Hollywood has come to expect a few things around Thanksgiving: a hearty turkey dinner, plenty of family time… and a Disney movie to rule the box office. In keeping with tradition, the Magic Kingdom is poised to stuff the competition over the busy holiday weekend as “Strange World,” an animated adventure about a family of legendary explorers, opens in theaters.
But it’s a leftover, Disney’s “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” that’s expected to claim the No. 1 spot in North America. The superhero sequel looks to extend its reign as it aims to collect at least $40 million between Wednesday and Sunday. So far, “Wakanda Forever” has grossed a sizable $287 million at the domestic box office and $545 million globally.
During the same stretch, the studio’s kid-friendly fable “Strange World” is projected to bring in $30 million to $40 million from 4,000 North American cinemas. That’s a decent, though unspectacular, start for a family film in COVID times.
By comparison, Disney’s musical fantasy “Encanto” collected $40.3 million over the extended holiday frame in 2021. Around that time, young kids were just newly able to get vaccinated so parents were still hesitant to take their children to the movies. In pre-pandemic times, Disney’s Thanksgiving releases — like 2019’s “Frozen II” ($123.7 million), 2018’s “Ralph Breaks the Internet” ($84.6 million) and 2017’s “Coco” ($71 million) — were significantly more successful in their respective opening weekends. But in the COVID era, families have remained selective about the movies they’re willing to leave the house to see. With the exception of “Minions: The Rise of Gru” and its $107 million debut, most films geared at youngsters haven’t managed to rebound to pre-plague heights. That’s a problem because animated films tend to come with hefty price tags — closer to $180 million for “Strange World” all the way up to $200 million in the case of Pixar’s “Lightyear” — and that’s not including marketing fees.
“Strange World” looks to add $25 million to $29 million at the international box office, where it’s opening everywhere except China, France and Russia. But its overseas grosses may be limited. Disney opted to not submit the movie to several smaller markets, including the entire Middle East, Malaysia and Indonesia because the studio knew it would not pass the censorship regulations needed to get a theatrical release in those territories. That’s because “Strange World,” which follows the Clades family’s attempt to navigate an uncharted, treacherous land, includes a gay character. Many of those countries have strict censorship mandates regarding sexuality, swearing, and other content and characters that don’t comply with the nation’s cultural views. Films with LGBTQ references have been regularly targeted by censors in the Middle East, as well as China, and Disney wasn’t willing to cut out parts of the movie to comply with those guidelines.
“In countries where we operate, we seek to share our stories in their original form as we and the artists involved have created them. If we make edits, because of legal or other considerations, they will be as narrow as possible,” Disney said in a statement. “We will not make an edit where we believe it would impact the storytelling. In that circumstance, we will not distribute the content in that market.”
In North America, moviegoers will be able to dine out on several new nationwide offerings, including the Jonathan Majors-led aerial war drama “Devotion,” director Luca Guadagnino’s cannibal love story “Bones and All” and Steven Spielberg’s coming-of-age tale “The Fabelmans.” However, those films — mostly aimed at adult audiences — may be settling for scraps. It’s been a rough environment for dramas, comedies… basically anything that’s not aimed at teenage boys. Just look at acclaimed movies like “She Said,” “Tár” and “Till,” which failed to resonate at the box office despite earning critical plaudits.
“Devotion” is expected to secure the biggest start among newcomers. But despite mostly positive reviews, the movie, which tells the inspirational true story of the first Black aviator in the U.S. Navy, is projected to debut to a wobbly $7 million to $8 million over the five-day frame. Sony is bringing “Devotion” to 2,950 locations.
Universal’s “The Fabelmans” may fare even worse, with estimates around $5 million between Wednesday and Sunday. Even though it’s playing in just 600 locations — far less than the others in wide release– it’s a disappointing result for a $40 million movie, especially one that hails from the most successful director of his time. After two weeks in limited release, “The Fabelmans” has grossed $309,655.
For Spielberg, a start around $5 million is significantly lower than his last film, 2021’s “West Side Story,” which hit a bleak $10 million in its first weekend on (a much more robust) 2,500 screens amid a surge of COVID cases. The $100 million-budgeted musical adaptation, which won an Oscar and was nominated for six others, ended its theatrical run with a dismal $76 million globally.
After one week at the specialty box office, MGM’s “Bones and All” looks to add $6 million to $8 million as it expands nationwide. So far, the $20 million-budgeted film has earned $120,000 in limited release. Timothée Chalamet and Taylor Russell star in “Bones and All” as flesh-eating lovers who embark on a road trip.
One major movie won’t even make a dent on box office charts. Netflix is bringing “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” a follow-up to Rian Johnson’s hit 2019 whodunit, to approximately 600 North American theaters. Yet the studio doesn’t plan to report grosses so the movie’s appeal among consumers may be as hazy as one of detective Benoit Blanc’s layered cases.
The starry murder mystery — which will play on the big screen for one week beginning on Wednesday before landing on the streaming service on Dec. 23 — marks the first time a Netflix movie will play in the country’s three biggest chains — AMC Theaters, Regal Cinemas and Cinemark. But since it’s only playing in a few hundred locations, rival studio executives estimate the follow-up will bring in just $6 million to $8 million in its week-long run.
Lionsgate released the first film, which starred Daniel Craig as an idiosyncratic sleuth and opened around Thanksgiving to $26 million. It became a big win for original fare, tapping out with $165 million in North America and $311 million worldwide. Given the success of the original, many cinema operators are disappointed that “Glass Onion” won’t have a longer theatrical run. But the stark reality is that the movie thaeter business hasn’t fully recovered from COVID closures. At this point, they’ll take what they can get.