Walt Disney and Pixar’s Toy Story 4 earned $118 million over its domestic opening weekend. That’s way below the tracking guestimates of $150-$200 million and below Disney’s $140 million prediction. More importantly, it’s a pretty lousy (for a toon) 2.48x weekend multiplier. But, it’s also a $118 million domestic debut, and the film has already earned $238 million worldwide.
It’s the fourth-biggest animated opening weekend, sans inflation, right below Shrek the Third ($122 million in 2007), Finding Dory ($135 million in 2016) and Incredibles 2 ($183 million in 2018). It’s the seventh-biggest toon debut when adjusted for inflation, also falling behind Minions ($115 million in 2015), Shrek 2 ($108 million in 2004) and Toy Story 3 ($110 million in 2010). So, what went… well, less right than hoped?
Truth be told, the comparative downturn (in terms of tickets sold) from Toy Story 3 was about what I initially predicted months ago. The tracking and the rave reviews arguably skewed pre-release predictions upward, and it’s a little scary that near-unanimous raves didn’t move the needle. No, I don’t think the choice to not open the film on Father’s Day weekend cost it all that much. It’s not like movie-friendly Sunday was the difference between $120 million and $160 million over the Fri-Sun frame.
Despite rave reviews and decent buzz, folks weren’t as interested in the fourth Toy Story compared to the second Incredibles or the first sequel to Finding Nemo. As you should know by now, fewer folks go to the movies just to go to the movies than they did in 2010. So, grading on the Netflix Curve, it makes some sense for Toy Story 4 to open closer to Minions ($115 million in 2015) than Incredibles 2.
Of course, Toy Story 4 is one of the only movies where we’d be hemming and hawing over a $118 million debut weekend. Almost every other movie opening this summer would be thrilled to earn $118 million total, let alone on opening weekend. Considering that the film is indeed terrific and marks the presumed final chapter of the saga and the last Pixar sequel for awhile (they’ve got Onward and Soul set for 2020), it won’t exactly be a tragedy of the film ends up closer to Secret Life of Pets ($368 million domestic/$875 million worldwide) than Incredibles 2 ($608 million/$1.2 billion).
This is one of those odd situations where a big movie opens somewhat lower than expected, so it may feel both completely successful and yet oddly disappointing. Truth be told, I was surprised when Toy Story 3 “only” opened with $110 million in the summer of 2010, especially three months after Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland opened with $116 million and three years after Shrek the Third opened with $122 million. The critically-acclaimed Pixar sequel opened with $41 million on opening day and ended up with a 2.68x weekend multiplier, which wasn’t great for a toon at that point in time.
It was a huge opening that still felt a little underwhelming considering the property, the reviews and the (up to that point) infamously mediocre summer movie season. But, like The Phantom Menace ($431 million domestic after a “disappointing” $105 million Wed-Sun launch 20 years ago), the much-anticipated sequel made its mark not by breaking opening weekend records but by displaying impressive staying power. The Tom Hanks/Tim Allen adventure played all summer, even alongside Illumination’s breakout Despicable Me, eventually earning $415 million domestic (a strong 3.77x multiplier) and $1 billion worldwide.
So, as we discuss what feels like a slightly disappointing opening weekend for Toy Story 4, we should remember that the last movie performed likewise at the start and flourished after its “great-but-not-record-breaking” Fri-Sun debut. With rave reviews, white-hot buzz and little in the way of big animated movies between now and Frozen II in November, there’s little reason not to presume rock-solid legs over the rest of the summer. Will it match the $415 million domestic total of Toy Story 3? Maybe not, but that wasn’t the bar for success.
Obviously, if it legs exactly like Toy Story 3, then it gets to a whopping $464 million domestic and $1.192 billion worldwide, making all of this opening weekend hand-wringing glorified trivia. Even a run like Minions ($336 million from a $115 million debut in 2015) or Cars 2 ($191 million from a $66 million debut in 2011) gets the $200 million Pixar flick to $355-$360 million domestic. A run like Incredibles 2 ($609 million/$183 million in 2018) and Monsters University ($268 million/$68 million in 2013) still gets it over/under $400 million domestic.
All of that said, we should note that any arguments that Toy Story 4 may under-perform should be mitigated by the unquestionable over-performance of Aladdin. That live-action musical is currently racing toward $300 million domestic and $800 million worldwide on a $183 million budget, despite years of bad buzz, manufactured controversies and a weak marketing right up until the last minute. Money for Disney is money for Disney, whether it comes from Toy Story 4 or Aladdin, especially if both films make money in the bargain.
Assuming Toy Story 4 doesn’t pull a Phantom Menace, it’s arguably better for Aladdin to over-perform even if Toy Story 4 slightly under-performs. But for the moment, we’re dealing with a $200 million Tom Hanks/Tim Allen/Annie Potts animated sequel that just snagged $238 million in its global opening weekend. Considering the likelihood of legs once word gets out that the movie actually justifies itself after the perfect conclusion of Toy Story 3, a box office finish somewhere between infinity and beyond is still on the table.