This Is Why Strange World Bombed At The Box Office

This past Thanksgiving weekend was not a particularly good one for the domestic box office. While a holiday lull isn't particularly uncommon for movie theaters, releases like "The Fabelmans" and "Devotion" brought in paltry numbers despite their relatively high-profile nature. However, perhaps no other movie saw a more devastatingly low box office haul than Disney's "Strange World," which only grossed around $18.6 million on a budget of $180 million. It doesn't take a box office expert to see this comparison and figure out that the film, sadly, is a bonafide bomb.

Many within Disney are probably wondering where "Strange World" went wrong. It might be easy for them to immediately turn to its inclusion of a diverse cast — the film centers around a multiracial family of explorers (voiced by Jake Gyllenhaal, Dennis Quaid, Gabrielle Union, and Jaboukie Young-White) arriving on the titular world to save a valuable resource. At first glance, given that "Strange World" has seemingly been review-bombed on aggregates like IMDb, this might appear to be the primary reason that it underperformed.

However, that explanation is ultimately just one of several that could explain why "Strange World" didn't deliver. The film's large budget, an unclear marketing campaign, allegedly rocky company politics, and the overall lack of movie theater attendance this year seemed to create a perfect storm of issues.

An uphill battle from the start

Before we start talking about "Strange World," let's take a look at another major animated release that came out this year — "Minions: The Rise of Gru." Box Office Mojo reports that the "Despicable Me" spin-off grossed over $369 million domestically and $937.8 million worldwide. Not only was this a big box office haul, but it also proved to be profitable for Illumination because of its $80 million budget.

As previously stated, "Strange World" cost $180 million to make and is currently the tenth-most expensive animated film of all time — it is currently tied with "WALL-E" for the spot. In fact, a ton of big Disney and/or Pixar animated releases starting from 2010 had similarly massive budgets. "Tangled" and 2019's "The Lion King" remake cost around $260 million each to produce, while movies with budgets of $200 million include "Cars 2," the last two "Toy Story" films, and "Lightyear," which also performed below expectations this year.

Not only are movies in general costing more to produce, but Disney and Pixar are seemingly increasing the budgets of their movies above the industry's current standard. All of this is important for one simple reason: the higher the budget, the more difficult it will be for these movies to turn a profit.

Can Disney balance theatrical releases and Disney+?

Normally, it wouldn't be hard for Disney movies to make money, even with larger-than-expected budgets. However, the mega-corporation has not been immune to the effects of this year's low box office turnout. While hits like "Top Gun: Maverick" helped give theaters a much-needed shot in the arm, the surrounding months have not been as successful in bringing people back to the big screen.

Part of this likely has to do with the increased prevalence of streaming services, including Disney+. The service has successfully provided a one-stop shop for the company's large portfolio. However, it has also seen its fair share of controversy due to the alleged theatrical sidelining of animated films. Some criticized the move to have Pixar's "Turning Red" be a Disney+ exclusive despite massive critical acclaim and high viewership numbers, and 2021 saw two major releases, "Luca" and "Soul," get relegated to the platform.

"We don't want to be a title just on Disney+," an anonymous Pixar staffer revealed at the time. "These movies are crafted for the big screen. We want you to watch these movies with no distractions, no looking at your phones."

Proper audience communication is key

While these decisions certainly contributed to the performance of "Strange World" at the box office, arguably the most obvious factor was the film's marketing campaign. Despite ads for the movie playing frequently during sports events like the 2022 FIFA World Cup, it feels as if the marketing campaign for "Strange World" hasn't been nearly as prevalent as other Disney movies of the past.

To make matters worse, the marketing that was released for the film had a hard time explaining what it was even about. While they appropriately focused on the stunning animated visuals, it was hard to gauge what the story of "Strange World" was just by the released footage alone. What is the Strange World? Who are these explorers, and why are they there? It's important to answer these questions when promoting a movie, but unfortunately, many potential viewers were left in the dark. It's hard to sell a movie if you can't properly convey what it's about.

This issue could be indicative of a larger marketing problem at Disney. If you recall the lead-up to "Lightyear," it was emphasized that the film was actually supposed to be a movie in the "Toy Story" universe, something that wasn't exactly made clear upon its initial announcement. It's likely that the company is currently relying too much on its name alone to sell its films, a tactic that has never worked out for them in the past.

The firing at the center of it all

It's hard not to attribute this bomb to a recent high-profile firing conducted by Disney. Last week, Bob Chapek was terminated from his position as CEO and was simultaneously replaced by Bob Iger. We reported at the time that the firing came down to a staggering loss of money attributed to the decisions Chapek oversaw during his brief time in the position.

Disney+ is among these lost profits, as the streamer has allegedly lost nearly $1.5 billion and is struggling to become profitable. With this in mind, it might explain why "Strange World" was given a coveted theatrical release. Considering how much money it cost to make the movie, it may have been easier for Disney to just release it in theaters so they can attempt to recoup costs. According to Deadline, post-Chapek Disney could be looking to make a clearer picture of what gets sent to theaters and what is released on Disney+ — higher-budget releases might head to theaters, while mid-budget fare could hit Disney+.

If we're being realistic, Chapek was certainly not responsible for all of the weird decisions made surrounding the release of "Strange World." Rather, it was a company-wide effort that ultimately failed. However, you also can't deny that these decisions were overseen and approved by the embattled executive, and the company's decision to oust him days before the film's release can't be a coincidence.

Where we go from here

It's hard to imagine that the box office performance of "Strange World" will significantly affect Disney from a financial standpoint. However, it will likely serve as a major wake-up call for the company. You can't have a lackadaisical approach to promoting your projects, especially not when they have budgets of $180 million or higher. It's also more important for the company to create a better idea of their theatrical and streaming release schedule, as well as consider reining in the ballooning budgets of their animated movies.

Disney is too powerful a company to be taken down by one financial bomb, and the striking visual style of "Strange World" should be appreciated regardless of how much money it made. However, it seems that there were several business-related factors potentially at play that caused the film to underperform. There's a chance that it will be too easy to point the finger at one specific issue, such as the reception and promotion of the film's diversity, and say that was the reason it bombed. 

Things in the entertainment industry are rarely that straightforward, especially for a company as influential as Disney. While it's sad to see the work of hundreds of people fail to turn a profit, here's to hoping the mishandling of "Strange World" is the motivation the company needs to get back on track.