The summer movie season is in full swing as multiple blockbusters are packing cinemas all across the country. Tentpole films such as Top Gun: Maverick and Jurassic World Dominion have dominated the box office the last few weeks, but a new animated feature was expected to blast towards the top of the charts this weekend. Lightyear is the first Pixar film to receive a theatrical release since Onward, and reimagines the Buzz Lightyear character made famous by the Toy Story franchise. Initial projections called for a $70 million to $80 million opening weekend, but Lightyear missed the mark to pull in an estimated $51 million.
The Toy Story spin-off was swallowed up by the second weekend of Jurassic World: Dominion, which grossed more than $58 million to repeat as #1 at the domestic box office. Dominion is nearing $250 million domestically, and has a worldwide total that’s crossed the $600 million mark, but it has a lot of work to do to catch the $1.3 billion that Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom made in 2018. For 2022 as a whole, Dominion has climbed up to #4 on the list of highest-grossing domestic films of the year, falling behind The Batman, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and Top Gun: Maverick.
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Speaking of Maverick, the Top Gun sequel is showing no signs of slowing down after adding another $44 million to its domestic cume. Maverick finished third for the Father’s Day weekend, and continues to pad its lead as the top grossing domestic film of 2022. With a total that has now crossed $466 million, it’s going to be tough for any film to catch up to Tom Cruise as the domestic box office leader. Looking worldwide, Maverick’s $818 million gross is also creeping up on the $942 million total of Multiverse of Madness. It may not be much longer before Pete “Maverick” Mitchell soars past Doctor Strange to dominate the box office around the globe.
Lightyear’s Soft Opening May Impact Future Pixar Releases
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The debut number for Lightyear is actually the highest for any animated film since the pandemic, but it’s still a definite disappointment compared to what Pixar was expecting. The iconic animation studio spent a reported $200 million making Lightyear, its first real attempt at putting out a large scale summer blockbuster. Spinning-off the popular Toy Story character and bringing in Chris Evans to star seemed like a winning formula for success. The film earned an A- CinemaScore, and has an 86% audience approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but its 77% critic score is among the lowest of any Pixar release. Poor word of mouth combined with a crowded box office may have been the key factors to the softer opening of Lightyear.
The question now is if the numbers for Lightyear are enough to permanently alter Pixar’s release strategy moving forward. The studio’s three prior films were all sent directly to Disney+, albeit to the dismay of the creatives who put the projects together. Soul, Luca, and Turning Red were all very well received by both critics and audiences, but Pixar either didn’t feel confident enough in the domestic landscape, or in the films themselves to give them a theatrical release.
Pixar is set to take a year off after Lightyear, with its next film Elemental being planned to premiere on June 16, 2023. As of now, the film will be released in theaters, but that could change if Pixar decides to send its features straight to streaming once again. A strong back half for Lightyear could ensure the future of Pixar films at the theaters, but it’s got a tough road ahead with films like Elvis, Minions: The Rise of Gru, and Thor: Love and Thunder on the horizon.