This year’s Thanksgiving box office was feast and famine Walt Disney.
While Black Panther: Wakanda Forever added $64 million to its domestic tally within the five-day time frame, Disney’s latest animated feature Strange World failed to entice moviegoers, bringing in just $18.6 million between Wednesday and Sunday. A dismal $11.9 million. For the traditional three-day opening.
This is the worst three-day opening for a Disney animated film since 2000’s “The Emperor’s New Groove,” which grossed less than $10 million during its debut, according to data from Comscore.
The double weekend comes as CEO Bob Iger returns to the helm of the company, promising to restructure Disney in a way that puts creativity first. Iger is expected to expand on those plans during the company’s city council meeting on Monday.
Thanksgiving week is usually a solid time at the box office. In the past decade, excluding 2020 and 2021, the five-day spread of Thanksgiving—which consists of the Wednesday before Thanksgiving through the Sunday—has resulted in more than $250 million in ticket sales each year.
This year, the domestic box office for Thanksgiving brought in about $121 million. “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” topped the group, while “Strange World” took second place. All other films, incl Sony “Dedication,” Disney and Searchlight’s “The Menu,” Warner Bros.“Black Adam” and universal The Fabelmans made just under $10 million each.
Not in the mix Netflix “Glass onion.” Streamers refused to share box office receipts for the latest Rian Johnson movie, even though it’s believed to have grossed between $13 million and $15 million over the five-day period.
While Strange World outperformed a number of other films this weekend, its muted opening raises concerns about Disney’s animation strategy and whether Iger will be able to right the ship.
Former Disney CEO Bob Chapek, who took over for Iger as the pandemic began in early 2020, made a series of decisions that alienated the company’s creative leaders in the wake of closing movie theaters.
To start, he reorganized the company to direct creative decisions through a single CEO, rather than each studio, taking power away from the people responsible for Disney’s biggest blockbusters.
Chapek then chose to release a number of Pixar and Disney Animation films directly on the company’s streaming service instead of in theaters. This was in part because, at the time, children weren’t vaccinated and families were avoiding theatres, but also to try to bolster the Disney+ library with new content.
These decisions led to a lot of confusion for audiences when the Disney animated films were shown theatrically. These moviegoers are either not aware that the movie is coming to market or they think it is coming to Disney’s streaming platform.
This happened when Disney released “Lightyear” in cinemas in June. Whereas the previous two Toy Story films each opened to more than $100 million domestically, Lightyear only raked in $50 million in ticket sales during its debut.
Disney Animation’s Strange World follows the Clades, a family of explorers whose differences threaten to bring down their latest – and by far the most important – mission.
This strategic decision is compounded by the fact that family films have been in short supply at the box office in the wake of the pandemic. This means that there are fewer opportunities for studios to market movie trailers to their designated audience in movie theaters and must rely more on television and digital advertising.
“There’s no doubt that an overall slow market and lack of capacity to build awareness for ‘Strange World’ hurts its potential to follow in the tradition of Disney’s animated feature film series during that all-important weekend in theaters,” said Senior Paul Degarabedian. Media analyst at Comscore.
Disney has long held the Thanksgiving box office crown, with films like “Frozen 2,” “Coco,” “Moana,” and “Ralph Breaks the Internet” leading the pack in the past decade.
Even “Encanto,” which was released during last year’s Thanksgiving frame, managed to take in more than $27 million during its three-day opening and more than $40 million over the entire five-day weekend.
Perhaps, “Strange World” will follow a similar path to “Encanto” and get more attention from families once it’s added to Disney+.
Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. NBCUniversal distributed The Fabelmans.