A few weekends ago, there wasn’t much to talk about as the box office settled from Disney’s $121 million debut for Toy Story 4 the weekend prior and as we prepared for Marvel’s $100+ million debut for Spider-Man: Far From Home this week. Was I too busy recently with life and stress to write an article about Toy Story? No, I was on vacation in Miami and Key West. I brought my iPad and keyboard in case I had free time but what good is free time if you’re too drunk and sunburned to type?
5 Ways to Prep - Spider-Man: Far from Home
By George Rose
July 13, 2019
Seeing as how the box office is in such despair lately, it seems irresponsible to ignore any $100+ million debut. Heck, lately a $100+ million earner is even hard to come by outside of Disney and Marvel. Side note: you know what also sucks? We have to say “Disney and Marvel” instead of just “Disney” because Sony still owns Spider-Man, even though the Tom Holland version is alive within Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe so, yeah, Spider-Man is basically a Disney property now too. Anyway, the point is, just because I missed Toy Story 4 doesn’t mean we can’t talk about it now, especially since Woody and Buzz are Hollywood royalty. This week many of you may be too busy outside with the July 4th holiday to read an article online about Spider-Man, so what does this mean for 5 Ways to Prep this week? We’re entice you with a DISNEY (and Marvel) DOUBLE FEATURE!!!
If I had written about Toy Story 4 before it was released, we may not have had the chance to discuss what happened with its “disappointing” debut, and how the problem isn’t so much “box office underperformers” as it is “overly eager analysts hoping for a number high enough to save the 2019 box office but really they should be THRILLED Toy Story didn’t debut under $100 million” as it could have because of the “fourth film in a franchise is where the real diminishing returns begin” curse. Phew, that was a mouth full. Seriously, time and inflation tell their own stories but considering Aladdin debuted to almost half of Beauty and the Beast, that Godzilla is a shanty $100 million king of monsters barely a step above X-Men and Men in Black, and that no brand is safe at the box office except the majority of Disney product says that we should be CELEBRATING Toy Story 4’s $121 million debut instead of letting it get us down. Box office analysts are like weathermen, in that they can only possibly guess at what will happen but are usually off to a degree.
It’s like Amanda Seyfried in Mean Girls, with a wet boob in one hand and a microphone in the other, claiming that, “There’s a 30% chance it’s raining right now!” Nobody knows what they’re talking about and, really, they’re only talking about half the story. I read TONS of articles when Toy Story 4 broke the initial record for presales tickets online in its first few days but only a handful of sites had a follow-up article weeks later to explain that over the long term the Toy Story 4 ticket presales fell behind Incredibles 2.
You know, early analysts suggested that Spider-Man: Far From Home could debut anywhere between $120-150 million over the long holiday weekend and $400 million after all is said and done. This would be a marked improvement over Homecoming’s $117 million debut and $334 million earnings. Except, what makes analysts think Far From Home will increase profits over Homecoming? Is it because of online SEO and counting clicks and presales and an assumed post-Endgame bump in interest? Yeah, trolls rule the internet but they’re too cheap to spend money on movies, and presale tracking doesn’t always mean people who didn’t buy early tickets will show up. Is it because every Marvel solo-hero sequel post-Avengers in their Cinematic Universe has seen growth over their predecessors?
Everyone expects it because Disney’s MCU is unstoppable and ticket presales and audience interest found online and blah blah blah. You want the cold, hard facts? No Spider-Man sequel has EVER IN THE HISTORY OF THE BOX OFFICE earned more than a predecessor. Spider-Man 2 is still a legendary gold standard of superhero sequels and it earned less than Part 1. Part 3 then earned less than 2, then Amazing Spider-Man rebooted in 3D and still made less than Part 3, Amazing 2 earned less than Amazing 1, and then Marvel stepped in and spanked some sense into Sony and brought the friendly neighborhood hero into Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe. That’s when interest was revitalized and Homecoming earned about as much as Spider-Man 3 (not taking inflation into account). From a Disney Marvel Universe perspective there’s NO WAY Far From Home earns less than Homecoming. From a Spider-Man perspective, there’s no chance Far From Home sees any gains.
