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  • Writer's pictureRebecca Rubin, Variety

Box Office: Disney’s Wish fizzles, Napolean beats

Courtesy Photo Ariana DeBose stars in Wish.

Disney may need to find another star to wish upon.

Wish, the studio’s newest animated adventure, was projected to land on top of box office charts during the Thanksgiving holiday. Instead, ticket sales fell short of expectations with a weak $19.5 million over the traditional weekend and $31.7 million over the five days, and the film tumbled to third place behind Lionsgate’s The Hunger Games prequel The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes and Ridley Scott’s historical epic Napoleon.

Heading into the weekend, the musical fable Wish was projected to earn $35 million over the traditional weekend and $45 million to $50 million in its first five days of release. Ticket sales weren’t as catastrophic as the studio’s 2022 flop Strange World ($12 million over the traditional weekend and $18 million through the five days), but it didn’t come anywhere close to 2021’s Encanto, which opened to $40.3 over its first five days when COVID-19 was keeping families at home. And it’s a far, far cry from Disney’s pre-pandemic Thanksgiving releases, like 2019’s Frozen II ($123.7 million), 2018’s Ralph Breaks the Internet ($84.6 million) and 2017’s Coco ($71 million).

Wish also added $17.3 million at the international box office, opening in just 27 markets (about 40 percent of its eventual overseas footprint), bringing its global tally to $49 million. The film’s anemic initial turnout further illuminates that magic has been in short supply at Disney, a once untouchable force at the box office. Most of the studio’s 2023 slate, excluding Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, has dramatically underperformed in their theatrical runs. It’s a problem because Disney movies are expensive, usually costing around $200 million (and that’s before accounting for global marketing expenses).

In the case of Wish, Disney is hoping the family flick will have staying power during the busy holiday season, much like this summer’s Elemental, which finished much stronger than its disappointing opening weekend would have suggested. Wish carries a hefty $200 million production budget and needs to show the same kind of endurance to justify its price tag. It helps that audiences, unlike critics, seem to enjoy Wish, which landed an “A-” CinemaScore.

The story, featuring original music and the voices of Ariana DeBose and Chris Pine, follows a young girl named Asha who attempts to save the fantastical Kingdom of Rosas from darkness.

Napoleon, a $200 million war epic starring Joaquin Phoenix as the infamous French ruler, opened in second place with a better-than-expected $21 million over the traditional weekend and $32.5 million in its first five days of release. Globally, Napoleon generated $78.8 million.

Although Napoleon barely eked out ahead of Wish on domestic box office charts, analysts haven’t been as harsh on the initial performance. That’s partially because Napoleon is a tougher ask of moviegoers. It’s an R-rated period piece (about a long-dead military leader) that’s aimed at adult audiences and is nearly two hours and 40 minutes in length. It does not exactly scream fun for the whole family.

A traditional studio would not be thrilled with the economics of Napoleon (to say the least). The same goes for Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon, which also cost Apple $200 million and has grossed $151 million globally.

“While the box office start is good for the genre, the production cost is enormous for this type of film,” David A. Gross, who runs the movie consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research, said.

But Apple, one of the deepest-pocketed companies in the world, isn’t overly concerned with the profits and losses of its movies (for now). It’s releasing these big-budget films in theaters (Sony Pictures is handling distribution of Napoleon) to generate buzz for their eventual launches on Apple TV+, the company’s challenger to Netflix and Disney+. This isn’t to say Apple, which is opening Matthew Vaughn’s Argylle on the big screen in 2024 via Universal Pictures, won’t eventually change its tune about box office dollars.

With the lackluster starts of Wish and Napoleon, last weekend’s champion The Hunger Games: Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes landed on top, again. The prequel, starring Rachel Zegler and Tom Blyth in an action-adventure that’s set decades before the arrival of Katniss Everdeen, added $28.8 million over the weekend and $42 million since Wednesday. It has generated $98.3 million in North America and nearly $200 million globally.

Overall, this Thanksgiving stretch brought in $172 million in ticket sales, the highest tally since the pandemic upended the movie theater business. But it hasn’t lived up to pre-COVID times when revenues regularly topped $250 million. The holiday’s high-water mark came in 2018, when Disney’s “Ralph Breaks the Internet” and the Michael B. Jordan-led sports drama “Creed II” led the box office to a collective $325.6 million.


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