Is it possible that Disney had its Icarus moment in 2019? The Mouse House became the market share leader in 2016 and 2018 thanks to the 1-2-3 punch of Pixar, Star Wars, and Marvel. In 2019, Disney was so dominant domestically that, at 35%, its market share was more than double the next closest studio (Universal, 14%). Think about that. Essentially, one out of every three tickets sold was for a Disney film.
Then came Covid, and since then, the studio has been unable to find its footing. Or at least that’s the popular narrative.
But is it true? Has Disney fallen that hard? The numbers tell a slightly different story. Through mid-September, Disney has four of the ten highest-grossing films of the year, and is also the 2023 market share leader with 23.7%. That is nearly on par with its 2016 performance.
So why is Disney being raked over the coals? Could it be that they are simply victims of their own success? Is Disney being held to an unfair and unrealistic standard?
It’s hard to overstate Disney’s influence over the entire release schedule before the pandemic. Studios would actively avoid any run-in with a Disney film. The studio’s recent misfires appear overly and unjustly amplified in that context.
And yet, there’s no denying that the once unflappable studio has made several unforced errors. Audiences completely abandoned STRANGE WORLD. INDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINY had a hard-to-justify budget near $300M. And THE HAUNTED MANSION was never going to work wedged between BARBIE the week before and TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: MUTANT MAYHEM the week after. MANSION was unenviably tasked with peeling off the family audience from BARBIE before losing them a week later to the TURTLES.
But hey, no studio is perfect. Universal, which is right behind Disney in market share, couldn’t find an audience for STRAYS or RENFIELD, but those two misfires get a different level of scrutiny. Of course, these are far less expensive misfires, so it’s not really apples to apples. But the point is, no studio is perfect. It would be nearly impossible for Disney to maintain a 35% market share. Nor should we expect them to.
With that in mind, Disney has the opportunity to change the narrative in the next few months. On the 20th Century Studios side, THE CREATOR is struggling with awareness, and THE BIKERIDERS looks to be a modest prestige play. But on the Disney side, it has two remaining 2023 films, and both offer the greatest opportunity for the studio to show it’s still got its mojo.
THE MARVELS (November 10th):
Superhero fatigue is real, but to date, the DC Universe has suffered the most. While the grosses for ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA were nothing to write home about, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY: VOL 3 made almost exactly the same as Volume 2. If THE MARVELS works, it will go a long way towards proving that audience fatigue is isolated to the DC properties.
With another six weeks to go, tracking for THE MARVELS looks solid. With 49% awareness, the film sits between ANT-MAN (brown) and GUARDIANS (light yellow).
It’s a similar story on the interest side. MARVELS (dark blue) is right between the other two films.
If Disney can close the campaign, MARVELS has a shot at an opening above $100M.
WISH (November 22nd):
Disney animated films have dominated Thanksgiving weekend for well over a decade. Movies like the FROZEN, COCO, and MOANA have done big business over the holiday weekend. After the dreadful $12M opening for STRANGE WORLD last year, Disney is looking for a rebound with WISH.
Animation has been Disney’s bread and butter for the past century, but Universal’s Illumination has stolen the mouse house’s thunder. Consider this: Illumination’s THE SUPER MARIO BROS. MOVIE made more in 18 days of release ($416M) than Disney’s last four animated films combined. A victory for WISH would go a long way towards shifting the narrative. Can Disney pull it off?
At the moment, tracking shows there’s more work to be done. Awareness for WISH (dark yellow) is at 25%, which is well behind ELEMENTAL (light yellow) and barely above STRANGE WORLD (brown).
Things look even more challeneging on the interest side. At 40%, interest for WISH (dark blue) is the same as STRANGE (black) and far behind ELEMENTAL (light blue).
While THE MARVELS looks to be in decent shape, WISH needs some help. Can WISH recover? Sure. But it’s in such a deep hole that it won’t be easy. Here’s hoping Disney can pull it out.