Buzz Lightyear failed to reach box office hyperspace over the weekend. But it was unclear why.
“Lightyear,” the first Pixar movie to be released in theaters in more than two years, sold an estimated $51 million in tickets at 4,255 locations in the United States and Canada in its first three days in release, according to Comscore, which compiles box office data. While stout, that total fell nearly 30 percent below prerelease analyst expectations and was not enough to eclipse “Jurassic World Dominion” as the No. 1 multiplex draw.
“This is a soft opening for a spinoff of one of the most successful animation series of all time,” said David A. Gross, a consultant who publishes a subscription newsletter on box office numbers.
Overseas, “Lightyear” collected an additional $34.6 million. “In nearly all international markets, ‘Lightyear’ is opening ahead of upcoming school holidays and so long-term play is key,” Disney said in a box office report on Sunday.
The movie was banned in 14 small box office markets in the Middle East and Southeast Asia because it briefly depicts a same-sex relationship. In one scene, a space ranger voiced by Uzo Aduba gives her wife a tiny kiss. The Chinese authorities have not yet said whether they will clear “Lightyear” for release. But box office analysts are not hopeful given the country’s previous stance on LGBTQ content.
The $200 million movie revisits Pixar’s hugely successful “Toy Story” franchise. But this time the conceit is very different. “Lightyear” is a prequel about the human Buzz Lightyear — who served as inspiration for the toy Buzz fans know and love — and his effort to escape from a hostile alien planet. Being human, Buzz sounds different, with Chris Evans providing his voice. (Tim Allen voiced Buzz the action figure in “Toy Story,” released in 1995, and three sequels.) There is also no Woody.
Reviews were mostly positive, although to a lesser degree than normal for a Pixar release. (“It succeeds in a manner more in line with second-tier Disney animation than with top-shelf Pixar,” AO Scott wrote in The New York Times.) Domestic ticket buyers gave “Lightyear” an A-minus grade in CinemaScore exit polls .
So why did “Lightyear” disappoint?
Disney has trained families to expect Pixar movies to arrive on the Disney+ streaming service; the last three Pixar films — “Soul,” “Luca” and “Turning Red” — debuted online, with Disney citing the coronavirus pandemic as the reason. Some fans were turned off by the absence of Allen as the primary vocal talent, populating Twitter with #NotMyBuzz commentary. In a tweet that went viral Last week, the actress Patricia Heaton drew attention to Allen’s absence. “Why would they completely castrate this iconic, beloved character?” she wrote.
Some ultraconservative politicians and pundits criticized the film — sight unseen — for including a same-sex relationship. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas railed against “woke Disney” on a podcast, citing the depiction of “lesbian toys” in “Lightyear.”
Although the pandemic has waned, some parents undoubtedly remain squeamish about going to theaters. (Another test will come on July 1, when Universal rolls out the animated spinoff sequel “Minions: The Rise of Gru.”)
And competition from holdover films was strong. “Jurassic World Dominion” from Universal took in about $58.7 million in North America, for a two-week domestic total of about $250 million. “Lightyear” was second. “Top Gun: Maverick” (Paramount) remained healthy in third place, collecting roughly $11 million and lifting its four-week domestic total to $466 million.