What animated film can beat ‘Zootopia’ at the 2016 box office?
Their own mammal metropolis isn’t the only place Nick Wilde and Judy Hopps have won over; the bunny-and-fox duo have also dominated the world, with Disney’s Zootopia reaching the $1 billion mark at the worldwide box office earlier this week.
It’s the top-earning animated feature of 2016 thus far, well on its way to making twice as much as Kung Fu Panda 3, which is at #2 among animated films this year.
Will Zootopia be king of the 2016 jungle? Or can another animated flick top it?
A small, unscientific poll of mine also shows that for parents, Finding Dory is the most-anticipated animated film yet to be released this year. It is the most-often mentioned movie from the handful of parent bloggers I emailed asking what animated film they and their kids are most looking forward to. “My family and I are eager to see Finding Dory this month because Finding Nemo is one of our favorites, including just about every Disney Pixar movie too,” Amy Bellgardt, creator of MomSpark.net and mother of two boys told me via email.
Outside of superhero fare, 2016 has thus far been a rough year for franchises, with audiences turning rather anti-sequel, or perhaps having no tolerance for sequels that just aren’t much good. Zoolander 2, Alice Through the Looking Glass, The Huntsman: Winter’s War, and Divergent Series: Allegiant have all flopped. Kung Fu Panda 3 wasn’t a total failure, but it has somewhat underperformed, earning less than each of the two other films in the franchise.
But as David Mumpower of Box Office Prophets told us via email, “2016’s anti-sequel consumer behavior shouldn’t impact Finding Dory.”
For seven years, Finding Nemo reigned as Pixar’s highest grossing film, until Toy Story 3 came along. Last year’s Inside Out is the only other film from the studio to surpass Nemo’s box office tally. It still stands as the seventh highest-grossing animated movie of all time at the worldwide box office.
Finding Nemo remains one of Pixar’s most beloved films, frequently topping or nearly topping both fan and critic rankings of the studio’s movies, so Finding Dory will bring the solid established audience not only of Pixar devotees but also fans of Nemo especially.
With Finding Dory coming out 13 years after Nemo, it’s not quite at the point where there’s a sizable number of people who saw it as kids who now have kids of their own to take to the movies — as was the case with The Lion King’s massively successful 2011 re-release — but “it’s pretty close,” Bruce Nash, founder and publisher of The Numbers, pointed out.
The creators of those animation box office champions all have new films coming out this year: Disney’s got Zootopia and Moana. Disney•Pixar has Finding Dory opening a week from now. And Illumination Entertainment, the makers of Minions and the Despicable Me movies, will release The Secret Life of Pets next month.
Secret Life is a kind of Toy Story for dogs and cats and bunnies, showing us what goofy antics our pets are up to when we’re not looking. Zootopia proved that another non-sequel, original concept could join Frozen in the $1 billion club, albeit with the proven brand recognition of Disney.
“Secret Life of Pets can also be a success mid-summer, although $1 billion is too much to expect from it,” Gitesh Pandya of Box Office Guru said via email.
Just how much will Secret Life’s family relations to Minions boost its box office success? It’ll help, though the box office experts I consulted have divergent thoughts about just how much it’ll help.
Secret Life’s invocation of the film’s connection to Illumination’s uber-popular little yellow guys with the words “from the humans behind Despicable Me” is, according to Mumpower, “one of the strongest marketing slogans imaginable right now. Putting that note in the trailer spikes the box office dramatically.”
Meanwhile, Pandya said, “Tapping into the Minions fan base is a smart starting point,” and Nash said efforts to make mainstream audiences aware of the Minions connection “won’t make a huge deal of difference.”
Nash also noted that DreamWorks Animation wasn’t able to translate the popularity of its Shrek films into success for the movies that followed the first couple of Shrek installments. How to Train Your Dragon and the Madagascar franchise is where DreamWorks later found box office success, though the four Shrek movies still top the animation studio’s list of highest grossing films.
Though Mumpower has confidence in the power of Secret Life’s link to Minions, he added, “I suspect that Secret Life of Pets would have succeeded if it had come first [among Illumination’s films]. The attachment humans have for their pets fosters continued interest in such concepts, and this movie in particular has a terrific ad campaign. The prim [poodle] rocking out to heavy metal is a perfect animated comedy gag.”
Universal Studios, which is distributing the film, is tapping into that dog-lover and cat-lover audience with a huge partnership with PetSmart.
