Box Office

Box Office: Putting Finding Dory’s Record-Opening In Context

As predicted, Finding Dory set a pretty big record this weekend, but does it pass the inflation test?

The Box Office Report (from THR):

Some 13 years after Finding Nemo first hit theaters, Pixar and Disney’s sequel Finding Dory made a gigantic splash at the box office, landing the biggest domestic opening of all time for an animated title with $136.2 million from 4,305 theaters. It’s also the only animated movie to crack the overall list of top 20 openings, ranking No. 18. The previous crown-holder for top animated domestic launch was DreamWorks Animation’s Shrek the Third, which debuted to $121.6 million in 2007. Until now, Pixar’s best was Toy Story 3 (2010) with $110.3 million.

The Inflation Test:

Yeah, yeah, yeah…I bet you that after you adjust for inflation a whole bunch of older films had bigger opening weekends. You’re seriously telling me that if given the benefit of today’s exorbitant ticket prices something like The Lion King or even the old record-holder, Shrek the Third, wouldn’t have trounced Finding Dory‘s $136m? Bah humbug. Box office records these days mean nothing, you hear me. Nothing! Finding Dory? More like Finding the art of gouging families on 3D and IMAX prices!

Wow. I don’t know what just happened there. I briefly turned into a mean old man. I was *this close* to telling you to get off my lawn. However, mean old man Kelly raises a fair point – ever-rising ticket prices is the way Hollywood consistently hides the fact that attendance is waning. Except for the really big movies, the average person, especially the average young person, rarely goes to the movies anymore. The Atlantic made a big deal about that a couple of weeks ago in its hotly contested article “Hollywood Has a Big Millennial Problem.” As such, so many of our modern box office hits don’t hold a candle to the films of yesterday in terms of actual attendance.

Funny thing about that, though: Sometimes a new box office record is genuinely and truly impressive. Finding Dory‘s $136m opening does fall down the chart a bit after inflation-adjustments, but just barely:

Adjust to  Today’s Ticket Prices

  1. Shrek the Third – $151.8m
  2. Shrek 2 – $149m
  3. Finding Dory – $136m
  4. Minions – $120m
  5. Toy Story 3 – $120

Adjust to Total Tickets Sold

  1. Shrek the Third – 17.6m
  2. Shrek 2 – 17.3m
  3. Finding Dory – 15.8m
  4. Minions – 14m
  5. Toy Story 3 – 13.9m

But wait, there’s more. Finding Dory also set another record (from BoxOfficeMojo):

Dory broke the record for the largest single day and opening day for an animated film with its opening day totaling an estimated $54.9 million. Included in that opening day total is $9.2 million in Thursday previews, also a record for an animated feature. Of course, it’s a bit of a conflict to call both items “records” when you consider Dory wouldn’t hold the single day record over Shrek the Third‘s $47 million if you don’t include the additional $9.2 million.

That does speak to the difference between the way blockbusters open early and in as many theaters as humanly possible these days compared to the way it was done nearly a decade ago with Shrek the Third. There is far more of an emphasis on opening day (and preview screenings) than there used to be. As such, even after inflation-adjustments Dory’s single-day record stands

Adjust to  Today’s Ticket Prices

  1. Finding Dory – $54.9m
  2. Shrek the Third – $47.9m
  3. Minions – $47.8m
  4. Toy Story 3 – $44.8m
  5. The Simpsons Movie- $38.3m


Disney has every right to brag about what they just pulled off with Dory‘s big….wait for it…splash. Other than a couple of Shrek sequels, it truly is the biggest debut we’ve ever seen for an animated film. No wonder all the showings were sold out when I went to see it two days ago. So far this year, only Civil War ($179m) and BvS ($166m) packed more people into theaters on opening weekend.

This is ultimately another example of Disney operating at a completely different level than everyone else right now. You can be cynical about Dory‘s big business and think the lesson here is the power of family-friendly nostalgic programming (i.e., sequel, sequel, sequel). Even if you liked the film, you can worry about what this means for the future of Pixar, which is already releasing 3 sequels for every 1 original property over the next 3 years. But, hey, screw it. Pixar has so many hits that some of them are turning into franchises now, and Disney Animation Studios is young enough that it can stick to originality, turning Zootopia into a billion dollar hit earlier this year and teeing up the adorable-looking Moana in November. For the next couple of weeks, Finding Dory is going to own the animated market, but in July Universal offers The Secret Life of Pets, an original property from the Minions people. Dory‘s new records are safe for the time being.

1 comment

  1. I think it is less “sequels, sequels, sequels” and more “put some effort into your sequel and it WILL pay off for you”. Hollywood needed way too long to learn that lesson. Though I don’t expect Finding Dory to be more than okay, perhaps slightly better than Monsters University (yeah, I am not excited about this movie, but then, I never was a big fan of Finding Nemo to begin with).

    I am actually very critically about the acute sequilities Pixar has, but if it helps them to finance movies like Inside Out, I guess I can life with it…I just hope that they don’t start this habit at the Disney Animation studios, too. Walt Disney always disliked the concept of sequels (or repeating himself in general), I am therefore pretty satisfied with them making one sequel per decade. Unless they do another Fantasy (without annoying celebrities). I would watch THAT in a heartbeat…..

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