Walt Disney’s Thanksgiving box office was both a feast and a famine this year. While “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” added $64 million to its domestic total over the five-day period, Disney’s latest animated feature “Strange World” failed to entice audiences, earning only $18.6 million between Wednesday and Sunday and a dismal $11.9 million during the traditional three-day period.
According to Comscore, this is the worst three-day opening for a Disney animated feature since “The Emperor’s New Groove” in 2000, which earned just under $10 million in its first weekend. The contradictory weekend comes as Disney CEO Bob Iger returns to the helm, promising to restructure the company in a way that prioritizes creativity. During a company town hall meeting on Monday, Iger is expected to elaborate on these plans.
The week before Thanksgiving is usually a busy one at the box office. The five-day Thanksgiving spread — consisting of the Wednesday before Thanksgiving through Sunday — has resulted in more than $250 million in ticket sales each year over the last decade, excluding 2020 and 2021.
The domestic Thanksgiving box office this year was around $121 million. “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” came in first, with “Strange World” coming in second. All other films, including Sony’s “Devotion,” Disney and Searchlight’s “The Menu,” Warner Bros.'”Black Adam,” and Universal’s “The Fabelmans,” grossed less than $10 million.
Netflix’s “Glass Onion” is not included. The streaming service declined to share box office figures for the latest Rian Johnson film, but it is estimated to have earned between $13 million and $15 million during its five-day run.
While “Strange World” outperformed a number of other films this weekend, its underwhelming start raises questions about Disney’s animation strategy and whether Iger can right the ship. In the aftermath of movie theater closures, Disney’s previous CEO Bob Chapek, who took over for Iger just as the pandemic began in early 2020, made a series of decisions that alienated the company’s creative leaders.
To begin, he reorganized the company so that creative decisions were routed through a single executive rather than through each studio, removing power from the people in charge of Disney’s biggest blockbusters. Chapek then chose to release a number of Pixar and Disney Animation films directly on the company’s streaming service rather than in theaters. This was done in part because children weren’t being vaccinated at the time and families were avoiding theaters, but it was also done to try to expand Disney+’s library with new content.
When animated Disney films were released in theaters, these decisions caused a lot of confusion for audiences. These moviegoers are either unaware that the film is being released or believe it will be available on Disney’s streaming service. This occurred in June when Disney released “Lightyear” in theaters. While the first two Toy Story films grossed more than $100 million domestically, “Lightyear” only grossed $50 million in its first weekend.
This strategic decision is complicated by the fact that family films have been scarce at the box office in the aftermath of the pandemic. This means that studios will have fewer opportunities to market film trailers to their target audience in cinemas and will have to rely more heavily on television and digital ads.
“There is no doubt that a slow overall marketplace and a lack of awareness building horsepower for ‘Strange World’ hurt its potential to follow in the footsteps of a long line of Disney animated hits over this very important holiday weekend in theaters,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore.
Disney and its animated features have long held the Thanksgiving box office crown, with films such as “Frozen II,” “Coco,” “Moana,” and “Ralph Breaks the Internet” leading the pack in the last decade.
Even “Encanto,” which was released during the Thanksgiving weekend last year, earned more than $27 million in its first three days and more than $40 million over the entire five-day holiday weekend. “Strange World” may follow in the footsteps of “Encanto” and garner more attention from families once it is added to Disney+.