Looking back at Zootopia, what accounted for its success? It was a film praised by both critics and audiences, and it had a long stretch of time without any competition from other family movies.* Moana has the strong potential to find success for similar reasons, along with the Disney brand recognition. It hits theaters on Thanksgiving weekend, following Trolls’ early November opening and ahead of the Christmas week premiere of Sing, Illumination Entertainment’s movie about animals in an American Idol-esque competition. So Moana doesn’t have quite as much space to itself as Zootopia did, but it’s safe to bet it’ll be the reigning animated movie of the holiday season. Moana, ostensibly introducing the House of Mouse’s first Polynesian princess, features music by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Nash does not expect Miranda’s involvement to be a box office boost in and of itself, despite the massive popularity of Miranda’s Hamilton. Disney musicals are already recognized for their quality tunes, so the film already has its draw for the music (which we may be hearing for the first time in the trailer set to hit the web this Sunday).
*The Little Prince, based on the beloved 1943 French book by Antoine Saint-Exupéry, was originally scheduled for a U.S. release two weeks after Zootopia’s opening, but Paramount pulled the film from its slate a mere week before the scheduled release. It’s likely Little Prince wouldn’t have been much competition for Zootopia anyway, since it had nowhere near the marketing reach of Disney’s movie. (Which is perhaps one reason why Paramount inexplicably canceled the release — the studio didn’t seem to know how to market Little Prince, though it has released some very sweet and charming trailers for the film.) At the overseas box office, meanwhile, Le Petit Prince has become the most successful French animated film ever. Netflix has taken on its U.S. distribution, with a release on its streaming platform and in some theaters scheduled for August 5.
Here is what we can expect from some other 2016 animated movies:
Ice Age: Collision Course (out July 22): Pandya pointed out that the Ice Age brand has been a “monster performer overseas, so I would not rule out Ice Age: Collision Course.”
Kubo and the Two Strings (out August 19): This original fantasy action-adventure tale set in ancient Japan is the fourth feature from stop-motion studio Laika Entertainment, which made the film adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline. Nash predicts that Kubo will earn an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature, and he said Laika is “overdue for a breakout” (a film hitting $200 million worldwide), but he “wouldn’t bet on” Kubo being that film.
Trolls (out November 4): Justin Timberlake’s song “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” is seeking to build up anticipation for animated musical Trolls, based on the wild hair-sporting Troll dolls. The song is already unavoidable and just became JT’s first #1 single in nearly 10 years.
The Angry Birds Movie (opened in the U.S. May 20): As of this writing, Angry Birds has earned just under $290 million worldwide. Nash expects the movie based on the popular mobile phone game to finish up with a $350 million total. Mumpower pointed out that Angry Birds had a sizable drop-off this past weekend internationally. “That’s a troubling sign,” he said. “I’d give it the benefit of the doubt and say it finishes with $375 million worldwide.” Pandya, however, can see the film earning $450 million with help from its Japan opening in October.
Now, four animated films (and probably five before 2016’s over) have earned more than $1 billion. Could an animated feature cross the next landmark spot, $1.5 billion, any time soon before inflation’s carrying movies to that milestone? From these three box office experts, the answer to that is a big “no.”
Thus far, seven films have crossed that $1.5 million mark, and they’re all PG-13-rated live action films. Five are sequels, and the other two are Avatar and Titanic. A family-friendly animated feature is unlikely to earn that much in the near future since films with those kind of grosses are reliant on repeat viewings. Kids who see a movie a second time at a birthday party is one instance where that happens with animated movies, and Frozen’s a singular success that had lots of parents taking their Elsa-obsessed kids to see it on more than one occasion. But typically, teens and young adults are more likely to pay to see a movie more than once.
Even Frozen 2 is unlikely to reach that $1.5 million milestone. Frozen fatigue may be the culprit there. As Mumpower noted, the sequel “may suffer from unreasonable expectations when the time arrives — some folks are tired of it.”
That’s not to say Frozen 2, whenever it does come out, will be a box office failure on any level, though. Even if it gets a chillier reception than the 2013 original, the cold won’t bother Disney anyway.
Here are the animated features scheduled for a wide release in the U.S. later this year:
Finding Dory - June 17
The Secret Life of Pets - July 8
Ice Age: Collision Course - July 22
Sausage Party (Seth Rogan’s R-rated animated movie) - August 12
Kubo and the Two Strings - August 19
Storks - September 23
Trolls - November 4
Moana - November 23
Sing - December 21