The box office is about to freeze over. Six years after Walt Disney Co.'s “Frozen” created an avalanche of ticket sales and merchandising revenue, Elsa, Anna and Olaf are returning to dominate cinemas again this weekend.
The computer-animated musical is expected to skate easily to the top of the box office charts, likely grossing more than $100 million in its first weekend, which would top the debut of its predecessor and also set a record for an animated picture released outside the summer movie season.
Some analysts predict the movie could take in as much as $115 million Thursday through Sunday, based on pre-release audience surveys, providing much respite to North American cinemas that have weathered a string of recent high-profile flops.
But it remains to be seen whether the new film can top the long-term performance of the original “Frozen,” which is the highest-grossing animated movie ever (globally, and not adjusting for inflation). “Frozen,” released in 2013, generated $1.27 billion in receipts throughout its run, followed by untold sales of DVDs, toys and princess costumes.
The success of “Frozen” was driven by widespread love of the characters and music that kept families, especially those with young girls, coming back to theaters throughout the holidays and well into the new year. After a brief run in a single theater, “Frozen” opened in wide release the day before Thanksgiving and grossed more than $93 million by that Sunday in the U.S. and Canada.
Although that’s a big number, it didn’t even open at No. 1, coming in second to “Hunger Games: Catching Fire.” But “Frozen” continued to draw audiences, eventually growing its domestic tally to $400 million. It remained in the top 10 for 17 weeks.
The film supercharged Disney’s animation business, which had been transformed under the leadership from Pixar, led by Ed Catmull and John Lasseter, who left Disney in 2018 following allegations he engaged in inappropriate workplace behavior. Hit songs such as “Let It Go” and “Do You Want to Build a Snowman” solidified the movie’s influence. It took home two Oscars (best animated feature and original song) and was adapted into a Broadway musical.
Some analysts doubt “Frozen 2" will be able to generate the same level of repeat business. Sequels often open higher than their predecessors because of pent-up demand and drop off quickly in the following weeks as audiences move on (Disney’s animated movies typically cost $175 million to $200 million to make).
But Bruce Nash, founder of the film data website the Numbers, said he expected “Frozen 2" would have a long life in theaters because of the large built-in fan base and a lack of rival family films.
“What you’re probably going to see is, kids will go with their parents on opening weekend, and then they’ll go with their grandparents over Thanksgiving and Christmas.”
“You could see it having six weeks of fantastic box office,” Nash said. “What you’re probably going to see is, kids will go with their parents on opening weekend, and then they’ll go with their grandparents over Thanksgiving and Christmas.”
Theater owners are banking on “Frozen 2" to provide a strong start to the holiday film season, following a dismal run from recent studio offerings. Paramount and Skydance’s “Terminator: Dark Fate,” Warner Bros.’ “Doctor Sleep” and Sony Pictures’ “Charlie’s Angels” were all box office misses.
So far this year, movies have generated $9.69 billion in box office revenue, down more than 6% from the same period of time last year, according to data firm Comscore. Theaters are counting on such franchise films as Sony Pictures’ “Jumanji: The Next Level” and Disney’s “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” to make up some of the lost ground.
“In some ways, I think this weekend is a clean slate,” Nash said. “We’re now getting to the movies that are going to be the big hits.”
Domestic box office is still expected to end the year with $11.5 billion, down about 3% from last year’s record of $11.9 billion, according to analysts.
As expected, Disney has been a powerful force this year. The Burbank giant’s movies have accounted for 31% of domestic film grosses for 2019, according to the Numbers. Including films from Fox and Fox Searchlight, now owned by Disney, the company’s market share is roughly 35%.
“Frozen 2" should increase the company’s dominance. Online pre-sales are outpacing all previous animated movies including “Incredibles 2" and “Toy Story 4,” according to Fandango.
The Disney merchandise and marketing machines are working at full tilt, using cross-promotions with companies including J.C. Penney, Nature’s Own, General Mills, Enterprise, Juicy Juice and McDonald’s. Food seller Dole orchestrated an unusually large campaign for the film, complete with themed recipes including “Arendelle Royal Holiday Stuffing” and “D-Olaf Orangesicle Pancakes.”
Although “Frozen 2" features a new story and songs such as “Into the Unknown,” Disney didn’t stray far from the formula that worked for the first one. Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, who’s now chief creative officer at Disney Animation, returned, as did songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez.
Though reviews have been largely positive, critics have been somewhat less enthusiastic. Justin Chang, in his favorable “Frozen 2" review for the Los Angeles Times, described the plot as “mainly an excuse for the characters to hang out. And why not?”
Other new releases opening this weekend will also try to attract audiences. Sony and TriStar Pictures’ “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” a well-received film starring Tom Hanks as children’s TV host Fred Rogers, will probably launch with about $14 million, while STX Films is projecting a $12 million to $14 million debut for its Chadwick Boseman thriller, “21 Bridges.” Todd Haynes’ legal thriller, “Dark Waters,” distributed by Focus Features, will debut in four theaters.