Weekend Box Office Forecast: Pixar’s Lightyear

Photo Credits: Disney & Pixar ("Lightyear")

Friday Update: Disney reports this morning that Lightyear earned $5.2 million from domestic previews, a combined gross including Wednesday’s 6pm shows and Thursday from 3pm onward.

While there are no apples-to-apples comparisons in light of the market Pixar’s first theatrical film in over two years enters, that figure comes in below Sonic the Hedgehog 2‘s $6.25 million two-day preview gross.

Pre-pandemic, Toy Story 4 opened to $12.0 million Thursday previews in June 2019, Incredibles 2 earned $18.5 million in June 2018, Cars 3 earned $2.8 million in June 2017, and Finding Dory pulled $9.2 million in June 2016.

We continue to caution that extrapolations from Lightyear‘s preview results are incredibly volatile due to reasons outlined in the original report below.

Thursday Final Update: Lightyear‘s final range and other final forecasts have been updated and added below.

Wednesday Preliminary Report: In a year of “firsts” since the start of the pandemic over two years ago, this Father’s Day weekend spawns another as Pixar makes its awaited return to domestic theaters with Lightyear.

While Disney has distributed three of the studio’s films over the past two years, each (Soul, Luca, and Turning Red) was siphoned off as exclusives to the company’s streaming service in the domestic market. The last new Pixar film to play in North American theaters was Onward, a film whose run was cut short by the pandemic itself in early 2020.

Lightyear presents another significant litmus test for a number of reasons. While a few animated titles have opened in cinemas over the past year with scattershot consistency, the market has never been more ripe to capture pent-up demand among kids and families.

Disney’s own Encanto and Universal/Illumination’s Sing 2 were moderate hits last winter when the Omicron variant of COVID-19 was still front-of-mind for many parents. Six months later, the outlook is seemingly much different. Theatrical recovery has taken a number of significant steps forward this year as consumer confidence has increased and mindsets have turned away from the health crisis and back toward pre-pandemic lifestyles.

The expectation-beating $72.1 million opening of Paramount’s Sonic the Hedgehog 2 back in April proved that outlook was finally reaching a wide swath of parents as the family- and fan-driven film exceeded its predecessor’s 2020 debut.

Since then, summer has looked something more akin to normal. From The Bad Guys‘ leggy late spring run to blockbuster performances by Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Jurassic World Dominion, and of course, Top Gun: Maverick, more and more of the movie”goer spectrum has resumed theatrical attendance as the release calendar has filled out.

What does this mean for Lightyear, though?

Long range forecasts have been somewhat volatile, but generally bullish. The rub lies within the fact that there is no proven pre-sale, social media, or any other traditional metric in the pandemic era for such a high-profile animated release. The closest may be Sonic 2, but it notably had an older fan base driving initial sales — something borne by its frontloaded run (which is not expected of Lightyear).

The Bad Guys? It’s a recent and potentially fair comparison point, but one that lacked the same generational IP awareness of Pixar’s Toy Story spin-off.

Working in Lightyear‘s favor could be the mixed-to-weak reception of last week’s Jurassic sequel, which is catering to a mostly male audience. That franchise has historically played well up and down the age spectrum, but word of mouth could shift focus for families — especially fathers and sons — toward Lightyear on this Father’s Day frame.

Additionally, there’s the aforementioned factor of pent-up demand. Kids are enjoying their first relatively normal summer in three years, and while Bad Guys filled a void two months ago, the market is overdue for a family-driven tentpole with the powerhouse branding of Disney, Pixar, and a generationally popular Toy Story character behind it.

Marketing imprints have been strong in recent weeks with heavy promotion across the social sphere and major broadcast events, not to mention frequent trailer rotation in cinemas ahead of nearly every box office smash to release over the last few months.

Lightyear will also have the advantage of premium footprints with 400 IMAX locations, 850+ PLF screens, 2,200 3D venues, and 190 D-Box/4D motion auditoriums. Early Access screenings begin Wednesday evening at 500 IMAX and PLF locations, followed by traditional Thursday previews starting early at 3pm.

Pre-release tracking and projections have been all over the map, to put it mildly. On top of the lack of pandemic era comparison points, pre-sales didn’t even begin until last week.

