Box Office: Audiences Say “Onward, No!” To Newest Pixar Movie
With Pixar having one of their lowest openings yet, the box office experienced one of the worst weekends for this time of year in over a decade.
March 9, 2020

With Pixar having one of their lowest openings yet with Onward, the box office experienced one of the worst weekends for this time of year in over a decade.

For years, Pixar Animation Studios had one of the best box office track records in history. Then The Good Dinosaur came around in November 2015 and became the first title ever from the studio to gross under $150 million domestically. Since then, Pixar has produced two more box office flops in the form of Cars 3 and this weekend’s top movie, Onward. Opening to just $40 million this frame, Onward had the worst opening weekend ever for a Pixar movie opening on a Friday and even including their titles that opened on a Wednesday, Onward came in ahead of only the debuts of Toy Story and A Bug’s Life from more than twenty years ago.

Even among opening weekends for all computer-animated movies released in March, Onward came in under expectations. It only opened $2 million better than the significantly cheaper Rango from 2011 while coming in leagues behind the biggest March animated movie opening weekends like the bows of Monsters vs. Aliens and Zootopia. Onward’s primary reason for coming up short financially seems to be the same one that plagued the first-ever Pixar box office dud.

Specifically, both Dinosaur and Onward suffered from having concepts that just weren’t unique enough to stand out. The Good Dinosaur had ads that made it look like a Land Before Time/Croods mash-up while Onward had marketing that emphasized a modern-fantasy angle that had been played to death in the mid-2000s animated kids movies like Hoodwinked! and the Shrek sequels.

Whereas prior Pixar films like Up and Inside Out rode distinct ideas to box office glory, Onward, despite strong reviews from critics, just couldn’t make itself look special enough to garner audience interest. Considering a wave of family movie competition coming in the next month, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Onward end its domestic run in the $130-135 million range, the second-worst domestic haul ever for a Pixar release.

Next up we have a holdover in the form of The Invisible Man, which dropped only 46% from last weekend, a much better than usual second-weekend hold for a horror title. Grossing another $15.1 million, The Invisible Man has already amassed $52.6 million domestically after ten days of release and should end its domestic run in the vicinity of $80-85 million.

In third place, we find The Way Back, which opened to only $8.5 million over the weekend. Though an improvement over the $5.2 million bow of Gavin O’Connor’s 2011 directorial effort, Warrior, it’s noticeably down from the openings of most other Ben Affleck vehicles. The Way Back opened on par with the $8.3 million debut of Chasing Amy while many Affleck-led titles that opened lower than The Way Back (like Reindeer Games and Hollywoodland) were playing in significantly fewer theaters than Affleck’s newest title.

While the picture had strong reviews, its grim tone was always going to be a massive hurdle for audiences to get over. Audiences tend to like their sports-adjacent movie inspirational and upbeat, qualities that weren’t around in the marketing here. This feature will likely top out between $20 and $25 million, a subpar result for a movie that cost $21 million to make.

Next up we have a pair of family movie holdovers starting with Sonic the Hedgehog, which fell another 51% to gross an additional $7.99 million. Its weekend-to-weekend drops have been sharper than usual for a February family movie, but considering Sonic has already grossed $140.8 million, nobody at Paramount will be complaining. The same cannot be said for The Call of the Wild, though, which brought its disappointing domestic haul up to $57.4 million after taking in another $7 million (a 48% drop from last weekend). It looks like this expensive feature will end its domestic box office run in the neighborhood of $70-75 million. That’s better than average for a live-action dog movie, but it’s underwhelming for a Jack London adaptation that cost $135 million to make.

Meanwhile, the Jane Austen-based Emma. expanded into 1,565 locations this weekend managed to gross $5 million for a per-theater average of $3,195. That’s an overall solid launch for this title and with $6.8 million accumulated domestically to date, there’s a solid chance Emma. becomes the first 2020 limited release title to crack $20 million at the domestic box office. This is yet another feather in the cap for Focus Features, a studio that’s been on a box office hot streak lately between titles like Harriet and Downton Abbey.

