Well, shut my mouth.
In my analysis of last weekend’s box office top 10, I thought How to Train Your Dragon 2‘s $49 million opening was a respectable enough performance to be considered a win, however minor, for DreamWorks Animation. It was, after all, their biggest opening weekend in over 2 years:
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before – a DreamWorks Animation film that cost dang near $150 million to produce disappoints at the domestic box office, causing general pants-shitting at DreamWorks as their stock dips on Wall Street. It has happened to them with their last 4 movies – Rise of the Guardians (2012), The Croods (2013), Turbo (2013), and Mr. Peabody & Sherman (2014), and only Croods made up for it overseas. As of last update, they took a loss of at least $57 million on Mr. Peabody. Sadly, this trend served as a condemnation of DreamWorks Animation’s efforts to favor original properties (Croods, Turbo) and adaptations of obscure source material (Guardians, Mr. Peabody) over sequels. Now, in comes a sequel to turn the tide, How to Train Your Dragon 2 scoring an opening 13% above the $43 million for the first film 4 years ago. This was a studio in desperate need of a win; Train Your Dragon 2’s $49 million debut gave them one. Now, let’s see if it can top the first Train Your Dragon’s $217 million domestic, $494 million worldwide totals.
I was wrong. Kind of. How to Train Your Dragon 2, which cost a reported $145 million to make, has every chance of ultimately turning a profit at the box office before all is said and done. This isn’t a Mr. Peabody & Sherman-style disaster. However, Wall Street doesn’t care about that because it had expected Dragon 2 to open more in the $65 million range this weekend. By falling around $16 million short of that projection, the film caused DreamWorks Animations stock to plunge 11% yesterday. According The Hollywood Reporter, “By the close on Monday, the stock was down $3 to $24.35 on volume of more than four times average.” Or, to put it in less stock broker-y terms, DreamWorks Animation is now worth a little bit less than it was prior to this weekend.
What seems to have happened here is that some people had seriously pegged How to Train Your Dragon 2 to be this summer’s Despicable Me 2: the animated film sequel which builds on the solid box office and stellar home video sales of its predecessor to become a ginormous hit, making many involved parties Scrooge McDuck-style rich:
That’s not to say that How to Train Your Dragon 2 had necessarily been projected to equal Despicable Me 2‘s domestic ($368 million) and foreign gross ($602 million) totals, both of which make it one of the biggest money-making animated films of all time. It’s more that some analysts expected Train Your Dragon 2 to post a worldwide gross as high as 64% above the first Train Your Dragon, a similar though not nearly as impressive film-to-sequel growth as Despicable Me 2‘s 78% improvement over the first Despicable‘s box office totals. To pull that off, Train Your Dragon 2 needs to end up with $812 million worldwide, which is what one Cowen & Co. analyst had projected. That’s simply not going to happen now, especially considering that Dragon 2 actually declined (albeit just 6%) from its first Friday to its first Saturday. Animated films aren’t supposed to do that, and the last one that did, this year’s Rio 2, ended up with just $126 million domestic. Dragon 2 is going to do better than that, but certainly nowhere near as good as Wall Street expected.
But, come on, Dragon 2 was never going to be a ginormous hit. In DreamWorks Animation’s entire history, it’s only ever had one film even make more than $800 million worldwide, 2004’s Shrek 2, which scored a worldwide haul of $918 million. Granted, that was actually an 89% improvement over the first Shrek‘s worldwide figures, but How to Train Your Dragon is not Shrek and this is not the glorious early days of DreamWorks but instead a sad run of one box office disappointment after another (except for The Croods, of course). On top of the losses they suffered earlier this year with Mr. Peabody, DreamWorks also lost a reported $83 million at the box office on Rise of the Guardians late 2012/early last year. Of course, Guardians went on to pull in $59 million from home video sales, and there’s no telling what they made from toys and other merchandise. However, that big box office loss resulted in 350 DreamWorks employees losing their jobs.
Now is the part where I point out that Dragon 2 has only been out now for 4 full days, and has only just begun its gradual international roll-out. Beyond that, it is thus far the best reviewed film of the summer, with a 93% fresh rating on RottenTomatoes. So, it seems insane to be writing it off as a failure already, but when we complain about Hollywood studios gearing everything to securing big opening weekends these days remember what just happened to DreamWorks when their big opening weekend wasn’t big enough. The box office battle for Dragon 2 has only just begun, and this movie is probably going to stick around in the domestic top 10 for the next 2 months. There’s only one more animated film due out this summer, Planes: Fire & Rescue, and it’s not due out for another month. However, it took a mere 3 days for Wall Street to decide DreamWorks had failed. I guess first impressions really are the most important.