The Quorum

Should TURNING RED have gone theatrical?

Back on January 6th of this year, just two months shy of its March 11th theatrical release, Disney announced that TURNING RED would be playing on Disney+ and not in theaters.

RED had been earmarked as Pixar’s return to the big screen after SOUL and LUCA shifted to streaming during the peak pandemic. Disney’s abrupt decision to move the third straight Pixar film to Disney+ was met with confusion and frustration. After all, during the holidays, SING 2, from Illumination and Universal, showed that families were willing to venture out to the theater. That film has made a very respectable $152M domestically.

Still, Covid cases were growing exponentially in early January, making the decision seem somewhat justifiable. However, a case can be made today that Disney would have been better off with a theatrical release. Let’s take a closer look.

According to Samba TV, RED was watched by 2.5 million households in its debut this past weekend. And according to the US Census, the average household has 2.5 members. If each member of the household watched the film, we’d be talking about 6.3 million views.

If we pretend that the film opened in theaters and that all of those 6.3 million people would have purchased a ticket, we’d be talking about an opening weekend in the $70M range. Of course, this is just fuzzy math. It is based on several unlikely and unprovable assumptions, including the idea that everyone who watched RED at home would have paid to see it in a theater. Still, who doesn’t love some parlor room number crunching?

Hypothetical projections aside, the real reason RED should have gone theatrical is simply because, for some inexplicable reason, the entire industry decided to give THE BATMAN a three-week free pass.

Not only was BATMAN the only wide release on the weekend it opened, but there were no major studio releases the week before or the week after its release.

As a result of this unsaturated market, UNCHARTED remained at #2 in its 4th week of release with a slim 17% drop. DOG, also in its 4th week, was down only 15%. SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME, now in its 13th week and still in the top 5, slid only 10%. DEATH ON THE NILE and SING 2 – both still in the top 10 – were off 12% and 2%, respectively.

It’s not uncommon to give a tentpole some room. But it simply makes no sense giving a film like BATMAN free reign over the entire box office for two straight weeks. In its second weekend, the caped crusader accounted for two out of every three tickets sold, in large part because there were no other major studio offerings.

And that is where RED returns to the story. Had the Pixar film opened in theaters, it could have taken advantage of an uncluttered market. Following that thread, is there a way to know how it would have performed?

Let’s look at the numbers. Here we’re comparing RED to SING 2 for one important reason. SING 2 opened to $22M against the second weekend of SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME. Had RED opened this past weekend, it would have been against the second weekend of THE BATMAN. The parallels are clear.

When we look at the two films side-by-side, we can see that at release, awareness for the two films were nearly identical. SING 2 was at 48, and RED was at 46.

On the interest side, again, the numbers are very similar. SING 2 had a slightly higher interest score at release.

Given the similarities, is it fair to say that RED would have debuted in the low $20’s like SING 2? Not necessarily. Keep in mind that SING 2 not only opened against week two of SPIDER-MAN, but it was also up against THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS, THE KING’S MAN, AMERICAN UNDERDOG, and A JOURNAL FOR JORDAN.  

Had RED opened this weekend, there would have been no other new major studio releases. Also, as impressive as the BATMAN numbers are, it’s no SPIDER-MAN. And, perhaps more importantly, BATMAN is a far less kid-friendly superhero movie, meaning RED had a larger family market to tap into than SING 2.

Add in the fact that Omicron has largely faded into the background and the market conditions for RED are even more favorable.

I get it. There are plenty of reasons why Disney shifted RED to its streaming service that are beyond the scope of this analysis. But given that theaters are filled with long-in-the-tooth movies, this may have been a lost opportunity for Disney, both in capturing box office dollars and also imbuing TURNING RED with stronger long-term library value that comes from a successful theatrical release.

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