Universal’s Abominable topped the weekend box office with a $20.8 million opening. That’s, in terms of inflation, the second-lowest DreamWorks Animation toon ever, behind only Sinbad which earned $15 million adjusted over its Wed-Sun launch in 2003 ($6.6 million over its unadjusted Fri-Sun frame). The good news is that the DreamWorks and Pearl Studio co-production cost just $75 million to produce and may yet break out when it opens in China on Tuesday. So, while this is a very low opening for a DWA toon, it’s almost certain that the film will be a long-term win for Universal (who put up just 40% of the budget) and presumably Pearl when all is said and done.
A new DWA toon, an outright original (their first wholly original feature since Turbo in July of 2013), opening on par with an early Fall WB release ( LEGO Ninjago, Storks, Smallfoot) isn’t exactly cause for celebration. Jill Culton’s sweeping dramady, one of DreamWorks’ best “not a Kung Fu Panda or How to Train Your Dragon sequel” offerings in years, is experiencing the new normal. A new DreamWorks toon is no longer an event unto itself and original animated films have almost as hard of a time breaking out as live-action originals. We’re a long way off from Kung Fu Panda and Monsters vs. Aliens opening over/under $60 million, or even The Croods netting $43 million.
Oddly enough, Abominable is the third animated feature about a yeti in just over a year, following Warner Bros.’ Smallfoot and Laika’s Missing Link. All three of them were varying degrees of “good,” but the déjà vu probably didn’t help. Also not helping was the mere fact that parents can now plot their kids in front of Netflix or Hulu and let them binge a few episodic shows, which makes going to the theater (along with concessions) no longer the most convenient babysitter or time-killer. That’s part of why The LEGO Movie 2, Angry Birds 2 and (relatively speaking) The Secret Life of Pets 2 didn’t break out.
Like other live-action flicks, an animated movie now must be an “I need to see this in theaters” event. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World ($160 million domestic and $520 million worldwide) was In terms of budget ($429 million worldwide on an $80 million budget), so too was Illumination’s Secret Life of Pets 2. But Abominable, thus far, is not. The good news, aside from the fact that Abominable is a very good movie and only cost $75 million, is that DreamWorks toons tend to be leggy as hell. The 3.6x weekend multiplier and the “A” Cinemascore grade bodes well for the future, especially as it’s the only big kids toon between now and Frozen II in late November.
On average, DWA releases tend to pull over/under 3.5x weekend-to-final multipliers. Presuming legs between 3x a 3.5x, we can expect a $65 million-to-$75 million domestic cume, which is very low for a DreamWorks toon but is okay for a $75 million animated original (co-produced by Pearl) with strong overseas prospects. It should be noted that Universal has now had seven number one debuts this weekend and has spent 25% of the year with the top-ranked movie at any given time, and all three top-ranked originals ( Us, Good Boys and Abominable) were from the Comcast-owned studio. Barring a miracle elsewhere, that milestone won’t be challenged between now and Christmas.
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World soared, and I expect Trolls: World Tour to do just fine next April. But if DWA must coast on its prior glories, well, that’s not great. This isn’t Universal’s fault. This isn’t ten years ago where A) DreamWorks was second only to Pixar among animation giants and B) an original like Monsters vs. Aliens could open with $59 million on opening weekend and leg it to $197 million domestic. Ten years later, Universal’s Illumination is right alongside Disney and Pixar, while everyone else is fighting for third place in a marketplace where “big” animated films are no longer automatic event movies.
Abominable, which is an adventure drama with comedic moments as opposed to a zany, gag-a-minute action comedy with a few moments of sentiment, is exactly the kind of movie DreamWorks should be making to set itself apart from Illumination and the rest of its animated competition. So, yes, it’s disheartening to see that it’s not truly breaking out in a far-more challenging marketplace. It’s a relative hit in the sense that it’ll make money in terms of its financial responsibilities, and it could break huge elsewhere. But as someone believes that Pixar and DreamWorks were at their artistic best when they were neck-and-neck in terms of box office, this is a little disheartening.
Abominable was the weekend’s only new wide release, and Joker will be the weekend’s only wide newbie next weekend. However, we will start to see various Oscar contenders beginning their platform or semi-wide launches alongside the official “biggies.” On that note, Renee Zellweger’s Judy ( review)earned a promising $3.091 million this weekend in 461 theaters. The Roadside Attractions/LD Entertainment release, which has earned rave reviews for its lead actress’s performance (as opposed to the movie itself) and has positioned itself as the first official Oscar movie out of the gate. The $6,706 per-theater average is (unless I missed one) a record for Roadside Attractions’ semi-wide releases.