Can ‘Lightyear’ Lift Family-Film Box Office With a $80 Million-Plus Debut?

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Pixar’s “Toy Story” spinoff is the first of four major studio animated films coming out through the end of July


When Disney released Pixar’s “Turning Red” exclusively on streaming, there were a lot of question marks over how well family films would perform at the box office. Three months later, Pixar is returning to the big screen with “Lightyear” as the film industry has much greater confidence in parents and kids turning out in theaters.

Pixar’s “Toy Story” spinoff is expected to at least top the $72 million opening of “Paramount’s “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” earlier this year, with most projections settling in the $80 million range. If it hits that range, it would be in the vicinity of the $82 million opening of “Monsters University” in 2013. An opening above $90 million would top the launch of 2015 Oscar winner “Inside Out” and rank among Pixar’s top five highest openings ever.

Still, “Lightyear” — which reintroduces the character that prompted Andy Davis to buy the Buzz Lightyear toy who would become pals with Woody in the famous 1995 classic “Toy Story” — is not expected to open anywhere near the $120 million launch that “Toy Story 4” scored in 2019.

When Pixar’s recent franchise films like “Toy Story 4” and “Incredibles 2” opened to over $100 million, it was because of strong turnout from general audiences in addition to families. It’s unclear whether that will happen since “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Jurassic World: Dominion” are expected to keep drawing in that group of moviegoers.

But studios have been encouraged by the performance of recent family films like “Sonic 2” and Universal/DreamWorks’ “The Bad Guys” this past April, with “Sonic 2” wrapping up its theatrical run with $190 million domestic and just under $400 million worldwide. “The Bad Guys” has had a more modest run but has legged out well from its $24 million opening, grossing $92.6 million domestic and $230 million globally.

With that solid baseline for family films established, theaters are going to get four animated family films over the course of the next six weeks. Two weeks after “Lightyear,” Universal will be back to attract families with Illumination’s “Minions: The Rise of Gru,” one of the last remaining 2020 films delayed by the pandemic. Then comes Paramount’s “Paws of Fury” on July 15 and Warner Bros.’ “DC League of Super Pets” on July 29.

If “Lightyear” got the sort of critical acclaim that “Turning Red” and the “Toy Story” movies got, a $100 million-plus start would feel like a certainty. As it is, critics have been generally positive but not effusive, with the consensus being that the film is an entertaining, kid-friendly sci-fi flick but doesn’t rank among Pixar’s finest. Currently, it stands at 81% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Still, an $80 million opening would be enough to keep the box office on the hot streak it’s on. Combined with a $60 million second weekend from “Jurassic World: Dominion” and a $25 million fourth weekend from “Top Gun: Maverick,” that’s at least $165 million from the top three films alone. With $484 million grossed halfway through June, there’s still a chance for the box office to post its first $1 billion month since December 2019, with the biopic “Elvis” and horror film “The Black Phone” still to come next weekend to provide a smaller boost.