Disney bucked box office tradition this year, opting for the first time since 2014 not to release a movie the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
But that doesn’t mean the studio won’t still gobble up the competition around Turkey Day. Disney unveiled “Frozen 2,” which debuted to a stellar $130 million in North America, a week earlier than the traditional holiday release. It’s a strategic move that Lionsgate and Warner Bros. previously deployed with “Hunger Games: Catching Fire” and “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” two of the highest-grossing Thanksgiving releases ever.
Like those offerings, “Frozen 2” should power an impressive sophomore outing during a time when young kids are out of school and parents are off from work.
“Hunger Games: Catching Fire” still holds the record for the biggest Thanksgiving haul for its second weekend in theaters, when it generated $109 million between Wednesday and Sunday in 2013. But since then, Disney has slowly tightened its dominance during a period centered around family.
“Disney is synonymous with family and has been for a very long time,” said Jeff Bock, a box office analyst with Exhibitor Relations. “Any time Disney puts their magic seal of approval, especially around holidays, families will show up en masse.”
Dating all the way back to the late 1990s, Disney has ruled the holiday with classics like “Toy Story” (1995), “101 Dalmatians” (1996), “Flubber” (1997), “102 Dalmatians” and “Unbreakable” (2000). But even more so over the past half a decade, Thanksgiving has become a steadfast frame to launch all-audience offerings with “Frozen” in 2013, “The Good Dinosaur” in 2015, “Coco” in 2017 and “Ralph Breaks the Internet” in 2018. Major franchises like “Hunger Games,” “Twilight” and “Harry Potter” have all made major impacts, but most of Disney’s Thanksgiving titles (with the exception of “Frozen 2” and “Ralph Breaks the Internet”) are originals that don’t come with the benefit of built-in fanbases.
When it comes to movies that launched directly ahead of Thanksgiving, Disney has slowly come to dominate the biggest opening weekends. Just look at these launches: “Frozen” ($93.6 million in 2013), “Ralph Breaks the Internet” ($84.7 million), “Moana” ($82.1 million), “Toy Story 2” ($80.1 million), “Coco” ($72.9 million), “Tangled” ($68.7 million) and “The Good Dinosaur” ($55.4 million).
“Frozen 2” arrived six years after the original with outsized expectations since its predecessor is still the highest-grossing animated movie in history, generating $1.3 billion worldwide. In recent weeks, the box office has seen the quick demise of a succession of sequels, spinoffs and remakes like “Terminator: Dark Fate,” “Doctor Sleep” and “Charlie’s Angels.” But “Frozen” avoided a similar fate, mainly because it was an installment that audiences deemed worthy. Without much competition at multiplexes — this weekend’s new offerings, Rian Johnson’s murder mystery “Knives Out” and Universal’s modern day Bonnie and Clyde “Queen and Slim,” likely won’t be drawing younger audiences — “Frozen 2” should sweep again at theaters.
“‘Frozen 2’ is just going to slay again this week,” Bock said. “There’s really nothing to compete with it until ‘Jumanji’ and then ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.'”
This year’s box office boost couldn’t come at a better time. After a slumbering fall that saw domestic receipts plunge over 7% from 2018, multiplexes needed a return visit from Princesses Elsa and Anna. Box office prognosticators remain optimistic that a variety of offerings can help turn fortunes around.
“Thanksgiving to New Year’s accounts for roughly 17 to 20% of the entire year’s box office,” said Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst with Comscore. “It’s a really important time because a lot of ground can be made up.”