‘Onward’ Begins Box Office Journey On a Disappointing Note

Disney/Pixar’s latest animated comedy Onward found itself in need of some box office magic this weekend at theaters across North America as the cartoon turned in the lowest numbers for a Pixar feature in almost five years. The news wasn’t all that great either for Warner’s The Way Back, which got lost in its third place debut.

It had the voice talent -Chris Pratt and Tom Holland among others-, the typical Mouse House marketing might and solid critical backing, but that wasn’t enough to lift Onward above the mediocre stage at the box office. The comedy fantasy began its box office journey on 4,310 screens Thursday night where the most it could conjure up was an estimated $40 million.

The first Pixar feature to be released outside of the lucrative summer movie season or the month of November, Onward’s debuting numbers are just slightly above the $39 million scored by their 2015 dud The Good Dinosaur. Should the actual opening figures come in below the reported studio estimates, Onward’s debut could become the worst wide opening to date for Pixar Studios.

So, what went wrong? Did the reviews harm business? An 86% on Rotten Tomatoes, a 61/100 on Metacritic and an “A-“ from ticket buyers on CinemaScore all point to “no” as the answer. Was Coronavirus fears to blame for keeping crowds away? Perhaps overseas, where Onward pulled in a paltry $28 million this weekend. But in North America, we’re not quite there yet (should Disney’s Mulan tank in a few weeks, then you can blame Covid-19).

No, the answer may lie in a simple lack of interest for the film outside of the family matinee crowd. Recent Disney Animation and Pixar films have had one creative thing in common: mass appeal. Based on the trailers and TV ads, it appears that Onward was lacking that. Great for the kiddies, an easy pass for those over the age of 13 and adults that aren’t parents.  Strict appeal to the matinee crowd would explain the business surge of nearly 40% on Saturday over the underwhelming opening day. If that turns out to be the case, then Onward should have a healthy-but-unspectacular early spring run ahead of it.

Elsewhere on the chart, it was another strong showing for last week’s number one flick, Universal’s The Invisible Man. The acclaimed Elizabeth Moss thriller dipped a mere 46% in its second weekend on 3,610 screens where it scored an estimated $15.1 million. Ten days into its run, the low-budget thriller has scored a solid $52.6 million. A final around the $90 million mark is a possibility.

Ben Affleck made a quiet return to movie screens this weekend with the number three film in the country, the Warner sports drama The Way Back. The Gavin O’Connor film opened in 2,718 theaters Friday where it scored an estimated $8.5 million. Reviews were solid for Way Back. The R-rated feature scored an 88% on Rotten Tomatoes, a 68/100 on Metacritic and a “B+” on CinemaScore.

In fourth place was Paramount’s Sonic the Hedgehog, which continued zipping along towards the $150 million mark. The film scored an estimated $8 million from 3,717 theaters in its fourth weekend, a decline of 51% from the previous round. One month in, Sonic has scored $141 million so far and should finish around the $165 million mark.

Rounding out the top five was 20thCentury Studios’ The Call of the Wild with an estimated $7 million from 3,914 theaters. The Harrison Ford family adventure has brought in $57.4 million so far and should finish near the $70 million mark.

  1. Emma (2020) (Focus) $5 million (+331%); $6.9 million
  2. Bad Boys For Life (Sony) $3 million (-30%); $202 million
  3. Birds of Prey (Warner) $2.1 million (-47%); $82.5 million
  4. My Hero Academia (FUNimation) $1.5 million (-74%); $12.6 million
  5. 1917 (Universal) $1.37 million (-49%); $158 million

Next weekend, Bloodshot, The Hunt and I Still Believe enter the marketplace.

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