February had been a no-mans land for animated releases, but Warner Bros. gambled and won big
Maybe animated movies belong right there with roses and chocolate as Valentine’ Day staples?
The $69 million opening of “The Lego Movie” showed that – contrary to tradition — February can be a fine time to roll out a family film.
With the kids in school, conventional box-office wisdom has prompted Hollywood to load the month with romance — not surprising given Valentine's Day, and counter-programming like horror movies. “The Vow,” “Valentine's Day” and “50 First Dates” all made the list of the month's biggest hits, and so have “Hannibal,” “Shutter Island” and a “Friday the 13th” remake.
You have to go all the way down to No. 28 to find the previous best opening for an animated movie in February, the $25 million that “Gnomeo and Juliet” managed back in 2011.
Typically risk-averse studios like to see a track record of success when choosing a release date, and that wasn't there. The Weinstein Company tried “Escape From Planet Earth” last year and Disney rolled out “The Secret World of Arrrietty” in 2012, but neither connected.
The competition was sure to be less than in summer, but the February date represented a gamble for Warner Bros., Village Roadshow and distribution chief Dan Fellman.
“We knew we had a great movie here and it was important that we launch this franchise strongly, so we thought it made sense for us to take a risk,” Fellman said.
He may have been empowered by the success of ”Gravity,” the tentpole space epic which normally would have been a summer play. Warner Bros. instead decided to go with an October launch, and nearly $700 million later, we know how that turned out at the box office.
Consider the “The Lego Movie” wager won. And the payoff should continue through this Valentine's Day weekend, when the kids will be out of school for President's Day on Monday.
While Warner Bros. may be the first to slot a big-ticket animated movie in February, it won't be the last. Paramount will open “SpongeBob SquarePants 2” on Feb. 13 next year, and Universal has planted its flag on Feb. 12 of 2016 for an untitled Illumination Entertainment movie.