A new era at Pixar begins this weekend with the release of “Onward,” the first of two original films coming this year from the hallowed, Disney-owned animation studio. It’s a big shift for Pixar after a decade in which it released multiple sequels that grossed billions worldwide, and expectations for this newcomer’s box office run are far more tempered.
The last two Pixar releases, “Toy Story 4” and “Incredibles 2,” both earned opening weekends of over $100 million and global totals of over $1 billion, joining “Toy Story 3” and “Finding Dory” in a quartet of sequels that hit those marks in the 2010s. Overall, seven of the 11 Pixar films in the last decade were sequels, and of the four that were original films, only one had an opening weekend of over $70 million: the Oscar-winning “Inside Out,” which opened to $90 million in summer 2015.
With that in mind, it makes sense why box office trackers are being conservative in their opening weekend projections for “Onward,” setting them at around $45 million. Of course, strong word of mouth could push that total up to around $50 million, which would match the opening weekend total made by Pixar’s last original film, “Coco,” back in November 2017.
If that happens, the ideal situation for “Onward” would be steady interest that allows the film to leg out over the course of the next several weeks. Critics have been positive with an 85% Rotten Tomatoes score, with the consensus being that “Onward” is not as good as Pixar’s best but still has a heartfelt story about growing up with grief boosted by strong lead performances by Tom Holland and Chris Pratt.
If audiences agree, expect “Onward” to gross at least $200 million in North America, putting it alongside the $209 million run of “Coco” and the $237 million run of the 2012 film “Brave.” Even though this is Pixar’s first release ever in the first quarter of the year, the lack of family film competitors for the rest of the month should allow it to leg out. Even Disney’s remake of “Mulan” shouldn’t be too much of a competitor, as “Onward” will be more friendly to families with younger kids than the wuxia-heavy, live-action take on one of the Disney Renaissance classics.
“Onward” stars Holland and Pratt as Ian and Barley, two elf brothers in a fantasy world where magic has been made obsolete by modern technology. On Ian’s 16th birthday, they are given a magical staff left by their late father, along with a spell that brings someone back from the dead for one day. But when the spell only brings back their father’s legs, they have only 24 hours to find a way to complete the spell. Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Octavia Spencer also star in the film, which is directed by Dan Scanlon from a script he co-wrote with Jason Headley and Keith Bunin.