Thirty-five years after the animated story of Ariel, a flame-haired siren of the sea who falls for a prince, charmed audiences, a live-action remake of “The Little Mermaid” dominated the Memorial Day weekend box office. The Disney release is on track to debut to a massive $118 million over the four-day holiday, with $96 million of that coming over the three-day frame. It ranks as the fifth highest Memorial Day opening in history.
The film got a lift from many of the same moviegoers who first fell in love with Ariel when she flitted across the big screen in 1988, as well as from the generations of fans who weren’t alive when the original opened, but who were nevertheless weaned on the movie from its various appearances on DVD, television and, in more recent years, streaming.
“It’s a classic,” said Tony Chambers, Disney’s head of distribution. “You ask a lot of women or men of my age and it’s ‘Little Mermaid’ and ‘Beauty and the Beast’ that rank as their favorite animated movie. It’s a story that takes them back to their respective childhoods and this movie is the perfect opportunity for a lot of people to pass that love on to the next generation.”
The live-action “Little Mermaid” (and “live-action” is doing a lot of lifting here considering the sheer tonnage of CGI required to bring Ariel’s ocean home to life), was directed by Rob Marshall and stars Halle Bailey as the title character. Melissa McCarthy plays Ursula, the malevolent sea witch who steals Ariel’s voice in return for giving her legs and a chance to canoodle with the dreamy Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King). Javier Bardem, Awkwafina, Jacob Tremblay and Daveed Diggs round out the ensemble.
All that watery magic didn’t come cheap. “The Little Mermaid” has a $250 million production budget, so it will need to keep attracting crowds around the globe in order to break even. Internationally, the film grossed $68.3 million from 51 material markets.
In the U.S. 68% of the audience was female, while 25% of ticket buyers ranged in age between 25 to 34. Kids accounted for 22% of the opening weekend crowds.
Disney has had success with the strategy of raiding its storehouses and putting a live-action spin on animated properties such as “Aladdin” (reconfigured with Will Smith as the Genie), “Beauty and the Beast” (with Emma Watson portraying Belle) and “The Lion King” (a triumph of green screen effects that had very little in the way of real animals on the savannah).
“This gives Disney the green light to keep mining its vault,” says Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore. “With an opening this big, I think you’re going to keep seeing these live-action reboots.”
Elsewhere in the multiplexes, “Fast X,” the tenth mainline installment in the “Fast and Furious” franchise, continued to show signs of running on fumes, at least in the U.S. It’s estimated to bring in about $23 million in its second weekend and $28.7 million over the four-day holiday after launching to a soft $67 million. Stateside, the film has generated a disappointing $113.6 million. But Dom and his road crew are getting a much warmer reception overseas, with “Fast X” expected to cross the $500 million mark at the global box office this weekend, making it the third-highest grosser of the year. It needs to keep making money and lots of it. The latest chapter cost a knee-weakening $340 million to produce.
Disney’s “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3” took third place with $20 million and an estimated $25.3 million for the four-day holiday, pushing its domestic total to a sizable $300 million. Universal and Illumination’s “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” came in fourth with $6.3 million over the weekend and an estimated $8.3 million during the holiday period. Domestically, the movie has made a gargantuan $560.9 million after eight weeks in theaters. A sequel to the video game adaptation can’t come soon enough for theater owners.
Arthouse favorite “You Hurt My Feelings,” an A24 release that reunites the “Enough Said” team of director Nicole Holofcener and Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, will open to $1.4 million over the weekend and $1.8 million through the holiday.
Not every studio had reasons to celebrate as a trio of new releases bombed. “The Machine,” an action comedy from Sony and Legendary starring stand-up Bert Kreischer, collapsed with $4.9 million over the weekend and $5.8 million over the four-day holiday. “About My Father,” based on the life story of another popular comic, Sebastian Maniscalco, also failed to draw much interest. The Lionsgate release eked out $4.3 million over the weekend and $5.3 million during the four-day holiday. And the Open Road and Briarcliff release of Gerard Butler’s latest action opus “Kandahar” sputtered with a measly $2.4 million over the weekend and $3 million during the four-day period.
At the box office this weekend the chasm between the hits and the flops was truly yawning.