Justin Simien Says ‘Haunted Mansion’ July Release Date Was ‘Really Tough’: ‘I Saw ‘Barbie’ Coming From Miles Away’

The writer-director reflects taking on the massive “Barbenheimer” and the other summer events that impacted his film’s theatrical rollout

Haunted Mansion

“Haunted Mansion” director Justin Simien opened up about the rollout of his LaKeith Stanfield-led film, and how the events of Summer 2023 may have impacted its success. “I think the release date was really tough — I saw ‘Barbie’ coming from miles away,” Simien said of “Haunted Mansion’s” theatrical debut in an interview with TheWrap ahead of his film’s home release. “I was disappointed by some aspects of our release, but I was not really surprised.”

SAG-AFTRA authorized its strike on July 14, two weeks before “Haunted Mansion’s” July 28 release date. That meant none of the star-studded cast — including LaKeith Stanfield, Rosario Dawson, Tiffany Haddish, Owen Wilson and more — could promote the film.

Then on July 21 — one week before release — “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” dropped, detonating the doors of the box office and raking in multimillions (“Barbie” made $162 million their opening weekend and “Oppenheimer” made $82.4 million.)

“There was a lot of stuff going on with the strike…a lot of stuff that had nothing to do with the movie that I think really got in the way, and that was frustrating to see because I came up in publicity. If you had asked me and sat down with me…I would have seen some of these things coming. I’ll put it that way,” Simien explained.

“There’s a lot of folks in the industry that just kept saying, ‘I don’t know’ and ‘That’ll probably not be as big as it sounds like.’ And I was like, ‘It’s going to be huge,’” Simien said of “Barbie.” “What ‘Oppenheimer’ did so well — the marketing for ‘Oppenheimer’ embraced the fact that ‘Barbie’ was coming with this gigantic, cultural juggernaut. I don’t know that our campaign necessarily embraced or acknowledged that we were essentially coming out in the shadow of what was clearly such a box office phenomenon.”

Despite the less flattering $33 million “Haunted Mansion” made in its opening weekend, the film was a cultural hit among families, and especially among fans of the live attraction.

“I’m critical about everything and I LOVED this ‘Haunted Mansion.’ It was a love letter to the ride and it was emotional yet funny (I actually think without irony that LaKeith Stanfield should win an award for this movie) so don’t ever trust critics,” one X (formerly Twitter) user wrote in a post.

“I LOVE a movie that can make you feel every emotion. This movie did that. The cast was incredible & the Easter eggs were so good. What a great film & the references to the attraction were wonderful. Go see it!” another X user said.

And in the midst of the praises the film received, many also questioned its summer release.

“Don’t understand why a movie about a Haunted Mansion didn’t come out near Halloween,” an X user wrote.

Disney doesn’t have a history of releasing spooky titles during the summer, other than the widely popular “Hocus Pocus,” which was categorized as a “fantasy-comedy” and was released on July 16, 1993. And while the scary genre isn’t necessarily on-brand for Disney, or its forte, even “Haunted Mansion’s” Eddie Murphy-starring predecessor had its theatrical debut on Nov. 26, 2003, closer to the Halloween season.

The question marks surrounding “Haunted Mansion’s” summer landing are ones Simien understands.

“I certainly have heard the feeling from a lot of folks, and I can’t say I disagree,” Simien said. “This is a much better time to receive a movie like this.”

Simien continued: “I think with the movie coming out now…I think everyone’s head is in the right space. It’s just Halloween. It’s the season you want to kick back with your family. There’s nothing more intense happening, and in anyone’s minds when they’re processing a movie like ‘Haunted Mansion’ right now and for that, I’m grateful because when I’m making the film, of course, it’s all I’m thinking about. I’m not thinking about the politics of the company that has financed it, I’m not thinking about, you know, of course, you’re not thinking about a strike that may or may not happen when you’re doing it. So it’s nice to just sort of have people kind of focus on the movie, and find out what I already felt, which is that audiences were really enjoying it.”

And nevertheless, Simien said he is “proud” of the film’s success and is grateful for the love audiences showed it. As of Oct. 15, the film has grossed $115 million at the global box office.

“At the end of the day, and this is not just to sort of brag on myself, because it doesn’t feel like a brag, I’ll tell you that,” Simien said. “I say it to remind myself that I made a movie that made $100 million globally. I didn’t think I was going to do that a couple of years ago. I didn’t think that was something that was possible for the kind of movies that I make, and for the kind of stories that I tell. I’m really, really proud of that. I’m really proud that I got this movie out there, where you see a Black man being a father, without being prompted, to a little boy that needs one. Those are the kinds of things that actually mattered to me as a storyteller.”

“Haunted Mansion” arrived on digital retailers on Oct. 4, and will be available to watch on 4K Ultra HD™, Blu-ray™ and DVD Oct. 17


One response to “Justin Simien Says ‘Haunted Mansion’ July Release Date Was ‘Really Tough’: ‘I Saw ‘Barbie’ Coming From Miles Away’”

  1. cadavra Avatar

    It’s pretty obvious that Disney dated it in the summer so it could hit disc and streaming during the Halloween season, and that’s exactly what they’re doing. They saw what happened with “Encanto” and have made that their new strategy.

    I enjoyed “Mansion” much more than I thought I would. It was like a new William Castle movie, and I mean that in the best possible way.

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