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Rob Marshall’s “The Little Mermaid,” starring Halle Bailey as Ariel, began its domestic box office laps with a rousing $10.3 million in Thursday previews. While lower than the $23 million earned by “The Lion King” and the $16.3 million earned by “Beauty and the Beast” in their respective Thursday preview debuts, it compares favorably to “Aladdin,” which grossed $7 million and went on to earn $116 million in its Friday–Monday Memorial Day opening weekend.
The picture has earned decent reviews (68% fresh and 6.4/10 on Rotten Tomatoes) amid a marketplace lacking youth-skewing biggies since “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” in early April. Along with obvious IP appeal at play, hopes are high that this under-the-sea fantasy has legs.
Hyperbolic math alert, but similar sea legs to “Aladdin” would give “The Little Mermaid” a huge $173 million Friday–Monday launch, setting a new Memorial Day weekend record past the $162 million launch of “Top Gun: Maverick” last year.
In equally hyperbolic doomsday scenarios, legs like “Solo: A Star Wars Story” ($104 million from a $14.1 million Thursday) would give “The Little Mermaid” a $77 million weekend launch. That probably isn’t going to happen, but it would still be on par with “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” in 2017. However, legs like Disney’s “Pirates 5” would give “The Little Mermaid” a $148 million launch. Even Memorial Day weekend legs like “X-Men: Apocalypse” ($79 million from an $8 million Thursday) puts this film above $100 million for the holiday.
Tentpole moviegoing seems to be more front-loaded in the COVID era, especially for films that aren’t “surprisingly great.” Factoring earlier Thursday start times, a “gotta see it right now” factor and the fact that the film is about as good as hoped v. the “hey, that’s much better than the previews!” reception to “Aladdin,” Disney may have to settle for a mere over/under $125 million Friday–Monday debut.
So really, there aren’t many realistic negative scenarios at the moment. It’s only a question of how much casual interest “The Little Mermaid,” which comparatively lacks a mega-ton added value element like Will Smith as The Genie, will garner this weekend. So far, so very good.