Commentary

Strategically Marketed 'Lion King' Rules Box Office Despite Reviews

Say what you will -- and critics said a lot that was not terribly favorable -- “The Lion King” not only ruled the box office in the U.S. this scorching weekend, it also set some records while doing so.

“Director Jon Favreau’s remake of the animated classic collected a massive $185 million from 4,756 North American theaters during its first three days of release. … Overseas, ‘The Lion King’ felt the love with $269 million for a global start of $433 million. The film launched in China last weekend and has since earned $98 million, boosting the worldwide haul to $531 million,” Variety’s Rebecca Rubin reports.

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“Industry experts had pegged ‘The Lion King' for a $150 million opening, which turned out to be far too modest a projection. Instead, with $185 million, Disney got a few records to boast about: It’s the ninth-biggest opening of all time, a July record (unseating ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2’) and a PG-rating record (taking over from ‘The Incredibles 2),” writes the AP’s Lindsey Bahr.

“Critics were tough on the remake, saying it lacked the emotional pull of the animated original. Audiences seemed more forgiving, giving it an ‘A' grade, according to the CinemaScore market-research firm,” Erich Schwartzel writes for The Wall Street Journal.

“It’s the second time this year a beloved Disney brand has overwhelmed a tepid critical response. ‘Aladdin,’ which is still in the top 10 after nine weeks in theaters, has made $989 million globally. ‘Certain brands have so much goodwill and equity,’ said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for Comscore. ‘Reviews clearly didn’t matter at all,’” the AP’s Bahr continues.

“We have a lot to celebrate,” Cathleen Taff, Disney’s president of global distribution, said on a Sunday morning call cited by Variety’s Rubin. “‘The Lion King’ has such a resonance in pop culture that you see all different types of people coming out. People wanted to be part of this.”

Not that the Disney marketing folks didn’t have a big hand in making them want to do so.

“A strategically timed ‘pulsed’ campaign by the studio aligned its promotional beats with big cross-demographic cultural moments,” reads  the subhead for Chris Thilk’s piece in The Hollywood Reporter about the “massive” campaign that began last November.

“That campaign has included not only the usual mix of trailers, posters and advertising (billboards and social media) but an extensive collection of promotional partnerships and event appearances that sometimes break out of what’s usually found in movie marketing efforts,” Thilk writes before taking a deep dive into the trailers, advertising and publicity, promotional partners, the star-studded soundtrack (Beyoncé, Donald Glover, Billy Eichner, Seth Rogen, Elton John et al), events and synergies with other Disney properties, and more.

The film “uses computer imaging to tell the story of Simba and Nala in photorealistic settings. In many scenes, it is a shot-for-shot re-creation of the 1994 classic, which was the most successful title in the Disney Renaissance of the 1990s,” the WSJ’s Schwartzel writes.

“Even before the remake, the 1994 movie became a textbook example of the ‘circle of life’ that Disney’s franchise-management strategy can give a single property. A Broadway adaptation of the movie has collected more than $8 billion in ticket sales, and toys based on its characters sell in stores more than 20 years after its release,” he points out.

Meanwhile,“Avengers: Endgame,” which was released by Disney’s Marvel Studios in April, surpassed “Avatar” to become the highest-grossing film of all time with $2.79 billion in gross sales, not adjusting for inflation. “Avatar” grossed $2.789 billion worldwide (about $3.3 billion today).

“In the coming days, Disney’s remake of ‘Aladdin,' released in May, will cross $1 billion worldwide. ‘Toy Story 4,’ which arrived in June from Disney’s Pixar division, is also approaching that threshold; its total now stands at $859 million, according to Comscore,” report  Brooks Barnes and Nicole Sperling for The New York Times.

“And the barrage is nowhere near over: Still to come from Disney this year are ‘Frozen 2,’ a ‘Maleficent’ sequel and ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,’ among others. David A. Gross, who runs Franchise Entertainment Research, noted that Disney has two more live-action films based on animated predecessors scheduled for next year — a ‘Mulan’ remake and ‘Cruella,’ an origin story for the ‘101 Dalmatians’ villain, Barnes and Sperling continue.

No word on when, and if, Davy Crockett will be brought into the 21st century.

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