5 Ways to Prep: Mary Poppins Returns
By George Rose
December 18, 2018
There’s nothing like a sequel to a decades old film to make me look back on the past. A few weeks ago I used my boredom to dive into my recent obsession with box office inflation and how it ruins any fair attempt at box office analysis. As it tends to happen, I found myself immediately wishing I had added a few points to those thoughts. Yes, the value of a dollar changes over time and that affects how a $100 million movie from 20 years ago stacks up against a $200 million blockbuster today. The problem isn’t just inflation though. Really, the main measure of success - in terms of reaching the broadest audience - is the audience headcount. Inflation aside, if someone sees a $10 movie in 2D and another sees a $15 movie in 3D, that’s still one ticket but two different values.
Then you have IMAX and IMAX 3D which throw another wrench into the planning. As for movies released fifty years ago, the blockbusters of that era tended to get re-releases over time to further capitalize on prior successes, whereas today’s audiences don’t get re-releases because films almost immediately become available for home viewings. Back in the day, there wasn’t OnDemand, Netflix or DVDs. There was only hoping you saw something in theaters when it was available because it may or may not come back to screens in the years to come. So, when I make comments like, “A movie today needs to earn over $1 billion in order to make it on to the True Top 10 Biggest Movies Adjusted For Inflation List,” that’s only half true. Just because Gone with the Wind is at $1.8 billion “adjusted for inflation” doesn’t actually mean it was a bigger, more successful movie than, say, Avengers: Infinity War with about $680 million.
That $680 million is probably closer to $500 million if you take out the boost from IMAX and 3D, because those don’t actually sell more tickets. They just make one individual ticket more expensive. However, even a 2D film earning $500 million today can still be a $1.8 billion value when you take things like OnDemand rentals, DVD purchases and cable TV residuals into account. Who’s to say that Avengers: Infinity War didn’t actually reach as broad of an audience as Gone with the Wind? Since time, inflation, kids price vs adult price tickets, and 2D/3D/IMAX nonsense skew every perception possible, there’s really only one way to measure the success of a film and that’s against the Top 10 films released within any one given year.
And with that, my friends, we finally arrive at our point. The (likely) biggest movie of the holiday season and a serious contender for the Top 10 of 2018 list of big winners is finally here: Mary Poppins Returns. Anticipation is high for a family-friendly musical and early reviews suggest serious Oscar potential which means the sky is the limit for the Disney’s latest attempt at milking the past. There’s a lot of talk about what to expect from Mary’s upcoming box office and, really, anything is possible. There’s no Star Wars movie for the first time in years and if anyone is going to swoop in to take the cake it still going to be Disney. So join me, friends, as we dive a little deeper into the magical world of Mary Poppins!
#1) MARY POPPINS (1964)
It’s been decades since I’ve seen the original and I fully plan to finally watch it again before the sequels release, even if I failed to rewatch it before writing this article. What I remember is that there is a family in London with two kids and they are expecting a new nanny, but what this stuck-in-a-rut family gets is the magical Mary Poppins. This sob-story is in need of music and color, which is why the film gets a heavy dose of both. The live action story is blended with musical and animated elements, making it one of the more trippy and creative ways to tell such a basic story of family learning to appreciate each other. Mary Poppins not only proved its success with $31 million (or $102 million after re-releases, or $715 million after several releases and decades of inflation) but also with five Academy Awards. Those Oscars include Best Actress for Julie Andrews, Best Editing, Best Effects, Best Song and Best Score. So, yeah, Poppins aimed to do something different with music and visuals, and she crushed it.
Over fifty years later and we’re finally getting around to a sequel. Disney is all about updating classic animation into modern day live-action hits, but you can’t really do that with a movie that’s only half animation. Rather than reboot or remake the classic, Disney opted to go for a much-delayed sequel and the wait has seemingly paid off. Emily Blunt takes the lead from Andrews, Lin-Manuel Miranda brings his Tony-winning talent to help keep the music current and critically acclaimed, and Meryl Streep is tagging along because she can’t stay away from a musical or any sort of Oscar bait. With no direct competition and Disney’s penchant for turning their dusty relics back into shiny gold, Mary Poppins has all the makings to be a monster success. Although the original’s $715 million earnings seems a bit out of reach, anything over $300 million will be truly marvelous and can be viewed as a $715 million blockbuster once post-box office markets are considered. Anything over $220 million should end up placing in in the yearly Top 10 and, really, that alone should qualify it as an unmitigated success story.
#2) A QUIET PLACE (2018)
It was only earlier this year that Emily Blunt proved her box office power when she appeared in the $188 million earning A Quiet Place with her husband John Krasinski, who also directed. Together they turned this almost-silent film into the rare horror movie hit, and show just how brilliant this beauty is as an actress. Set in a world where people can’t make noise or monsters will hear you and then kill you, this couple struggles to raise their children and give birth to another during this tense time of world destruction. When Blunt’s pregnant character steps on a rusty nail and then must give birth, all without making a sound or she could die, you will find yourself forever in her debt as an audience member. Blunt has been Hollywood royalty ever since her breakout in 2006’s The Devil Wears Prada and she shows no signs of slowing down. Though it’s too early to predict any sort of Oscar, early word is she will find herself as a serious contender for the Best Actress award and this could finally be her year to take one home. And what better way to appreciate Blunt singing and dancing her way through two hours of film than by watching her silently scream her way through another? This woman has quite the range and we are simply blessed to be able to watch her jump from role to role, with these two being perfect and polar opposite examples of that talent. Does she really have a chance at winning?
