2023 Box Office Preview: Disney

Photo by Jessica Miglio. © 2022 MARVEL. — ©2022 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved. — Photo courtesy of Disney. © 2022 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

If Disney (and its subsidiary 20th Century Studios) had a major success story this year in the long-awaited Avatar: The Way of Water, it also had some high-profile stumbles, with animated family titles Lightyear and Strange World failing to even come close to pre-release expectations. This year, the studio has several more shots at animated success (Elemental, Wish), as they also release three new MCU films, a live-action remake of one of their most iconic animated films (The Little Mermaid), and the fifth entry in the Indiana Jones franchise.

2023 Preview

High Expectations

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania 

February 17, 2023

We live in a world where a superhero called “Ant-Man” is one of the year’s major draws at the box office. The original Ant-Man overcome a troubled production to score a $180M domestic run in 2015—not exactly marquee material for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but enough to warrant a standalone sequel three years later. 2018’s Ant-Man and the Wasp built on that success with a $216M run. The third entry in the franchise is expected to surpass the $200M mark and become one of the biggest hits of the Q1 box office. – Daniel Loria

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

May 5, 2023

Director James Gunn wraps up his Guardians of the Galaxy trilogy this summer with Vol. 3, the middle film chronologically—and very likely the highest-grossing–of the three MCU films to come out this year. The Guardians films have been relatively stable in terms of box office thus far, with domestic cumes from 2014’s Vol. 1 ($333.8M) and 2017’s Vol. 2 ($389.8M) coming in just about $55M apart. – Rebecca Pahle

The Little Mermaid

May 26, 2023
This year’s The Little Mermaid will the first of Disney’s series of classic animation remakes to debut exclusively in theaters since before the pandemic; 2021’s Cruella went day-and-date in theaters and on Disney + (earning $86.1M in theaters), while 2022’s Pinocchio played on the streaming platform exclusively. In 2019, the last fully pre-pandemic year, two of the top ten highest-grossing films were Disney remakes, coming in at number two (The Lion King, with $543.6M) and number eight (Aladdin, $355.5M). The Lion King represents the high water mark here, with the lowest-grossing film being 2016’s Pete’s Dragon, with $76.2M. – Rebecca Pahle

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

June 30, 2023

The Indiana Jones franchise returns to theaters 15 years after a lackluster fourth installment. 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull brought in $317.1 million domestically. A legacy sequel coming on the heels of Top Gun: Maverick‘s record-setting run should help the movie keep its lofty expectations at the box office. – Daniel Loria

Breakout Contenders

Elemental

June 16, 2023

Pixar went from a pre-pandemic box office darling to a post-pandemic straight-to-video afterthought for Disney. The animation studio has struggled to find its footing theatrically after years of audiences being accustomed to finding its movies on Disney+, a crisis best exemplified by the woeful box office haul of Lightyear in the Summer of 2022. Elemental will have a lot of heavy lifting on its shoulders to overcome the Pixar box office slump in 2023. – Daniel Loria

Haunted Mansion

August 11, 2023

Disney builds a movie around one of their most iconic theme park rides with Haunted Mansion, closing out the summer season with a mid-August release. This will be the studios’ second live-action Haunted Mansion movie; the first, released in 2003, earned $75.8M. The highest-grossing Disney movie based on a theme park ride remains the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie; that film earned $423.3M in 2006, up from its 2003 predecessor’s  $305.4M. More recent theme park ride adaptations have been 2015’s Tomorrowland ($93.4M) and 2021’s Jungle Cruise ($116.9M), the latter of which got a day-and-date release in theaters and on Disney+. – Rebecca Pahle

Walt Disney Pictures 2023 Theatrical Release Schedule

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania 

February 17, 2023

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

May 5, 2023

The Little Mermaid

May 26, 2023

Elemental

June 16, 2023

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

June 30, 2023

The Marvels

July 28, 2023

Haunted Mansion

August 11, 2023

A Haunting in Venice (20th Century Studios)

September 15, 2023

True Love (20th Century Studios)

October 6, 2023

Wish

November 22, 2023

2022 Recap

Avatar: The Way of Water (20th Century Studios)

Domestic earnings in 2022: 

Released: 

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Domestic earnings in 2022: $423.6M

Released: November 11, 2022

Almost nobody predicted Wakanda would match the earnings of 2018’s original Black Panther, the highest-grossing film from that year, especially since the death of lead Chadwick Boseman meant this installment was in some ways more of a reboot than a sequel. Even so, its holding power proved particularly low compared to its predecessor: despite posting an opening weekend only -10% behind, its total looks poised to finish somewhere around -35%.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Domestic earnings in 2022: $411.3M

Released: May 6, 2022

While Multiverse earned +76% above 2016’s original Doctor Strange ($232.6M), Benedict Cumberbatch’s character’s appearances in gargantuan installments Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame made a higher box office all-but-guaranteed, as indicated by other Marvel characters’ post-Endgame installments. One somewhat disappointing stat: despite earning the largest opening weekend of the year, it looks poised to finish as the #3 or #4 film overall.

