‘Maleficent: Mistress of Evil’ Box Office: Fans are Sleeping on Disney Live-Action Sequels

Remember Savage Sam, the follow-up to Old Yeller? No, because Walt Disney’s first-ever sequel (not counting theatrical compilations of Davy Crockett episodes) was a box office disappointment compared to the original. From there, Disney had better success with turning hits into successful franchises. Son of Flubber grossed less than its predecessor, The Absent-Minded Profesor, but still was the seventh-highest-grossing film of its year. And The Monkey’s Uncle was an equal success to The Misadventures of Merlin Jones.

But most Disney sequels, even if deemed hits, failed to repeat the ticket sales of the originals. Herbie Rides Again was popular but nothing like The Love Bug. Return from Witch Mountain and The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again fell short. So did Return to Snowy River, Honey, I Blew Up the Kid, D2: The Mighty Ducks, and the studio’s first animated feature sequel, The Rescuers Down Under. And likewise was the attendance for Disney’s first sequel to a live-action remake: 102 Dalmatians opened with about half the draw as 101 Dalmations and ultimately sold fewer than half as many tickets.

While the studio is now striking gold with animated sequels, particularly those from Pixar (Ralph Breaks the Internet performed about the same as Wreck-It Ralph and we have yet to see how Frozen II does), they still can’t catch a break with their core follow-ups. That’s to say anything not part of the Star Wars and Marvel brands. Mostly I’m talking about the live-action remake sequels, of which Mary Poppins Returns is related and did disappoint compared to Disney’s expectations but is a little bit different. Alice Looking Through the Looking Glass selling just 8.8 million tickets domestically compared to Alice in Wonderland doing 42.1 million is the real doozy.

Now Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is underperforming as well. In its opening weekend, the Angelina Jolie-led sequel drew only 4 million people in North America, while the 2014 original, a live-action reimagining of the Sleeping Beauty story, had brought in 8.3 million moviegoers to start. That’s not as bad as Looking Glass opening to just 3.1 million tickets versus Wonderland‘s 14.6 million, but it’s not a good sign for the studio’s plans. Sequels are currently in early forms of development for the hits The Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. Considering the blockbuster success this summer of The Liong King, that’s probably being considered for a follow-up, too.

There are a number of factors that keep movies like Maleficent: Mistress of Evil from being hits. One is the possibility that audiences are interested in live-action takes on Disney animated classics, whether they’re fresh takes or basically shot-for-shot reenactments but aren’t interested enough in these worlds and characters to continue with unfamiliar stories spun off from the original material. Another possibility for the box office disappointment at this moment in time is all the hype in the air about Disney’s new streaming service, which arrives in just a matter of a couple of weeks. Could the excitement over Disney+ hurt Disney’s theatrical output? Perhaps for some titles.

Fans will get a chance to check out Maleficent: Mistress of Evil over there in the comfort of their own homes soon enough. After they’ve watched countless classics and favorites from nearly a century’s worth of titles. Including old live-action sequels such as Herbie Rides Again, The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again, The Shaggy D.A., and 102 Dalmatians (no confirmation yet on Savage Sam or Alice Through the Looking Glass). And with some live-action reimaginings already slated to go direct-to-streaming (Lady and the Tramp, The Sword in the Stone), perhaps any future for sequels to theatrical live-action redos will be there, as well — mimicking the straight-to-video animated sequels of the early aughts.

Reception of the sequels doesn’t seem to be much of a contributing factor. Reviews already leaned negative for the 101 Dalmatians, Alice in Wonderland, and Maleficent, so even though 102 Dalmatians, Alice Through the Looking Glass, and Maleficent: Mistress of Evil each have even lower Rotten Tomatoes scores than their predecessors, that can’t be much of an impact on the general public’s interests — not analogically anyway. And the sequels each have the same or close to the same Cinemacore grades, with both Maleficent installments earning an A from first-night moviegoers. And the sequel has a much better audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.

While Disney is suffering from sequelitis, in spite of still topping the weekend’s box office with Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, Sony proved immune with its new follow-up. Zombieland: Double Tap hit the box office chart in third place, behind Joker, yet the horror-comedy does seem to have drawn the same crowd as the original did 10 years ago. Zombieland sold about 3.3 million tickets domestically during its debut in 2009, and now the sequel has sold just under 3 million. Industry tracking back in August had Zombieland: Double Tap slightly outgrossing the first movie (via Box Office Pro), so it’s a bit of a disappointment there, but the sequel still overperformed compared to last week’s updated forecast.

In other box office news, smaller original movies are doing very well in limited release. Namely highly anticipated auteur efforts like Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse and Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit. The latter had the fourth-best per-screen average of the year with a gross of $350,000 spread over just five locations, while the former had the seventh-best as it grossed $420,000 from eight theaters. Meanwhile, Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, which had the year’s best average in its debut last weekend, continues to be a smash while nearly reaching the top 10 in spite of only showing on 33 screens. Awards favorite doc The Cave also opened well over the weekend with a top-five per-screen average at just two theaters.

Here are the weekend’s top 12 domestic release titles by the estimated number of tickets sold with new and newly wide titles in bold and totals in parentheses:

1. Maleficent: Mistress of Evil – 4 million (4 million)
2. Joker – 3.3 million (27.7 million)
3. Zombieland: Double Tap – 3 million (3 million)
4. The Addams Family – 1.8 million (6.4 million)
5. Gemini Man – 1 million (4.1 million)
6. Abominable – 0.4 million (6 million)
7. Downton Abbey – 0.3 million (9.9 million)
8. Judy – 0.2302 million (2.1 million)
9. Hustlers – 0.2296 million (11.4 million)
10. IT: Chapter Two – 0.17 million (23.5 million)
11. Parasite – 0.139 million (0.2 million)
12. Jexi – 0.136 million (0.6 million)

All non-forecast box office figures via Box Office Mojo.

Christopher Campbell: @thefilmcynic Christopher began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called 'Read,' back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials.