Why is Universal making a live-action 'How to Train Your Dragon'? These charts may explain

Key Points
  • Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Animation are making a live-action "How to Train Your Dragon" film, due in theaters in 2025.
  • Rival studio Disney has proven that live-action remakes of classic animated features are profitable at the global box office.

In this article

Still from Universal and Dreamworks' "How to Train Your Dragon 2."
Universal | Dreamworks

Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Animation are taking a page out of Disney's playbook.

For the last decade, the Walt Disney Company has been transforming its classic animated features into live-action theatrical and streaming features. Earlier this week, Universal said it would be doing the same for one of its own animated franchises: How to Train Your Dragon.

The live-action adaptation based on the 2010 film about the friendship between a young man and his dragon is due in theaters March 14, 2025.

Dean DeBlois, who wrote and directed all three films in the animated trilogy, is on tap to write and direct the live-action version. The films' story was based on the best-selling book series by Cressida Cowell.

Universal's decision to translate the successful animated franchise to live action has precedent.

Since 2010, Disney has released 11 theatrical live-action remakes — from "Alice in Wonderland" to "Cruella" — generating more than $8.6 billion at the global box office, according to data from Comscore. Three additional films — "Mulan," "Lady and the Tramp" and "Pinocchio" — were sent straight to streaming service Disney+.

Disney has had varied success with these theatrical releases.

Seven of the remakes have generated more than $500 million globally, and four topped the $1 billion mark, including "The Lion King," which tallied more than $1.65 billion in 2019.

Others, such as "Dumbo" and "Alice Through the Looking Glass," were less popular in theaters. Additionally, Disney released "Cruella" at a time when pandemic restrictions and public concern meant many people avoided going to the cinema.

Disney continues to bet on these films. "The Little Mermaid" is due in theaters May 26, and "Peter Pan and Wendy," "Snow White" and "Mufasa: The Lion King" are due out in the next 12 to 18 months.

What is, perhaps, most notable about Disney's live-action remakes is how much of the ticket sales were generated from international markets. This is something Universal is likely also keyed into when creating the live-action version of "How to Train Your Dragon."

The How to Train Your Dragon franchise has done well domestically but outperformed in foreign regions. While the first film had a fairly even split between domestic and international, the two sequels both saw around 70% of ticket sales from markets outside the U.S. and Canada, according to data from Comscore.

So Universal not only has proof that live-action remakes can dazzle at the domestic box office, it also can see they will likely capture international audiences as well.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal is the parent company of Universal Pictures and CNBC. NBCUniversal owns DreamWorks and distributes the "How to Train Your Dragon" films.