The box office flop of Disney’s Strange World has garnered more media attention for the kids’ movie than all of its months of marketing (or lack thereof) combined. The movie’s $100 million financial loss has caused many to contemplate the origin of the film’s failure, such as featuring an openly gay character, and delivering little to no marketing leading up to its release. However, the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic points to another possible reason why Strange Worlds had one of Disney’s worst opening weekends in modern history.
Right around the end of October when kids all over the United States should have been unwrapping mounds of Halloween candy, a respiratory infection known as respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, was wreaking havoc on their fragile immune systems. According to The New York Times, pediatric units across the U.S. were overwhelmed with sick patients.
“Every children’s hospital that I’m aware of is absolutely swamped,” Dr. Coleen Cunningham, the chief pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Orange County, told The New York Times. “It all has a very COVID-esque feel to it,” said Dr. Meghan Bernier, medical director of the pediatric intensive care unit at John Hopkins Children’s Center. “This is the pediatrician’s COVID. This is our March 2020.”
Infections like RSV are not uncommon during the holiday season, but the highly protected immune systems of kids who were kept quarantined and socially distanced during the COVID-19 pandemic make RSV more dangerous than ever. Going to a movie theater is just about the farthest thing from parents’ minds as they work overtime to keep their children from catching harmful germs.
A Thanksgiving opening weekend typically signals success for a children’s movie with a premise like Strange World. Here you have a family of legendary explorers who must embark on a dangerous journey to protect a mysterious land from losing its vital energy source. Led by a star-studded cast including Jake Gyllenhaal, Gabrielle Union, Jaboukie Young-White, and Dennis Quaid, the movie was well on its way to succeeding, especially given its 75 percent freshness score on Rotten Tomatoes.
Nevertheless, Strange World netted only $18.6 million on a $180 million budget over the course of a five-day holiday weekend, meaning the movie is poised to lose more than $100 million dollars, according to Variety. Every now and then kids’ films will experience a box office bomb, but Strange World’s monumental flop and Disney’s association with it have raised more than a few eyebrows.
Prior to the uptick in RSV cases, kids’ movies experienced a steady stream of relative success at the box office with films like Minions: The Rise of Gru ($108 million), DC League of Super-Pets ( $23.9 million), and Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile ($11.5 million, albeit on a regular opening weekend). Of course, we don’t really think only kids were the ones turning out to see either Super-Pets or Minions, but we digress.
Compared to Encanto’s $27.2 million opening weekend during a period of time deemed still rocky for the COVID-19 pandemic, Strange World’s $18.6 million over a five-day weekend is bleak, to say the least.
The rise in RSV cases paints a scary picture for the future of family-friendly movies at the box office going into the New Year. Like COVID-19 before it, people are prioritizing their health and choosing to stay home. This of course is not ideal for Hollywood, which has only recently begun picking up the pieces from the financial blow it received over the past couple of years. It’s likely we could see more dual theatrical and streaming releases going into the new year, especially among kids’ movies, but there’s no way to know whether that’ll help the films or hurt them.
All that said, one could likely argue that Strange World’s lack of marketing was the main reason why the movie flopped at the box office. The rise in RSV cases was poor timing for a movie that could’ve used all the help it could get, and we may never know for sure whether its failure was due to its poor marketing, or the public’s choice to put its health over Hollywood.