This past weekend, Sony released Smurfs: The Lost Village, and it bombed to the tune of $14m, one of the worst starts for an animated film from a major Hollywood studio in recent memory. Neither of the earlier live-action/CGI hybrids Smurfs movies were particularly beloved, but the first one cleaned up at the worldwide box office ($563m) while the second one did just okay ($347m on a $105m production budget after a $17m domestic debut). The Lost Village is the much-delayed animated reboot which was supposed to return the franchise to its glory days. Instead, it looks more like the final nail in the coffin unless Sony works some smurfin’ magic internationally or sees some profit in turning this into a direct-to-video franchise.
The post-mortem consensus on the weekend is that Lost Village simply had no chance against the strong holdover business of Boss Baby and Beauty and the Beast, both of which continue to exceed box office expectations. In its second weekend, Boss Baby grossed $26m, enough to take the top spot in the weekend top 10. Beauty and the Beast wasn’t far behind with $25m. Clearly, Sony’s error was simply miscalculating how strong the audience’s appetite would be for these movies.
Well, actually, probably kind of true, but wrong.
Sony’s biggest sin in this whole affair isn’t underestimating the competition; it’s being stupid enough to release an animated movie just one week after another major Hollywood studio released one (in this case, Boss Baby). I know prime release dates are harder to come by these days, and all of Hollywood is running scared from The Fate of the Furious next weekend. However, surely Sony knew that releasing Lost Village just one week after Boss Baby was a disaster waiting to happen. When has such a double-up-on-animated-movies release strategy ever worked out before?
In the search for the answer to that question, I looked all the way back to 1998, the year when DreamWorks released its first movie (Antz) and Pixar its second (A Bug’s Life) and Disney’s stranglehold on the animation market officially ended. Here’s what I found [unless otherwise noted, all box office figures are total domestic gross]:
Released In Consecutive Weekends
Boss Baby (3/31/17) vs. Smurfs: The Lost Village (4/7/17)
Hotel Transylvania (9/28/12) vs. Frankenweenie (10/5/12)
Rango (3/4/11) vs. Mars Needs Moms (3/11/11)
Sidenote: Mars Needs Moms is now regularly listed among the biggest box office bombs in Hollywood history.
A Christmas Carol (11/6/09) vs. Fantastic Mr. Fox (11/13/09) vs. Planet 51 (11/20/09) vs. The Princess and the Frog (11/25/09)
TMNT (3/23/07) vs. Meet the Robinsons (3/30/07)
Sidenote: TMNT still did okay for itself, grossing $95m worldwide off of a $34m budget.
Monster House (7/21/06) Vs. Ant Bully (7/28/06)
The Incredibles (11/5/04) vs. The Polar Express (11/10/04) vs. The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie (11/19/04)
Lilo & Stitch (6/21/02) vs. Hey Arnold! The Movie (6/28/02)
Titan A.E. (6/16/00) vs. Chicken Run (6/23/00)
Pokémon: The First Movie (11/10/09) vs. Toy Story 2 (11/19/09)
Sidenote: Toy Story 2 didn’t technically come out the weekend after Pokémon. Instead, it waited a couple of extra days to come out in the middle of the following week for Thanksgiving.
The King and I (3/19/99) vs. Doug’s First Movie (3/26/99)
And that’s it. Basically, sometimes it might work out to bunch up animated movies in November in the lead-up to Thanksgiving. Otherwise, there is almost always a clear winner and closer when you put out animated movies in consecutive weekends; it’s just not always the case that the first movie out of the gate ends up the winner. Sony must have really thought they could beat the odds, or perhaps they simply knew they had a shit movie on their hands and just dumped it, relying on the kindness of the international market to save them (which might be possible since the budget is said to be in the $70m territory). They aren’t the only ones thumbing their noses at box office history, though. Next week brings yet another animated movie, this time Spark: A Space Trail from Open Road Films. I’m sure it will be a smash hit.
After that, there won’t be another animated movie until Captain Underpants at the start of June, after which we’ll be getting a new animated once every two weeks throughout the summer. That path is also fraught with peril, but the buffer of an extra week can sometimes (though not always) allow two big animated movies to co-exist:
Released Two Weeks Apart
Strange Magic (1/23/15) vs. The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (2/6/15)
$12.4m vs. $162.9m
Wreck-It Ralph (11/2/12) vs. Rise of the Guardians (11/21/12)
$189m vs. $103m
Madagascar 3 (6/8/12) vs. Brave (6/22/12)
$216m vs. $237m
Megamind (11/5/10) vs. Tangled (11/24/10)
$148m vs. $200m
Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (11/7/08) vs. Bolt (11/21/08)
$180m vs. $114m
Bee Movie (11/2/07) vs. Beowulf (11/16/07)
$126m vs. $82m
Flushed Away (11/3/06) vs. Happy Feet (11/17/06)
$64m vs. $198m
Finding Nemo (5/30/03) vs. Rugrats Go Wild (6/13/03)
$380m vs. $39m
Tarzan (6/16/99) vs. South Park (6/30/99)
$171m vs. $52m