The problem here is the pressure we put on analysts to get pre-release tracking right and the backlash internet chatter throws about when numbers underwhelm. Really, nobody should care if sequels and spin-offs make more or less money than other films in the series. The only question that matters is, “Was the release profitable?” Who cares that 2019 is losing against the 2018 box office? If budgets were tightened and money wasn’t wasted on nonsense expenses, then 2019 being down almost 10% is fine because studios spent 25% less and now things look rosy again!
All this overhyping and rioting is stress that nobody needs. When the weatherman says a blizzard is coming you freak out and load up on groceries, but nobody gets too mad the next day when no snow shows up and you have a full fridge. The problem with the box office weathermen is that when they get it right everything is great and when they get it wrong there’s no snacks, you know? There’s just a falling sky and fingers pointed at Netflix for all the ways Hollywood has been wronged. Considering there’s like ZERO fourth entries in a franchise that haven’t shown diminishing returns, I’d say Toy Story 4’s $121 million debut makes it a smash hit. And considering no Spider-Man sequel has made more than any predecessor, I’d say anything over a $100 million debut and $300 million total also makes it a smash hit.
You know what you all need? A vacation. I feel rested and better than ever, and I sure do miss my local movie theater. I’m back from my trip and ready to defend the honor of this wonderful Hollywood that God and greedy studio executives have given us. People need to stop fat-shaming Disney and Marvel movies because they are luscious and the only movies making any money. Stop whining about Toy Story because it’s well reviewed and will make more profit than common folk like me will in 100 lifetimes. If Toy Story is an underperformer, what does that make us? I’m just the poor grumpy schmuck that writes 5 Ways to Prep articles, right? Well, that’s sort of true so let’s just get to it then. I know my place and I’m tired of badgering you naughty kids with my enlightened post-vacation words of wisdom. Let’s find some ways to prep for Toy Story 4 and Spider-Man: Far From Hope, and get this SUPER AWESOME DOUBLE FEATURE underway!
5 WAYS TO PREP FOR - SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME
1) SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017)
Since the new release this week belongs to Spider-Man, that’s which movie we’ll prep for first. After all, I imagine it’s the reason you entered this article in the first place. As there is only one other film in the existing MCU franchise (excluding appearances in Captain America: Civil War and the two most recent Avenger sequels), that’s the movie that requires your Spidey senses. When Homecoming (a play on words for both a high school homecoming dance and Spidey’s return home to the Marvel Universe fold) starts, Peter Parker already has his powers and Uncle Ben is long gone. With two origin franchises having been done, the MCU skipped the unneeded intro and dives into Peter’s emotional high school experience. There’s no Harry Osbourne; Mary Jane is now a half-black beauty (Zendaya) named Michelle that coincidentally goes by the name M.J.; and the straight white bully Flash Thompson is now a dorky Guatemalan disc jockey. The updates to the franchise as small but culturally relevant, helping bring audiences of all backgrounds into this funny, sweet, action-packed extravaganza. Throw in Michael Keaton as the big bad Vulture (somehow one of Spidey’s least powerful foes made for one of the MCU’s most well developed villains) and you have yourself an amazing debut for Sony under the Disney umbrella.
Now, let’s talk numbers. Homecoming debuted to $117 million and earned $334 million domestically. Since international audiences have grown at a crazy rate in the last 20 years, I’m leaving those numbers out of this article. It makes saying things like “every Spidey sequel has earned less than the film before” seem silly when the worldwide totals keep climbing because the rest of the world was late to the Hollywood game. Also, opening weekends are tough to compare because half of the time Spider-Man opens mid-week before a holiday and others he has kicked off Summer by swinging in the first weekend in May. His debuts are all over the place so we’ll try sticking with domestic totals moving forward. Also, how much of Homecoming’s success was because it returned to the MCU and how much was the inclusion of Iron Man? Doesn’t the absence of that primary Avenger hurt Far From Home’s chances? Does being the first post-Endgame release raise those chances back up? So much to consider and, yet, given Spider-Man history there’s only one truth that remains: earning anything over $300 million makes it a wild success and you’d be hard pressed to find an analyst who thinks anything less is possible.
