This year’s Thanksgiving box office was feast and famine Walt Disney.
“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” added $64 million to its domestic tally over the five-day period, while Disney’s latest animated feature “Strange World” failed to impress moviegoers, earning just $18.6 million between Wednesday and Sunday and a dismal $11.9 million. For the traditional three-day opening ceremony.
It was the worst three-day opening for a Disney animated feature since 2000’s “The Emperor’s New Groove,” according to data from ComScore.
The weekend comes as CEO Bob Iger returns to the helm of the company, pledging to restructure Disney to put creativity at the forefront. Iger is expected to expand on those plans at a company town hall on Monday.
Thanksgiving week is usually a strong time at the box office. Over the past decade, not counting 2020 and 2021, the five-day Thanksgiving spread — the Wednesday through Sunday before Thanksgiving — has resulted in more than $250 million in ticket sales each year.
This year, the domestic Thanksgiving box office grossed around $121 million. “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” led the pack, with “Strange World” coming in second. All other images incl Sony’s “Devotion,” Disney and Searchlight’s “The Menu,” Warner Bros.‘ “Black Adam” and It’s universal “The Fablemans” made less than $10 million each.
Not in the mix Netflix “Glass Onion.” The streamer declined to share box office receipts for the latest Rian Johnson movie, though it’s believed to have been between $13 million and $15 million during the five-day stretch.
While “Strange World” outperformed many films this weekend, its muted opening raises concerns about Disney’s animation strategy and whether Iger can right the ship.
Disney’s previous CEO Bob Chabeck, who took over when the pandemic began in early 2020, made a series of decisions that alienated the company’s creative leaders after theaters closed.
To begin with, he wrested power away from the people responsible for Disney’s biggest blockbusters and restructured the company so that creative decisions were made by one executive instead of each studio.
Chabeck later chose to release several Pixar and Disney animated films directly to the company’s streaming service rather than release them in theaters. This was in part because, at the time, children weren’t vaccinated and families were avoiding movie theaters, but Disney+ was trying to update its library with new content.
These decisions caused a lot of confusion among the audience when the animated Disney films were released in theaters. The movie is coming to audiences without knowing or thinking it’s coming to Disney’s streaming platform.
This happened when Disney released “Lightyear” in theaters in June. While the previous two Toy Story franchise films opened to more than $100 million domestically, “Lightyear” took in just $50 million in ticket sales during its debut.
Disney Animation’s “Strange World” follows the Glades as their differences threaten to derail their latest — and by far — most important mission.
Compounding this strategic decision is the fact that family films have underperformed at the box office since the pandemic. This means studios have less opportunity to market movie trailers in theaters to their intended audience and must rely more on television and digital advertising.
“A sluggish overall market and awareness-building horsepower for ‘Strange World’ undoubtedly hurt its ability to follow the legacy of a long line of Disney animated hits in theaters this crucial holiday weekend,” said senior, Paul Tergarabedian. Media analyst at comscore.
The Thanksgiving box office crown has long been held by Disney and its animated features over the past decade, with films like “Frozen II,” “Coco,” “Moana,” and “Ralph Breaks the Internet.”
Even “Encanto,” released during last year’s Thanksgiving holiday, managed to earn more than $27 million in its three-day opening and more than $40 million over the entire five-day holiday weekend.
Perhaps “Wonderful World” will follow the same path as “Encanto” and gain the attention of families once it’s added to Disney+.
Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. NBCUniversal distributed “The Fabelmans.”