Playing in over 2,600 theaters nationwide, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast 3D had a very solid opening weekend gross of almost $18.5 million, placing it in second place behind Contraband. For a re-release of a movie that came out over twenty years ago, that would seem like a fantastic number. The truth is it’s way behind last year’s 3D re-release of The Lion King which made over $30 million on its opening weekend, and ultimately ended up grossing almost $95 million.

Why the disparity? Is it because Beauty and the Beast is less popular than The Lion King? A general 3D backlash? According to angry exhibitors, it might be because consumers can purchase a Blu-ray of Beauty and the Beast 3D right now, as it’s in theaters. Read more after the jump.

Deadline first reported this news and began with the following:

Rival studios tell me that exhibitors are quietly furious that Disney has begun selling the Beauty And The Beast 3D Blu-Ray DVD at Target and Walmart and other retailers without fanfare at the same time the film goes into theaters today.

However, they then mention, and its confirmed on Amazon, that the Beauty and the Beast 3D set has been on sale since October. They didn’t sneak it out at all.  On the flip side, The Lion King 3D Blu-ray wasn’t released until several weeks after the theatrical premiere. Disney released the following statement to Deadline.

We’ve talked to all of our partners in exhibition about this and have made no secret about the Beauty And The Beast 3D Blu-Ray DVD being available. In fact there are multiple exhibition partners that are tying promotions into the 3D Blu-ray being available, like AMC and Regal.

Another point mentioned, and the main one in my opinion, is the small percentage of homes who own 3D TV’s and are able to use this disc to its full extent. However, I’m sure many families might have purchased the disc over the holidays just because it’s such a massive 5-disc package. Purchases may have also grabbed it with an eye on buying a 3D TV down the road.

Either way, while there’s no way to prove if this had any effect on the box office draw of Beauty and the Beast 3D, it certainly didn’t help it.

What are your thoughts? Did Disney do wrong by the exhibitors by releasing the Blu-ray first? Did it effect the grosses?

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