The Quorum

LIGHTYEAR marks the end of a frustrating pandemic-era for Pixar.

With LIGHTYEAR arriving in theaters next month, we can officially close the book on Pixar’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad pandemic. Perhaps that’s not the most appropriate description. Rather, it was a pandemic of lost opportunities. 

First, let’s rewind a few years. The period from 2010 to 2019 was especially sequel-heavy for Pixar. Of the 11 films Pixar released, only four (BRAVE, INSIDE OUT, THE GOOD DINOSAUR, COCO) were originals.  These were peppered between established tentpole sequels, including two TOY STORY films, two CARS titles, INCREDIBLES 2, FINDING DORY, and MONSTERS UNIVERSITY. 

At the close of the decade, on the heels of TOY STORY 4 and INCREDIBLES 2 each grossing over a billion dollars worldwide, Pixar took the bold step of shifting its focus to originals. For the first time since the studio launched in 1995, Pixar was going to release four originals in a row. 

ONWARD was up first. On March 6, 2020, it debuted to $39M, the lowest opening for a Pixar title since the studio’s first film, TOY STORY. Audiences were lukewarm. So were critics. While a Rotten Tomatoes score of 88 is still fantastic, almost all Pixar films score above 90. 

The inauspicious launch of this four-film cycle was made even worse by unfortunate timing. Five days after ONWARD hit theaters debut, Tom Hanks tested positive for COVID, and within days, the box office came to a screeching halt. The box office for ONWARD fell 73% in its second weekend, and it ended its run at just over $60M. 

Even if there was no pandemic, ONWARD was unlikely to be a huge box office hit. But the following two films held tremendous promise. But, with SOUL and LUCA debuting mid-pandemic, Pixar had no choice but to release them to the Disney+ platform. 

Things went a bit sideways with TURNING RED, as we’ve reported before. Initially slated for a March 2022 theatrical release, Disney shifted it to Disney+ just weeks before its scheduled theatrical debut. It was a move that left many at Pixar confused and upset.  Adding insult to injury, SONIC THE HEDGEHOG 2 debuted to $72M a few weeks later, proving that families were more than ready to return to theaters. 

A combination of bad timing and at least one unforced error severely diminished the impact of what should have been a celebrated run of Pixar originals. The good news is that the studio is about to get a win.  A huge win. 

Ok, fine, we’re not saying anything groundbreaking by pointing out that LIGHTYEAR, a spin-off of the TOY STORY series, looks to be big. What’s noteworthy is exactly how big it looks. 

LIGHTYEAR is 23 days away from release.  At the same distance from release, it is easily ahead of the three most recent family films, including SONIC THE HEDGEHOG 2. 

So what kind of opening might we be looking at for LIGHTYEAR? Certainly, we’ll be watching to see if it will be the first $100M opener for a family film in the pandemic era. At this point, that seems like a certainty. 

What about the box office grosses for TOY STORY? Can LIGHTYEAR beat the openings for its parent franchise? Each film in the series debuted to bigger numbers than the previous one, with TOY STORY 4 pulling in $121M in its first frame. 

It’s still too soon to say if LIGHTYEAR will top $121M, but if it does, it will be another data point in the overall health of the domestic box office. 

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