The disappointing box office of Disney Pixar Lightyear is the latest bad news for the future of the beloved animation studio. After two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, which shut down and then reduced the capacity of the world’s cinemas, Pixar has finally returned to the big screen with its spin-off “Toy Story”. However, “Lightter” did not live up to expectations and could not knock Jurassic World Dominion from the first place in the world box office. The mixed reviews of Lightyear are just one of the factors explaining why Lightyear’s box office is so disappointing.
Lightyear is Pixar’s first theatrical release since the 2020 film Forward, released shortly before the pandemic. The release of Soul in 2020 was prevented by the second wave of COVID and subsequent winter lockdowns in many key Disney markets, and the same thing happened with Luka. While many countries were going back to how things were before COVID, by the time Turning Red was released in early 2022, but it was eventually released on Disney+ due to the growing surge in the Omicron variant. Depending on how Pixar and the Disney Corporation as a whole react to poor performance and audience reaction to Lightyear, new Pixar films may end up in the studio’s streaming service, rather than in cinemas.
As movie theaters continue to emerge from a financially challenging global pandemic, Disney’s attitude toward releasing future Pixar films seems to have changed. Disney Media and Entertainment Distribution chairman Kareem Daniel said earlier this year about the decision to release Turning Red on Disney+ that “given the delay in box office recovery, especially for family films, flexibility remains at the heart of our distribution decisions.” (via Bloomberg) The pandemic was clearly a factor in Disney’s decision to skip the release of the film “Red Transformation”, but there is also a commercial factor in the wording of Kareem Daniel’s statement, which implies that Disney did not believe that “Red Transformation” was strong enough to lead this recovery. It looks like Lightyear wasn’t there either, given the film’s disappointing first weekend. In retrospect, a hybrid of Lightyear’s origin story and spinoff seems much more appropriate for a subscriber-funded streaming service than for a theater. What Lightyear’s box office means for Pixar’s future will depend on what lessons Disney learns from the disappointing box office reaction to the film.
Why the box office of Lightyear turned out to be lower than expected
Disney expected Lightyear to open in North America with at least $70 million, but the figure did not reach $19 million in the first weekend. While it’s not a complete disaster, it’s not a good start for a movie with a $200 million budget and even more money allocated to marketing a spin-off inspired by the “Toy Story” character. Some industry commentators are highlighting the fact that families haven’t returned to multiplexes since the pandemic, but a comparable family movie like Sonic the Hedgehog 2 surpassed Lightyear with over $72 million in its opening weekend. The success of Sonic 2 and other well-known releases clearly shows that Lightyear’s poor performance lies not only in lingering concerns about COVID and the impact of the cost-of-living crisis.
Lightyear’s main problem is the concept that presents the film as a blockbuster in the 1995 universe, viewed by Andy from Toy Story, which inspired him to get a Buzz Lightyear action figure. Disney even promoted the film by depicting him watching Lightyear with the entire Toy Story gang. However, for viewers who grew up on the Toy Story franchise, Buzz Lightyear is a toy, not the hero of a sci—fi action movie, and it was difficult to understand what the film should have been from conception to release. This is a confusing premise for the general public, especially for children, and if the audience doesn’t understand what a movie is, then they will stay away from it. Similarly, it doesn’t help that the aforementioned last three Pixar films went straight to Disney+, setting a precedent for families who expected them to be on streamer as well, not just in theaters.
It’s also worth seeing which other films Lightyear is currently competing with at the box office. The two biggest films are the return of Tom Cruise as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in “Best Shooter: Maverick” and the return of the original cast of “Jurassic Park” in “Jurassic World Dominion.” Competing with these two nostalgic box office hits, Lightyear sabotages herself with a confusing setup that positions the film as adjacent to the Toy Story universe and doesn’t even include Tim Allen as Buzz Lightyear. Given the choice between two films in which actors and characters that the audience loves return, and a film in which, despite the name, there is neither, the audience chose Dominion and Maverick instead of Lightyear.