Disney’s Box Office Downturn Continues: ‘Wish’ Marks Another Setback in the Studio’s Historical Dominance

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“Wish” stumbled during its opening weekend, marking another setback for Disney’s otherwise lackluster box office performance in 2023. The animated musical tale, centered on the Wishing Star, failed to captivate audiences during the Thanksgiving holiday, debuting in third place with a modest $31.7 million over the extended five-day period. This lackluster opening further deepened Disney’s unimpressive track record for the year.

The film’s underperformance added to a string of disappointments, including “The Marvels,” “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” “The Haunted Mansion,” and “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.” While “The Little Mermaid” raked in $569 million globally and “Elemental” gathered $495 million, these numbers didn’t match the billion-dollar success of Disney’s prior live-action adaptations like “The Lion King” and “Beauty and the Beast.”

The only standout success for Disney in 2023 was “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” amassing $845 million globally since its May release. However, this figure fell short of the $1 billion milestone that the studio had anticipated, marking the first time since 2014, except for pandemic-affected years, that Disney hasn’t delivered a billion-dollar blockbuster.

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Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at Boxoffice Pro, commented on Disney’s challenging position, attributing it to the studio’s exceptionally high standards set during its dominant streak in the 2010s. He suggested that Disney faced inevitable hurdles when its well of success started to run dry.

Comparatively, “Avatar: The Way of Water,” released by Disney at the end of 2022, performed decently, securing a spot as the seventh-highest-grossing domestic release in 2023 with $283 million. Surprisingly, it outperformed several other Disney blockbusters, including “Ant-Man 3,” “Indiana Jones 5,” and “The Marvels.”

The film industry’s recovery from the pandemic and labor strikes has resulted in a shrinking global box office, affecting all studios. Although Disney doesn’t possess the top three grossing films of the year, it holds four of the top 10 highest-grossing releases worldwide, a notable feat compared to its competitors.

Analysts cite various reasons for Disney’s box office struggles, including an over-reliance on Disney+, creative limitations, and an excessive dependence on established brands. They suggest that the studio’s movies, with production budgets averaging $200 million and an additional $100 million in marketing costs, need to meet sky-high benchmarks to break even.

Disney’s strategy of repeatedly mining familiar IPs, superheroes, and iconic brands, despite their financial success, may falter in the long run. The pandemic and Disney’s struggles to launch new films not tied to superheroes or established franchises hint that brand recognition alone may no longer guarantee box office success.

Looking forward, Disney’s promising prospects may lie in titles from 20th Century Studios, such as “Deadpool 3,” “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes,” and forthcoming “Avatar” sequels by James Cameron. The introduction of characters like the X-Men and Fantastic Four from 20th Century’s arsenal could also bolster the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Disney’s CEO, Bob Iger, admitted to the studio’s misstep in prioritizing quantity over quality during the pandemic, hinting at a reevaluation of their approach. Analysts are optimistic that Disney, known for its strong consumer connection, has the potential to regain its box office prowess with a renewed strategy.