How ‘Inside Out 2’ Brought a Feast to the Starving 2024 Box Office | Analysis

The last three years of the box office are best described as cycles of feast or famine — long slumps followed by huge hits. It happened with “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Avatar: The Way of Water” in 2022, and 2023 brought us the Barbenheimer phenomenon.

And now, with the first-ever $100 million second weekend from an animated film, “Inside Out 2” has put an end to the two-month famine that ravaged the beginning of the 2024 summer movie season. A massive feast is here.

After just two weekends, Disney and Pixar’s critical and commercial smash hit sequel has amassed $355 million at the domestic box office and $724 million worldwide, passing “Dune: Part Two” as the year’s highest grossing film. It will set a high bar to clear next month for fellow Disney release “Deadpool & Wolverine” as it could become the first Disney-distributed animated title to pass $1 billion since “Frozen II” in 2019, potentially as early as next week.

No single film can completely deadlift the box office — the $625 million in overall domestic grosses for June so far are behind the $790 million grossed to this point a year ago — but “Inside Out 2” should get June’s overall total past $800 million and lead into a July that will be on par with what is expected for the summer.

So how did “Inside Out 2” put an end to the famine? The Pixar sequel’s expectation-smashing success is due in part to the long gap between the first film’s release in 2015 and the follow-up. Gen Z-ers who saw the original as kids are now flocking to theaters as adults with purchasing power — some with kids of their own.

That’s a strategy that is markedly different from those of rivals like DreamWorks, which have waited less time to roll out animated sequels.

“Back in the day before home video, Disney used to re-release their classic movies every seven years to have that generational continuity,” noted Comscore analyst Paul Dergarabedian. “It’s a similar effect with these sequels, with kids who saw films growing up alongside the characters in sequels like ‘Toy Story 3’ and ‘Inside Out 2.’”

Also fueling the success of “Inside Out” is a lack of competition in the heart of the summer. It has taken advantage of the reduced release slate that came before it to deliver Pixar one of the studio’s biggest hits at a crucial moment for the beloved animation studio.

The performance of “Inside Out 2” with this kids-to-adults trend bodes well for Disney and Pixar’s upcoming slate, and is likely to help get Disney’s animation divisions out of their recent struggles and back to performing as strongly as Universal’s Illumination has in recent years.

$100 million+ second weekends at the domestic box office (Data via Box Office Mojo)
$100 million+ second weekends at the domestic box office (Data via Box Office Mojo)

Mind the gap

As TheWrap noted before “Inside Out 2” came out, there’s no hard and fast formula for when to release a sequel that isn’t greenlit immediately after a film’s box office success. But “Inside Out 2” is the latest example of how the unspoken policy by Pixar and Walt Disney Animation of putting several years between sequels can pay dividends.

Back in 2018, “Incredibles 2” hit theaters a full 14 years after the first film opened, drawing in not only the usual family moviegoers with its strong audience and critical reception but also heavy turnout from Millennials who saw the first “Incredibles” as kids or preteens. The box office haul: $608 million domestic and $1.24 billion worldwide, totals that “Inside Out 2” could surpass if it is able to keep legging out strong — even with Illumination’s “Despicable Me 4” due out in July.

If it does, it will be in good part because “Inside Out” has been for Gen Z what “Incredibles” was for Millennials, capturing the nostalgia of millions of moviegoers in their 20s.

The wider release gaps of Pixar, a Disney subsidiary, are a noticeable difference from other studios like DreamWorks, which rolled out an entire “Trolls” trilogy in the time between the release of the two “Inside Out” films.

More than five years have passed since the release of several of Disney and Pixar’s biggest hit films of the last decade, and Disney is pulling the trigger on sequels to several of them, including “Moana 2” (due this fall, eight years removed from its predecessor), “Zootopia 2” (due in November 2025, nine years removed), “Toy Story 5” (opening June 2026, seven years removed), and “Frozen III” (due in November 2026, seven years removed).

Disney/Pixar waited 14 years to release the sequel “Incredibles 2” (Disney/Pixar)

None of those films will help Disney solve the industry-wide conundrum of getting families to turn out for fresh IP — watch next year to see if Pixar’s “Elio” can become the first original animated film since “Coco” in 2017 to pass $500 million worldwide — but they are sure to dispel any concerns theaters might have had that Disney has lost its magic touch for making event films for families.

It’s also a likely reaffirmation of Pixar’s sound fundamentals for its creative chief, Pete Docter, who said in an interview with Time Magazine prior to the release of “Inside Out 2” that he felt optimistic the film would perform well with fans of the original, but noted that major changes would have to be considered if it didn’t.

“It just means we’re going to have to think even more radically about how we run our business [if it underperforms],” Docter said. “So far Pixar has built a business around pretty large budgets. It allows us to make a lot of mistakes and take risks, and if it doesn’t work, we can still go back and fix it.”

Docter added that “if you really want to make it cheap, you think of an idea, and you make it. But if you want to make it good, you have to change and iterate a ton and that’s what we’ve been able to do so far.” He also acknowledged that the studio has already reduced its budgets after the underperformance of 2023’s “Elemental” and 2022’s bust “Lightyear.”

When they hit, they hit hard

It is worth noting that “Inside Out 2” isn’t just performing well as a family film. It is holding as strongly as any of the biggest live-action box office hits since the pandemic. Dropping just 36% from its $155 million opening weekend, it has the best percentage hold ever for a film with an opening weekend above $150 million.

Among Pixar sequels, it’s a better drop than the 56% for “Incredibles 2,” the 51% for “Toy Story 4” and the 46% for “Finding Dory.” It’s even better than the 42% drop that last year’s top-grossing film, “Barbie,” posted as it earned $93 million in its second weekend after opening to $162 million.

Despicable Me 4
“Despicable Me 4” is another highly anticipated animated release this summer (Illumination)

Part of the reason for this incredibly strong hold is that “Inside Out 2” is benefitting from being the box office drought buster. Since none of the films that came out in May got nearly as much traction and this weekend’s new releases are specialty titles, “Inside Out 2” had no major four-quadrant competition and will continue to play unchallenged until “Despicable Me 4” comes out on Fourth of July weekend.

But like blockbusters before it — including “Barbenheimer,” “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” “Avatar: The Way of Water” and “Top Gun: Maverick” — “Inside Out 2” shows that while there are fewer box office megahits, the ones that do hit pull in everyone, from longtime fans of the IP to moviegoers who have gone from buying tickets four or five times a year to just once or twice since the pandemic.

With a heat wave gripping much of the U.S., the promise of spending a few hours in an air-conditioned theater is a more enticing offer than ever, and Pixar has given cinemas just what they need — albeit nearly two months late. It remains to be seen whether it will be able to have as strong legs as “Top Gun: Maverick” or “Barbie” when films like “Deadpool & Wolverine” and “Despicable Me 4” come in and peel moviegoers away.

But Dergarabedian is optimistic.

“This is going to be a constant moneymaker for weeks to come,” he said. “‘Despicable Me 4’ will be major competitor but that generational appeal is going to keep audiences coming in.”

To borrow parlance from the “Inside Out” films, Anxiety has ceded the emotion control panel to Joy.

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