Weekend Forecast: Frozen II Poised for Best Animated Launch Outside Summer; A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood and 21 Bridges Set to Counter-Program

After a November cold snap that’s left monthly box office down 28 percent from the same point last year, and at a four-year November low with $450 million through November 19, significant relief is on the way this weekend as Disney’s Frozen II looks to thaw out the ice.

Six years after the original film became an unexpected phenomenon, drawing over $400.7 million and $1.27 billion in domestic and global sales, respectively, the highly anticipated sequel gets a jump on next week’s stateside Thanksgiving holiday. The release strategy is rare for Disney recently as the studio hasn’t opened a high profile animated release before Thanksgiving weekend itself since 2014’s Big Hero 6.

The aim here is more akin to the blockbuster, female-driven launches of the Harry Potter, Hunger Games, and Twilight franchises, each of which made a killing using the pre-Thanksgiving week release strategy. In fact, those three series currently own the top five November debuts in history — Catching Fire being tops with $158.1 million in 2013, followed by New Moon ($142.8 million) in 2009, Breaking Dawn – Part 2 ($141.1 million) in 2012, Breaking Dawn – Part 1 ($138.1 million) in 2011, and Deathly Hallows Part 1 ($125.0 million) in 2010.

Considering the enormous success, catchy soundtrack, and pop icon status earned by Frozen six years ago, it’s reasonable to expect some degree of fan hysteria for its follow-up. That could propel a debut well beyond current expectations.

The perspective worth noting, however, is that animated films generally behave very differently than front-loaded live action franchises. For example, Incredibles 2 recently set the medium’s all-time opening weekend record with $182.7 million (though some would posit this year’s Lion King remake qualifies as animation, and thus, would own the record with $191.8 million).

The caveat, however, is that no film outside of summer has ever debuted anywhere near that level. In fact, with $70.5 million at the time, 2004’s The Incredibles still holds the all-time animated record for a November opening weekend.

That kind of discrepancy is largely due to the fact that animated films tend to play more back-loaded — even with their anticipated sequels — because of higher family appeal than young adult and teen-heavy adaptations with big upfront fan rushes. That’s particularly true when opening close to a holiday as families wait for common time off of work and school, as will be the case in just a week’s time.

For these reasons, among others, forecasting models are understandably generating a wide range of possibilities as comps are few and far between.

Social media stats, naturally, have been through the roof for Frozen II, which does suggest itself has a fan base that will rush out in the early days — but most models suggest it will be a staggered level of attendance over the first 10 days of release compared to past November blockbusters.

Exhibitors seem to be preparing for a similar result. According to the Showtimes Dashboard tracker (owned by Boxoffice PRO’s parent The Boxoffice Company), Frozen II is currently booked for 28 percent fewer showtimes than The Lion King between Thursday night and the end of Sunday (based on a sample of more than 3,300 theaters in each case). The sequel has a 30 percent lead in bookings versus Aladdin at the same point.

Disney itself expects a domestic opening in the $100 million range, which would still be an excellent start considering the open market ahead into mid-December.

There’s little questioning Frozen II will be another massive success, and probable $1 billion+ worldwide earner, for the Mouse House when all’s said and done. If there’s one notable challenge the film faces this weekend and beyond, it’s the expectations created by a beloved film that surprised everyone and captured lightning in a bottle with “Let It Go”.

That kind of success isn’t easy to replicate, and there’s an “it’s worth considering” element of debate over whether the six-year gap missed a chance to strike while the iron was hot. Conversely, perhaps it was just right so as too allow the audience to grow up with the characters, and potentially open the door to younger audiences being introduced to the world of Arendelle this year.

Beyond Frozen II

Two other releases will hit theaters this weekend, starting with Sony’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. As covered in previous forecasts, the Tom Hanks-led drama should prove to be a strong counter-programmer in the days and weeks ahead with significant playability during the holidays as a crowd-pleasing heart-warmer. That said, don’t be surprised if it starts modestly this weekend before showing off its legs in quick fashion starting with the holiday corridor next week. This is a film that should play strongly with a variety of audiences.

Meanwhile, 21 Bridges also debuts from STX, although we’re increasingly conservative given the string of under-performers in recent weeks — and, most importantly, what’s expected to be a fairly strong hold from Ford v Ferrari in its second weekend. The latter met our breakout expectations with a $31.5 million debut last weekend, and although it will lose its significant IMAX and PLF ticket price advantages to Frozen II this weekend, strong reception and a predominately male audience are likely to draw potential viewers away from Bridges. In its favor, though, is STX’s track record for surprise performers and star Chadwick Boseman’s rise to stardom in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Opening Weekend Ranges

  • Frozen II ($120 – 160 million)
  • A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood ($14 – 19 million)
  • 21 Bridges ($7 – 12 million)

Top 10 v. Last Year

Boxoffice projects a 2 to 7 percent decrease from the same weekend last year. While representing a notable improvement in recent comparisons to last year, this is also an apples-to-oranges metric since it was Thanksgiving weekend. At the time, Ralph Breaks the Internet and Creed II led the way with healthy $56.2 million and $35.6 million weekends, respectively, as part of an overall $203.8 million top ten.

Weekend Forecast

Film Distributor 3-Day Weekend Forecast Projected Domestic Total through Sunday, November 24 % Change from Last Wknd
Frozen II Disney $130,000,000 $130,000,000 NEW
Ford v Ferrari Fox $16,900,000 $58,800,000 -46%
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood Sony / Columbia $16,000,000 $16,000,000 NEW
21 Bridges STX $8,400,000 $8,400,000 NEW
Midway Lionsgate $5,600,000 $44,000,000 -34%
Playing with Fire Paramount $4,900,000 $31,600,000 -41%
Last Christmas Universal $3,700,000 $28,200,000 -43%
Doctor Sleep Warner Bros. $3,400,000 $30,300,000 -43%
Joker Warner Bros. $3,400,000 $327,600,000 -36%
The Good Liar Warner Bros. $3,200,000 $11,200,000 -43%

Forecasts subject to change as location counts are finalized before Friday

The chart above excludes releases and potential expansions from limited and platform films

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