Hollywood just can’t wait for “The Lion King” to hit theaters.
That’s because Disney’s highly anticipated remake is expected to draw herds of moviegoers at a time when ticket sales are seriously struggling. Box office watchers predict that the studio’s grand return to the Pride Lands could become one of this year’s biggest hits. “The Lion King” is expected to debut with $150 million this weekend, though some estimates show that receipts could surpass $180 million.
Director Jon Favreau’s use of state-of-the-art computer wizardry to bring Simba and crew to life proved controversial among critics. Disney’s crown jewel holds a surprisingly soft 59% on Rotten Tomatoes, a steep decline from Favreau’s lauded “The Jungle Book,” which first introduced the hyper-realistic technology. Still, there’s reason to believe “The Lion King” will be critic-proof. For one, negative reviews didn’t hurt the box office prospects of Guy Ritchie’s “Aladdin” reboot, which is nearing $1 billion in global ticket sales. Moreover, Simba’s multi-generational coming-of-age tale is familiar to just about everyone on the planet. The Tony-winning musical stage adaptation has also been a massive moneymaker over the last 20 years, grossing over $8 billion and counting.
“The Lion King” also boasts some serious star power. Disney commissioned an A-list cast to bring “The Lion King” back to the big screen, including the likes of Donald Glover as Simba, Beyonce as Nala, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar, and Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen as Timon and Pumbaa. James Earl Jones is reprising his voice role as Mufasa from the original animated movie. The chance to hear Childish Gambino and Beyonce harmonize on “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” could be a compelling enough reason to buy a movie ticket.
The movie debuted in China with a mighty $54 million last weekend, pacing ahead of the studio’s recent remakes such as “The Jungle Book,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin.” It launches across the globe in most international markets this weekend, followed by Hong Kong on July 25, Japan on Aug. 9 and Italy on Aug. 21.
Only three of Disney’s live-action titles, outside of its “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, have grossed over $100 million in their inaugural weekend in theaters — 2017’s “Beauty and the Beast” ($174 million), 2016’s “The Jungle Book” ($103 million), and 2010’s “Alice in Wonderland” ($116 million). “The Lion King” is the third and final of the studio’s revisits to its classic properties this year. Tim Burton’s “Dumbo” ended its theatrical run with $351 million worldwide, a ho-hum performance if only by Disney’s standards. “Aladdin,” however, is still chugging along at multiplexes with an impressive $962 million to date.
The arrival of “The Lion King” couldn’t come at a better time. The first half of the summer moviegoing season has been lackluster, and the domestic box office is currently pacing more than 8% behind last year. The next few weeks look to help reverse that trend, as “Fast & Furious” spinoff “Hobbs & Shaw” and Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” gear up to hit theaters.
Disney is expecting everything the light touches to be their kingdom this weekend, so other studios opted not to open a movie against “The Lion King.” Long may Simba reign!