Light-year had all the ingredients for the next big thing. 2022 saw a massive increase in ticket sales and audience participation, and hits like Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the Batman, Top Gun: Maverickand sonic the hedgehog 2 showed that the public was looking for movies. Pixar has always been a consistent moneymaker at the box office, and Buzz Lightyear is one of Disney’s most popular characters, so an entire movie based on Lightyear but made as a straight high-octane sci-fi movie seemed like an easy win.
Originally designed to open between $70 and $80 million, Light-year was well below expectations, earning just $51 million in its first three days. While this is the biggest opening for an animated film since 2019, it’s a disappointment for Disney and Pixar given the film’s connection to the Toys Story franchise. Toy Story 4 opened to $118 million in its first three days. Even within Pixar releases, this is the lowest-grossing start for a pre-existing Pixar character, behind even the much-maligned cars 3 whose $53 million opening weekend was a disappointment in 2017. Light-year also lost first place to Jurassic World: Dominionand that movie was in its second weekend and generally faced bad word of mouth from critics and audiences.
So again, Inside out opened number two ago Jurassic World in 2015, but it became one of the highest-grossing Pixar movies of all time, so it’s still early days and the movie could cause a turnaround in the coming weeks; however, the signs are now not so positive for Light-year. Light-year in many ways it could be Pixar’s version of Solo: A Star Wars Story, a spin-off of a popular, beloved franchise with a revamped lead that harkens back to a fun old-school sci-fi adventure that disappoints at the box office. However, how did this happen? How did a film from one of the most beloved animation studios and spin-off of a beloved film franchise not take off? It is because Light-year underperforming at the box office.
Lightyear’s Mixed Marketing Campaign
Light-year is a high concept premise, really making the movie that is referenced within the Toys Story universe that inspired the Buzz Lightyear toy line. While it was an entertaining exercise, the film, by its very nature, would likely confuse some audience members who would question where and how the film fits into the Toys Story franchise. Pixar tried its best with TV ads informing the public that this was the movie Andy saw, but it’s a niche meta-idea that the general public may not have been sold on for the concept alone. For all intents and purposes, Pixar had an original sci-fi movie to market.
Pixar has managed to turn original ideas into blockbusters. WALL-E, Above!and Inside out were all original films with premises even harder to sell than Light-year, but it all opened up at the box office, and that’s because Pixar knew they had to sell the story to the public. With Light-yearthey relied a little too much on the iconography of Toys Story and Buzz Lightyear, where the trailers kept the story very vague. Pixar never sold to the public why they should want to see this story, instead hoping that the association with Buzz Lightyear would be enough to draw the public in when, in fact, the Toys Story connection was probably confusing to some viewers.
Pixar on Disney+
Light-year is the first Pixar film to be released in theaters since On in March 2020, and that film had an extremely short theatrical release as theaters closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic the following week. In December 2020, Disney released Soul on Disney+ after having delayed the movie twice. The movie performed so well on the streamer and the 2021 box office was so uncertain that they submitted the summer movie. Lucas for Disney+ as well. 2022 was supposed to be the big return to theaters for Pixar, with two new releases on both turning red and Light-year. But in early 2022, Disney decided to ship too turning red for Disney+. That meant three Pixar movies in a row were uploaded to Disney+ at no additional cost.
Disney’s decision to release Pixar’s previous three films on Disney+ may have accustomed audiences to watching Pixar photos at home as it’s cheaper than taking the whole family to theaters. They can now associate animated movies with not being a priority for viewing on the big screen. Combining that with the knowledge that all Disney movies will now be on Disney+ within 45 days means audiences might be willing to wait. Different Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, that sold to the public the need to see it in the opening week to not have the film spoiled, Light-year didn’t have that advantage. Disney’s decisions during the COVID-19 pandemic may have hurt Pixar in the long run, and now all eyes will be on Elementary to see how he fares next year.
Father’s Day Contest for Lightyear
The third Friday in June became a big weekend for Pixar, similar to the first Friday in May for Marvel. movies like Inside out, looking for dory, The Incredibles 2and Toy Story 4 all opened this Friday with great success. This also lines up with Father’s Day weekend and Light-year was looking to really tap into a young male market, positioning itself as a science-fiction action-adventure film. It was also released 27 years later Toys Story, which means that audiences who saw the first movie as a child might have children of their own and want to choose Light-year to see on the weekend as a generational experience.
Nonetheless, Light-year faced much more competition than initially expected. Although he always had to deal with Jurassic World: Dominion to the public, the continued success of Top Gun: Maverick it wasn’t something anyone at Disney and Pixar expected. Both Jurassic World: Dominion and Top Gun: Maverick were aiming for an older male audience like the movie for parents, taking some of the spotlight away from Light-year. What’s more, both films also have generational appeal, further slashing box office returns from Light-year.
A Toy Story movie without Toy Story
Buzz Lightyear is a pop culture icon, without a doubt. His toy has been on the rise since 1995, when his merchandise was selling out even before the first movie came out. However, part of what makes Buzz Lightyear popular is his association with the Toys Story franchise. Audiences want to see not just Buzz, but Woody and the rest of the gang. All Toys Story the films offer their own unique perspective, exciting possibilities and fun character dynamics that appeal to audiences of all ages.
Light-year could perform better if there was a long wait between sequences to Toys Storyas it arrived just three years after the release of Toy Story 4, which is the shortest gap between Pixar-related projects (previously it was a four-year gap between Toys Story and Toy Story 2). The audience just saw Buzz Lightyear, voiced by Tim Allen, who to the audience is Buzz Lightyear in the same way Harrison Ford is Han Solo or Hugh Jackman is Wolverine.
If there were a wait similar to the 11-year gap between Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3 or the nine-year gap between Toy Story 3 and Toy Story 4the audience may have been more excited to see this exciting new concept for Light-year. However, what the film’s poor box office returns indicate about the general public is that Pixar has made a Toys Story movie without all the things audiences love about the Toys Story films.