Last year, we had the second biggest opening weekend of all time with Spider-Man: No Way Home and the second biggest opening weekend of all time with Top Gun, both starring Tom Cruise. Since A Quiet Place part II opened with $57 million and essentially tied its pre- Covid $50-$60 million tracking, tentpoles have opened better than they would have under non- Covid circumstances. Lightyear was technically the biggest Covid-era opening day for animation on Friday, but it was still a disappointment. Consumers may have been conditioned to watch Pixar movies for free on Disney+.
Lightyear, starring Chris Evans as Buzz Lightyear in a stand-alone sci-fi action-comedy that's being weirdly sold as "the movie Andy saw in 1995 that made him a Buzz Lightyear fan", earned about as much money on its first full Friday than Top Gun Lightyear was always going to be a straight-up Pixar original, even though I was wrong about Tom Cruise's sequel soaring to infinite and beyond. The Pixar films opened with $60-$71 million, despite inflation. In 2007, Ratatouille opened with $48 million and in 2015, Inside Out opened with $90 million.
Lightyear is a three-star, IMAX-friendly outer-space adventure that would have been an easy sell-out in a non- Covid world. The last three films went straight to Disney+, with Pixar's "cool for grown ups" reputation being used by a desperate Bob Chapek as a streaming subscription carrot. Throw in Raya and the Last Dragon and Encanto and you have a film that gets a full theatrical release. It isn't a great look that the first big Disney pure theatrical in years is essentially Pixar'sSolo: A Star Wars Story.
The co-lead character in a popular kid-friendly franchise is played by a different actor than the one who is associated with the character. Chris Evans is a better choice to play Buzz than Ehrenreich is to play Han in the movie. Nobody gave a darn about it. The failure was due to bad marketing, too much Star Wars, and the reception to Last Jedi. The Rise of Skywalker was retooled in order to appease the online troll.
Lightyear might leg out over the summer if it doesn't recover over the weekend. Lightyear's under performance would be seen as a bad bet by the audience for a Buzz Lightyear movie. Had it opened closer to $70 million over the weekend (instead of the likely $52 million Fri-Sun/$60 million four-day Juneteenth holiday weekend), it would have been explained that audiences just took this as a Pixar original. However, the world being what it is, we will see discussion about how the film's kiss between two married grandmothers and the last-minute controversy over Tim Allen being replaced sunk the film. Bob Chapek may decide that Pixar movies shouldn't open in theaters.
I was more bearish than I should have been on Frozen II after a mere $40 million Friday, and Toy Story 4 after a mere $120 million opening weekend. Over the weekend, Frozen II made $130 million and Toy Story 4 made $430 million. Unlike the summer of 2018, there isn't a lot of competition for Lightyear. There is a conflict between big Pixar movies and big Illumination movies, but there is also a conflict between big Pixar movies and big Illumination movies.
Lightyear has good reviews and is one of two big deal animated films between now and Thanksgiving. Is it possible that it will crash the way The Good Dinosaur did? Cars 2 and Cars 3 would give Lightyear an over/under of $155 million domestically, while Toy Story 4 would give Lightyear an over/under of $150 million. I am more worried about overseas numbers than domestic ones. How Lightyear will be received at Disney is the most important concern for me. The death of Star Wars theatricals was caused by solo. Lightyear did the same thing for Pixar.