Disney is well on its way to scoring another billion-dollar hit with Bill Condon’s “Beauty and the Beast,” breaking box office records by hauling in an estimated $350 million worldwide its opening weekend.
“Beauty,” the fifth in Disney’s live-action remake series that began in 2010 with “Alice in Wonderland” (not counting the direct sequel, “Alice Through the Looking Glass”), sets a new record for March openers, passing the $166 million set last year by “Batman v Superman” and nabbing the biggest domestic opening by a PG-rated film, passing last year’s “Finding Dory.”
So, what set “Beauty” on their unbeatable trajectory? As Disney enjoys yet another big release, here are our takeaways:
1. March is for the Mouse
Disney has traditionally put out a March release since the 1990s, but in recent years, this month has become a major source of revenue for them. In 2015, “Cinderella” made $67 million in its mid-March opening weekend, going on to make $543.5 million worldwide. Last year, Disney’s success in March increased exponentially with “Zootopia,” which made $75 million in its domestic opening and became an overwhelming hit overseas, making $682.5 million overseas en route to a $1 billion worldwide total and another Best Animated Feature Oscar for the House of Mouse.
With “Beauty and the Beast” now setting records for a month that has suddenly become fertile ground for blockbuster releases, Disney will hope to continue their March success next year with the sequel to the 2012 animated video game comedy, “Wreck-It Ralph.”
2. Casting big-name stars has become a big part of the remake formula
Last year, the promotional material for “The Jungle Book” listed every name in Jon Favreau’s star-studded voice acting cast, which included the likes of Bill Murray, Lupita Nyong’o and Idris Elba. “Beauty and the Beast” took the same approach, listing all the big-name stars they selected to play the Beast’s enchanted companions, including Ian McKellen, Ewan McGregor and Emma Thompson. The posters for the film also featured McGregor and company in full costume rather than as the CGI knick-knacks they spend much of the film lending their voices to in order to emphasize the live-action nature of the film.
At the center of it all, of course, is Emma Watson in her first leading blockbuster role since the “Harry Potter” films. While her performance was tepidly received by some critics, her popularity among “Potter” fans and on social media has brought enormous buzz to the film, as audiences have praised her take on Belle, leading to an A from CinemaScore audience surveys.
3. Disney is ready to remake the Renaissance
But as highly anticipated and praised as this remake has become, the studio had warmed up audiences to the idea with remakes of earlier Disney classics. So far, Disney has made remakes of “Alice in Wonderland,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “Cinderella” and “The Jungle Book,” all of which are Disney films from the ’50s and ’60s.
With all those films well-received by audiences, Disney has now built up enough goodwill to move on to remaking films from their Renaissance Era, which consists of films that most of Disney’s audience has fond memories of seeing in theaters when they first came out.
“Beauty” starts a new phase in Disney’s remake series, with the next installment being Niki Caro’s take on “Mulan,” with remakes of “The Lion King” and “The Little Mermaid” also in the works.
4. Disney’s hot streak isn’t letting up anytime soon
Though they’ve had the occasional misstep like the box office and critical disappointment “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” Disney’s success rate has become the envy of Hollywood. It has released original animated hits like “Zootopia” and “Moana,” franchise money-printers like “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and “Captain America: Civil War,” and critically-acclaimed works from indie directors like Mira Nair’s “Queen of Katwe” and David Lowery’s “Pete’s Dragon.” By the end of 2016, Disney had become the first studio to gross $7 billion in global ticket sales in a year.
With $350 million in the bank, “Beauty and the Beast” has marked the start of what is expected to be an equally big 2017 for Disney, with several more heavy-hitters coming down the pipe from both in-house and its stable of intellectual property. Sequels for “Cars” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” are in store for the summer, while Marvel will release sequels to “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Thor.” Pixar will release a new original title, “Coco,” in November, and at the end of the year, Lucasfilm will release the sequel to “The Force Awakens,” “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”