Welcome back to the Beat’s weekly Box Office Preview!

The summer is coming and going faster than you can say “it’s August already?” and next thing you know, it will actually be August already. If nothing else, at least we can be thankful that we’re getting a few quieter weekends in between the mega-blockbusters, but this week, we get the last of Disney’s big summer movies.

THE LION KING (Walt Disney Pictures)

Lion King
Walt Disney Pictures

Voice Cast: Donald Glover, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, Seth Rogen, Billy Eichner, James Earl Jones, John Oliver, Chiewetel Ejiofor, Amy Sedaris
Directed By: Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Jungle Book, Chef and more)
MPAA Rating: PG

I’m not even sure where to begin with Disney’s latest movie, maybe because I’ve never seen the original animated movie (as shocking as that might sound), nor have I seen the Broadway musical, and I haven’t even seen this movie, so I’m basically working on instinct and instinct alone.

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Most (other) people are intimately familiar with the original 1994 animated movie, which was a huge hit for Disney Animation after its late ‘80s rejuvenation with Jeffrey Katzenberg heading the company’s animation department. The company already had a string of hits beginning with 1989’s The Little Mermaid, followed by Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, both of the latter grossing over $200 million. It was especially important for The Lion King to do well as it was producer Don Hahn’s follow-up to Beauty and the Beast, which won two Oscars for music and was a rare animated film to receive a Best Picture nomination.

With first-time directors Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff at the helm, The Lion King was a pretty big gamble, but audiences really connected to the animal characters and the African environment as well as the music and songs by Elton John and Tim Rice with score by Hans Zimmer.  (All three would win Oscars including John/Rice for the song “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” one of three songs nominated.) The 1994 movie would go onto gross $312.9 million from its mid-June release all the way until the following March. It would then be rereleased in various formats to add another $110 million to its gross. If you can imagine, this was 1994, 25 years ago, and at that time only movies like Star Wars and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial had managed to gross more than $300 million – both of those would also get rereleases to push them over $400 million.  This was before James Cameron’s Titanic or any of the Star Wars prequels, too.

Imagine now if all the people who saw The Lion King back then (and that was a lot of people!) loved it enough to want to see this new movie, and you just can imagine that Disney has another bonafide blockbuster on its hands. 

Taking over the directing duties on this “live action” remake (which is really still animated, if you think about) is Jon Favreau, who had a substantial hit for Disney with 2016’s The Jungle Book, which opened with $103.2 million in mid-April that year and grossed $364 million in North America alone. It was quite a coup for Disney but also for Favreau, who needed a comeback after following the first two hit Iron Man movies with the disappointing adaptation of the comic book Cowboys and Aliens in 2011.

Fortunately, Favreau just has a fantastic and diverse cast for this one including both Donald Glover and Beyoncé, who are both hugely successful pop stars outside their acting work. The cast also includes popular comics like Seth RogenBilly Eichner and Amy Sedaris, as well as acting vets like James Earl Jones (reprising his role as Mufasa!) and Alfre Woodard, as well as Chiwetel Ejiofor and Keegan Michael-Key. That amazing mix of talent is going to contribute a lot to getting people back into theaters, especially with many of them doing the talk show circuit the last couple weeks.

Before we go on, let’s look at a few comparative numbers…

Beauty and the Beast (March 17, 2017)
Original Movie Release Year: 1991; Original Movie Gross: $219 million (with rerelease)
Remake Opening Weekend:  $174.7 million; Remake Total Domestic Gross: $504 million 

Aladdin (May 24, 2019)
Original Movie Release Year: 1992; Original Movie Gross: $217.3 million
Remake Opening Weekend: $91.5 million; Remake Total Domestic Gross: $327.4 million (so far) 

Cinderella (March 13, 2015)
Original Movie Release Year: 1950; Original Movie Gross: $93.1 million
Remake Opening Weekend: $67.9 million; Remake Total Domestic Gross: $201.2 million 

Dumbo (March 29, 2019)
Original Movie Release Year: 1941; Original Movie Gross: N/A
Remake Opening Weekend: $46 million; Remake Total Domestic Gross: $114.6 million

The Lion King (July 19, 2019)
Original Movie Release Year: 1994; Original Movie Gross: $422.8 million (with rerelease)

That incredible showing for 2017’s Beauty and the Beast is setting the benchmark for what Disney will hope is another $500 million non-Marvel hit for the studio. I didn’t include the overseas numbers but Beauty and the Beast, starring Emma Watson from the Harry Potter series, ended up with over a billion including the $759 international take.

There’s such a huge curiosity factor to this Lion King, mainly because those who haven’t seen the movie yet don’t really know what to expect. They just know how much they love the original movie and/or musical, so that tickets were selling very briskly when they first went on sale a few weeks back. Tracking had it making somewhere between $180 and 200 million its opening weekend, so it’s clearly going to be a mega-blockbuster even before it opens.

Disney’s marketing has been on point with all of its affiliates involved in the campaign, including a special star-studded preview airing on ABC Tuesday night.

Probably the most shocking thing about The Lion King is that it has not been universally praised by the critics with reviews being mixed at best.  That’s not something you expect from Disney, who has gotten so good at playing its cult-like critics pool into adoring everything they release. We’ll have to see if the reviews make much of a difference, because a lot of people have already decided they want to see this.

An interesting factor to consider is that this weekend is also Comic-Con. While you could very well think that this might distract hundreds of thousands of people from seeing The Lion King, in fact, it will probably be a good after-con event for attendees to go see as a group, so win-win for Disney there.

Whenever a movie is likely to open over $100 or 150 million – as is definitely the case here — it’s hard to pinpoint an exact opening number, but it seems likely that this one is shooting for the $185 million to $200 million mark, surpassing Beauty and the Beast. It shouldn’t lose much business against next week’s Tarantino movie or even Hobbs and Shawthe week after, but we’ll have to see if audiences like the movie more than critics and can push it to the $500 million mark or it stalls out closer to $400 million plus.

As mentioned last week, Bleecker Street hopes to expand Riley Stearns’ dark comedy The Art of Self Defense, starring Jesse Eisenberg into 500 or more theaters nationwide, but it just doesn’t seem strong enough to make a mark against The Lion King or the other options in theaters. Expect it to end up just outside the top 10 with around $1.4 million or less.

This Week’s Box Office Predictions:

  1. The Lion King (Walt Disney) – $188 million N/A
  2. Spider-Man: Far from Home (Sony) – $21.5 million -53%
  3. Toy Story 4 (Disney/Pixar) – $11.1 million -47%
  4. Crawl (Paramount) – $5.8 million -52%
  5. Yesterday (Universal) – $4.2 million -38%
  6. Stuber (20th Century Fox) – $3.6 million -54%
  7. Aladdin (Walt Disney Pictures) – $3.7 million -40%
  8. Annabelle Comes Home (New Line/WB) – $2.7 million -52%
  9. Midsommar (A24) – $1.8 million -50%
  10. The Secret Life of Pets 2 (Universal) – $1.7 million -48%
    The Art of Self Defense  (Bleecker Street) – $1.4 million

Not a ton of prominent limited releases this weekend, just the Cameron Crowe-produced doc David Crosby: Remember My Name (Sony Pictures Classics) about the former Crosby Stills & Nash and Byrds frontman, which opens in New York and L.A.

Next week, July comes to a close with a ninth movie from Quentin Tarantino called Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood, starring Brad Pitt and Leonardo Dicaprio.

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