2) SPIDER-MAN 2 (2004) vs AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (2014)
I could go on and on about these two sequels to the two previous Spidey franchises but there’s so little time and so much else to accomplish. Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man 2 introduced Doctor Octopus as the villain, was 93% positive (3% more than the first), and only lost 7% in earnings ($404 million down to $374 million). Andrew Garfield’s Amazing Spider-Man two introduced Electro (and reintroduced Harry Osbourne), was 52% positive (20% less than the first), and lost almost 23% in earnings ($262 million down to $203 million). One was among the greatest superhero sequels ever; the other almost ruined the franchise and left Sony no option but to send Spidey into Disney’s MCU.
Homecoming was 92% positive while Far From Home currently sits at 93% positive, which makes me think a comp closer to Maguire’s Spider-Man is possible. Keep in mind, outside of the MCU there has never been a more profitable domestic Spidey sequel. If Tom Holland’s sequel goes the same way as Maguire’s, it’ll earn around $310 million; if it goes the way of Garfield’s, it’ll drop to just under $260 million. So in this world of unfair and exaggerated expectations, early word is Holland will have a bigger debut (albeit over a longer holiday weekend) and a total around $400 million. In reality, anything over a $300 million total still makes this a blockbuster smash hit. Then again, we’re not talking about a world where Spidey is Sony’s to squander. This is an MCU sequel and there are plenty of recent comps in their saga that support the promise of increased profits.
3) MCU SEQUELS (2013-2018)
Considering that Iron Man is the crown jewel of Disney’s MCU, it might be surprising to be reminded that he is the only hero in that Universe to have a sequel earn less than the original. To be fair, though, Iron Man was the only sequel released prior to the first Avengers movie. After that, all sequels started to see gains once the team-up feature proved successful. Also, Iron Man 2 sucked but I digress. Since were living in a post-Avenger world, let’s work with those “first sequel” numbers: Iron Man 3 (+31%), Thor 2 (+14%), Captain America 2 (+47%), Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (+17%), and Ant-Man 2 (+21%). That’s an average increase of 26%. So here are the three primary MCU scenarios for the increase Spider-Man can expect from his first post-Avenger sequel: Low +14% = $381 million, Average +26% = $421 million, and High +47% = $491 million. Since the Low was the poorly received Thor 2 and the high was the time-shifted Captain America critical darling, they both seem too extreme. Thor 2 was worse than Thor 1 and Captain 2 was better than Captain 1. The quality of Spider-Man seems to be consistently great and you can’t really argue with an average of historical data, so per the laws of the MCU we should be seeing at least a 20% bump up to $401 million. And while this theory explains how analysts have come up with that $400 guesstimate (along with online data and pre-sales and blah blah blah), it only takes Spidey’s MCU journey into account and not his past with Sony. Being a post-vacation optimist, though, and a total web-head junkie, I’m praying we see the bump needed to keep online chatter positive and another sequel possible. Long live the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man!
4) AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019)
*Spoiler Alert* Iron Man’s inclusion in the Homecoming was to show connections from the Sony film to Disney’s MCU, and what better or more bankable way is there than to include Robert Downey Jr?! We’d later see the two come back together in Avengers: Infinity War when they both fly off to space. Thanos snaps his gauntlet, half the universe dusts away to their death (including Spider-Man), and Tony must fight to bring them back in Avengers: Endgame. While it was assumed Iron Man’s Homecoming appearance was a sign that “each Spider-Man movie will feature a heavy MCU cameo,” I don’t think anyone expected the Peter Parker and Tony Stark bromance would be so pivotal through two more Avengers films. Well, it was, and Tony made it his mission to save everyone (Peter in particular) and died in the process. Their connection was so strong outside of the Spider-Man movie that its first sequel has no choice but to honor and make much mention of Iron Man’s death, which the trailers have made sure to capitalize on. I suppose a viewing of Endgame would be crucial for any film released just after it but, in this case, Tony’s death truly will impact how Peter Park suffers because of it and how Spider-Man must learn to grow from it.
5) PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME (2010)
One of the great things the MCU and Sony’s Spider-Man franchises have always been good for is casting great talent as their villains. Michael Keaton playing a winged foe Vulture flying down from the sky was fun nod to Keaton’s own past playing the winged hero Batman flying down from broken box office records almost 30 years ago. This time Jake Gyllenhaal plays Mysterio, though the trailers show this comic book nemesis to be a good guy beside Spider-Man in Far From Home. Maybe it’s the alternate realities they briefly mention, maybe Marvel is attempting a plot twist only non-comic fans won’t see coming, or maybe the MCU is going to stop retelling old comics and start telling their own version of the history. Regardless, Gyllenhaal’s character is the new face to watch out for and it’s a momentous occasion. He rarely finds himself trying to star in blockbuster roles and that’s probably because his last one - 2010’s Prince of Persia - came and went without much fanfare. Considering it was produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and tried to leverage similarities to the recently successful Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, a $30 million debut and $91 million total and 37% positive rating are nothing to brag about. However, if we consider that still makes it one of the more successful video game adaptations, it makes it quite the success. Perspective aside, the $200 million budget broke the bank on this franchise and turned Gyllenhaal off from big-budget fare for almost a decade. Fans are eagerly awaiting his big MCU debut and I’m glad at least the critical reception is already on his side.
5 WAYS TO PREP FOR - TOY STORY 4
1) TOY STORY 3 (2010)
The Toy Story trilogy was about living toys that belonged to a boy named Andy. At the end of story, Andy gives them to a girl named Bonnie. That makes Toy Story 3 the most important leading up to Toy Story 4, since that is when we are introduced to this little lady and the new toys we’re likely to see carried over into the new feature. I wonder why Disney wouldn’t leave the first set of films as a trilogy and start fresh, titling the new entry as Toy Story: New Beginnings, New Family, Next Generation or something along those lines. Diminishing returns hurt more when it’s viewed as a lesser fourth entry instead of a new trilogy of smaller stature. In any case, Toy Story 4 debuted to $121 million and that’s a great sign.
Toy Story 3 opened to $110 million and earned $415 million in 2010, although that adjusts to $126 million and $481 million after inflation. So basically the audience has stayed the same and that’s incredible considering the way franchises die over time. No, Toy Story 4 isn’t as big as Finding Dory or Incredibles 2, but those only had one sequel and took over a decade to happen. Toy Story already had a big jump from part 2 to 3, so Part 4 staying on 3’s level is impressive in its own right. With such devastating results recently for X-Men and Men in Black, I’d say the toys in this story aredlinh fine. It may take another 10 years but we’ll definitely be seeing some version of the Toy Story brand return to cinemas in the future.
