Disney ensured Frozen 2 would set a box office record by avoiding a mistake they made handling the release of the first film. Over the past decade, Disney's in-house animation department has experienced a bit of a renaissance, evidenced by hits like Tangled, Zootopia, and Moana. But no Disney Animation title is as massive as Frozen, which became an outright pop culture phenomenon in 2013, grossing $1.2 billion worldwide and taking home the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. Its success guaranteed a sequel would be made, and that followup finally reached theaters this past weekend.
In the six years between Frozen cinematic installments, Disney kept the franchise omnipresent (who can forget the infamous Olaf's Frozen Adventure short?). Fortunately, audiences weren't burned out by the time Frozen 2 arrived, as the sequel set a new Disney Animation all-time opening weekend record. It grossed $130.3 million domestically in its first three days, far exceeding previous record holder Zootopia. The main reason why this happened is a change in the Mouse House's release strategy.
Back in 2013, the original Frozen received a limited release the weekend before Thanksgiving, bringing in $243,390. The film went wide over the Thanksgiving holiday, earning $93.5 million over the extended frame. In contrast, Frozen 2 went nationwide the weekend before Thanksgiving and scored its massive haul in three days. It goes without saying opting for a wide release right away paid off handsomely for Disney.
With the benefit of hindsight, Frozen's release pattern is strange. Typically, limited releases are reserved for smaller films as a means of generating word-of-mouth and hype in the build-up towards an expansion. Frequently, Oscar contenders will see a platform release, adding markets week by week to capitalize on the buzz. Frozen is an animated Disney family film, which is about a close to a box office lock as one can find (especially during the holiday moviegoing season). This is a title that didn't need to start out small in order to attract an audience. It's another sign Disney wasn't entirely sure what they had leading up to the original Frozen. When it came time for the sequel, the studio knew they had a juggernaut.
Admittedly, it is a stretch to say Frozen's release was a "mistake" considering how lucrative it was, but Disney undoubtedly cost themselves some extra money by going the route they did (for no real reason). With an extra weekend of wide release, Frozen would have challenged Shrek 2 ($441.1 million) for the highest-grossing animated movie of all-time, and at the very least would have passed Toy Story 3 ($415 million) on the charts. It's unlikely Frozen 2 can scale to the top of the list (Incredibles 2 is now the record holder with $608.5 million), but it's already on pace to beat out its predecessor and become Disney Animation's new top earner. That'll be another box office record for Disney in a banner 2019.
- Frozen II (2019) release date: Nov 22, 2019