Although the franchise nature of Lightyear immediately suggests it could have some fan-driven elements, we could also theoretically be looking at a situation similar to Cars 3 in 2017. That film similarly opened on Father’s Day weekend and was more back-loaded than Incredibles 2 (also a Father’s Day opener) or Toy Story 4 in the two years following, earning 6 times its Thursday preview gross (versus a 2.95 ratio for TS4 and 2.85 for I2).

If this film behaves more like an origin film than a direct sequel, a Thursday-to-Friday bump closer to (but likely not quite as high as) Cars 3 is on the table.

When Toy Story 4 opened three summers ago, it corralled a $120.9 million domestic start without the aid of Father’s Day. Ticket prices, like everything else these days, have increased in the time since, and a similar number of tickets sold would translate to nearly $145 million today.

Cars 3, on the other hand, bowed to $53.7 million and showed off some franchise fatigue in the process. A similar number of admissions would equate to around $70 million today.

Reaching the entire Toy Story audience was never expected of Lightyear, and it still isn’t. The film has been sold as an action-adventure romp with comedic elements only coming into view in recent weeks with updated marketing spots. And, of course, Toy Story has always been about the ensemble.

Lightyear is cut from a different cloth, with some in the industry questioning if the lack of comedy being advertised could work against upfront demand for those younger than the millennial parents who grew up on the original Toy saga entries.

The other factor an eager Hollywood is watching out for boils down to pandemic education; in other words, what parents have been taught to expect from Disney over the past two years. Is there a wide assumption that Lightyear will be available to stream at home on Disney+ immediately or soon after release? If so, is that impacting pre-release buzz and intent to see in a theater on opening weekend?

These are just a few wild card elements, but important ones — and questions that never had to be asked of a major Pixar release before.

All of this is to say that Lightyear has plenty of advantages on its side, but erring on the side of caution is wise. Aside from Jurassic, the adult male audience will also remain strong for Top Gun: Maverick in its fourth frame as its holds look to stabilize after an expected drop-off due to losing premium screens one week ago.

While catering mostly to adults over a certain age, it’s not unreasonable to expect some mild crossover competition for the nostalgia play between Maverick, Jurassic‘s second frame, and Lightyear‘s debut.

The good news is that positive critics’ marks indicate another crowd-pleaser from Pixar. With the bulk of summer still ahead, it should leg out very well even with Minions: The Rise of Gru set to release in two weeks’ time as both look to coexist throughout the heart of summer.

Given the complexities in tracking Lightyear up this point, final pinpoint forecasts will be delayed until Thursday.

Weekend Ranges

Opening Weekend Range: $76 – 105 million

Pinpoint Preview Forecast: $6.6 million (Wednesday & Thursday combined)

Weekend Forecast & Location Count Projections

Current projection ranges call for an 7 to 17 percent decrease from last weekend’s $212.4 million top ten aggregate. 

Film Distributor 3-Day Weekend Forecast Projected Domestic Total through Sunday, June 19 Location Count Projection (as of Wed) 3-Day % Change from Last Wknd
Lightyear Disney & Pixar $84,000,000 $84,000,000 4,255 NEW
Jurassic World Dominion Universal Pictures $54,000,000 $246,400,000 4,697 -63%
Top Gun: Maverick Paramount Pictures $40,000,000 $462,200,000 4,035 -23%
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness Disney & Marvel Studios $3,800,000 $404,500,000 2,465 -27%
The Bob’s Burgers Movie 20th Century Studios (Disney) $1,500,000 $30,100,000 1,350 -39%
The Bad Guys Universal Pictures & DreamWorks Animation $1,400,000 $94,600,000 1,477 -45%
Downton Abbey: A New Era Focus Features $1,100,000 $42,500,000 1,179 -37%
Everything Everywhere All at Once A24 $1,000,000 $64,900,000 ~800 -22%
Brian and Charles Focus Features n/a n/a 279 NEW
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 Paramount Pictures $325,000 $190,600,000 439 -57%

*All forecasts are subject to revision before the first confirmation of Thursday previews or Friday estimates from studios or official sources.

Theater counts are updated as confirmed by studiosThe above table does not necessarily represent the top ten as some studios do not finalize weekend location counts and/or an intent to report box office returns prior to publishing.

Photo Credits: Disney & Pixar ("Lightyear")
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