Unpacking ‘The Emoji Movie’s’ $25 Million Box Office Opening

The Emoji Movie
Sony Pictures/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

What to do with “The Emoji Movie’s” box office debut? Should it get a thumbs up? A thumbs down? Should we simply throw up our hands and leave it alone?

Here are the facts: Sony Animation’s latest opened this weekend in second place at the domestic box office behind “Dunkirk,” and as recently as Saturday was projected to be in the running for first. By the weekend’s end, the animated adventure based on Unicode characters should make $25.7 million, about in line with expectations earlier in the week.

But this is not just any release. This is “The Emoji Movie.” This is the movie that (pardon the crassness) was Sir Patrick Stewart-ed on by critics, eliciting vitriol that sparked a second wave of headlines after the initial reviews that included “The Meanest Lines From ‘The Emoji Movie’ Reviews,” the more promising (?) spin “‘The Emoji Movie’ Lost Its 0% Rotten Tomatoes Rating Thanks to This Positive Review,” and put simply, “Nobody Likes ‘The Emoji Movie.’” Yes, it was a blood bath.

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So how can “The Emoji Movie” weather the critical storm,and not flop? How does this fit into the narrative pushed by some studio execs in recent months that review aggregators like Rotten Tomatoes are increasingly important in helping audiences make decisions, especially as ticket prices increase, and the market is crowded and alternative platforms are diversifying? One possible explanation is that “The Emoji Movie’s” performance doubles down on the theory that films targeting children are the most critic-proof. That is, considering kids are more likely to act on instinct, and not based on what someone says on Twitter.

But despite its solid initial showing, there are signs that word of mouth could hurt the movie’s bottom line after all. While animated movies including recent releases based on pre-existing IP “Lego Batman” and “Trolls” saw grosses increase between Friday and Saturday (the idea being that a family-friendly movie is also Saturday matinee-friendly), “The Emoji Movie” saw a dip in earnings between Friday (which includes Thursday previews) and Saturday. In this case, only time will tell if the flick has legs.

If that sounds unfairly negative, it’s worth noting that budgets on animated features can run the gamut, and “Emoji” is far from the biggest gamble. For its $50 million price tag, the studio says it’s pleased with the opening number. A huge part of what has made the movie click with ticket-buyers as much as it has can be attributed to the highly-visible marketing campaign behind it. After all, you probably knew “The Emoji Movie” was coming out. It was truly difficult not to know. On top of that, the release date provided enough space after “Despicable Me 3,” and another week in the clear before “The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature” hits theaters to try to steal “Emoji’s” thunder.

But on top of the more analytical look at “The Emoji Movie’s” mark on the box office, is an emotional one. Three and a half years ago “The Lego Movie” taught critics (and pretty much everyone else) to keep an open mind about the potential for what, on paper, might seem like a shameless IP grab. Even a movie that seems to exist solely to sell toys can have creativity and heart.

In an industry that is often decried for its lack of originality, the bar for a movie to be praised for (or despite its lack of) originality seems quite low. “Girls Trip” and “Dunkirk” were both praised for being non-sequel, non-franchise films (at least, not yet), and have been celebrated by critics and audiences. It’s very rare that a movie that is truly original comes along. “Inside Out” was one of those rare films. Now “The Emoji Movie” has been clobbered (including in Variety‘s review) for being a “witless ‘Inside Out’ knockoff.” Just the fact that there has never been a movie about emoji before is not enough.

And so Sony and “The Emoji Movie” will be fine, and life goes on, but the fear remains that we as theatergoers are made even more cynical. If the bar for originality is low, failure to meet that is all the more heartbreaking. In many ways the question of “What to do with ‘The Emoji Movie’?” seems unanswerable — at least for now until its run is completed, and analysts can observe its longterm performance. But after rounding up the numbers we have to go off of, and, yes, the emotions too, a simple thumbs up for a solid number will not suffice.

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  1. ScratStitch says:

    It’s a harmless movie about talking emojis. Calm the heck down already!

  2. Josh says:

    It’s because the emoji movie was ironically advertised by jacksfilms and people watched for the meme+ people wanna see how bad it is.

    • Emoji says:

      Yeah, I know and it’s really annoying. Please don’t see this movie ‘ironically’ or ‘for the meme’. It still makes them money, and that’s all they care about. In fact, I think by now they’ve realised that they made a big mistake with this movie and that nobody’s going to like it, so are actively ENCOURAGING people to ‘see how bad it is’ in a last desperate attempt to make money. And it worked. Because people are idiots.

  3. Betsy says:

    My little boys wanted to see this film. My husband, an internet junkie, was a little disappointed that I had agreed to take them to what he’d read in a review was a message that (to paraphrase), “Words aren’t cool; they’re old fashioned.”