#3) MOANA (2016)
Yes, she really has a chance at winning. The Academy is dying to give Blunt an Oscar and few have a better track record of turning musicals (animated or not) into awards glory than Disney themselves. If Disney does a musical, their song and/or score will be nominated. If Disney does an animated movie, it tends to get nominated. If Disney does an animated movie AND a musical they… well, they shouldn’t try to drain the talent from the Tony-winning Lin-Manuel Miranda because he’s bad luck in Hollywood. Just ask Moana.
Disney’s last attempt at introducing a new, multicultural Princess into their catalog went extremely well with Moana, a beautiful and lovely little movie about a Polynesian Princess that leaves her tribe behind to face the dangerous adventure ahead that could help save her people from destruction. The story was empowering, the visual were vibrant as ever and the sidekicks were as charming as Disney’s usual comic relief. However, you could hear Lin-Manuel’s Hamilton-style song/rap hybrid throughout and you could smell the desperation for an Oscar. Ultimately, Moana failed to capture any of the awards it was in contention for (Zooptopia was the rightful Best Animated Feature that year) but it still remains one of the great Princess features to join the ranks of Disney’s animated musical blockbusters. Can Mary Poppins win more awards despite the presence of Lin-Manuel Miranda? Can Poppins top Moana’s $249 million total? So far, all signs are pointing to yes!
#4) INTO THE WOODS (2014)
Disney doesn’t just do animated musicals released around the holidays. It wasn’t long ago that they attempted Oscar glory with the live-action musical based off of a stage play, which itself is based off of classic fairy tale lore. Into the Woods stars the then-up-and-coming Anna Kendrick as Cinderella, Chris Pine as Prince Charming, Meryl Streep as the woman who can’t help herself from starring in potential Oscar winning films, and Emily Blunt as the woman trying to prove to Disney she can handle a holiday musical because she plans to audition for the new Mary Poppins movie in the near future. Wait, that’s not exactly true, but you get the point. Disney loves musicals, the holiday season is prime real estate for musicals, and both Streep and Blunt have the capacity to raise the stakes when it comes to musicals (even if Woods did walk home empty handed after three Oscar nominations). Given the talent and subject matter, I expected Into the Woods to earn more than $128 million but that still ranks it at #8 on the Top 10 Musicals chart (unadjusted for inflation, of course). So, while it needs more than $200 million to be in 2018’s Top 10, it only needs $120 million to join the Top 10 Musicals. So far it’s looking like smooth sailing for Poppins to join some of Hollywood’s most elite lists.
#5) THE LINDSAY LOHAN TRILOGY
Sure, Disney does musicals and animated movies well, and they should have no problem combining the two for a live-action slash animated-musical hybrid. Disney has also proven lately that they are more than capable of turning classic animated movies (Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast, etc.) into live-action blockbusters of the biggest proportions. Disney does not, however, have a great track record of turning their classic live-action films into modern day live-action hits. Is that a task too doomed to ever be successful? Or did Disney put all their eggs into Lindsay Lohan’s basket and those failures delayed Mary Poppins’ return for longer than previously expected?
In 1998, the cute, adorable, sober little girl named Lindsay Lohan was cast as the twin girls in The Parent Trap, Disney’s update of the 1961 classic. It went on to earn just over $66 million. In 2003, she starred in Freaky Friday, another remake. The original earned $26 million in 1977, which is just over $105 million today. The remake made $110 million in 2003, which is about $167 million today. That jump in profit is favorable for Mary Poppins, but the comps don’t stop there. In 2005, Lohan starred in Herbie: Fully Loaded, their third pairing with the actress in a modern reboot to one of their classic franchises. The original Herbie, 1969’s The Love Bug, earned $51 million which is $329 million today. Lohan’s 2005 version earned $66 million, which is $94 million today, and that does not compare as favorably.
My guess is Lohan’s fading reputation hurt Herbie in 2005 and that maybe Freaky Friday is better comparison for Mary Poppins. However, that suggests Poppins Returns will break the $700 million barrier which is highly unlikely. There is another number, though. Of that $714 million that the original Mary Poppins earned after inflation, it appears $305 million of that (aka $33 million of the uninflated $102 million) is from its initial release before the studio continued sticking it into theaters over the years. If Poppins Returns can match Mary’s first-run $33 million (aka $305 million in 2018), then we have not only one of the most interesting comps in Hollywood history, but we have one of the biggest hits of 2018 and one of the biggest musicals of all time. Tag on a few more stellar reviews and you could also have yourself one heck of an Oscar winner. Mary Poppins knows how to work her magic to help her family and has inspired magic in her audience for generations, but can she work magic on herself? Check back in a few weeks to find out!