The Animation Box Office Crown

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This summer’s Finding Dory, interestingly enough, broke the record for highest grossing animated film in the domestic market. For 12 years, the crown was held by DreamWorks’ Shrek 2, which was actually one of those rare sequels that outgrossed its predecessor by a wide margin.

Finding Dory of course got to that point due to today’s ticket prices, in addition to 3D and IMAX 3D prices. However, if you adjust the amount of money Finding Nemo made back in 2003 to today’s numbers, you’ll get roughly $487 million, 56 million tickets. Finding Dory has currently sold 54 million tickets, and has grossed $475 million so far. For a sequel that arrived some 13 years after the original, that’s damn impressive! It’s also not shocking considering Finding Nemo‘s longevity. Finding Nemo was no flavor of the week back in 2003, it’s a movie that’s still beloved by adults and kids alike. Not too many animated movies, nor live-action movies for that matter, have that status. Finding Nemo became one of those iconic films that pretty much everyone knows…

Naturally, Finding Dory would benefit from that. Worldwide, the film is up to $872 million, topping the $867 million gross the original film took in. It hasn’t opened in a few key markets yet, and it’s still early in its run in other countries. It’s likely the picture crosses $1 billion, which only four animated films have crossed so far… Pixar’s own Toy Story 3, Disney Animation’s Frozen and Zootopia, and Illumination’s Minions.

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I doubt at this point that it will unseat Frozen, currently the queen of the worldwide animation mountain, as that took in $1.2 billion. Minions is second with $1.1 billion, Toy Story 3 collected $1,063 million, Zootopia made $1,023 million. Finding Dory will probably get around Toy Story 3‘s worldwide numbers, unless there’s a surge in another country that’s unprecedented. I had initially thought that it was the very one that would beat Frozen, so now that begs the question… Who is next? What could possibly unseat Anna and Elsa?

Frozen‘s box office success is one of those instances where the stars and planets align, and four leaf clovers grew around Burbank. Frozen opened very well, but its legs were monstrous domestically, and it really caught on around the world. It hit the world at the right time, I don’t expect Disney’s next animated princess musical – Moana – to top that nor do I expect their next fairy tale adaptation featuring music from the same duo who did Frozen‘s music – Gigantic – to do so, either.

If a non-sequel film does it, it’ll probably be the one that was the most unlikely candidate. I mean, who would’ve thought that Frozen of all things would become the world’s highest-grossing animated movie? When Disney started rolling out the marketing campaign for that film, you heard so many cries. No one in their right mind expected this “Tangled on Ice”-looking schlock to make any kind of dent at the box office. Frozen was going to be the worst thing ever, and it wasn’t going to do very well. Disney, according to what I’ve heard over the years, had little confidence in it themselves.

You know, this sounds a lot like the pre-release talk on… TitanicJawsSnow White and the Seven Dwarfs

So it’s kind of up in the air. Will it be one of Pixar’s upcoming originals? Inside Out broke out and made over $800 million worldwide, but The Good Dinosaur got screwed by bad marketing. Maybe Coco will outdo Inside Out, or whatever originals Pixar has planned for release in 2020. Will it be another Disney Animation film? Zootopia broke a billion and everyone said the same thing about that one, and how it looked like a mid-2000s DreamWorks film, and how it would just come and go. Maybe DreamWorks will finally have its day again and release a megahit original movie that makes big bucks. Maybe that Edgar Wright-directed film about shadows? Beekle? Larrikins? You never know what will strike a chord with the general public! Perhaps Blue Sky could shock the heck out of us, and Ferdinand or Anubis breaks out.

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Sequels? Probably not. Shrek 2 and Toy Story 2 are rare examples of animated movie sequels outgrossing their predecessors by a big margin. Unsurprisingly, both were sleeper hits that appealed to audiences who wanted more out of mainstream animation at the time. In Toy Story‘s case, in 1995, the game was either Disney – who were repeating themselves with The Little Mermaid formula by this point – or a swamp full of Disney imitators. When Shrek came out, audiences got tired of Disney’s Renaissance formula and were pushed away from the bolder ideas the studio pursued afterwards, and Shrek was unlike Disney’s films and Pixar’s films, and DreamWorks’ own traditionally-animated pictures, on top of being “edgy” in the way they wanted it.

Most other animated movie sequels either make as much as the original (stay flat), or decrease. Very rarely do any go dramatically higher.

So I don’t see Frozen 2 obliterating the record just yet, although with the massive opening of the Frozen Ever After ride at EPCOT, I get the sense that yes, maybe this isn’t another fad movie and that it’ll be like Finding Nemo, something iconic and beloved. I don’t think the same of a billion-dollar smash like Avatar, or Jurassic World, and we saw the sequel to Disney’s live-action Alice in Wonderland – the original made $1 billion – flop hard. Maybe Frozen 2 tops Frozen, but I suspect by 2019, ticket prices will be high enough to make it seem like more people saw it. Adjusted it could be on the same level as the first.

As for other animated sequels… Pixar has The Incredibles 2, the only sequel of theirs that I think has something of a real shot at unseating Frozen. The Incredibles was a big success back in 2004, though despite opening higher than Nemo, its legs were nowhere near as strong, nor were its video sales. It was still a huge hit, but it wasn’t the titan Finding Nemo was. That being said, it has indeed been a long-lasting film, unlike many a film released in the year it came out. I think it’ll easily make a billion, but unseat Frozen? Maybe if ticket prices are ridiculously high in 2019.

Or maybe we’ll all be shocked next summer when Cars 3 makes $1.3 billion and strikes a serious chord with the population. (Not a dig on Cars, I’m a rare breed on the Internet who actually likes this series.)

DreamWorks? Shrek 5‘s probably going to get a big nostalgia-driven boost from people my age (early 90s babies who go gaga for nearly any old 90s/early 00s thing that’s coming back) who saw the first one at a young age, but will putter out after that. Shrek‘s really just a one-trick pony that a lot of people have moved on from. Madagascar 4? Nah. Croods 2? Nah. How To Train Your Dragon 3? I wish.

Whoever wins, it’ll be interesting to see the challenge unfold… At the same time, it’ll be a great joy to see animated films gross over $700-800 million at the worldwide box office. Who knows what will catch on in the coming years? Maybe one day, a certain kind of movie we want to see do really well will do… Really well!

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