'Toy Story 4' Box Office: Why Its Opening Weekend Was So Far Below 'Finding Dory' And 'Incredibles 2'

Tom Hanks, Keanu Reeves and Annie Potts in 'Toy Story 4'

Tom Hanks, Keanu Reeves and Annie Potts in 'Toy Story 4'

Walt Disney and Pixar

On its face, an estimated $118 million Fri-Sun domestic debut for a $200 million-budgeted animated sequel is a pretty solid performance. However, compared to expectations, predictions and tracking, to say nothing of alleged brand value, Walt Disney's Toy Story 4's opening weekend left a little to be desired. Pretty much all the tracking argued that the acclaimed Pixar flick would earn over/under $150 million this weekend, with the optimists arguing closer to $160 million and Disney arguing a low ball estimate of $140 million. A $118 million Fri-Sun opening weekend is not remotely a catastrophe, but it's a curiosity.

Moreover, the film's domestic debut was below the $183 million opening weekend of Incredibles 2 in 2018 and the $135 million opening of Finding Dory in 2016, coming in below the adjusted-for-inflation domestic openings of Incredibles 2, Shrek the Third, Shrek 2, Finding Dory, Minions and Toy Story 3. Oh, and it also had a somewhat frightening 2.49x weekend multiplier stemming from a $47.4 million Friday. With the huge caveat that the film was well-reviewed and well-received, and thus should leg it like a champ over the next month, what exactly went wrong (or less right)?

Until I saw the film, I was arguing that we'd probably see a figure closer to Minions ($115 million in 2015) than Incredibles 2 ($183 million in 2018). The trailers didn't play well with audiences when I sat among general moviegoers in a given multiplex, especially compared to (ironically) the Detective Pikachu trailers. Pixar has a long history of merely okay trailers leading to dynamite theatrical products, but there has been a feeling of brand-related obligation. Audiences were aware of and probably had warm feelings about Toy Story 4, but they weren't chomping at the bit for its debut.

Once I saw the movie, and this is where my "film critic hat" and my "box office pundit hat" occasionally causes me The Stepfather-like confusion, I somewhat jumped on the hype train. After all, the tracking was sky-high, the movie turned out to be terrific, and a month of underwhelming sequels and revamps (Dark Phoenix, Men in Black International, Godzilla: King of the Monsters) arguably had moviegoers primed for a genuinely great sequel. After all, we all speculated about audiences burning out on remakes and sequels, but Aladdin and John Wick 3 continue to kick box office butt.

That initial feeling of "Are folks really that excited for this?" that spurred me to overestimate the potential for Detective Pikachu turned out to be dead on. Again, the movie earned $238 million worldwide over its global debut, so "relatively speaking" is the day's magic word/phrase. For general audiences, this wasn't the long-awaited second installment of Brad Bird's Incredibles series, nor was it the somewhat surprising first/only sequel to Andrew Stanton's Finding Nemo. This was the fourth Toy Story movie, one existing after the rather perfect series finale that was the final scene of Toy Story 3.

Folks wanted a second Incredibles, even if it (arguably) only happened after Bird's Tomorrowland bombed. That it turned out to be rather good and opened right at the time when superhero movies have become the dominant form of big-budget tentpole was to its advantage. Ditto the notion that Incredibles was considered a comparatively more mature and adult-skewing animated franchise. Incredibles 2 also had the "good fortune" of following Solo's global failure, the mostly finished Avengers: Infinity War and the R-rated Deadpool 2. Toy Story 4 faced Avengers 4, Aladdin, John Wick 3 and Secret Life of Pets 2.

While nobody was clamoring for a sequel, Finding Nemo is/was now considered a defining Pixar classic, and a cultural/generational touchstone equivalent to The Lion King for later generations. That the enjoyable Finding Dory opened during an unusually lousy summer (X-Men: Apocalypse, Independence Day: Resurgence, Alice Through the Looking Glass, Warcraft, etc.) didn't hurt either. While the "fewer people going to the movies just to go to the movies" thing ("the Netflix curve") had started to become a serious problem, it had not yet reached critical mass. Again, it was the second Nemo/Dory movie, not the fourth Woody/Buzz flick.

Toy Story 4 fell victim, relatively speaking (cue Pee Wee screaming), to what felled The LEGO Movie 2 and The Secret Life of Pets 2. Audiences didn't care about what happened next to the core protagonists, Woody and Buzz in this case, and the brand went from "cool for kids and adults" to for kids only. Even with the rave reviews and friendly media coverage, the folks who weren't super jazzed about Toy Story 4, including kids who grew up preferring Incredibles, Finding Nemo, or Inside Out to Toy Story, entered the weekend still not jazzed about it.

All of this is a roundabout way of explaining, with the benefit of hindsight, why Toy Story 4 "only" opened with $118 million in its first three days of domestic release. It's still, sans inflation, the fourth-biggest animated launch of all-time and still sold about as many tickets ($110 million in 2010/$126 million adjusted) as Toy Story 3 did nine years ago under an arguably more favorable theatrical environment. And since the movie is pretty great, and it's got nearly a month until The Lion King, I'd be shocked not to see legs comparable to Minions if not Incredibles 2.

It may end up closer to Secret Life of Pets ($368 million domestic and $875 million worldwide) than Toy Story 3 ($415 million/$1 billion). That won't be a grand tragedy. It's a pretty great movie (and thus maintains the Pixar reputation), it's still going to make a lot of money and it's supposed to be Pixar's last sequel for awhile anyway. If Toy Story 4 merely plays "like a Pixar movie" (somewhere between the adjusted $353 million cume of Up and the adjusted $406 million cume of Monsters, Inc.), then that's not the biggest problem in the world.

