Disney’s ‘Wish’ Disappoints, ‘Napoleon’ Beats Expectations



Disney may need to find another star to wish upon.

“Wish,” the studio’s newest animated adventure, was projected to land on top of box office charts over the Thanksgiving holiday. Instead, ticket sales fell short of expectations with a weak $19.5 million over the traditional weekend and $31.7 million over the five days, and the film tumbled to third place behind Lionsgate’s “The Hunger Games” prequel “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” and Ridley Scott’s historical epic “Napoleon.”

Heading into the weekend, the musical fable “Wish” was projected to earn $35 million over the traditional weekend and $45 million to $50 million in its first five days of release. Ticket sales weren’t as catastrophic as the studio’s 2022 flop “Strange World” ($12 million over the traditional weekend and $18 million through the five days), but it didn’t come anywhere close to 2021’s “Encanto,” which opened to $40.3 over its first five days when COVID was keeping families at home. And it’s a far, far cry from Disney’s pre-pandemic Thanksgiving releases, like 2019’s “Frozen II” ($123.7 million), 2018’s “Ralph Breaks the Internet” ($84.6 million) and 2017’s “Coco” ($71 million).

“Wish” also disappointed at the international box office with $17.3 million, bringing its global tally to $49 million. The film’s weak initial turnout further illuminates that magic has been in short supply at Disney, a once untouchable force at the box office. Most of the studio’s 2023 slate, excluding “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” has dramatically underperformed in their theatrical runs. It’s a problem because Disney movies are expensive, usually costing around $200 million (and that’s before accounting for global marketing expenses).

In the case of “Wish,” Disney is hoping the family flick will have staying power during the busy holiday season, much like this summer’s “Elemental,” which finished much stronger than its disappointing opening weekend would have suggested. “Wish” carries a $200 million production budget and needs to show the same kind of endurance to justify its price tag. It helps that audiences, unlike critics, seem to enjoy “Wish,” which landed an “A-” CinemaScore. The story, featuring original music and the voices of Ariana DeBose and Chris Pine, follows a young girl named Asha who attempts to save the fantastical Kingdom of Rosas from darkness.

“Napoleon,” a $200 million war epic starring Joaquin Phoenix as the infamous French ruler, opened in second place with a better-than-expected $21 million over the traditional weekend and $32.5 million in its first five days of release. Globally, “Napoleon” generated $78.8 million.

Although “Napoleon” barely eked out ahead of “Wish” on domestic box office charts, analysts haven’t been as harsh on the initial performance. That’s partially because “Napoleon” is a tougher ask of moviegoers. It’s an R-rated period piece (about a long-dead military leader) that’s aimed at adult audiences and is nearly two hours and 40 minutes in length. It does not exactly scream fun for the whole family.

To be sure, a traditional studio would not be thrilled with the economics of “Napoleon.” The same goes for Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon,” which also cost Apple $200 million and has grossed less than $150 million globally.

“While the box office start is good for the genre, the production cost is enormous for this type of film,” says David A. Gross, who runs the movie consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research.

But Apple, one of the deepest-pocketed companies in the world, isn’t overly concerned with the profits and losses of its movies (for now). It’s releasing these big-budget films in theaters (Sony Pictures is handling distribution of “Napoleon”) to generate buzz for their eventual launches on Apple TV+, the company’s challenger to Netflix and Disney+. This isn’t to say Apple, which is opening Matthew Vaughn’s “Argylle” on the big screen in 2024 via Universal Pictures, won’t eventually change its tune about box office dollars.

With the lackluster starts of “Wish” and “Napoleon,” last weekend’s champion “The Hunger Games: Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” landed on top, again. The prequel, starring Rachel Zegler and Tom Blyth in an action-adventure that’s set decades before the arrival of Katniss Everdeen, added $28 million over the weekend and $41 million since Wednesday. This brings its domestic tally to $97 million.

Lionsgate’s return to Panem hasn’t been as lucrative as the original series, but the prequel cost $100 million so it’s is well positioned, financially speaking, in its theatrical run. Although “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes,” based on Suzanne Collins’ 2020 book, has been positioned as a standalone film in the “Hunger Games” universe, it’s fair to assume the studio hopes to revisit the dystopian world in future sequels and spinoffs.

“The film opened an endless series of possibilities that Suzanne can go, and that [Lionsgate] can go with her,” said Adam Fogelson, vice chairman of Lionsgate Motion Picture Group, following the movie’s release.

Universal and DreamWorks Animation’s “Trolls Band Together” took fourth place with $17.5 million over the weekend and $25.3 million since Wednesday. The animated threequel, which has grossed $64.4 million to date, likely cut into the turnout for “Wish,” since the kid-friendly films were targeting the same demographic. “Trolls 3” cost $95 million to produce.

Sony’s holiday-themed slahser “Thanksgiving” took fifth place with $7.1 million over the weekend and $11.1 million over the five day stretch. The gory R-rated film has generated $24 million to date, which is decent given that it cost just $15 million to produce.

Elsewherere, Disney’s “The Marvels” tumbled to sixth place with $6.4 million over the weekend and $9.2 million since Wednesday. The latest comic book adventure in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has grossed $76 million in North America and $187 million globally so far. At this rate, it won’t come close to matching the opening weekend of its predecessor, 2019’s “Captain Marvel” ($153 million), by the time it leaves theaters in the U.S. and Canada. Worse, it’s shaping up to be the first MCU movie to fall short of $100 million at the domestic box office.


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