Farther back in terms of holdovers is Bad Boys for Life, which once again had the smallest weekend-to-weekend drop in the top ten as it eased just 30% for another $3 million. In the process, the film achieved a $202 million domestic gross, becoming the first movie of 2020 to crack $200 million. Birds of Prey, however, is winding down its theatrical run with a $2.1 million gross this weekend (a 47% drop from last weekend) for a domestic gross of $82.5 million.

Impractical Jokers: The Movie fell 48% from last weekend and took in another $1.8 million for a domestic gross of $9.6 million. Rounding out the top ten was My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising, which fell a massive 74% from last weekend for a second-weekend gross of $1.52 million and a 10-day domestic total of $12.6 million, quite a success for a limited release anime feature.

Two months into its wide release run, 1917 fell 49% and grossed another $1.37 million, bringing its domestic cume to an impressive $158.2 million. Meanwhile, Jumanji: The Next Level is still playing in over 1,400 locations despite having been out for nearly three months. That comedy grossed an additional $1.34 million (a 37% drop from its last frame) this go-around, bringing it up to a massive $315.8 million domestic gross.

On the flip side, Brahms: The Boy II is already being locked away in just its third week of release as it fell 53% for a third-weekend gross of just $1.2 million and an anemic domestic gross of $11.7 million. Parasite, however, is still playing in wide release a month after the NEON release won Best Picture and it managed to gross another $638,600 (a 58% drop from last weekend) for an impressive domestic gross of $52.8 million. 

Another NEON acquisition kept solid business in its domestic run as Portrait of a Lady on Fire fell 28% from last weekend, grossing another $540,000 from 334 locations for a per-theater average of $1,616. With a domestic gross of $3.4 million, it’s the eight-biggest NEON movie ever. It’s a sure thing that Portrait eventually surpasses the $4.4 million domestic gross of Amazing Grace to become the fifth-biggest NEON release in history.

Other new limited releases include Baaghi 3, which opened to $475,000 from 265 locations for a per-theater average of $1,792. Sony Pictures Classics continued their struggles to get any of their titles to leave an impact in wide release as their newest release, Greed, grossed only $213,000 from 596 locations for a dismal per-theater average of only $213 and a ten-day domestic total of $244,000. 

In fact, a whole slew of limited release newcomers entered the marketplace this frame, not the least of which was Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow. The period indie opened to $96,000 from 4 locations for a per-theater average of $24,000. By far the biggest opening weekend ever for the writer/director, it’ll be intriguing to see how wide A24 can bring this movie in the weeks ahead. Next up among new independent releases, Extra Ordinary opened to $83,954 from 32 locations for a per-theater average of $2,624.

Moving back to holdovers, Wendy’s box office run already appears to be finished thanks to it grossing $45,000 from 69 locations for a disastrous per-theater average of $652 and a ten-day domestic total of $74,679. These are not the kind of numbers that warrant further theatrical expansion. Not faring much better was Burden as it expanded into 31 locations and grossed a terrible $40,205 for a per-theater average of $1,297 and a domestic gross of $68,243. No other holdovers could redeem the specialty box office that much either. Fellow struggling holdover Seberg plummeted 87% from last weekend to gross another $28,860 for a domestic gross of $428,089.

Returning to newcomers, The Burnt Orange Heresy painted a picture of only $18,000 this weekend at 4 locations for a per-theater average of $4,574. Finally, The Booksellers opened to $17,000 at a single location. There’s currently no word yet on the opening weekends for limited release newbies The Banker and Run This Town.

All in all, the top 10 movies this weekend grossed a total of $90 million. Exempting this frame in 2015 when Chappie opened, this is the worst tenth weekend in any given year since 2008. Don’t blame the coronavirus for this dismal domestic box office, though; the fact that holdovers held reasonably indicates audiences aren’t staying away from movie theaters. The low gross is because Onward just wasn’t as much of a box office titan as past early March new releases, including fellow Disney tentpoles like Alice in Wonderland or Zootopia. The box office highs of 2020 have been high but the lows have been low as usually reliable standby’s (DC Comics blockbusters and Pixar cartoons) have severely underperformed.