Pixar's "Lightyear" struggled to travel to infinity and beyond at the domestic box office this past weekend, coming in at an estimated $51 million - below industry projections of around $70 million - thanks to a perfect storm of headwinds.
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Box Office Pro editorial director and senior vice president of content strategy Daniel Loria told FOX Business that there haven't been many data points to accurately forecast families' movie-going habits post-pandemic.
"If you look at forecasting right now for every title, I think forecasting, to be frank, has been way off," Loria said. "I think when it comes to Lightyear's opening weekend, if we look at just the raw data that have been there, the data points that we have since the pandemic reopened cinemas, it's performing well within that streak but definitely not at the pre-pandemic levels we expect."
Loria said that Lightyear's box office receipts may have been a casualty of increased competition with "Top Gun: Maverick" and "Jurassic World: Dominion," which have surpassed worldwide cumulative grosses of $885 million and $600 million, respectively, according to Sunday estimates from Comscore.
"I think the number one lesson, especially looking at the international numbers, is that the U.S. market is in a position where ever since a ‘Quiet Place Part II,' the U.S. market has been one big movie coming out every two to three weeks," he explained. "This last weekend at the box office you had ‘Top Gun,’ you had ‘Jurassic World' and you had ‘Lightyear.’ It was a crowded marketplace with three films that performed really competitively, and no one took that lion's share because I think there was that much competition."
Film critic Scott Mantz added that inflation is making consumers more selective about what they see in theaters and that "Lightyear" being a spinoff to the original Toy Story franchise may have made it a tougher sell for families.
"Remember the movie in the first ‘Toy Story’ that Andy, the little kid, was a big fan of that made him want to get a Buzz Lightyear action figure? This is that movie," Mantz told FOX Business. "Try pitching that to families. It's confusing."
In addition to competition and economic uncertainty, Mantz believes "Lightyear" may have been hurt by families conditioned to Pixar's previous direct to streaming releases of "Soul", "Luca" and "Turning Red."
"Pixar used to be the gold standard and I think it still is the gold standard," Mantz said. "But the adjusted standard has been now these last couple of years releasing these Pixar films on Disney Plus because theaters were closed, but also because Disney was really trying to boost subscriptions."
Loria argues that strategy has turned the Pixar brand into an "afterthought" in Disney's massive media empire.
"Disney put itself in a very difficult situation with a marketing campaign around Lightyear because it had to compete with two plus years of marketing that entire brand to go straight to streaming. And I think that's something that a lot of studios are battling with," Loria emphasized. "I think the new paradigm of different theatrical exclusivity periods is creating confusion among a general audience and maybe a frustration there."
Though "Lightyear" has been banned in Malaysia and other countries over a same-sex kiss in the film, Comscore senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian argues that any surrounding controversy over it likely had no impact on the film's opening weekend.
"Historically speaking, controversies surrounding a movie only serve to raise awareness and curiosity among consumers and thus have little demonstrable impact on box office," he told FOX Business. "Of course there may have been some potential moviegoers who opted out of seeing ‘Lightyear’ for personal or political reasons, but pragmatically speaking, for families who want to see a brand new PG-rated animated movie in theaters, ‘Lightyear’ is the only game in town until ‘Minions: The Rise of Gru’ opens on July 1 and therefore the film could wind up building its box office revenues over time rather than with a big launch on opening weekend."
According to Comscore, "Lightyear" is on track to hit $100 million globally this week and could potentially surpass $100 million domestically if it holds steady over the next two weeks.