2023 was a good, but not great, year for animation. THE SUPER MARIO BROS. MOVIE was a blockbuster grossing $575M making it the #2 film of the year. And SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE took in $381M, which landed it at #3. But there’s a steep drop after those two. The next closest was ELEMENTAL, which took a modest $29M opening all the way to a $154M gross—good enough to land at #17 for the year.
This year, however, animation has the chance to rule the roost. No fewer than six upcoming films have the chance to end the year in the top 10, which has only happened once (in 2016) over the past decade.
KUNG FU PANDA 4 is up next on March 8th. It benefits from being the first animated film since December’s MIGRATION, meaning parents everywhere will be itching to drop their kids off at a theater after a month’s long content drought. Not only will it be entering an unsaturated market, but it will have the market mostly to itself until IF arrives in mid-May.
Pixar’s rough run has been well-documented. Case in point, ELEMENTAL is considered a modest hit even though its domestic gross ranks 20th out of Pixar’s 24 theatrical releases. Things should turn around for Pixar this year with INSIDE OUT 2, a sequel to one of the most beloved of the studio’s recent originals. In fact, with a gross of $356M, the original ranks as the highest-grossing non-sequel release in Pixar’s history. There’s no reason to believe the sequel can’t match or surpass that total when it opens on June 14th.
A few weeks later, on the July 4th weekend, Universal drops DESPICABLE ME 4, the latest in the flagship franchise. The previous five films from the series all opened in early July, and they all grossed over $250M domestically. Most recently, MINIONS: TRE RISE OF GRU debuted to $107M en route to a $370M total haul. It seems safe to expect DESPICABLE ME 4 to end the year among the ten highest grossing films.
To no one’s surprise, Disney is squatting on Thanksgiving 2024 with an as-yet unannounced animated movie. True, Disney has stumbled in recent years on this date, with both STRANGER WORLD and WISH failing to connect. Those two notwithstanding, Disney has a long history of success on this weekend, and we hope the studio can course correct this year. As for what film they’re holding that date for, that’s anybody’s guess, though ZOOTOPIA 2 has been bandied around.
Ten years after THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES, audiences will get more from J.R.R. Tolkien in animated form when THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE WAR OF ROHIRRIM arrives in theaters on December 13th. While it’s been a decade since a RINGS film played in theaters, Tolkien fans have been able to feast on THE RINGS OF POWER, airing on Amazon Prime Video. What remains to be seen is if RINGS has reached cross-platform saturation like Star Wars or the MCU. Still, the idea of RINGS returning to theaters is undoubtedly compelling.
Not only does Disney have INSIDE OUT 2 and the as-yet-untitled Thanksgiving film on the horizon, but it also has MUFASA: THE LION KING slated for December 20th. MUFASA will feature the same photorealistic imagery as the 2019 version of THE LION KING. Does it count as animation? Sure, why not? This should be a no-brainer for Disney.
How are these films tracking? At the moment, The Quorum is collecting data on three of these titles. The others are still too far out to be added. All three belong to the Animation/Family group. The median opening weekend for this group is $23M, and we would expect all three of these to open well above $23M. If they don’t, something horrible has gone wrong. Fortunately, all three are tracking above the group average across all four key metrics at the same distance from release.
A 7th Animated Hit?
As if six big, animated titles weren’t enough, there is a 7th film that shouldn’t be overlooked. We’re talking about GARFIELD, which is scheduled to open on Memorial Day weekend. Garfield hasn’t done especially well at the box office in the past. In 2004, GARFIELD: THE MOVIE made only $75M in total, and its sequel, GARFIELD: A TAIL OF TWO KITTIES, made even less, topping out at $28M in 2006.
This time around, things might be different. For one, this version is getting a plum Memorial Day release date. It turns out that May is a good month for the genre. Over the past two decades, all but two animated releases grossed more than $100M in total. The average opening is $201M, while the median is $179M. If GARFIELD performs near the median, it could find itself among the highest grossing films of the year.
Can GARFIELD reach those heights? Before looking at the tracking, it’s worth noting that Sony has been especially aggressive with the campaign. A trailer for the film was released in November, more than six months before release. And the studio has dropped several posters for the film, including one-sheets specifically for Christmas and New Year’s, in addition to the adorable, wide-eyed teaser poster.
Fans seem to like them. The teaser poster was given a rare A grade by moviegoers in The Quorum’s proprietary measurement of poster art, while the Christmas poster earned an A- (we didn’t test the New Year’s artwork). All of this has manifested itself in high awareness. Of the six Animated/Family films currently being tracked by The Quorum, GARFIELD ranks 3rd in awareness and 3rd in interest, ahead of some of the powerhouses mentioned above. On top of that, GARFIELD is already showing signs of unaided awareness, which is very impressive for a film four months from release.
The bottom line is that Sony has launched an early, carefully curated campaign for the film, and that’s being reflected in the tracking. So yes, GARFIELD should be part of the conversation.
What does this all mean? In 2023, audiences got seven superhero movies. As of now, only four are on the 2024 schedule. Five if you include JOKER: FOLIE A DEUX. As superheroes recede, it appears as though animation is picking up the mantle.
Let’s be honest, though. It’s unlikely that all six (or seven) will end the year in the top 10. There are plenty of live-action entries that will be vying for a spot at the top of the box office, including DEADPOOL 3, BEETLEJUICE 2, SONIC THE HEDGEHOG 3, GLADIATOR 2, WICKED PART 1, VENOM 3, and the aforementioned JOKER. And there’s always a chance the A QUIET PLACE: DAY ONE, FURIOSA, KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, GODZILLA X KONG: TWISTERS, A NEW EMPIRE and/or THE KARATE KID will connect in a big way. Regardless, it seems clear that animation will be a big box office driver in 2024. It could be the biggest year for the genre in over a decade.