It’s become a holiday tradition for Disney to release an animated movie around Thanksgiving, and this year is no different. “Wish,” a musical origin story for the Wishing Star that so many Disney characters have wished upon before, is expected to lead box office charts over the busy weekend.
But it won’t be all Disney, all the time, like it was last year when two of the studio’s offerings, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” and “Strange World,” topped the box office. Moviegoers will be able to feast on several titles, including another newcomer, Ridley Scott’s historical epic “Napoleon,” and leftovers like “The Hunger Games” prequel “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” and “Trolls Band Together.” A few indies, including Emerald Fennell’s steamy thriller “Saltburn” and Alexander Payne’s feel-good drama “The Holdovers,” will expand nationwide.
“Wish,” which features original music and the voices of Ariana DeBose and Chris Pine, debuts on Wednesday. It’s expected to earn $35 million over the traditional weekend and $45 million to $50 million in its first five days of release. Co-written and co-directed by the “Frozen” team of Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, “Wish” follows a young girl named Asha who attempts to save the fantastical Kingdom of Rosas from darkness.
Disney’s past Thanksgiving releases, like 2019’s “Frozen II” ($123.7 million), 2018’s “Ralph Breaks the Internet” ($84.6 million) and 2017’s “Coco” ($71 million), enjoyed far bigger starts. Yet none of the studio’s recent Turkey Day offerings have lived up to pre-pandemic standards. The poorly reviewed “Strange World” flopped in 2022 with $18 million through the five days. Ticket sales never recovered, tapping out with an abysmal $37 million domestically and $73 million globally. And 2021’s “Encanto,” which opened to $40.3 over its first five days, didn’t become a viral TikTok sensation until the musical fable landed on Disney+ more than a month later. It’s not just holiday titles that have been on thin ice. Several of Disney’s 2023 tentpoles, including “The Marvels,” “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” “The Haunted Mansion” remake, “The Little Mermaid” and “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” have underperformed at the box office.
This year, “Wish” could clash with “Trolls 3,” which appeals to the same demographic and opened last weekend in second place with $30 million domestically. Based on current projections, “Wish” will easily rule over the competition. But the $200 million film needs “Knowing What I Know Now” or “This Wish,” two of the new catchy tunes from the movie, to become inescapable sensations (in the vein of previous earworms like “Let It Go” or “We Don’t Talk About Bruno”) to keep driving family audiences back to multiplexes en masse. Because of its substantial budget (not including the many millions spent on global marketing efforts), Disney is hoping that “Wish” will resonate beyond the U.S. to justify its cost. It’s aiming to bring in $25 million at the international box office, a similar start to “Elemental” and “Moana” in the same suite of overseas markets.
“Napoleon,” starring Joaquin Phoenix as the infamous French ruler and Vanessa Kirby as his wife Joséphine de Beauharnais, is a similarly pricey endeavor. The $200 million film is Apple’s second big-screen bet following Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon,” which starred Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro and opened in October to $23 million domestically and $21 million overseas. After five weeks of release, the film, distributed by Paramount, is running out of steam with a disappointing $63.5 million in North America and $145.7 million worldwide.
“Napoleon,” which skipped the film festival circuit, is targeting a debut of $16 million over the traditional weekend and $22 million between Wednesday and Sunday. It’s also aiming for $24 million at the international box office, putting the global tally at $46 million. Given the trajectory of “Flower Moon,” these numbers aren’t all that promising for such an expensive, adult-skewing drama. But, similar to “Killers of the Flower Moon,” it may be complicated to assess the results for “Napoleon,” which Sony is putting in theaters. Apple is covering production, marketing and distribution costs, and, as one of the deepest-pocketed companies in the world, its executives have maintained they use a different metric of success compared to traditional Hollywood players. They aren’t as interested in making money as they are in generating buzz for their streaming service.
Will “Napoleon” prove to be more commercial than “Killers of the Flower Moon”? Even with its lengthy two-hour and 38-minute runtime, Scott’s epic is significantly shorter than Scorsese’s latest, which clocks in at a daunting three hours and 26 minutes. Both of those films are just getting started by the time the breezy hour-and-a-half “Wish” wraps up (not that there’s much audience overlap).
Reviews for “Napoleon” have been mixed, with Variety’s Peter Debruge calling the film “an undeniably impressive technical achievement.” But, he adds that “Napoleon ultimately suffers from the same problem as its subject: The film’s ambitions are greater than the people demand, as Scott bites off more than he can manage.”