With $95.5M in its opening weekend, Disney’s live-action remake of its animated classic THE LITTLE MERMAID took over first place at the Memorial Day box office. It is hard to believe that one year has passed since the record-setting Memorial Day weekend debut of TOP GUN: MAVERICK, which earned $126.7M in its first three days.
While not hitting those same heights, THE LITTLE MERMAID is contending with a more crowded marketplace, positioned against four other wide-release openings and several well-performing holdovers. With all these films contributing, the overall box office this weekend came in at 91% compared to last year’s haul.
Disney has a well-established strategy to create new movies inspired by titles in its animated library, in an attempt to lure in new audiences with well-known storylines. In fact, Disney has produced nine such movies over the past four years. The following chart shows the timeline and release patterns for these nine films.
Disney’s Recent Live-Action Remakes of Its Animated Classics
- ALADDIN (5/24/19) Opening $91.5M, Total $355.6M
- THE LION KING (7/19/19), Opening $191.8M, Total $543.6M
- MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL (10/18/19), Opening $36.9M, Total $113.9M
- LADY AND THE TRAMP (11/12/19), Disney+
- MULAN (9/4/20), Disney+
- CRUELLA (5/28/21), Opening $21.5M, Total $86.1M, Opened Day/Date on Disney+
- PINOCCHIO (9/8/22), Disney+
- PETER PAN AND WENDY (4/28/23), Disney+
- THE LITTLE MERMAID (5/26/23), Opening $95.5M
After blockbuster theatrical runs for ALADDIN ($356M) and THE LION KING ($544M), Disney’s live-action remakes have struggled. When MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL stumbled, Disney chose to bring LADY AND THE TRAMP to Disney+ exclusively. In 2020, the MULAN remake was released at the height of the pandemic and therefore Disney felt that it had no other option but to release it on streaming.
By Memorial Day weekend 2021, CRUELLA had mixed results when Disney tried a hybrid release both to Disney+ and theatres on the same day. Last September, Disney decided to bring the new PINOCCHIO to streaming and forego a theatrical run. Last month, they went the same route with PETER PAN AND WENDY. Disney execs have indicated that, from this point forward, it will make the “theatrical vs. streaming” decision on a case-by-case basis.
The decision to give THE LITTLE MERMAID an exclusive theatrical release is a no-brainer, considering that the animated original won Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Score. Curiously, the original’s total domestic box office for its run which began on 11/15/1989 was only $83.4M, which the remake has already surpassed in its first three days. This provides more evidence of the fact that theatres offer a source of substantial income before a film is made available on streaming.
Critics have been lukewarm to THE LITTLE MERMAID with a 67% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but audiences appear to be taken with Ariel by giving a 95% score. Stiff competition arrives next week with the opening of the animated SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE. To achieve its full box office potential, THE LITTLE MERMAID will need to hold the attention of its mostly female audience.
FAST X, the tenth installment of the car chase series, finished in second place with $23.0M. This is a plummeting decline of 66%, which is on par with the unfortunate pattern for this franchise. Its immediate predecessor F9: THE FAST SAGA dropped 67% in its second week. After its first three days, FAST X had earned 96% of the box office taken in by F9 when it opened two years ago. After ten days, this FAST X now sits at 93% of F9’s comparable total.
On the bright side, FAST X is performing well in international markets, where it has grossed $279M in its first seven days. We will wait to see one more week of earnings before making our projection for FAST X’s total box office run, but a continued soft performance in comparison to F9 and FATE OF THE FURIOUS (a.k.a. F8) will raise doubts about the viability of future movies in the franchise.
On the other hand, the outlook remains sunny for Marvel’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY series, with its latest edition VOL. 3 earned an additional $19.9M in its fourth weekend, a drop of only 38% from last weekend. In its opening three days, VOL. 3 grossed 81% of the box office total compared with VOL. 2. Now after 24 days, VOL. 3 has closed that gap with a domestic total of $294.5M, which is 88% of the comparable total for VOL. 2.
We project that VOL. 3 will come in with a domestic total of $350M and a worldwide total of $777M. At those levels, the cume will wind up to be a 3.1 multiple of the movie’s $250M production budget. This will certainly convince Disney to create more movies in the series, despite the fact that it was originally conceived as a trilogy and that its creator James Gunn has since decamped to head up Marvel’s main competitor DC. But it would be unlike Hollywood to have Marvel walk away from such a successful intellectual property.
THE SUPER MARIO BROS. MOVIE was able to take fourth place in its eighth with $6.3M and only dropping by 35% from last weekend. Continuing its relentless assault on record books, SUPER MARIO has now amassed a whopping $1.3B. Once the current WGA strike has been resolved, Universal and Illumination will begin their work in earnest on the next MARIO sequel, which we expect to see hit theatres sometime around April 2025.
Sony’s THE MACHINE was this weekend’s only other new wide release to break into the top five performers. The action-comedy brought in $4.9M and finished in fifth place. It tells the story of a father and son who, despite being estranged from each other, are forced to come together to fend off a gang of murderous mobsters. The film stars Bert Kreischer as the son who is on the run from the mob and Mark Hamill as his father.
Critics absolutely despise this movie, with a tough 29% score on Rotten Tomatoes, but moviegoers seem to be laughing out loud with a 92% audience score. Its slow start will make it hard for the movie to earn back even its reasonable production budget of $35M. Perhaps international markets will contribute enough for THE MACHINE to find profitability.
We applaud Hollywood’s efforts to expand the holiday moviegoing audience by offering three additional wide releases this weekend. ABOUT MY FATHER from Lionsgate brought in $4.3M, KANDAHAR from Open Road/Briarcliff earned $2.4M, and YOU HURT MY FEELINGS from A24 pieced together $1.4M.
All movies earned $161.5M over the first three days of the holiday weekend, compared with $177.6M earned last year when TOP GUN: MAVERICK blasted onto the scene and earned $126.7M all by itself. MAVERICK continued to produce throughout the summer and beyond, winding up as the year’s highest-grossing film with $719M.
WHERE ARE WE AS OF 5/25
After 20 weeks, the total box office for 2023 is 131% of the amount earned at the same point in 2022, but only 76% of results from 2019.