Lightyear proved to be very finite.
In a shocking lackluster debut, Disney / Pixar’s Lightyear finished $20 million below the lowest industry projections, taking in only $51 million over its first three days in North America when even the most conservative figures expected $70M or higher.
The good news: $51 million is the best opening for an animated feature since the pandemic began.
The bad news: every other metric.
Budgeted at $200 million (before marketing costs), Lightyear was one of the biggest franchise plays in Pixar’s history, intending to capitalize off the beloved legacy of the 4-film Toy Story series it spun off from.
And even though it’s been a tough market for animated films in the age of COVID, the recent trend of franchise tentpoles opening well over $100 million (Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, The Batman, Top Gun) seemed to suggest that Lightyear was well positioned to at least come close to that stratosphere. It didn’t, and it wasn’t even close.
More to the point, it’s absolutely dismal by Pixar standards. Lightyear marks the lowest opening for any sequel or spinoff in Pixar’s history (coming in even lower than Toy Story 2‘s first wide release three-day weekend of $57M in 1999), and it ranks way down at 16th in the studio’s overall history.
To pour salt in the wound, Lightyear in its first weekend couldn’t beat Jurassic World Dominion in its second. Even with a 60% drop from its opening, Dominion scared up another $58.7M to keep its spot secure at #1. Its total domestic haul so far is $259.1M, and $632M worldwide.
There are lots of theories as to why Lightyear couldn’t go to infinity (let alone beyond), starting with the fact that Disney has ghettoed Pixar’s last three films (Soul, Luca and Turning Red) as streaming exclusives on Disney Plus, even while giving theatrical runs to Walt Disney Animation Studios two pandemic features, Encanto and Raya and the Last Dragon. Families have become accustomed to basically waiting for Pixar movies to show up at home.
Marketing for Lightyear was also suspect, from the lack of saturation that Marvel movies continue to enjoy, to audiences being confused over what kind of Buzz Lightyear movie this was; there were even reports of ticket buyers demanding refunds once they realized this wasn’t the Tim Allen toy adventure they were expecting (it is, instead, “the movie” that is supposed to have inspired the Buzz Lightyear toy, and Buzz is voiced by Chris Evans).
Finally, controversy surrounding the depiction of a lesbian couple / family may have kept conservative parents and their kids at home.
Meanwhile, Top Gun: Maverick — now in its fourth weekend — wasn’t that far behind Lightyear, finishing third with an impressive $44M. It’s domestic total is now $446.1M and $885.1M worldwide, both career bests for Tom Cruise.
The big question is this: can Lightyear somehow get its buzz back and have a steady, successful long run. More to the point, can it still be the year’s top animated movie (which is what Disney was clearly expecting with a $200M budget), or will that honor go to the likes of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (which has grossed $190.5M and is still in the Top 10) or possibly Minions: The Rise of Gru which opens over the July 4th holiday weekend?
How Minions 2 opens will be a big tell. If it falls into a similar range as Lightyear, then it will show that the animated format overall still has a lot of recovering to do in order to reach pre-pandemic levels. But if it opens significantly higher than Lightyear — perhaps even over $100M — then it will send a clear signal that Disney is seriously miscalculating how it is handling one of its most valuable brands.