Disney’s Box Office Woes Persist: ‘Wish’ Adds to Studio’s Struggles

SPINNING A YARN – In Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Wish,” sharp-witted idealist Asha (voice of Ariana DeBose) makes a wish so powerful, it’s answered by a cosmic force—a little ball of boundless energy called Star. Asha’s new ally communicates in creative ways, making captivating use of a magenta ball of yarn. Helmed by Oscar®-winning director Chris Buck and Fawn Veerasunthorn, “Wish” features original songs by Grammy®-nominated singer/songwriter Julia Michaels and Grammy-winning producer/songwriter/musician Benjamin Rice. The epic animated musical opens only in theaters on Nov. 22, 2023. © 2023 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Disney’s recent animated release, “Wish,” hit a snag during its opening weekend, falling short of expectations and securing the third position with a lackluster $31.7 million over the five-day Thanksgiving holiday. This setback adds to Disney’s string of underperforming tentpoles in 2023, including titles like “The Marvels,” “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” “The Haunted Mansion,” and “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.”

The disappointing performance of “Wish” signals a larger trend in Disney’s 2023 box office outcomes, with even the summer release of “The Little Mermaid” generating $569 million globally, falling notably below the billion-dollar benchmark achieved by Disney’s prior live-action adaptations like “The Lion King” and “Beauty and the Beast.” Another notable release, “Elemental,” although finishing with a respectable $495 million globally, couldn’t fully restore Pixar’s former glory, considering the studio’s shift towards Disney+.

In contrast, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” stands out as Disney’s sole unmitigated success in 2023, earning a healthy $845 million globally. However, even this triumph fell short of analyst expectations, with predictions pointing toward a potential $1 billion or at least a higher closing figure. The absence of a blockbuster reaching the billion-dollar mark for the first time since 2014 (excluding the pandemic-affected years of 2020 and 2021) is a stark departure from Disney’s historic box office dominance.

Box Office: Disney's 'Wish' Disappoints, 'Napoleon' Beats Expectations

Analysts attribute Disney’s recent struggles to a confluence of factors, including the pandemic’s impact on theatrical releases, creative challenges, and an overreliance on established brands. The saturation of streaming services has also played a role, with audiences exhibiting less commitment to theatrical releases amid doubts about the content. Even as Disney faces headwinds, competitors like Warner Bros.’ “Barbie” and Universal’s “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” have emerged as top-grossing films globally, with Disney still holding four of the top 10 spots.

The studio’s misfires have prompted industry observers to question the effectiveness of Disney’s current strategy, especially considering the high production costs of its movies, often reaching around $200 million, not to mention an additional $100 million in marketing expenses. While other studios find success with films grossing $500 million globally, for Disney, such figures are deemed necessary to justify the films’ existence, given their extensive impact on consumer product lines, theme park attractions, and eventual streaming releases on Disney+.

As Disney grapples with a shift in audience behavior and a changing industry landscape, the performance of upcoming releases like “Inside Out 2” and “Mufasa” remains uncertain. Interestingly, some of Disney’s most promising titles seem to come from 20th Century Studios, acquired from Fox in 2019. “Deadpool 3,” “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes,” and future “Avatar” sequels are anticipated to be reliable properties for Disney, potentially bolstering the Marvel Cinematic Universe as well.

Wish' Review: The New Disney Cartoon Wishes Upon a Star -- and a Brand

CEO Bob Iger has acknowledged Disney’s missteps during the pandemic, emphasizing the need to prioritize quality over quantity. Despite the recent challenges, analysts remain optimistic about Disney’s unique ability to connect with consumers, expecting the Magic Kingdom to regain its luster by reevaluating its approach and focusing on delivering compelling, high-quality content.

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