It was a bad 2023 at the Walt Disney Co. — and things are only set to get worse.
The Hollywood Reporter’s headline Tuesday said it all: “Disney Cedes Global Marketshare Crown to Universal After Years of Domination.”
Thanks to both a strong lineup from Universal at the box office and a series of disappointments — if not flops — from the House of Mouse, Disney wound up in second.
“The 24 movies released by Universal generated an estimated $4.91 billion in worldwide ticket sales, compared to an estimated $4.83 billion from the 17 titles released by Disney in what made for a relatively close race both in North America and at the foreign box office. Even a week ago, no one in Hollywood was sure Universal would prevail, especially overseas,” the outlet noted.
Universal was buoyed in no small part by having the biggest animated film of the year, “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” — a $1.36 billion global smash that became the No. 2 animated film of all time.
Meanwhile, it was a story of one animated disappointment after another for Disney.
In particular, holiday tentpole “Wish” struggled mightily at the box office — needing three weeks to pass $100 million globally, according to a December report from Zacks Equity Research.
Pixar’s “Elemental” managed to squeak over the break-even point after flopping upon initial release, but the latest CGI film from a studio that used to produce nothing but hits was anything but a runaway success.
“The Little Mermaid,” a quasi-live-action remake of the 1989 animated classic, disappointed — as did “Haunted Mansion,” a film based loosely (and I mean loosely) on the Disney theme park attraction.
“The Marvels” was a bomb of epic proportions that had pundits examining what the future might hold for the usually profitable (if unimaginative and labyrinthine) Marvel Cinematic Universe.
“Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” and “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” were among other underperforming Disney flicks.
Meanwhile, in addition to “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” Universal had the atomic-centric half of the “Barbenheimer” summer box-office pseudoevent: “Oppenheimer,” the Christopher Nolan-directed R-rated biopic of the nuclear physicist, became the highest-grossing biographical drama of all time, grossing $952 million.
“Fast X” — the latest edition in the “Fast and the Furious” franchise — grossed $704.9 million worldwide, which gave Universal three of the top five grossing films in the world last year.
It was enough to displace Disney as the top name globally after it had been atop the global box office from 2016 to 2022 — the worst news the company could have gotten to close out a very bad year.
“In 2023, Universal once again found success at the box office with our eclectic slate of films,” Jim Orr, Universal Pictures president of domestic distribution, said in a statement.
“Our slate featured blockbusters like Christopher Nolan’s epic ‘Oppenheimer’ and Illumination’s record-breaking ‘The Super Mario Bros. Movie,’ horror hits including Blumhouse’s breakout hit ‘M3GAN,’ comedies, dramas, and family films from two of the biggest names in animation, Illumination and DreamWorks Animation,” he said.
The studio wasn’t the only one tooting its horn.
“Universal seems to have found the perfect balance of franchise films, animation, horror and everything in between — and these assets are given every possible advantage with a pitch perfect strategy that combines great filmmaker relationships, fantastic marketing and a rock solid distribution plan,” said Paul Dergarabedian, chief box office analyst with Comscore, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
So, what’s the reason for Disney’s fall?
Ask CEO Bob Iger and he’ll say it was too much product. “We lost focus,” he told investors in a Nov. 8 earnings call, promising to put quality before quantity in the future.
If “losing focus” looks like this, then yes, I agree with Iger:
Disney has a man in a dress working in the dress store for little girls at Disneyland. This is who Disney wants girls to see when they first walk in to pick out a dress. pic.twitter.com/Ta2dwyAaSa
— Jason Jones (@jonesville) May 30, 2023
No, that isn’t a scene out of a Disney movie, although it might have been at home in the original 1967 version of “The Producers.” While that may have been at one of the company’s theme parks, having a man in a dress outside a dress shop for little girls sent an unmistakable message to parents when it went viral in May: Disney is brand woke and nothing, it seems, will stop that.
For instance, take filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy. (Take her, please, I can hear Bob Iger saying.) She’s the director of the next “Star Wars” movie — and just in case you thought the franchise hadn’t gone woke enough, here’s what she had to say in a New Year’s Eve interview on CNN:
“We’re in 2024 now, and I think it’s about time that we had a woman come forward to shape the story in a galaxy far, far away.”
Disney hands over the $67 billion Star Wars franchise to a Pakistani feminist activist
Obaid-Chinoy on the new film she will be directing for the franchise:
“We’re in 2024. It’s about time we have a woman shape a story in a galaxy far, far away.” pic.twitter.com/inhZHZrpHV
— End Wokeness (@EndWokeness) January 3, 2024
And just how might Obaid-Chinoy shape it?
Here’s what she had to say in a 2015 interview with Jon Stewart, who said her work demonstrated a common thread: that “men are a**holes.”
WARNING: The following video contains language that some viewers will find offensive.
Yes, that’s right: “I like to make men uncomfortable,” Obaid-Chinoy said. “I enjoy making men uncomfortable.”
Truth be told, I’m already uncomfortable enough watching a “Star Wars” movie, given that my nerdery tends to run in different directions. However, if I’m told straight-up by a director that her work is meant to make me uncomfortable, my response isn’t to see it in order to self-flagellate.
I thank her for her honesty and, when the next installment in the “Star Wars” franchise comes out in 2026, I and another 50 percent of the human race (give or take) know well enough to avoid it.
This is the trap Disney has set for itself. The Mickey Mouse silhouette is to films what the Bud Light logo is to beer drinkers: a political statement.
Almost every Disney-released film these days — even for young children — wades into the same propaganda swamps that have swallowed up the company’s profits in recent years. Its market share is declining, streaming cancelations are up and there’s no end in sight to this madness.
Meanwhile, the politics-free “Super Mario Bros. Movie” was the biggest hit of the year and spawned a franchise that will likely see significant future returns.
Not only that, but studios have a blueprint to counter Disney: Don’t mess with politics, just make good movies.
Things may have been bad in 2023 for Bob Iger and Co., but it has nothing on how dismal the future now looks for the industry’s biggest player.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.