Toy Story 4 underperformed at the box office, but why did that happen? After a string of commercial disappointments like Dark Phoenix and Men in Black: International, the latest offering from Pixar was just what the summer box office needed to rebound from its recent slump. Even before Toy Story 4 received rave reviews from critics, analysts were bullish on its prospects, predicting it to earn a record $200 million domestically during its opening weekend. Those estimates later went down to around $150 million.
The actual numbers were even lower than that. Toy Story 4 grossed $118 million in its first three days, which was a new franchise high but still well below initial expectations. Whereas Dark Phoenix and Men in Black had poor word-of-mouth to blame, Toy Story 4 was another acclaimed, Certified Fresh film from Pixar. Especially since it was facing minimal competition (fellow animated sequel The Secret Life of Pets 2 wasn't much of a draw), it was surprising to see Toy Story 4's box office fall short of the high bar that was set. So what happened? That's what we're going to explore in this space.
First and foremost, Toy Story 4's low box office performance can be chalked up to diminished audience interest in the franchise itself. From the moment this fourth installment was announced in 2014, it was met with a great deal of skepticism from longtime fans who grew up with the property. In many viewers' eyes, Toy Story 3 was the perfect conclusion to the series, ending the toys' story with Andy on a poignant and heart-wrenching note. For a long time, Toy Story 4 was in a position where it needed to work overtime to justify its own existence and shake the feeling that it was just a cash grab. Of course, the reviews illustrated it was anther worthwhile entry in the franchise, but for some people, it lacked the "must-see" component because Toy Story 3 was such a definitive finale.
While there aren't any major animated films coming out in the next few weeks, July has a pair of heavy hitters in the form of Spider-Man: Far From Home and The Lion King. Both of those are going to appeal to four-quadrant demographics and arguably had more pre-release buzz than Toy Story 4. The former is the latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, picking up after the epic Avengers: Endgame and ushering in that franchise into Phase 4. Spider-Man is already earning enthusiastic reactions and will definitely be an event blockbuster. The Lion King has been breaking records since the first trailer came out last year and is poised to be a monster due to the overwhelming popularity of the 1994 original and the star-studded voice cast of the remake. Perhaps some viewers prioritized these two movies over Toy Story 4 and decided to save their money this weekend.
Toy Story 4 is still very much a success at the box office. Its $118 million debut is the best in the series, and it's certainly going to turn a profit. The film will likely have strong legs because there aren't any more animated movies coming out and the word-of-mouth may encourage those original skeptics to give Toy Story 4 a shot. At the same time, the fact it opened so below the initial projections raises some concerns, and perhaps it's a good thing Pixar isn't developing any more sequels at this point in time. Their two 2020 films, Onward and Soul, are original properties, which is an exciting proposition.