Was Disney’s 100th Year a Success or a Disaster?

Disney 100
Disney 100

On October 16, 1923, brothers Walt and Roy E. Disney founded the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio in Hollywood, California. Little did they know, this would be the start of what would become Hollywood’s largest corporation, still producing and distributing potential blockbusters a hundred years after their founding.

2023 should’ve been a fantastic year for Disney, and while there were a few wins here and there, it’s been mostly a disastrous year for the company, with many of their releases costing them serious financial losses or receiving less-than-stellar reviews. Let’s look at Disney’s 2023 releases and see how well they fared commercially and critically.


Marvel and Lucasfilm

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania

Not too long ago, the Marvel Cinematic Universe seemed indestructible, but 2023 has burnt that perception to the ground. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania only made $463 million when it needed at least $600 million to break even. It also received a rotten 46% on Rotten Tomatoes, the second Marvel film after Eternals to receive a score below 60%. The show Secret Invasion ranked slightly higher but still couldn’t get a fresh rating, earning only 53%.

Finishing the year even more weakly, The Marvels was a box office bomb, garnering only $197 million against a production budget of $274.8 million, and also only scored 61% on Rotten Tomatoes, only barely getting past the 60% score needed to be considered fresh.

Luckily, in between Ant-Man and The Marvels was the release of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, a massive hit both commercially and critically. The movie made $845 million against a $250 million budget, making it the fourth highest-grossing film of 2023, and earned a certified fresh 82%. Loki also premiered and completed its second season this year and received rave reviews, also earning 82%.

As for LucasFilms, the show Ahsoka premiered last October and was highly praised, earning 86% and being hailed as “a rollicking dive into a beloved franchise.” Sadly for Indiana Jones, the new film The Dial of Destiny was one of 2023’s biggest bombs, earning only $334 million when it needed at least $750 million to break even, and received a score of 69%, the lowest Tomatometer score ever received by an Indiana Jones film.


Disney on the Big Screen

Pixar Elemental
Pixar Elemental

2023 had a lot on its shoulders for Disney at the box office after the company saw serious disappointments with films like Lightyear and Strange World. Unfortunately, 2023 might’ve been even more disappointing. Where Disney’s live-action remakes typically make over a billion dollars, The Little Mermaid only raked in $568 million, barely breaking even against an incredibly high reported budget of $297 million plus marketing costs.

Elemental was a surprise sleeper hit, originally doing poorly (and predicted to become a flop) but managed to pull through the longer it stayed in cinemas, earning a total return of $486 million. It’s not the usual Pixar numbers of $800+ million, but it at least did more than break even.

Still, the fact that a Pixar movie only managed to succeed by doing so gradually, especially when Pixar is one of the most prominent and recognized studio names in Western animation, spells trouble for the future of the animation studio. Watch any Pixar trailer and you’ll see how heavily they rely on studio recognition for marketing. What’s going to happen now that that’s no longer sturdy reliability?

On the bright side, The Little Mermaid and Elemental both received good (if not great) reviews, receiving Tomatometer scores of 67% and 74%, respectively. However, Pixar movies very often rank above 90%. Elemental is much lower than what’s expected from the studio, but it at least managed to score a Certified Fresh rating.

The same can’t be said for either Haunted Mansion or Wish, both receiving rotten scores of 37% and 48%, respectively. Haunted Mansion was also a straight-up flop, only earning $114 million against a budget of $157 million. Currently, Wish has only made $82 million against an estimated budget of $200 million, but it’s still showing in theaters, so it might end up becoming a sleeper hit just like Elemental.

If not, it’ll join Lightyear, Strange World, and Encanto in Disney’s list of post-pandemic animated box office disappointments, but Wish might also follow in Encanto’s footsteps and become a hit only after its streaming release.


Disney+ Originals

American Born Chinese
American Born Chinese

To go through every Disney+ original release this year would be exhausting, but one significant film was Crater, which was released on Disney+ last April only to be removed from the streaming service seven weeks after its release. There was no mention, either, of whether the film would get a digital release or not, but the movie thankfully got one in September.

This isn’t Disney+’s first time purging their content — titles like Stargirl and Willow were also removed with no mention if they’d be accessible elsewhere — but Crater’s incredibly short streaming lifespan, especially, has furthered discussion on the fragility of streaming exclusivity and the importance of physical media.

With new shows, however, Disney+ premiered The Muppets Mayhem and American Born Chinese which both earned positive reviews from critics, earning 86% and 94%, respectively. Percy Jackson and the Olympians is also set to premiere this December 20, and could very well launch the next big children’s franchise given the popularity of the books.

A certain short film should also be noted, as Once Upon a Studio was released on October 16, the very date Disney was founded. Featuring characters from every single Disney Animation film, Once Upon a Studio was praised for being a heartwarming nostalgic offering, and The Game of Nerds called it “the epitome of everything that made Disney — well, Disney.”

The mere fact that Disney’s made it to 100 years is impressive, but their 100th year itself has been more than disappointing. The highs are greatly outweighed by the lows and given how bad 2022 was for Disney as well, the company may very well be at the beginning of another dark age. However, if history has taught us anything,  Disney has always managed to bounce back, and it probably won’t be too long before the world is obsessing over another singing princess again.

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