Movie-goers are eagerly anticipating Disney's (DIS) Beauty and the Beast's opening weekend, which is expected to bring in between $120 million and $140 million domestically and above $100 million internationally. The movie, which opens tonight with a wider release scheduled for Friday, stars Emma Watson as the bookish Belle who confronts the Beast played by Dan Stevens in order to rescue her father.
The Disney princess remake of the 1991 animated classic cost $160 million and has the chance to break the record for the biggest opening weekend for a PG title, currently held by Disney's Finding Dory, which opened to $135 million last summer and went on to gross over $1 billion worldwide.
"The anticipation and excitement around this movie is astonishing," Disney CEO Bob Iger said during the company's first-quarter conference call. "The first trailer drew more than 127 million online views in the first 24 hours, breaking the record held by Star Wars: The Force Awakens."
The highly anticipated release is also expected to boost Disney's shares, which have risen so far this year. Disney was trading at about $111 shortly before Thursday's close, down slightly for the day, compared to $106.08 at the beginning of 2017 and about $99 in mid-March 2016.
Earlier this week Guggenheim raised Disney's price target to $128 from $118 and upgraded its stock rating to "buy" from "neutral," partly due to its robust film lineup.
"We believe Disney's content offering is poised to exceed consensus expectations, beginning with the box office opening of Beauty and the Beast on March 17 and including the slate of Star Wars, Pixar, Marvel and Disney films through fiscal 2018," the note said. "Where we are incrementally optimistic is beyond 2018, when franchises including Frozen, Toy Story and Indiana Jones return."
Advanced ticket sales for the film started on January 30 and became Fandango's (owned by Comcast's (CMCSA) NBCUniversal) top family pre-seller ever. "With its dazzling new trailers, ['Beauty and the Beast'] is creating tremendous buzz among movie fans of all ages," Fandango managing editor Erik Davis in a statement last month. "Its pre-sales rival those of a superhero movie."
The reboot is coming at a time when family movies are "sweeping up at the box office" simply because PG movies are so few and far between these days, Exhibitor Relations senior box office analyst Jeff Bock said. "Demand for family films are higher now, especially when they're well done," he said, noting that he definitely sees the film breaking the opening weekend record for a PG-rated film.
People have been incredibly receptive to the reboot of this classic, beloved film, while complaining about reboots of other films, claiming movie studios are running out of ideas. "We have never seen as much backlash as we did last summer with the reboot of Ghostbusters," Bock said. "But Disney does it right and appeases their hardcore fans first."
Senior media analyst at comScore Paul Dergarabedian said that Disney has perfected its strategy at rebooting its classic animated films. These reboots are part of Disney's long-term legacy so the company takes it very seriously, knowing that one misstep could taint its legacy, he explained. "These films are so perfectly realized in every aspect," he said. "They aren't sitting on their laurels, pulling a film out of the vault and quickly turning it out."
Disney has had a number of successful animated reboots, including Alice in Wonderland (2010, more than $1 billion worldwide), Maleficent (2014, $758.5 million worldwide), Cinderella (2015, $543.5 million worldwide) and The Jungle Book (2016, 966.6 million worldwide). In addition, Disney has eleven animated remakes in the works: The Little Mermaid, Dumbo, The Lion King, Aladdin, The Sword in the Stone, Mulan, Pinocchio, Peter Pan, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cruella and Mary Poppins Returns.
"Disney got serious about this reboot strategy after Alice in Wonderland did so well, and it's continuing to work so they're not going to slow down any time soon," Bock explained.
In addition to riding the wave of demand for more family films and Disney reboots, Beauty is also opening in the newly hot box office month of March, which was a dead month until the stunning performance of Alice in Wonderland in 2010, Dergarabedian said. "March is the new May," he said. Beauty is likely to break the record for best March domestic opening weekend, currently held by Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016, $330.4 worldwide), which opened to $166 million domestically, beating out the previous $152.5 record held by The Hunger Games (2012, $408 million worldwide). The Box Office has already seen a number of overperformers this month, including Logan ($160.6 million domestic total), Split ($136 million domestic total) and Get Out ($115.6 domestic total).
The reviews for Beauty haven't been as good as they were for Zootopia or The Jungle Book, but that might be because expectations for the new film are so high, according to Bock. The film currently has a 69% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. In addition, Malaysia banned the movie because the film features a gay character that Disney has refused to cut out for the Muslim-majority country whose religious leaders disapprove of homosexuality, according to Reuters. "The film has not been and will not be cut for Malaysia," Disney said in a statement. Local distributors asked for the decision to keep the film out of Malaysia to be reviewed by the Censorship Board of the country, which is expected to take place Tuesday.