    Needless to say, I was somewhat concerned it would be complete torture: me, in a theatre to watch a slow, boring movie while keeping control over a two-year-old (😥) and a six-year-old.

    You know what? It was A LOT better than I had expected. It wasn’t great, but I laughed a handful of times, my six-year-old enjoyed it, bouncing up and down in his seat from time to time, and my two-year-old was good with watching emojis and eating fruit snacks.

    High art it isn’t. A summer movie it is. When it’s 106 degrees outside at 2pm, and you have kids home for the summer to entertain, a visit to see The Emoji Movie with a cold drink and some 🍿 is a level up, and I have no shame in owning that.

  4. Ace says:

    There hasnt been an emoji movie yet because everyone knew that was just a stupid idea and the fact that they basically just stole the stories from ‘Wreck It Ralph and “Inside Out” makes their $50 million spent on such an unoriginal film with a terrible premise such a laughably stupid choice

  5. Flare says:

    I think it is a bit insulting to the Lego movie or even Wreck-it Ralph (which this rips off way more than it does the Lego movie) to mention these films with the Emoji movie. Yeah, the bar is set at not only making something that isn’t a sequel but make something good. That’s not a high bar.

    You can make a good movie about Emojis. It is just a shame that Sony didn’t want to. This movie was just everything we feared it would be when announced. No reason to mail it in and not put in a legitimate effort just because you are gearing your movie to children. Don’t make kids dumber.

  6. Juju Beans says:

    The most appropriate reaction to “The Emoji Movie” is that swirled, brown emoji that was recently accepted into “The Emoji Hall Of Fame.”

  7. ImNotGivingMyNameToAMachine says:

    “you probably knew “The Emoji Movie” was coming out. It was truly difficult not to know” As someone who keeps up on quality entertainment, I had no idea. The shills in the comments made this worth the click, though.

  8. Kari says:

    Not everyone dislikes The Emoji Movie. I saw it with one of my friends yesterday and he and I agree that it’s cute. I liked it so much that I want to watch it again and I can’t wait for it to be on DVD. I’m sure there are other people that like and/or love The Emoji Movie.

  9. hseneker says:

    Hey. did people and their kids like the movie, or did they not like the movie?
    That is all a movie like this knows, and all it needs to know.

    Don’t overthink this. Not everything has to compete with Sergei Eisenstein.

  10. John says:

    There was nothing else out to take the kids to. Stop trying to make this “mean” anything.

    • Manly Kowalski says:

      Disagree. I’ve taken my daughters to see Wonder Woman 3 times instead of even contemplating watching this braindead nonsense. I also haven’t watched it yet but Spiderman: Homecoming would be on the short list for my kids before this. Why give studios the stats they need to green light more awful, insufferable wastes of time & money like this when better films steered towards families are still in theaters?

  11. Proves that critical slamming, or Rotten Tomato aggregate scores have no effect on box-office returns. So Justice League will have no excuse

  12. FuzzmanX says:

    This is what a $50M budget buys you? Patrick Stewart voicing a turd? I’ll stick with Scooby-Doo reruns.

  13. Cath says:

    When I saw that they were making an emoji movie I thought, ‘What? Really? Ick?” Didn’t everyone? But the movie wasn’t made for adults. Anyone who has had anything to do with a kid knows that they think emojis are silly and fun. Hence the power of Poo. Apparently the kids are powering this. The under 18 rating is A- so the adults will be dragged to it by the younger kids and the older kids will see something they can disdain. That is the audience targeted.

    • Yuriy Roman says:

      The argument that “the movie wasn’t made for adults” does not suffice and quite frankly, needs to stop being used to justify pandering to the lowest common denominator. It only serves to insult the intelligence of children who are more aware of the material being presented to them. Furthermore, there is no reason, NO REASON whatsoever to make a movie without proper writing that can be appealing to adults and children alike. This is why the LEGO movie worked. This is why Wreck-It Ralph worked. While they focus on gimmicks, they at least had a decent writing staff to help provide a proper means of entertainment towards their intended audience which includes BOTH the adults and children. You can’t get that from The Emoji movie and kids WILL see the the problem.

      • Mark says:

        Agreed. The success of Hotel Transylvania is directly traced back to the brilliant writing of Robert Smigel–and the fact that he never once talked DOWN to anyone. Had it not been for his writing, that cartoon would have been reduced to slapstick nothingness for small children.

    • Nikki says:

      Kid’s aren’t that stupid–and should never be played down to. This kind of limp, sad apology for bad filmmaking is what’s wrong with Hollywood.

  14. Mark says:

    Blame Kristine Belson and Anthony Leondis for this steaming pile of dog sick.

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