While watching How To Train Your Dragon 2 for a second time tonight I couldn’t help but notice how empty the theater was, which didn’t exactly correlate with the amazing film being presented in front of me. I got curious–why? Let’s face it. DreamWorks has created a phenomenal animated film. It has received acclaim and rave reviews from both critics and general audiences alike. Dragon 2 succeeds in practically every way. It’s perhaps the best blockbuster you can see this summer. It has a heartfelt storyline, relatable characters, a brilliant orchestral score, and outstanding visuals. This film is a delight, so surely it will go on to become one of the most popular animated features of all time, right? It might even beat Frozen… right?
Unfortunately, not exactly. Let’s talk numbers.The box office for Dragon 2, while not bad by any means, are just not where DreamWorks hoped they would be. The film opened at #2 behind another sequel 22 Jump Street–in nearly 1,000 more theaters. It debuted with a solid $49 million, but that is only 13% higher than what the the first film in the series opened to in 2010 ($43 million). It dropped 50% in its second weekend, while the first film only dropped 33%. The original film is still one of DreamWorks’ best performing films, so it’s only logical that DreamWorks would expect stellar financial performance. Not only did they expect the film to perform, but they needed it to. With Dragon 2 on track to gross $180 million domestically (they had expected $250 million), DreamWorks is expecting its second financial loss in three years.
So what went wrong? Certainly nothing with the film itself, that much is clear. It’s one of the only family-centric movies out at the moment, with the other being Maleficent. The rest are either dramas or comedies that don’t appeal much to children. Being knocked down to #2 on opening weekend is a little peculiar since the film should have eaten up family crowds and easily taken the top spot. In its second weekend it was topped again by 22 Jump Street and newcomer Think Like a Man 2, both comedies.
AOL Moviefone makes some great points about this subject. The first is that animation in general is not performing well this year. Last year proved a more lucrative year for animation, most notably Disney’s Frozen which has grossed more than a billion to date. The Lego Movie did well at the beginning of the year, coming hot off the heels of Disney’s popular film. After that, Mr. Peabody and Sherman and Rio 2 both performed below expectations. Dragon 2 follows that trend. The only guess I have as to why this is happening is there is no huge incentive to make people want to see these movies as much as films like Frozen and The Lego Movie. Frozen likely took off so fast due to the fact that it is such a return to form for Disney. People who grew up with Disney animated musicals had a reason to see a Disney film in theaters again. The same is true for Lego–childhood memories coming to life. There is no nostalgic spark for recent animated films (Peabody resonates with the older crowd, who are generally less interested in animation).
The other point Moviefone makes that makes sense is that girls have simply seen all they want to see at the theater. They’ve seen a powerful female heroine in Maleficent, a heartfelt love story in The Fault in Our Stars, and now they’re moving on to heartthrob Channing Tatum in 22 Jump Street. The point here is that they aren’t going to go see an animated film about a viking boy and dragons when they can go see the actor they want to marry in silver screen glory, now matter how good that animated film is.
I would have to agree with those points. Films like Frozen and The Lego Movie, with their nostalgic themes, appeal to both boys and girls; they were also both marketed as such. While Dragon 2 is a splendid animated treat that the whole family can enjoy, the sad reality is that lesser films are being given more attention for all the wrong reasons.
With the film still yet to release internationally, and with a budget of $145 million, DreamWorks still has a chance to make a profit on this film. If you haven’t seen this movie yet, GO! Take your family and friends. DreamWorks has a gem of a film on their hands that is being under appreciated.