Box Office: Why ‘Maleficent: Mistress of Evil’ Fizzled

Despite nabbing first place at the domestic box office, Disney’s “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” debuted significantly below expectations and demonstrated that even the most powerful studio in Hollywood is susceptible to missteps.

The follow-up to 2014’s “Maleficent” kicked off in North America with a lackluster $36 million bow, an underwhelming result for a film that cost $185 million to produce before taking global marketing and distribution fees into account. Heading into the weekend, the dark fantasy adventure starring Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning and Michelle Pfeiffer was expected to earn around $45 million, but even those figures would have been a steep decline from the first film’s $69 million launch. Given its robust marketing spend, sources speculate “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” will need to pull in at least $475 million globally to break even and closer to $500 million to turn a profit theatrically.

With a soft start in North America, “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” will rely heavily on the international box office to mitigate any potential losses. An indication for optimism: the follow-up had a far stronger opening overseas, where it collected $117 million over the weekend, pushing its global bounty to $153 million. Outside of the domestic market, “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” posted the biggest launch in China with $22.4 million, marking a 15% increase in ticket sales from the original. Another promising sign is the first movie earned $500 million internationally, twice what “Maleficent” made in the States. The film ended its box office run with a mighty $758 million globally.

“Any time you have a follow-up to a film that’s successful, the expectations are really high,” said Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst with Comscore. “I don’t think anyone was expecting it to open to the degree that the first one did, but for whatever reason this film didn’t resonate in North America.”

Box office watchers point out that “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” arrived on the big screen five years after the original, allowing audience interest to diminish before the second entry premiered. The sequel received poor reviews from critics, suggesting to moviegoers that they might be better off waiting to see the film when it inevitably hits Disney Plus, the studio’s forthcoming streaming service.

Although it received mostly negative critical sentiment, ticket buyers who did show up on opening weekend were enthusiastic about “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” and positive word of mouth could point to a long life in theaters as Halloween nears. While “Maleficent 2” holds a 40% Rotten Tomatoes average from movie reviewers, the PG movie scored an A CinemaScore and a strong 96% average among moviegoers on Rotten Tomatoes.

“We’re optimistic about the overall performance,” said Cathleen Taff, Disney’s president of global distribution. “With great word of mouth, audiences will gravitate to the film.”

Taff adds, “Given the competition in China with ‘Gemini Man’ and local projects, we’re ecstatic about the results there.”

It’s possible that Warner Bros.’ “Joker,” despite its R rating, might have infringed upon “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil’s” inaugural outing. Joaquin Phoenix’s disturbing take on Batman’s famous foe is attracting a much broader audience than expected and continues to hold strong at the global box office. In its third weekend in theaters, “Joker” added another $29 million in North America, boosting its domestic haul to $247 million for a worldwide tally of $737 million. Over 50% of opening weekend crowds for “Maleficent 2” were over the age of 25.

“‘Joker’ is basically encroaching on everyone’s audience and has been playing like a summer blockbuster,” Dergarabedian said. “It’s creating that competitive [popcorn season] environment in October, and it’s proved to be very formidable competition to every movie out there.”

Up until this weekend, Disney’s “Dumbo” held the unfortunate distinction as the studio’s worst opening of the year with $46 million in North America. However, the “Maleficent” sequel bested that movie’s $71 million launch overseas and could continue to outperform director Tim Burton’s remake abroad. “Dumbo” cost $170 million and ultimately earned $353 million globally, numbers that would be cause for celebration among most studios but became the rare disappointment for Disney at a time when billion-dollar grossers have become the norm. It also means that “Dumbo” failed to make money, another black mark for the studio.

Fortunately for Disney, the “Maleficent” sequel doesn’t appear to have much competition among family-friendly offerings in the foreseeable future. Aside from “Dumbo” and Fox leftovers like “Dark Phoenix,” Disney has enjoyed a nearly flawless year at the box office and set a new record for the highest-grossing year for a studio in July. Since acquiring Fox earlier in 2019, Disney now commands over 35% of the domestic marketshare, more than double its closest competitors, Warner Bros. (15%) and Universal (13%). Disney also became the first Hollywood company to have five films (“Avengers: Endgame,” “Captain Marvel,” “Aladdin,” “The Lion King,” and “Toy Story 4”) gross over $1 billion in a single year. Those stats could grow even larger as it closes out the year with “Frozen 2” in November and “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” ahead of Christmas. If any studio is in a position to withstand a flop, it’s Disney.

“Disney has one of the deepest benches, to put it mildly,” Dergarabedian said. “They have so many big films on the way. To me, it’s not always about the opening weekend. What pays the bills is where you are at the end of your run.”