The entertainment giant turned two November releases in the same year into hits before the pandemic – can they do it again?
By moving Marvel Studios’ “The Marvels” from July to November – the same month as its animated musical “Wish” – Disney is placing a big bet on its cinematic heroines during the Thanksgiving season and hoping they won’t cannibalize each other’s audience.
It’s a move that could bolster two valuable franchises with theatrical buzz – or backfire at a time when Disney can’t afford a lot of missteps.
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The heavy push onto multiplex screens as audiences return to cinemas is a bet on the power of theatrical releases to boost downstream revenue. CEO Bob Iger recently told Wall Street analysts that releasing movies in theaters first gives it “marketing clout” as well as the ability to amortize costs. The close calendar placement is a key test of Iger’s theory.
“The Marvels,” a sequel to the 2019 film “Captain Marvel,” sees intergalactic hero Carol Danvers team up with “WandaVision” breakout star Monica Rambeau and “Ms. Marvel” protagonist Kamala Khan. Orignally set for release at the end of July, Disney has instead given that late summer release slot to Justin Simien’s “Haunted Mansion,” moving “The Marvels” to Nov. 10 to give more time for post-production to complete, according to studio insiders.
Just 12 days later on Thanksgiving weekend, Disney will then release the animated musical “Wish,” starring Ariana DeBose as the new Disney Princess, Asha, in a film that marks the studio’s 100th anniversary.
That means that for the second straight November, Disney will have two films in theaters for Thanksgiving, one a new animated release and the other a Marvel blockbuster in its third weekend.
Prior to the pandemic, Disney was able to have Marvel and its animation studio coexist harmoniously on the November release slate. In 2016, “Doctor Strange” and “Moana” combined for $480 million domestic and $1.33 billion at the global box office. A year later, “Thor: Ragnarok” and “Coco” did even better with a combined $525 million domestic and $1.62 billion worldwide. In both cases, those films were released three weeks apart rather than the 12-day gap that “Marvels” and “Wish” will see.
Before either of these films come out, Warner Bros. will release its own blockbuster with Legendary’s “Dune: Part Two,” the follow-up to Denis Villeneuve’s 2021 Oscar-winning sci-fi epic. While that film might move its release date in response to the “Marvels” shift, it will be another competitor Marvel and Disney must face for general audience attention in what has suddenly become a crowded month for movie theaters.
Last November, Disney tried to release a superhero and an animated film within two weeks of each other: Marvel’s “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” and Disney’s “Strange World.” But unlike pre-COVID times, the box office results that came out of it were decidedly in favor of one film at the cost of the other.
While “Wakanda Forever” was a box office hit with $453.6 million domestic and $855 million worldwide, “Strange World” became a rare flop for Disney Animation with just $73.6 million grossed worldwide, done in by a mix of poor marketing, strong competition from “Wakanda Forever,” and word-of-mouth that was mildly positive at best and didn’t give “Strange World” the “can’t-miss” status needed to be a true hit.
Of course, “The Marvels” and “Wish” are very different films from “Wakanda Forever” and “Strange World,” and it’s possible that the two films could combine for a better box office result. But there will be challenges that each title will have to overcome.
“The Marvels,” for example, features a trio of heroines that aren’t as proven draws as, say, the Guardians of the Galaxy, who will get a new movie in theaters this May. While “Captain Marvel” opened to a stellar $153 million in March 2019 and grossed $1.12 billion globally, that film had the advantage of being the lead-in to the much-anticipated “Avengers: Endgame,” drawing turnout from audiences hungry for clues as to how Captain Marvel would factor into fixing Thanos’ infamous Snap.
“The Marvels,” meanwhile, will be banking its box office potential on how much audiences are invested in Captain Marvel on her own merits, along with whether “WandaVision” and “Ms. Marvel” built large enough fan bases for Rambeau and Khan. While “WandaVision” became a cultural phenomenon in 2021 as Marvel’s first Disney+ series, Nielsen ratings for the premiere week of “Ms. Marvel” on the streaming platform clocked in at 4.2 million households last summer, below the 7 million for the premiere of “Moon Knight” and roughly a third of the 12.2 million households that saw the first episode of “Loki” in summer 2021.
Despite this, Boxoffice.com editor Daniel Loria is optimistic that “The Marvels” can turn a solid blockbuster profit from its new mid-November slot, even if it has to rely more on hardcore Marvel fans than casual audiences to do so. What he’s more unsure about is “Wish,” given Disney’s struggles with animated theatrical releases last year and its focus on streaming for many animated titles under former CEO Bob Chapek.
“The last time Disney released an original animated musical in this Thanksgiving corridor was ‘Moana,’ and that was seven years ago,” Loria said. “We know that they can do it, but it’s been a long time since they have, and after getting families accustomed to having new animated films available on Disney+ since the pandemic began, can they get those families to come out again to movie theaters?”
Based on the first look shown at the D23 Expo, “Wish” has all the makings of a stone-cold Disney hit: soaring musical numbers sung by a princess, gorgeous fairy tale environments and a comic relief goat voiced by Alan Tudyk. It’s a film that’s much closer to “Frozen” than to “Strange World,” and that might be all that “Wish” needs to get little girls around the world begging their parents to see the film in theaters.
It’s hard to say at this point how well “Wish” will do when there hasn’t even been a teaser trailer released. Disney will likely start its marketing campaign for the film during the summer, attaching posters and trailers to their live-action/CGI remake of “The Little Mermaid” on Memorial Day weekend and the Pixar animated movie “Elemental” in June. If engagement on those trailers is strong, “Wish” may be on its way to becoming a rebound hit for Disney Animation.
Since theaters reopened, Disney has found several hits theatrically but hasn’t returned to the juggernaut form it displayed in the late 2010s. If it can steer “The Marvels” and “Wish” to exceptional numbers, that may be proof that the studio is truly back to its winning ways. And that will matter far beyond the box office.
Box Office Reporter • email@example.com • Twitter: @jeremyfuster