Since Blumhouse’s The Hunt won’t be opening tonight thanks to the utter insanity that is today’s political landscape, the only wide release newbie this weekend will be DreamWorks Animation and Pearl Studio’s Abominable. If I can convince the kids to see it with me tonight, I’ll try to have a review for tomorrow morning, but the film is something of a test case in a few areas.
It’s the first non-sequel DWA toon to open since Comcast purchased DreamWorks Animation from Jeffrey Katzenberg in late 2016. Yes, they successfully sold How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World to $160 million domestic and $520 million worldwide (on a $125 million budget) even during a year when “five years later” sequels are dropping like flies, but that was still a well-liked sequel to a well-liked franchise.
Abominable, set in modern-day Shanghai, is a true original. That’s noteworthy in-and-of-itself, as quite a few DreamWorks toons are adaptations of comparatively little-known children’s books, although I imagine most folks flocking to the Shrek movies, Home or The Boss Baby didn’t read the source material, and yes that’s different from an IP pitch like Trolls or Captain Underpants. Abominable is their first outright original since Turbo back in 2013.
The film, about a teen (Chloe Bennet) and her friends embarking on a 2,000-mile adventure across China to return a young Yeti to his family, is also a Hollywood/China co-production. It is also the first major Hollywood animated movie with a woman (Jill Culton) as the sole writer and the lead director (Todd Wilderman got co-director credit). Say what you will about DreamWorks, but the studio that hired Jennifer Nelson Yuh to direct Kung Fu Panda 2 in 2011 and Peter Ramsey to helm Rise of the Guardians in 2012 has been ahead of the curve in this arena.
Anyway, the big question, to the extent that it matters for a movie which only cost $75 million (much less than the standard DWA toon), is whether it can break out in North America and China. The film won’t open in China until October 1, but the hope is that the well-reviewed fantasy adventure will play closer to The Foreigner or The Meg than The Great Wall or even xXx: Return of Xander Cage.
If you recall, Zhang Yimou’s The Great Wall (which, if you saw the film, wasn’t remotely a white savior flick) earned a robust $171 million in China when it opened in late 2016. Alas, the Matt Damon/Pedro Pascal action fantasy stumbled pretty much everywhere else and its $45 million domestic cume and $335 million worldwide take wasn’t enough for its $150 million budget.
The third Xander Cage movie was technically a global hit, in that it earned $345 million worldwide on an $85 million budget, meriting a sequel. But it earned just $45 million in North America in January of 2017, barely more than first Vin Diesel actioner earned ($44 million) in its opening weekend in August of 2002. Yes, an overall global total of $345 million would be okay for a $75 million DreamWorks toon, but I’m guessing Universal and friends are hoping for more than $45 million domestic.
STX Entertainment and Huayi Brothers’ The Foreigner and Warner Bros. and Flagship’s The Meg are (thus far) the two exceptions to the rule. They were Hollywood/China co-productions (not counting Kung Fu Panda 3, which was part of an established franchise) that scored well enough on both shores to qualify as a hit.
The Jackie Chan/Pierce Brosnan action thriller, which remains my favorite STX film thus far (all due respect to Hustlers and The Gift), earned $34 million domestic (Jackie Chan’s biggest domestic gross for a live-action vehicle since The Karate Kid in 2010) and $111 million overseas, including $81 million in China, giving Martin Campbell’s $35 million, R-rated political drama a $145 million global cume.
Jason Statham and Li Bingbing’s giant shark thriller was something of a shock in August of 2018. It vastly overperformed in North America with a $44 million opening weekend while also performing about as well as hoped in China. The (unapologetically fun and pulpy) Jon Turteltaub flick earned $144 million domestic, $153 million in China and $530 million worldwide on a $130 million budget.
And now we have Abominable, which will be a test to see what kind of opening weekend draw and what kind of staying power a non-franchise DWA toon has in 2019 under the Comcast umbrella. Even if the film opens closer to $20 million than $25 million, and that would be low for a DWA flick (adjusted for inflation, only Sinbad has opened below $20 million), DWA toons tend to leg out like crazy even if they are merely “okay.”
Of the 36 DWA toons between Antz in 1998 and How to Train Your Dragon 3 in 2019, 27 of them have opened on a standard Fri-Sun weekend. Of those Fri-Sun releases, 25 such releases have earned at least 3.2x their debut weekend. The outliers are Shrek the Third ($322 million from a $121 million debut) in the summer of 2007 and The Hidden World ($161 million/$55 million) earlier this year.
Point being, even if Abominable, an original animated feature with no butts-in-the-seats movie stars, opens closer to Smallfoot than Hotel Transylvania 3, well, the real story may be written in weekends two, three and four as well as in China. But barring a fluke, Abominable would like to be one of the few co-productions to score on both sides of the world with relatively equal success. We’ll see…