Disney’s ‘Wish’ Struggles During Thanksgiving Week
Disney didn’t get its wish during Thanksgiving Week.
For months now, Disney executives have expressed confidence in their November animated release, Wish.
Alas, the opening week of box office has triggered another wave of, “What is wrong with Disney?” headlines.
Simply stated, Wish underachieved at the box office by finishing third. Here’s what just happened.
Wish by the Numbers
Disney technically released Wish on Wednesday, November 22nd, the day before Thanksgiving.
However, I saw the film on Tuesday, a date whose evening box office did count toward Wish’s five-day holiday total.
Before that, Disney had taken the unusual step of offering a sneak preview of Wish on Saturday, November 18th.
Typically, studios only do this unless they believe strongly in the quality of a film. It’s their way of building buzz and fostering early word-of-mouth.
In the case of Wish, this statement raises more questions than it answers because Disney clearly thought highly of a film that others didn’t.
In fact, one headline out there states, “Disney’s ‘Wish’ Is a Disaster.” I’ll go ahead and spoil you on the fact that this statement is nonsensical.
Yes, everyone reacts differently to art, but opinions can be objectively wrong, and this is one.
A film that’s a “disaster” wouldn’t receive an A- Cinemascore, as Wish has.
While that grade is quite a bit low by Walt Disney Animation Studios standards, it’s still reflective of a crowd-pleasing film.
I’ll say the same thing about Wish that I did about Elemental earlier this year. If you give Wish a chance, you’ll probably enjoy it.
Disney’s problem is that audiences didn’t give it a chance, while jaded film critics split evenly on Wish’s quality.
As I type this, Wish is 50 percent fresh at Rotten Tomatoes after 147 reviews. That’s a large sample size of lukewarm praise and tepid criticism.
Not coincidentally, Wish’s box office struggled. The film earned a modest $31 million million domestically and an atrocious $49 million worldwide.
What Went Wrong?
This is Disney’s Groundhog Day question about its 2023 film release slate.
Frankly, we’ll find a smorgasbord of explanations, most of which hold some truth.
For example, Disney’s pandemic strategy of quick releases on Disney+, a tactic I staunchly supported at the time, has proven detrimental in the now.
Disney trained audiences to wait until titles were available on its streaming service. Now, it’s struggling to entice these potential customers back to theaters.
Also, there’s an unmistakable lack of confidence in the Disney brand right now.
The struggles of recent titles like The Marvels and Haunted Mansion had a spillover effect on Wish.
Guests remain on the fence with these titles and await positive reviews, which Wish didn’t receive in force.
I happened to like the film, but even I’d acknowledge it’s not in the upper tier of Disney’s 62 animated films.
My concern here is more that Disney executives believed otherwise, which is indicative that they may not be in touch with modern consumers.
Then, we have the continued problem that box office simply hasn’t recovered since the pandemic.
Thanksgiving Week is typically one of the best for Hollywood each year.
Before the pandemic, the five-year box office average for holiday releases was about $275 million for all titles.
In other words, the 100 or so movies in release during Thanksgiving Week should earn a total of $275 million from Wednesday through Sunday.
During this holiday, the top ten films managed a paltry $161 million.
That’s up from 2022’s $122.8 million and 2021’s $142.7 million…but not by anywhere as much as Hollywood studios need.
Those two data points tell an entire story, though. After the pandemic ended, movie tickets haven’t increased dramatically.
As the top box office studio for seven straight years, Disney feels that pain more than its competitors because it has the most to lose.
Can Wish Recover?
I’d like to tell you yes. Really, I would.
Unfortunately, that’s not realistic here, at least not to the extent Disney needs for the film to turn a profit.
On the one hand, Disney has cleared the remainder of its 2023 theatrical schedule.
So, Disney is all-in on Wish, whether it should be or not. We should expect a renewed marketing campaign since Disney has nothing to lose here.
Still, films released during Thanksgiving Week almost always struggle the following weekend at the box office.
This behavior occurs because anyone who wants to see the movie can during the extended Thanksgiving holiday period.
That’s precisely why Thanksgiving Week has always been so reliable for Hollywood studios.
The fact that Wish didn’t do well this past weekend hints that demand for the film simply isn’t there.
Disney has used Thanksgiving Week as a launching pad for titles like Coco, Tangled, Moana, and Ralph Breaks the Internet.
Wish’s performance places it ahead of last year’s disaster, Strange World, but it’s hard to describe this debut as anything other than a huge disappointment.
You shouldn’t be surprised if Disney makes some leadership changes in Disney Entertainment. They’re warranted based on 2023 box office.
Wish is merely the latest example that Disney’s movie machine is on the fritz.
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