days last November before making $96 million domestically and $256.8 million worldwide in a shorter-than-normal box office window. It’s well worth noting that film was released just as the WHO confirmed the Omicron variant of Covid-19, almost certainly hurting its returns.

Over the most recent three-day weekend, Strange World’s performance is perhaps even more damning. Its $11.9 million take is the worst three-day opening for a Disney animated feature since Winnie the Pooh back in 2011. Even the much-maligned Lightyear from Disney-owned Pixar opened with $50.5 million during its first weekend this past summer.

Long-term, Strange World’s global box office haul will certainly suffer after Disney’s decision to skip 20 markets where LGBTQIA+ content is banned or censored.

In total, sources are predicting that Strange World could lose between $100 – $147 million at the box office. The film will almost certainly go down as one of Disney’s greatest-ever feature animation commercial failures.

Audiences are Unimpressed

Joining the film’s financial woes are lower-than-average (for a Disney animated feature) reviews from many critics. The film sits at a critics’ score of 74% on Rotten Tomatoes, coincidentally the same as Lightyear. Audiences’ reactions have been even worse. Strange World only managed a B rating from Cinemascore, which stands as Disney’s worst-ever result for an animated feature since the audience-tracking service began scoring Disney animation titles in 1991. In fact, no other Disney animated feature has ever scored lower than an A-.

Around since the 1970s, Cinemascore tracks the responses of audiences immediately after they leave the theaters. It’s considered one of the more reliable metrics in terms of audience opinions, as only people who have actually seen the film can chime in. With such a mild response coming from the few people who did see the film during its first weekend in cinemas, it’s hard to imagine any word of mouth inspiring a Strange World comeback in the coming weeks.

Why didn’t Disney send Strange World straight to streaming?

Disney more or less owns the Thanksgiving theatrical window, and there is an expectation among audiences that the studio will have something available in theaters each year. Exhibitors have similar expectations and would have likely been furious to see another Disney feature skip cinemas and go straight to streaming.

It also seems likely that Disney would prefer the bad PR of a box office dud over incurring the wrath of artists and filmmakers who dedicate years to making Strange World by burying the film on Disney+. This seems especially true when balanced against recently-returned CEO Bob Iger’s comments that he hopes to put “decision-making back in the hands of our creative teams.” The last thing Disney should want to do now is alienate those creative teams.

What does the bad opening weekend mean long-term?

There is no silver lining here for Disney. But, the company is a behemoth and a flop, even one as significant as this, is easily shaken off, especially at a time of so much upheaval at the company.

Former CEO Bob Chapek is taking a lot of the blame for Strange World’s failure, and he’s already gone. His right-hand man Kareem Daniel, who championed the company’s shift away from traditional distribution, is also out. And former CEO Bob Iger is back in charge.

It seems unlikely that Strange World’s legacy will be seen as anything more than an outlier at a time of upheaval for Disney and the industry as a whole. Whatever Iger’s plans for the company are going forward, it would be strange indeed if the film’s poor performance changed much about his strategy for the next two years.

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