As 2022 draws to a close, we’re taking a look back at the year’s big winners and losers from the world of feature animation distribution.
This was a year of massive upheaval in the world of animation which saw underdogs overachieve and giants fall at the box office and on streaming platforms.
Here’s a big-picture look of the past 12 months as we analyze which feature animation distributors were looking good by the end of 2022 – and which will be hoping to do better in the near future.
For the third year in a row, Universal has taken the box office title in terms of feature animation. Powered by films from Illumination and Dreamworks, the Comcast-owned distributor managed that feat in 2022 before even releasing one of its biggest films of the year, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish. Universal has already racked up over $1 billion at the global box office in 2022 with just two films, Minions: The Rise of Gru ($939.4 million worldwide) and The Bad Guys ($250 million worldwide).
Next year is shaping up nicely again for the distributor, which is currently scheduled to release two Illumination films – The Super Mario Bros. Movie and Migration – and one Dreamworks pic, Trolls 3.
Sony’s anime arm, Crunchyroll, had a year for the record books. Jujutsu Kaisen 0 ($34.5 million) and Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero ($38.1 million) both broke into the top five all-time highest grossing anime titles at the U.S. box office and One Piece Film Red shattered that franchise’s U.S. box office record by grossing $12.8 million.
A relative newcomer compared to the others on this list, not a lot of details about the company’s 2023 slate are available yet, although it was recently announced that the company will release Sword Art Online the Movie -Progressive- Scherzo of Deep Night in the U.S. on February 3.
When Netflix hosted its Q1 earnings call this year, it seemed unlikely that the streamer would end up as one of this year’s winners. Following the company’s first drop in subscriber count in years, stock prices plummeted, series got canceled, projects were dropped, and positions were eliminated. It looked like Netflix was in for a rough year. Since then, however, the platform released four animated features that have done exceptionally well with critics, with a couple looking like real awards season contenders. Chris William’s The Sea Beast became the streamer’s most viewed original animated film, and Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio just scored three Golden Globe nominations.
Netflix has already confirmed four animated features for 2023 (The Magician’s Elephant, Nimona, The Monkey King, and Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget) and hinted there will be more. None of those really stand out quite like Wendell & Wild or Pinocchio did coming into 2022, but there is still a good deal of buzz around Nimona – a former Blue Sky Studios production adapted from a cult classic graphic novel – and Aardman’s Chicken Run sequel.
Walt Disney Studios
It’s been a rough 12 months at The Walt Disney Company in general, but the studio’s feature animation department has seen some of the worst of it. After a string of Disney and Pixar films had limited runs or didn’t even make it to theaters under the misguided streaming-centric strategy of former CEO Bob Chapek and his lieutenant Kareem Daniel, Disney finally did put two films in cinemas– Lightyear and Strange World – where both bombed in terms of ticket sales and only managed middling reviews from critics and audiences.
It’s hard to predict what 2023 might bring for Disney as its two high-profile releases, Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Wish and Pixar’s Elemental, are relatively unknown quantities at the moment. With Bob Iger back as CEO and a new group of executives tasked with putting decision-making power back in the hands of artists, 2023 – the company’s 100th anniversary year – might prove better for Disney, although it feels equally likely that meaningful improvement could still be a few years away.
Warner Bros. Discovery
Things weren’t all bad at the box office for Warner Bros. animated features, but in general, the company limped through 2022 releasing just one feature theatrically and canning several others that were meant for streaming. DC Leagues of Super Pets made $93.6 million in North America ($203.8 million worldwide including U.S.) and could have established a path the company might consider with future features. However, new DC Studios bosses James Gunn and Peter Safran have said they want DC animation to be canon along with the studios’ live-action and video game productions, so that could mean major changes to the company’s future lineup.
That being said, any recovery at WBD regarding animated features doesn’t look likely anytime soon. The studio currently has no theatrical releases slated for 2023 and most of its non-theatrical animated films have been canceled, put on hold, or are being shopped to other platforms.
Paramount was able to find a lot of joy at the box office with its hybrid Sonic the Hedgehog 2, which grossed $190.9 million in the U.S. ($402.7 million worldwide). But the studio’s only entirely animated feature to hit theaters in 2022 was Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank, a critical bomb that only made $17.8 million in the U.S. and $41.7 million globally, not enough to cover its reported $45 million budget.
Next year, the studio will release Paw Patrol: The Mighty Movie, which is likely to do well at the box office, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, a bigger question mark as the animated adventure-comedy is a new iteration of the IP. This once-proud distributor of Dreamworks Animation films has had a hit-or-miss run at the box office over the past decade but could be on the way to a rebound by leaning on classic IPs. Animated features are in the works for The Smurfs, Transformers, and Avatar the Last Airbender franchises, among others.
This boutique distribution company, traditionally an awards season powerhouse, has had just one Oscar nomination in the last three years, its 12th overall. GKIDS has shifted away from a slate which regularly included prestige European films to heavily favor anime. On the other hand, it’s the North American distributor for Studio Ghibli and has been doing solid business at the box office and with streaming platforms. One of the company’s two Oscar-qualifying film this year, Masaaki Yuasa’s Inu-Oh, just socred score a Golden Globe nomination and the distribution company will be hoping to score its 13th feature animation Oscar nomination when those are announced on January 24.
2022 should have been a big year for Sony’s theatrical animation division Sony Pictures Animation (SPA), but instead, the distributor only released one animated feature (Hotel Transylvania: Transformania) that went straight to Amazon’s streaming service Prime Video. SPA also sent three features straight to Netflix, which dented its stature as a big-screen feature animation studio. The studio’s last wide theatrical release was The Angry Birds Movie 2, in August 2019. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, the sequel to the best animated feature Oscar winner, was meant to have swung into theaters this year too, but that film was delayed and now won’t come out until June 2, 2023. It should do a lot to remind people that Sony is still a major player in theatrical feature animation. Also, a quick reminder – SPA’s parent company Sony owns Crunchyroll, one of our big winners of 2022.
Pictured at top: Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero, Minions: The Rise of Gru, Strange World, Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank