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Disney Reveals the Reasons Behind Its Continued String of Failures at the Box Office

disney films that have failed
Credit: Disney/Pixar/Canva

A new report reveals what The Walt Disney Company is allegedly blaming for its recent string of box office and direct-to-Disney+ failures, as the post-pandemic performance of many of Disney’s films has ranged from subpar to crash-and-burn.

Strange World

Box office failure “Strange World” (2022)/Credit: Disney

During the years since the COVID-19 pandemic was first set into motion, Disney and its subsidiaries, including Pixar and Marvel, have struggled to see success at the box office. This has been true for the company’s stand-alone projects, as well as new installments to its previously successful major franchises, including the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Indiana Jones. 

A Shortage of Fans Isn’t the Problem

Disney’s issue at the box office has nothing to do with a shortage of fans, but even so, several of the company’s recent films, including Wish (2023) and Eternals (2021), were not as well-received as the Mouse House likely hoped. This is evident in the films’ less-than-stellar box office returns.

Princess Asha Star Valentino Wishing well Disney Wish Movie

Credit: Disney

But Disney’s cinematic failures of late haven’t all been due to a lack of quality. In recent years, when Disney-owned films performed poorly at the box office–as was the case with Pixar’s Elemental (2023) and The Marvels (2023)–their streaming debuts often led to a more positive reception by fans, leading the films to garner far better numbers than what might have been originally indicated by box office receipts.

Related: Disney Films Are Set to Undergo a Major Overhaul After a Recent Box Office Disaster

Disney Blames Its Box Office Failures on the Pandemic

In a recent edition of the What I’m Hearing… newsletter, Matt Belloni, an entertainment insider, says that The Walt Disney Company has blamed the global coronavirus pandemic for the poor performance of many of its films at the box office.

water element people wade voiced by mamoudou athie

Pixar’s box office flop-turned-success, “Elemental” (2023)/Credit: Pixar Animation Studios

According to the report, Disney blames the new viewing mindset focused on streaming that the pandemic seemingly forced onto the usual moviegoers as the virus rendered many of the country’s theaters closed–some for months. Disney was also forced to deny many of its new films a theatrical release, opting instead for a direct-to-streaming release on Disney+.

Related: I Never Dreamed a Disney Film Could Help Me Process the Grief of Loss, Until Now.

pixar soul joe gardner the great beyond afterlife

“Soul” (2020)/Credit: Pixar Animation Studios

Belloni explains that at The Walt Disney Company, the recent pattern of box office flops is being blamed on a change in focus and resources during the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with a desire to grow the catalog of content on Disney+ and Hulu:

“[Bob] Iger has shown confidence in [Disney exec Alan] Bergman, despite the recent creative and business troubles at pretty much all the units he oversees—Marvel, Lucasfilm, Pixar, Disney Animation, and Disney Studios. Internally, people have chalked up the slide to a dilution of focus and resources during the COVID-era rush to seed Disney+ and Hulu with as much content as possible.”

Belloni continued, saying that Disney’s content output got out of hand while creative employees were stuck at home, working remotely, away from the opportunities for creative collaborations with others because of the pandemic-induced lockdown.

lightyear

Box office failure, “Lightyear” (2022)/Credit: Disney/Pixar

According to the report, this came in addition to Disney’s poor decision-making. When it was all said and done, each of these factors affected Disney’s content in a negative way:

“Everyone was going 100 miles per hour, the thinking goes, while also working mostly at home and away from creative collaborators, and the output ramped up far beyond what the company was built to deliver. Disney made decisions without thinking them through or testing ideas properly, and the content ultimately suffered.”

Belloni finished by saying that as the world returns to a more normal way of doing things in the post-pandemic era,  Disney is also seeing a more normal work environment that could lend itself to better movies and, ultimately, better returns at the box office.

Pixar films in theaters

Direct-to-streaming failure “Turning Red” (2022)/Credit: Disney/Pixar

“But now, that thinking goes, Iger has returned, and the company is functioning with a normal cadence and work environment that will lead to greater intentionality and ultimately better movies,” Belloni writes.

Is Disney’s Box Office Future Bright Once Again?

It’s hard to imagine a time when no matter what film Disney produced, it was guaranteed to be a hit, but only a few short years ago, Disney enjoyed a similar string of successes for years. Now, however, it remains to be seen whether Disney and its subsidiaries can find their way back to a season of success like those from Disney’s glory days.

'Beauty and the Beast' Belle and Beast dance in the ballroom

“Beauty and the Beast” (1991)/Credit: Walt Disney Animation

But while fans wait to find out whether Disney will experience the kind of box office returns its films once generated, seemingly effortlessly, they can at least feel good knowing that Disney has reportedly zeroed in on the obstacles keeping its films from finding success, rather than simply looking for ways to justify their failures or blame them on other things, people, or scenarios.

What ‘Moana 2’ Might Say About Disney’s Future At the Box Office

Has there been a shift in the streaming vs. box office mentality? Possibly–and our first hint about that possibility is Disney’s decision to release Moana 2 at the box office in November 2024.

Moana 2

“Moana 2” (2024)/Credit: Disney

The upcoming sequel was originally set to be a new series for Disney+, but Disney has reversed course, opting instead to make a second full-length animated feature film about the young girl who is called out by the ocean to serve and save her village.

In 2025, however, Disney’s list of new releases is primarily comprised of adaptations and sequels of other Disney films. As of the time of this publication, only one Disney-owned release in 2025, Pixar’s Elio, which is set for a theatrical debut on June 13, 2025, will not be a sequel or live-action remake.

Elio

Initial poster for Pixar’s “Elio,” now slated for a 2025 release. Credit: Disney/Pixar

Related: Disney’s Desperate Theatrical Announcement Begs the Question: What’s the Point?

It’s not that Disney’s sequels and adaptations (including remakes) are immune to the recent quality-over-quantity “scrutiny” the company could receive.

In reality, such films could be more heavily criticized than their non-sequel counterparts, as they are linked to Disney films and franchises that have already found success. But it goes without saying that those films might not tell us too much about the movie viewer trends toward or away from Disney’s original content.

Riley Inside Out 2

Credit: Disney/Pixar

Disney’s next release will be the highly-anticipated Pixar sequel, Inside Out 2, set for a theatrical release on June 14, 2024.

Is Disney on the brink of a box office takeover once again? As they say, only time will tell.

About Becky Burkett

Becky's from the Lone Star State and has been writing since she was 10 and encountered her first Disney Park when she was 11. It was love at first Main Street Electrical Parade. Joy is blank lined journals, 0.7 mm pens, and all things Walt, Woody and Buzz, PIXAR, Imagineering, Sleeping Beauty (make it blue!), Disney Parks history and EPCOT. At Disney World, you'll find her croonin' with the birdies at the Enchanted Tiki Room or hangin' with Woody and the gang at Toy Story Land. If you can dream, you really can do it!

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