Blog No. 21 Beautiful Box Office for Disney’s “Beast”

LEESBURG, VA --- Walt Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” opened at theaters to an astounding $170 million in ticket sales in North America over the weekend.

The film collected an additional $180 million overseas, placing the movie on a path toward $1 billion in worldwide ticket sales by the end of its run, analysts said.

The film cost roughly $300 million to make and market. Which means that after just one week, The Walt Disney Company is already in the black on this project.

And we know they’ll run it for months -- and then there are the Netflix rights, the video rights, and direct sales of streaming and Blue Ray sales. Add in ancillary sales, like t-shirts, clothing, posters, books -- and don’t forget those princess dresses -- and they’ll make at least $300 million more in merchandising.

The first week box office total broke multiple Hollywood records, including one set last year by “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” for the biggest March opening, according to Variety.

Don’t underestimate girl power: “Beauty and the Beast” is an old-fashioned musical that combines live-action scenes with the latest in digital technology,

said The Los Angeles Times. Females made up more than 60 percent of opening weekend audiences.

And, Disney is confident it will be an extraordinary hit in Europe, China and Japan, tied to Disney’s Parks now stretching around the globe.

The New York Times reported: “The world is a pretty cynical place right now, and ‘Beauty and the Beast’ gave audiences an opportunity to go back to a time of innocence,” Greg Foster, chief executive of IMAX’s filmed entertainment, said by phone Sunday. He added that the turnout also reflected nostalgia for Disney’s 1991 animated version of the fairy tale and the generational appeal of Emma Watson (Hermione Granger in the “Harry Potter” series), who plays Belle in the new version.

And, for a PG-rated movie, extra-large-screen theaters like those operated by IMAX were packed. I can attest to this -- our multi-plex theater, The Cobb here in Leesburg, was sold out. Elizabeth and I took our 17-year-old daughter to the screening Sunday. We all thought “Beast” was a real beauty, though my wife and I agreed that the “Be our Guest” scene was a little over-the-top Busby Burkeley for our taste.

Otherwise, we thought it was a great show.

I’m not sure who cried more, Elizabeth and Annabelle, or me. Them, because they loved the film; me, because I sold my Disney stock several years ago. On a related note, on Monday Disney stock was up 12 percent in a year to $113.12 per share; and Bob Iger, the CEO of the company, couldn’t be looking smarter. More on Iger in a minute.

Disney — by focusing almost exclusively on four movie brands (Disney, Marvel, Lucasfilm and Pixar) and using its theme parks, merchandising division and television networks as marketing elements — has left the rest of Hollywood in the dust.

Last year, Disney had five movies that collected $300 million or more at the domestic box office.

No other Hollywood studio had more than two. We checked four different sources to confirm all the numbers in this story.

The “Beauty and the Beast” blockbuster opening affirms Disney’s announced plans to remake its classic animated films into live-action movies, much to the chagrin of some critics. Disney Studios has leaked, according to The Wall Street Journal, that new versions of “The Little Mermaid,” “Dumbo,” “Mulan” and “The Lion King,” are on the way, said the LA Times. Maybe others, too (“Pinocchio?” “Snow White?”)

The turnout also reflects the expert manner in which Disney keeps characters alive over time. After the animated “Beauty and the Beast” was distributed in the 1990s, the company’s Broadway division picked up the job, creating a hit musical theatrical that is now on tour around the planet.

The Walt Disney Company is expert at repurposing its content for multiple media platforms. I studied their success when I worked at AOL, and was astonished at the ingenuity they constantly found in extending franchises well beyond their years.

I also had the chance at the time to meet Bob Iger. He was president of ABC Television at the time. I was working at AOL’s National Accounts Group. I thought Iger was smart, charming, handsome and well tailored, with an infectious grin, but still very low key. I liked him immensely.

Iger has gone on to bigger and better things, eventually ascending to CEO of Disney when he succeeded Michael Isner in a much-publicized move driven by Roy Disney, and other members of the Disney family, in 2005.

It was Iger who, after taking over as CEO, approved the acquisition of Marvel Studios (Spider-Man, Captain America, Iron Man, X-Men and The Avengers) and The Star Wars franchise. These two deals, it turns out, have created a Movie Studio juggernaut that America and the world just can’t seem to get enough of it.

And it is Iger who will be the driving force behind the future of the Star Wars universe. His acquisition of Lucas Films has ensured that R2D2, C3PO, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader will remain in our collective conscience for many years to come.

The Disney marketing machine will bring us tons of new toys and fun games. Video game sales associated with the re-birth of these movies are expected to yield more money to Disney than the actual movie ticket sales. Think about that awhile.

And, of course, they’ll find ways to build exhibits and rides at theme parks, and show the films on their various TV channels, again worldwide via satellite.

Disney has shown that you can develop great sub-brands, and market the hell out of them for multi-generational audiences.

It’s also proven to be a Wall Street performer, too.

According to Wikipedia: “During Iger’s tenure, Disney broadened the company's roster of intellectual properties and its presence in international markets; Iger oversaw the acquisitions of Pixar Animation Studios in 2006 for $7.4 billion, Marvel Entertainment in 2009 for $4 billion, and Lucasfilm in 2012 for $4.06 billion, as well as the expansion of the company's theme park resorts in East Asia, with the introduction of Hong Kong Disneyland Resort and Shanghai Disney Resort in 2005 and 2016, respectively.

Iger was also a driving force behind the reinvigoration of Walt Disney Animation Studios and the branded-release strategy of its film studio's output. Under Iger's control, Disney has experienced increases in revenue across its various divisions, with the company's market capitalization value increasing from $48.4 billion to $163 billion over a period of eleven years.”

At the theater on Sunday, moms and dads and kids -- and grandparents too -- all sat watching the movie together. In an America where everybody seems to be busily running around in different directions at the same time, the old-fashioned gathering of families to enjoy the show together was good to see.

And maybe that’s Walt Disney’s greatest legacy to all of us. His wonderful imagination brought us Mickey, Donald, Goofy and the gang. It brought us “Fantasia,” “Pinnochio,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “Bambi,” and The Magic Kingdom.

But most of all, it allowed families to enjoy these treasures then, and today, and for many years to come.

Walt’s vision is in good hands with Bob Iger. And though he is now 66, I hope Iger stays another 10 years in his job. Think of what he’ll come up with next.

No doubt, it too will be another “Beauty.”

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