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Pixar Somehow “Disappoints” With ‘Toy Story 4’ Box Office

Another franchise takes a downturn with its fourquel, though the grosses for the latest ‘Toy Story’ are anything but trash.
Toy Story Collision
By  · Published on June 24th, 2019

What the Forky? How does a Pixar movie — a Toy Story movie, in fact — underperform at the box office? Also, how is a $118 million opening considered a disappointment? Continuing the 2019 slump, Toy Story 4 managed to top the chart over the weekend and recorded the year’s third-best debut while posting a domestic gross far below expectations. According to Box Office Pro’s forecast last week, the industry was tracking the Disney release for a debut in the range of $140 million – $170 million, with the site settling on a prediction of $149 million.

Two months ago, the expectation from the same site was more modestly set at $113 million, but early pre-sales and hype over the positive reviews pushed the sequel’s chances higher. When you look at the figure next to the other Toy Story films, $118 million does look fine, best of the franchise even. Compared to other recent Pixar sequels, including record breakers Finding Dory and Incredibles 2, but less so Cars 3, the number does seem rather low. Still, the reality is Toy Story 4 had the fourth biggest opening-weekend audience for Pixar.

An estimated 13.1 million people went to see the fourquel — or should it be forkuel? — since Thursday evening. That’s almost a million fewer than the 14 million in attendance for Toy Story 3‘s opening weekend back in June 2010. Finding Dory broke its record for an animated feature opening in 2016 with 15.5 million tickets sold, and last year’s Incredibles 2 shot past it with a whopping 19.5 million tickets sold. In between, Cars 3 slowed things down with just 6 million people on board two summers ago. Monsters University had also fallen short of its predecessor, with the prequel selling 9.8 million tickets in its 2013 debut.

Here are all the Pixar movies in order of opening weekend (or first wide release weekend) ticket sales:

1. Incredibles 2 (2018) – 19.5 million
2. Finding Dory (2016) – 15.5 million
3. Toy Story 3 (2010) – 14 million
4. Toy Story 4 (2019) – 13.1 million
5. Finding Nemo (2003) – 11.7 million
6. The Incredibles (2004) – 11.347 million
7. Toy Story 2 (1999) – 11.297 million
8. Monsters, Inc. (2001) – 11.1 million
9. Inside Out (2015) – 11 million
10. Monsters University (2013) – 9.8 million
11. Cars (2006) – 9.2 million
12. Up (2009) – 9.1 million
13. WALL-E (2008) – 8.8 million
14. Cars 2 (2011) – 8.21 million
15. Brave (2012) – 8.17 million
16. A Bug’s Life (1998) – 7.1 million
17. Ratatouille (2007) – 6.8 million
18. Toy Story (1995) – 6.7 million
19. Cars 3 (2017) – 6 million
20. Coco (2017) – 5.5 million
21. The Good Dinosaur (2015) – 4.5 million

Perhaps the expectation within the industry was too high. There’s not much in the way of explaining how Toy Story 4 missed its mark otherwise. Reviews for the sequel, which was distributed to one of the largest screen counts of all time, were about the same as those of Toy Story 3, per Rotten Tomatoes (98% on the Tomatometer compared to the 100% of Toy Story and Toy Story 2) and on par with the best of Pixar overall. And its ‘A’ grade received by opening night audiences via Cinemascore polling is equal to its predecessor (only Toy Story 2 did better for the franchise with an ‘A+’ — Pixar also had that perfect grade with both Incredibles movies, Finding Nemo, Coco, and Up).

The easiest answer is that following Toy Story 3‘s apparent closure with the series and its prestige as a Best Picture nominee had audiences thinking that Toy Story 4 wasn’t necessary, Pixar was overstepping with yet another sequel to its flagship franchise and in general, despite the success of the two that had been long-awaited by fans. The slight downturn for Toy Story 4 is in line with my theory about fourquels. Earlier this year, after the disappointing opening of The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part, which is technically the fourth LEGO movie, I wrote, “Toy Story 4 could potentially underwhelm at the box office — not that I’d bet on that one bombing or anything,” and that’s precisely how it went: underwhelming but hardly a bomb or anything.

Of course, my sequels theory also had The Secret Life of Pets 2 bettering its predecessor, and it didn’t even come close. Also, unlike The LEGO Movie 2, but similar to technical fourquel Despicable Me 3, Toy Story 4 isn’t underperforming overseas at all. Grosses are substantially up compared to those of Toy Story 3 in Mexico ($23.4 million vs. $15.6 million), China ($13.4 million vs. $9.5 million), Brazil ($9.6 million vs. $2.8 million), and Argentina ($6.9 million vs. $2.6 million). The only country where it did slightly worse is Australia ($6.1 million vs. $6.2 million). Australia is also one of the only foreign markets in which Toy Story 4 didn’t top last year’s opening figures for Incredibles 2. China is another. Worldwide gross should similarly top $1 billion.

There is no way that Disney is upset about any of it. Besides, Toy Story 4 is going to be one of the company’s first theatrical releases to wind up exclusively on the new streaming service Disney+ this fall, an attraction for that, plus one of the platform’s first original series, a Forky-led Toy Story 4 spinoff, will surely still do very well given that character’s popularity with children as a highlight of the sequel (kids everywhere wished he was in the movie more). And Pixar has already made the decision to back off from sequels for a while, and Toy Story 5 isn’t in their plans for the time being, so no worries on the franchise front. And this “disappointment” isn’t going to hurt the attendance of the Toy Story Land part of Disney’s amusement parks around the world.

In other box office news, the Child’s Play remake also underperformed compared to Box Office Pro forecasts, selling 1.56 million tickets. If we average that up to 1.6 million, it’s about the same as the crowd for the original Child’s Play back in 1988. The horror movie spawned a ton of sequels, which varied in success, peaking with Child’s Play 2‘s 2.5 million tickets in 1990 and, surprising for a fourquel, Bride of Chucky‘s 2.5 million tickets in 1998 while doing its worst with Child’s Play 3‘s 1.4 million in 1991. The other big opener, the barely advertised Anna, gave filmmaker Luc Besson his worst wide debut yet.

As for limited releases, once again, following Paris is Burning last weekend, an LGBTQ+ documentary re-release timed for Pride Month, David Hockney’s 1973 film, A Bigger Splash, had the best per-screen average after Toy Story 4, grossing $18,000 at one location in NYC. And the acclaimed musical drama Wild Rose had the best average for a new indie with $56,183 total spread over four screens.

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. Toy Story 4 – 13.1 million (13.1 million)
2. Child’s Play – 1.6 million (1.6 million)
3. Aladdin – 1.4 million (31.9 million)
4. Men in Black: International – 1.2 million (5.8 million)
5. The Secret Life of Pets 2 – 1.1 million (13.1 million)
6. Rocketman – 0.6 million (8.6 million)
7. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum – 0.5 million (17.3 million)
8. Godzilla: King of the Monsters – 0.4107 million (11.4 million)
9. Dark Phoenix – 0.3996 million (5.8 million)
10. Shaft – 0.3946 million (1.8 million)
11. Anna – 0.3923 million (0.4 million)
12. Late Night – 0.2868 million (1.2 million)

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

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.