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On its face, an estimated $118 million Fri-Sun domestic debut for a $200 million-budgeted animated sequel is a pretty solid performance. However, compared to expectations, predictions and tracking, to say nothing of alleged brand value, Walt Disney's Toy Story 4's opening weekend left a little to be desired. Pretty much all the tracking argued that the acclaimed Pixar flick would earn over/under $150 million this weekend, with the optimists arguing closer to $160 million and Disney arguing a low ball estimate of $140 million. A $118 million Fri-Sun opening weekend is not remotely a catastrophe, but it's a curiosity.

Moreover, the film's domestic debut was below the $183 million opening weekend of Incredibles 2 in 2018 and the $135 million opening of Finding Dory in 2016, coming in below the adjusted-for-inflation domestic openings of Incredibles 2, Shrek the Third, Shrek 2, Finding Dory, Minions and Toy Story 3. Oh, and it also had a somewhat frightening 2.49x weekend multiplier stemming from a $47.4 million Friday. With the huge caveat that the film was well-reviewed and well-received, and thus should leg it like a champ over the next month, what exactly went wrong (or less right)?

Until I saw the film, I was arguing that we'd probably see a figure closer to Minions ($115 million in 2015) than Incredibles 2 ($183 million in 2018). The trailers didn't play well with audiences when I sat among general moviegoers in a given multiplex, especially compared to (ironically) the Detective Pikachu trailers. Pixar has a long history of merely okay trailers leading to dynamite theatrical products, but there has been a feeling of brand-related obligation. Audiences were aware of and probably had warm feelings about Toy Story 4, but they weren't chomping at the bit for its debut.

Once I saw the movie, and this is where my "film critic hat" and my "box office pundit hat" occasionally causes me The Stepfather-like confusion, I somewhat jumped on the hype train. After all, the tracking was sky-high, the movie turned out to be terrific, and a month of underwhelming sequels and revamps (Dark Phoenix, Men in Black International, Godzilla: King of the Monsters) arguably had moviegoers primed for a genuinely great sequel. After all, we all speculated about audiences burning out on remakes and sequels, but Aladdin and John Wick 3 continue to kick box office butt.

That initial feeling of "Are folks really that excited for this?" that spurred me to overestimate the potential for Detective Pikachu turned out to be dead on. Again, the movie earned $238 million worldwide over its global debut, so "relatively speaking" is the day's magic word/phrase. For general audiences, this wasn't the long-awaited second installment of Brad Bird's Incredibles series, nor was it the somewhat surprising first/only sequel to Andrew Stanton's Finding Nemo. This was the fourth Toy Story movie, one existing after the rather perfect series finale that was the final scene of Toy Story 3.

Folks wanted a second Incredibles, even if it (arguably) only happened after Bird's Tomorrowland bombed. That it turned out to be rather good and opened right at the time when superhero movies have become the dominant form of big-budget tentpole was to its advantage. Ditto the notion that Incredibles was considered a comparatively more mature and adult-skewing animated franchise. Incredibles 2 also had the "good fortune" of following Solo's global failure, the mostly finished Avengers: Infinity War and the R-rated Deadpool 2. Toy Story 4 faced Avengers 4, Aladdin, John Wick 3 and Secret Life of Pets 2.

While nobody was clamoring for a sequel, Finding Nemo is/was now considered a defining Pixar classic, and a cultural/generational touchstone equivalent to The Lion King for later generations. That the enjoyable Finding Dory opened during an unusually lousy summer (X-Men: Apocalypse, Independence Day: Resurgence, Alice Through the Looking Glass, Warcraft, etc.) didn't hurt either. While the "fewer people going to the movies just to go to the movies" thing ("the Netflix curve") had started to become a serious problem, it had not yet reached critical mass. Again, it was the second Nemo/Dory movie, not the fourth Woody/Buzz flick.

Toy Story 4 fell victim, relatively speaking (cue Pee Wee screaming), to what felled The LEGO Movie 2 and The Secret Life of Pets 2. Audiences didn't care about what happened next to the core protagonists, Woody and Buzz in this case, and the brand went from "cool for kids and adults" to for kids only. Even with the rave reviews and friendly media coverage, the folks who weren't super jazzed about Toy Story 4, including kids who grew up preferring Incredibles, Finding Nemo, or Inside Out to Toy Story, entered the weekend still not jazzed about it.

All of this is a roundabout way of explaining, with the benefit of hindsight, why Toy Story 4 "only" opened with $118 million in its first three days of domestic release. It's still, sans inflation, the fourth-biggest animated launch of all-time and still sold about as many tickets ($110 million in 2010/$126 million adjusted) as Toy Story 3 did nine years ago under an arguably more favorable theatrical environment. And since the movie is pretty great, and it's got nearly a month until The Lion King, I'd be shocked not to see legs comparable to Minions if not Incredibles 2.

It may end up closer to Secret Life of Pets ($368 million domestic and $875 million worldwide) than Toy Story 3 ($415 million/$1 billion). That won't be a grand tragedy. It's a pretty great movie (and thus maintains the Pixar reputation), it's still going to make a lot of money and it's supposed to be Pixar's last sequel for awhile anyway. If Toy Story 4 merely plays "like a Pixar movie" (somewhere between the adjusted $353 million cume of Up and the adjusted $406 million cume of Monsters, Inc.), then that's not the biggest problem in the world.

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I've studied the film industry, both academically and informally, and with an emphasis in box office analysis, for nearly 30 years. I have extensively written about all

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