The Rise of Gru’ thrived at the box office while ‘Lightyear’ flopped

Box office goers were worried that family audiences had forgotten about movie theaters…until Gru and his mischievous yellow friends showed up. It turns out that parents with young children did not abandon their local theaters in the wake of the pandemic. Most of them just didn’t mind watching the Disney Pixar movie “Lightyear.”

That’s the conclusion after “Minions: The Rise of Gru,” the fifth installment in Universal and Illumination’s popular “Despicable Me” franchise, embarrassed box office expectations, opening with $125 million over the extended holiday weekend. of the 4th of July. It comes a few weeks after “Lightyear” struggled to stir up buzz with its $51 million debut. After three weeks on the big screen, Pixar’s latest film has grossed just $106 million at the domestic box office, less than “Minions 2” made in three days.

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“’Minions’ shattered the idea that families don’t want to go back to theaters,” says Paul Dergarabedian, a senior analyst at Comscore. “You just have to give them a reason to go.”

Given the lackluster turnout for the “Toy Story” spinoff “Lightyear,” there was uncertainty regarding opening weekend ticket sales for “Minions: The Rise of Gru,” which was expected to gross $70. million to start. That would have been a disappointing outcome for the lucrative series.

In the COVID era, there have been hits of the kids’ variety such as Paramount’s “Sonic the Hedgehog 2,” Universal’s “Sing 2” and Sony’s “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” but the shortcomings of “Lightyear” cast serious doubt on the will. of family audiences to return to multiplexes. In pre-pandemic times, it’s a vital demographic for driving overall box office receipts.

Surprisingly, “Rise of Gru” nearly matched its predecessor, 2015’s “Minions” ($115 million over three days), in terms of opening weekend returns. Ticket sales for “Minions: The Rise of Gru” also broke the Independence Day box office record, proving that families will turn out to see a movie they feel is worthy.

What exactly constitutes a movie worth leaving the house to see? It’s a valid question these days, one that Hollywood is quickly taking note of as it tries to find the answer. After all, “Minions” (which earned an “A” CinemaScore) wasn’t much better received than “Lightyear” (which earned a still-promising “A-” CinemaScore), though the latest “Despicable Me” entry probably benefited as a sequel in a long-running, multi-million dollar franchise. Though “Lightyear” exists in the wildly successful “Toy Story” universe, the spinoff sci-fi adventure had only a nebulous connection to Woody, Mr. Potato Head, and the rest of the Pixar series’ anthropomorphic crew.

Additionally, “Minions: The Rise of Gru”, like its predecessors in the franchise, was praised by critics for its inherently goofy and irreverent tone. Directed by Kyle Balda, the latest installment takes place as a young Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) and his diminutive yellow minions test the waters of supervillain life. “Lightyear,” which faced backlash from conservatives for showing a same-sex kiss, wasn’t exactly praised as a laugh-a-minute comedy. Industry insiders suggest “Lightyear” may not have provided the kind of escapism that can hold the attention of younger audience members.

“People want to go see something that’s outrageously funny,” says Derbarabedian. “And ‘Lightyear is a very serious story. He’s not as kid-oriented as those dumb, crazy minions.”

It didn’t hurt that “Minions: The Rise of Gru” inspired a viral TikTok trend over the weekend, encouraging teenage moviegoers (aka #GentleMinions) to attend their local movie theater dressed in suits. Some screenings became noisy, forcing some theater chains to ban patrons dressed in formal wear.

As kids who grew up with the Minions grow up, 34% of ticket buyers were between the ages of 13 and 17, according to PostTrak surveys. That’s a huge jump from 2017’s “Despicable Me 3,” the last entry in the franchise to hit theaters, in which just 8% of opening weekend patrons were between the ages of 13 and 17. For “Minions: The Rise of Gru,” adults and their descendants still comprised the largest percentage of audience members, with children under the age of 10 making up 12% of attendees and parents making up 23% of sales. tickets. However, those statistics indicate that the most recent “Minions” movie is playing to a broader audience, which likely helped the film exceed initial box office expectations.

“A very diverse audience showed up to Rise of Gru over the holiday weekend, and the #GentleMinions social media trend out of left field may have further reinforced that momentum,” says Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at Box Office Pro. “For many families, this was their first appearance on the big screen together since before the pandemic, so it makes sense that an all-ages animated comedy would become the beneficiary as moviegoers look to escape in the midst of other economic and social challenges happening in the world. now.”

For Illumination, the reception is an absolute triumph and reaffirms the company’s and founder Chris Meledandri’s penchant for finding commercially viable properties while keeping costs low to maximize profits. Pixar, which seems to be going through something of an identity crisis, may have more critical acclaim (and Oscars), but Meledandri’s track record in recent years has been one of great consistency not only with Gru and company, but also with “Sing 2” and “The Grinch.” Not everything from the animation studio hits the spot; 2012’s “The Lorax” and 2019’s “The Secret Life of Pets 2” both had lackluster returns.

The riches don’t stop at the box office. From Legos to ketchup packets, the minions were covered in all sorts of ancillary goodies.

“[‘Minions’] it’s one of the few franchises outside of the Disney umbrella that appeals to all demographics,” says Jeff Bock, an analyst at Exhibitor Relations. “It also helps that advertising partners are equally enamored with billionaire scoundrels, since Disney is often the merchandising monarch. Not so in the case of ‘Minions’, which have conquered pop culture”.

Looking ahead to the rest of the year, box office watchers will continue to keep a close eye on all things animation. In 2019, the medium brought in $2.6 billion at the domestic box office and $4.57 billion worldwide, representing approximately 16% of global box office receipts for the year. Several cartoon movies in 2019, including “The Lion King,” “Toy Story 4,” and “Frozen II,” made more than $1 billion each. So far, not a single animated film in a time of pandemic has come close to reaching that benchmark.

“Family animation, more than any other genre, has struggled to find its place during the pandemic,” says David A. Gross, who runs the film consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research. “Between 2012 and 2019, we had a run of some of the most commercially and critically successful animated series in the history of the business, but we haven’t had anything like it for the last two and a half years.”

Still, a better-than-expected turnout for “Minions: The Rise of Gru” suggests there’s reason to be more optimistic.

“The industry is breathing a huge sigh of relief,” says Bock. “The Good: Audiences are officially back in full. The downside: No more blaming pandemic woes for underperforming titles at the box office.”

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