Weekend Forecast: The Lion King Is Ready to Roar In Domestic Bow as Summer’s Rebound Looks to Continue

Image Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios

Disney will once again come to the box office rescue this weekend as the heavily anticipated remake of The Lion King hits theaters across North America.

You can read more about the reasoning behind our previous long range forecasts here, calling for a $200 million+ domestic opening — something we believe is still more likely to happen than not. Currently, though, expectations are widely varied across the industry. Even as opening day is upon us, that uncertainty in large part due to last month’s string of big tracking misses.

More than that, though, tracking models have proven more erratic than usual since summer began — only it was on the opposite end of the spectrum back then. Avengers: Endgame memorably broke every comparison in the book when it soared past already optimistic expectations. Then, fellow Disney release Aladdin over-performed against the studio and many analysts’ predictions given the mixed marketing lead-up to that film. It’s since gone on to quietly become of the more impressive blockbuster performers in recent memory, having more than tripled its holiday-inflated $91.5 million opening weekend to reach $334.2 million stateside through Tuesday. That tops Alice In Wonderland‘s $334.1 million to become the studio’s third best live-action remake outside Beauty and the Beast ($504 million) and The Jungle Book ($364 million) domestically.

The moral of the story here is that the Disney powerhouse remains a monument of consistency when it comes to drawing audiences, thanks to their generational appeal and lineup of iconic brands, franchises, and characters. Despite the perception of Toy Story 4 “under-performing”, it’s also proven a major success with $354.4 million domestically through yesterday and has a fair shot at $400 million before its run ends. Especially as four-quels go, that’s an excellent result.

That brings us to one of the year’s presumed marquee releases in The Lion King. Since the first trailer and pre-sales smashed Disney records not held by Avengers or Star Wars, expectations have soared after already coming in hot when the film’s production was announced several years ago.

Understandably, the industry is expressing cautious optimism now even as tracking leaves open the possibility for a breakout and one of the biggest box office runs of 2019. Our own internal models suggest a wide range of possible outcomes this weekend. Social media growth has excelled past that of recent family-driven animated films (including Toy Story 4 and Aladdin), while we’re seeing reports of interest and intent metrics comparable to those of Incredibles 2 and Black Panther, suggesting a $175 – 200 million+ domestic launch is possible.

On the other end of the spectrum, however, pre-sales observations paint a slightly more conservative picture — relatively speaking. Trends on that side of pre-release analytics are pointing closer to a $150 – 175 million weekend range. This could come to fruition if pre-sales have been dominated by fans of the original 1994 film and Broadway musical than is typical of family movies, which often attract a big walk-up crowd not measured or accurately observed in most forms of tracking.

Reviews are also a minor concern at this stage with Rotten Tomatoes critics giving it a 58 percent score as of this writing — notably less enthusiastic than high-end opening weekend comps mentioned earlier in this report. Then again, Beauty and the Beast had a modest 71 percent score from critics two years ago, while the Aladdin remake sits at 57 percent currently and has gone on to become a big crowd-pleaser. We think something similar could be in store for Lion King given its focus isn’t to deliver something new for critics, but rather a high pedigree of talent, emotional connection, and strong musical pull for general moviegoers — not to mention minimal competition for the remainder of summer.

Nostalgia, as always, is a notable factor. Research firm Movio reports that nearly 65 percent of Lion King‘s pre-sale audience profile is aged 25-50 — topping Toy Story 4‘s 58.4 percent and Incredibles 2‘s 43.3 percent, though similar to Aladdin‘s 62.45 percent. The key takeaway here is that adult ticket sales could contribute to higher box office earnings, and if a significant portion of those adults are parents introducing their young ones to the Lion King phenomenon, family attendance could skew tracking models upward.

Another element in play this weekend is exhibitor expectation: according to our parent company Webedia’s Showtimes Dashboard, theaters have booked Lion King for nearly 210,000 shows across an average of 3,447 theaters between Thursday evening and the end of Sunday. That’s 80 percent more bookings than Aladdin had at the same point before release, 34.5 percent more than Incredibles 2, and 29 percent more than Black Panther.

Bottom line: it’s safe to expect a big weekend on some level, but it’s crucial to keep things in perspective after a roller coaster ride of a summer where tracking models have encountered a consistent series of challenges. At some point, a regression to the mean was due as the release slate catches up to moviegoer sentiment.

Whatever results The Lion King brings this weekend, though, it’s likely to be very good news.

The Lion King
Studio Expectation: $150 million (as of June 27)
Opening Weekend Range (Boxoffice): $150 – 220 million

Top 10 vs. Last Year

Boxoffice projects this weekend’s top ten films will increase between 49 and 68 percent from the same weekend last year, which generated $157.4 million as The Equalizer 2, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, and Unfriended: Dark Web debuted.

Film Distributor 3-Day Weekend Forecast Projected Domestic Total through Sunday, July 21 % Change from Last Wknd
The Lion King (2019) Disney $185,000,000+ $185,000,000+ NEW
Spider-Man: Far From Home Sony / Columbia $21,300,000 $319,300,000 -53%
Toy Story 4 Disney / Pixar $12,900,000 $372,400,000 -38%
Crawl Paramount $5,600,000 $23,100,000 -53%
Yesterday Universal $4,700,000 $57,000,000 -30%

Alex Edghill contributed to this report

Forecasts subject to change as location counts are finalized before Friday.

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Image Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios
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