Thor: Love and Thunder

Domestic earnings in 2022: $343.2M

Released: July 8, 2022

The fourth installment in the MCU’s Thor series was the highest-earning yet, above 2011’s Thor ($181.0M), 2013’s Thor: The Dark World ($206.3M), and 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok ($315.0M). Because of the aforementioned post-Endgame bump, though, even Thunder’s franchise high should be considered to have “met” expectations rather than exceeded them.

Lightyear

Domestic earnings in 2022: $118.3M

Released: July 17, 2022

Excluding the pandemic-shortened run of March 2020’s Onward, Lightyear stands as Pixar’s lowest-grossing theatrical release of all time, -4% lower than 2015’s The Good Dinosaur ($123.0M).

Strange World

Domestic earnings in 2022: $35.3M

Released: November 23, 2022

Walt Disney Animation Studios, or occasionally their sister Disney studio Pixar, traditionally releases a Thanksgiving film almost every year. World was by far the lowest-grossing of this set over the past dozen years, with less than half any other such title–not just the obvious titans like 2013’s Frozen ($400.9M), 2016’s Moana ($248.7M), and 2017’s Coco ($210.4M), but even such mediocre earners as 2015’s The Good Dinosaur ($123.0M) and 2021’s Encanto ($96.0M).

Encanto

Domestic earnings in 2022: $5.4M, of $96.0M total

Released: November 24, 2021

Alas, Encanto only truly caught on upon its Christmas Day 2021 Disney+ streaming release. The song “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” topped the Billboard Hot 100 music chart for five weeks starting in early February, marking only the second such Disney movie song to top the chart, after 1993’s “A Whole New World” from Aladdin. Too bad its theatrical box office didn’t prove quite as popular.

Eternals

Domestic earnings in 2022: $175K, of $164.8M total

Released: November 5, 2021

Eternals ended its theatrical run the second lowest-grossing film in the MCU–lagging behind 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, the second MCU film ever and thus lacking the branding power that the series has developed since then.

Death on the Nile (20th Century Studios)

Domestic earnings in 2022: $45.6M

Released: February 11, 2022

Death on the Nile, director/star Kenneth Branagh’s follow-up to 2017’s Murder on the Orient Express, had several factors working against it box office-wise from the get-go: its initial release date of October 9, 2020, set before the pandemic shut down North American theaters, was pushed back multiple times, so by the time it did come out, audiences had been exposed (or over-exposed) to marketing for nearly a year and a half. In that same interim, several members of the ensemble cast (most notably Armie Hammer) were the subjects of public scandals that would present a challenge for the film’s marketing team. Ultimately, Death on the Nile earned less than half of Murder’s $102.8M domestic cume. Among recent ensemble whodunits, the top earner is 2019’s Knives Out, with $165.3M. A third film in Branagh’s Agatha Christie series, A Haunting in Venice, comes out in September of this year. – Rebecca Pahle

Barbarian (20th Century Studios)

Domestic earnings in 2022: $40.8M

Released: September 9, 2022

While Disney’s Lightyear and Strange World are emblematic of the difficult time family movies had attracting audiences in 2022, 20th Century Studios’ Barbarian represents a genre that did surprisingly well last year: horror. Compared to fellow 2022 horror releases like Nope ($123.2M), Smile ($105.9M), The Black Phone ($90.1M), Scream ($81.6M), Halloween Ends ($64M), and Violent Night ($46.7M), Barbarian was the lowest earner domestically; still, a $40.8M haul for an original-IP, R-rated horror movie is far from a disappointment. – Rebecca Pahle

The Bob’s Burgers Movie  (20th Century Studios)

Domestic earnings in 2022: $31.9M

Released: May 27, 2022

Released in mid-2022, The Bob’s Burgers Movie–based on the Fox animated sitcom—was in theaters for only ten weekends before quietly slipping off the big screen. The closest comp subject-wise is 2007’s The Simpsons Movie–both are PG-13 films based on animated shows–which set a box office goal Bob’s Burgers couldn’t match with a $183.1M domestic cume. – Rebecca Pahle

The King’s Man (20th Century Studios)

Domestic earnings in 2022: $20.9M

Released: December 22, 2021

Released at the tail end of 2021, The King’s Man made most of its box office during this calendar year. Its domestic cume of $37.1M is relatively scant, coming in well below previous films in the franchise: 2014’s Kingsman: The Secret Service ($128.2M) and 2017’s Kingsman: The Golden Circle ($100.2M). – Rebecca Pahle

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