Is Animation Saving the Multiplex for Investors?

A record second weekend for “Inside Out 2” sets the stage for at least three more potential record breakers later this year.

Something pretty special is happening at your local movie theater, and it’s time to talk about it. Walt Disney‘s (DIS 0.06%) Inside Out 2 has become the highest-grossing film of the year, and it took just eight days to get there. The sequel to 2015’s Inside Out was initially expected to generate $90 million in domestic ticket sales during its opening weekend, in line with its predecessor. It stunned the market by collecting $154 million in box office receipts.

Fervor for the flick continues. Inside Out 2 tacked on another $100 million in North American admissions this past weekend of screenings, breaking the former record for second weekends by an animated film set just last year by The Super Mario Bros. Movie. For all the handwringing about the death of the multiplex, full-length feature animation has scored its two best second weekends in just the last 15 months.

Oh, and things are about to get even better this year.

The luck of the draw

I finally caught Inside Out 2 at a Monday matinee this week. The rave reviews are warranted. One of the more interesting things beyond the sequel itself was the sea of trailers highlighting potentially huge animated films that will hit the silver screen later this year.

It’s not just Disney that is well positioned to draw young families and older fans to the cinema this summer. Comcast‘s (CMCSA -0.71%) Illumination Studios has Despicable Me 4 premiering next week. Industry experts are projecting a five-day holiday weekend haul of $100 million for the latest installment in the popular animated franchise. After seeing what Inside Out 2 did over a shorter traditional weekend with a lower initial forecast, you probably don’t want to be picking the under here. Illumination was also the studio behind last year’s The Super Mario Bros. blockbuster.

Disney then grabs the easel as we head into the historically potent holiday season. Moana 2 — a project that was initially slated to be a series for Disney+ — was upgraded earlier this year to a more traditional theatrical release. It hits movie houses the day before Thanksgiving. Mufasa: The Lion King will follow a few weeks later. The origin story of Simba’s father opens on Dec. 20. It will be in the same photorealistic animated style as the 2019 adaptation of the original The Lion King movie. That film was second only to Avengers: Endgame at the box office that year.

In short, records will likely continue to be broken this year. Disney and Comcast should keep winning.

Image source: Getty Images.

No kidding around

The most encouraging development here — whether you’re an investor in a media company with a strong animation department or have a stake in movie theater stocks — is that young viewers are back at the multiplex. This didn’t seem possibly a couple of years ago when the pandemic had all of the major studios rethinking their theatrical release strategies.

Comcast fired the first shot in the springtime of 2020, announcing that Trolls World Tour would bypass movie theaters. The animated film would be available as a premium digital purchase. With entertainment-starved homes hunkering down in the early days of the pandemic, the movie was a hit, collecting $95 million in its first three weeks as a premium offering. Movie theaters obviously weren’t happy about it. Rival studios including Disney followed suit with their own direct-to-consumer premium purchases or rentals. When that strategy started to wane, they turned to either delaying the theatrical release of animated features or just sending them to their premium streaming services.

The convenience of home was too alluring at the time. Even with cabin fever kicking in, a whopping 70% of folks surveyed at the time preferred to stream a movie at home instead of catching it at the theater. With streaming entertainment achieving ubiquity and the gap between theatrical release dates and in-home availability narrowing, it seemed as if young families would never have to head back to the red-curtained movie houses rife with high prices and chatty fellow filmgoers.

This is what makes this current run so phenomenal, particularly for back-to-back years of record second-weekend numbers for animated films. Folks aren’t just coming back to big movies during the premiere weekend. They’re willing to wait for — or even better, come back a second time — the following weekend. It’s a good time to be a multiplex operator or a successful movie studio, and that’s the Hollywood twist that no one saw coming.

Rick Munarriz has positions in Comcast and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has positions in and recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends Comcast. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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