‘Inside Out 2’ Has a Shot at the First $100 Million Box Office Opening in 11 Months

Here’s a phrase that used to be common but which we haven’t heard in a while: the box office is counting on Disney to bring it back to life.

While Sony’s “Bad Boys: Ride or Die” was a big help, theaters are going to need a lot more. Fortunately for them, Disney will give them more with Pixar’s “Inside Out 2,” the sequel to Pete Docter’s 2015 Oscar-winning film that has a puncher’s chance to be the first $100 million-plus opening weekend since “Barbie” 11 months ago.

Currently, tracking shows the return of Joy and crew will fall short with projections of a $85-90 million opening. Disney and theaters alike will gladly take that. A result on the top end of that range would match the opening of the first “Inside Out,” before inflation adjustment, and surpass “Dune: Part Two” as the highest opening of 2024 so far.

But optimism is high. Fandango reported on Monday that presales for “Inside Out 2” have surpassed its predecessor. “Inside Out 2” is getting strong interest from Gen Z moviegoers who saw the first film as kids and teens as well as from family audiences. That’s in line with past Pixar sequels that came out many years after past installments like “Toy Story 3” and “Incredibles 2.”

“Inside Out 2” arrives roughly a year after Pixar had the box office comeback of the year with “Elemental,” a film that suffered the worst opening in the history of the Emeryville studio with a $29.6 million domestic start but ended up grossing $496.4 million worldwide.

But “Elemental” has been the exception that proves the rule that familiar IP rules the animation market theatrically. It stands as the highest grossing animated film since the pandemic shutdown that is not a sequel or based on a well-known franchise like “Super Mario Bros.” While other studios like Illumination have outperformed recent Disney/Pixar titles at the box office, even films like “Migration,” which grossed $298.6 million worldwide, haven’t done as well as past original Illumination films.

“Inside Out 2” is the first of a series of sequels from Pixar and Disney Animation on their way over the next two years. Pixar still has an original film on their slate with the strike-delayed “Elio” coming in June 2025 and may have another yet-to-be-announced original film for its March 2026 placeholder slot. The one other film on its feature slate is “Toy Story 5” for Summer 2026.

Disney Animation is going even harder on the sequel front, with sequels to “Moana,” “Zootopia” and “Frozen” currently on the slate or in production. Both studios released a slew of original titles over the past four years, including “Onward,” “Soul,” “Luca” and “Turning Red” on the Pixar side, and “Encanto,” “Strange World” and “Wish” on the Disney side.

The results have been decidedly mixed. “Elemental” did well theatrically, “Encanto” became a cultural phenomenon off the back of “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” and “Soul” became an acclaimed Disney+ pandemic hit. But much of the original output was funneled towards former CEO Bob Chapek’s efforts to boost the streaming subscriber numbers for Disney+, with “Turning Red” leaving theaters for a streaming exclusive release in 2022.

“Strange World” and “Wish,” meanwhile, became Thanksgiving busts with respective global grosses of $73.6 million and $255 million, well short of the massive grosses the studio usually gets against their tentpole budgets.

Again, this isn’t a Disney-exclusive issue. From Illumination and DreamWorks at Universal to Paramount’s recent film “IF,” studios have found it a challenge to market family films when they don’t have familiar characters to sell to them. So they’ve had to settle for lower box office totals than what franchise films can bring.

The big difference is that Disney, whether its original or a sequel, produces its family films at a much higher budget level than films like “IF” or “Migration,” partly because they are animated at California-based studios rather than at foreign animation houses that have lower labor costs.

“Inside Out 2” is no different. It carries a reported $200 million budget that is double what Illumination spent to produce “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” which stands as the top post-shutdown animated film with $1.36 billion grossed worldwide. But as the first direct animated sequel Disney has put in theaters since the pandemic, it has a much higher upside and should be a solid success even if it doesn’t match the $857 million global total of the first “Inside Out.”

A successful box office run could also help Disney in the long run as it tries to rebuild its reputation among families as a brand that makes films that must be seen in theaters. It’s an effort that comes directly from CEO Bob Iger, who pivoted away from the Disney+ focus he started at the end of his initial run at the company — which Chapek doubled down on.

Starting with the streaming release of “Avatar: The Way of Water” in spring 2023, Disney has been quietly holding on to a pattern of releasing theatrical films on digital rental two months after theatrical release and adding them to Disney+ or Hulu after 100 days in theaters.

With the low number of box office hits the studio had in 2023, it’s possible that a significant portion of the public hasn’t noticed this yet. But families should take note if “Inside Out 2” and “Moana 2” become big hits among kids, and create a desire for repeat viewings. If families realize that it will be several months before they can catch these sequels on streaming, theaters may be able to reap some of the benefits.

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