2) SHREK THE THIRD (2007)
When Toy Story debuted in 1995, it launched the new genre of CGI animation. What Pixar created would soon be copied by other studios, and it wasn’t long after that when Dreamworks’ Shrek became the biggest franchise of them all. For example, here are how they compare:
Toy Story (1995): $29 million debut, $192 million domestic
Toy Story 2 (1999): $57 million debut (after a limited release), $246 million domestic
Toy Story 3 (2010): $110 million debut, $415 million domestic
Toy Story 4 (2019): $121 million debut, domestic total TBD
Shrek (2001): $42 million debut, $268 million domestic
Shrek 2 (2004): $108 million debut, $441 million domestic
Shrek the Third (2007): $122 million debut, $323 million domestic
Shrek Forever After (2010): $71 million debut, $239 million domestic
What I see here is this: Toy Story started a genre and was very successful, but audiences needed time to adjust. The four Toy Story movies don’t sync up with Shrek but they’re close, in that Shrek 1-3 are almost identical to Toy Story 2-4. If Toy Story 4 goes the way of Shrek 3, then this slightly larger opening weekend will still result in less of a total. In Shrek’s case, the drastically lower quality of 3 is what really drove down the final number compared to 2. The quality of Toy Story is still as strong as ever (98% positive), so a dramatic 27% drop in totals hopefully doesn’t occur. If it does, though, then Toy Story 4 will end up with $303 million. While topping $400 million may prove difficult since part 3 barely crossed that mark, topping $300 million is almost a certainty given the $240 million part 4 will have amassed after its second weekend. With that being said, part 4 is holding strong and proves the franchise won’t suffer the fate that many fourth entries or disappointing third entries have suffered themselves. Anything over $350 million makes this a box office story worth telling.
3) SMALL SOLDIERS (1998)
Is it any surprise that after Toy Story showed what living toys was like that other studios would try to replicate that success? Enter the live-action version of that concept with Small Soldiers. In this story, military-grade computer processors are inserted into action figures that start taking the artificial intelligence a little too seriously. Army figurines are quickly pitted against a monster race of Gorgonites with a town of humans trying to survive the chaos. It was mildly entertaining and a small success in its own right. Though it only opened in 1998 with $14 million and earned $55 million overall, inflation takes those numbers up to $27 million and $105 million. While that total is still less than what Toy Story 4 just opened to, it still trumps what X-Men and Men in Black were recently capable of. I’d say that makes these soldiers victorious after all.
4) CHILD’S PLAY (1988)
Before Toy Story made living dolls cool in 1995, Child’s Play made them terrifying in 1988. A serial killer uses magic to transport his soul into a Chucky doll, which he then uses to kill those around him who get in the way of him trying to transfer himself into a living boy named Andy. It’s about as opposite as you can get from Toy Story while keeping the kids name and lively toys similar. It does serve a greater purpose though. The original in 1988 opened to just under $7 million and earned $33 million, which inflates to a $14 million debut and $73 million total in 2019. The subsequent two sequels the each experienced lower returns. The 2019 reboot that was just released completely retooled the story and made the doll’s killer instincts the result of magic-less technology. It debuted to a nearly identical $14 million (but a few hundred thousand less) and will be lucky if it tops $35 million. So it opened the same and will earn half as much? Basically, any ungrateful person that thinks Toy Story 4 (which reboots Andy as the kid for Bonnie) ending between $350-400 million makes it disappointing against Toy Story 3’s $415 million (or even Toy Story 1’s $395 million adjusted total) should consider readjusting their expectations. Only our expectations are dampening Toy Story 4’s run because because history says reboots and fourth films don’t do as well. Toy Story is alive and well, and there’s nothing Chucky can do to stop it.
5) SECRET LIFE OF PETS 2 (2019)
Eesh, talk about disappointing. After the first Secret Life of Pets exploded to $104 million and earned $368 million, it seemed as if talking pets was the new favorite kids story in town. After a few less than desirable totals for animated sequels so far in 2019 (LEGO Move 2, How to Train Your Dragon 3), Secret Life continued the trend with Pets 2 launching with only $47 million. At its current pace, a total barely over $150 seems likely. If Toy Story 4 dropped a similar 55-60% it would only earn around $175 million and it blew past that number after a week. If you still haven’t picked up on the point I’m trying to make then let me say it one final time: Toy Story 4 is a massive success, a rare fourth entry that hasn’t lost the majority of its audience, and a reboot so well reviewed that it could win the Best Animated Oscar next year. Yeah, Disney is winning and I’m the lucky schmuck that gets to talk about it!