Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” scored with audiences, racking up a massive $170 million domestically to become the biggest March debut ever and the seventh-best opening in history. The fairy tale remake added an additional $180 million to its haul from international territories, raking in big bucks in major markets like China and the United Kingdom.
Once again, Disney has successfully updated a “tale as old as time” for a new generation of moviegoers while retaining the sense of wonder and magic that made the 1991 animated version of “Beauty and the Beast” a cultural touchstone for an older audience. It continues the studio’s successful collection of live-action remakes of cartoon favorites like “The Jungle Book” and “Cinderella” and helps propel star Emma Watson to the top of the A-list. Here are five reasons “Beauty and the Beast” smashed records.
1.) EMMA WATSON DELIVERED
Movie fans grew up with Watson, watching the precocious young girl become a woman onscreen as she played Hermione Granger in eight Harry Potter films. Since leaving Hogwarts behind in 2011, Watson has been choosy with her projects. She’s taken supporting or ensemble roles in “Noah,” “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” and “The Bling Ring,” but seemed to be biding her time, trying to find the right blockbuster-hopeful to headline.
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The wait was worth it, even if it meant that Watson was forced to cede the lead in “La La Land” to Emma Stone in order to waltz across the screen as Belle. The plucky heroine was the right match for the Brown University-educated Watson, a celebrity who has used her platform to speak out on women’s issues and gender equality.
“She talks about things publicly and she has a point of view,” said Greg Foster, CEO of Imax Entertainment, the big screen company that broke records showing “Beauty and the Beast.” “She speaks to the millennial generation in an authentic way.”
Her candor and political drive has earned her a passionate following on Twitter, where her 24 million followers eclipse those of Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert Downey Jr., and on Facebook, on which 34 million people checked out trailers and photos from the “Beauty and the Beast” set. As a sign of her popularity, 28% of audiences in a ComScore survey said that Watson was the major reason for attending the film. That figure rarely tops 10%, according to the research firm.
2.) EVERYONE LOVED THE ORIGINAL
With the possible exception of “The Lion King,” “Beauty and the Beast” may be the most beloved film in the Disney canon. It’s the only traditionally animated offering to nab an Oscar nomination for best picture and, along with “The Little Mermaid,” helped usher in a new renaissance at the Mouse House that lasted from the late 1980’s to the mid-1990’s. Its presence can be felt across the Disney landscape — in its consumer products lines, cruises, and in Broadway shows.
That ubiquity helped turn the remake into a multi-generational smash. A wide swath of moviegoers was weaned on the story of Belle, fed up with her provincial life, and the moody Beast whose heart she captures — and, oh, those singing and dancing candlesticks and teapots! They, in turn, wanted to share the magic with their own children. Families accounted for half of the opening weekend audience, with the two largest demographics comprising of children under 12 and people between the ages of 26 and 34, the same group that were preadolescents when the animated film hit theaters. The filmmakers more or less left the plot from the animated film intact, padding it with a few new songs.
That all translated into a nostalgia drive-smash, according to Disney distribution chief Dave Hollis. He noted that each time a new image for the film was unveiled or a trailer was released, it went viral.
“People hold the original film in such high regard,” he said. “We made this one new and contemporary while leveraging the fanship that already existed for the story.”
3.) GIRL POWER REDUX
It’s hard to believe that not that long ago many studios dismissed the female audience as less important than the male one. There was a belief that getting boys into cinemas was crucially important and that if you built a film that was geared at that set, the girls would follow suit. Thanks to smash hits like “The Hunger Games,” “Maleficent,” and “Pitch Perfect,” that short-sighted thinking is passé.
The first “Beauty and the Beast” represented a turning point for Disney heroines. Unlike previous animated women and girls, Belle didn’t just sitting around humming with the sparrows while waiting for her prince to come. The remake continues the first film’s message of empowerment, digging deeper into Belle’s backstory to reveal what happened to her late mother and making her even more fervently opposed to the advances of the boorish Gaston (Luke Evans). “Beauty and the Beast’s” feminist DNA translated into ticket sales, with females comprising 60% of the weekend crowd.
4.) THE DISNEY BRAND IS KING
The studio has become synonymous with a kind of big-budget entertainment in recent years. After buying up colossuses such as Lucasfilm and Marvel, Disney is dominating the multiplexes releasing Star Wars adventures, Avengers sequels, and, now, elaborate live-action fairy tales that are catnip to consumers. At a time when Netflix, the internet, and a glut of quality cable programming are making it harder for studios to figure out how to get consumers off their couches, Disney has figured out how to sell the kind of spectacle that can’t be replicated on an iPhone or even the most tricked-out of televisions. Its logo carries a promise that audiences will be able to venture off to sprawling cinematic universes that represent escapism in its most essential form.
“Disney just knows how to make these big blockbusters,” said Jeff Bock, a box office analyst with Exhibitor Relations. “Most studios have four or five big hits and then they suffer a big miss. But they can do no wrong.”
Its success isn’t necessarily trickling over to the other players in Hollywood. Disney earned 60% of the film business’ profits in 2016, according to a recent report by Cowen & Company’s Doug Cruetz, even as returns across the rest of the industry were down by a third.
5.) TIMING IS EVERYTHING
It’s been over a month since “The Lego Batman Movie” debuted, a long stretch without a major family film release. Instead, the box office has been dominated by a slew of violent films, such as the hard R-rated “Logan” and “Get Out,” as well as the monster thriller “Kong: Skull Islands.” With schools on rolling spring breaks, there are a lot of parents out there looking to do something with their kids. That helped make “Beauty and the Beast” the de facto choice for moviegoers with families over the weekend, a position it should retain at least until “The Boss Baby” hits theaters in two weeks.