"Toy Story 3" opens across the U.S. todayon a record-setting number of 3-D screens. Now theater chains, Disney, and even its rival studios are anxiously hoping for a hit to turn around a weak summer box office: U.S. ticket sales are down over 6 percent since early May.
Analysts expect the film to bring in about $100 million this weekend, which would be Pixar's biggest debut weekend yet, bolstered by 3-D ticket prices, which are on average $3 more than typical tickets.
The original "Toy Story" hit theaters fifteen years ago, and it's been a decade since the sequel. Such long delays are rare in the industry, and on occasions when they work, like with "Die Hard" or "Indiana Jones," it takes an incredibly strong brand.
Disney has worked to make "Toy Story" fresh by investing in an aggressive ad campaign, even making a big push on Twitter and Facebook. Plus Disney benefits from"Toy Story" attractions at its theme parks, consumer products, and its DVDs, which have introduced the characters to a younger generation. Last fall Disney re-released the first two films, this time in 3-D, to unexpected success: they grossed $32 million at the U.S. box office.
A hit at the box office impacts much more than just Disney's studio. As Jeffries analyst Brian Shipman points out, Disney's hits "fuel a bigger machine." Success in theaters bodes well for consumer products, not to mention interest in theme park attractions and the like. Disney's consumer products chief Andy Mooney projects $2.4 billion in retail sales this year alone from Toy Story related merchandise. Shipman says that will translate to over $200 million in licensing revenue for Disney by the end of September.
But there are some questions facing Disney/Pixar as we head into the weekend. Does the disappointing performance of DreamWorks Animation's Shrek indicate that higher 3-D ticket prices are making moviegoers think twice? Also, the film doesn't open in most international territories until *after* the World Cup. We know that releasing "Alice" the same day all around the world worked incredibly well. Will waiting raise the risk of piracy or diminish interest as the film feels "old"? If the film is a huge hit, that could bolster international momentum, but if it's a disappointment, the opposite would also be true.
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