Harrison Ford returned as his iconic archeologist one last time in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. A film sporting a massive production budget to match equal expectations from Lucasfilm and Disney.
After previously being scheduled to be released on August 11, Haunted Mansion was moved up to July 28, The Marvels was set to release on that date before its delay. Another attempt by Disney to utilize a unique piece of its IP, Haunted Mansion is based on the famous Disney Parks ride and stars Owen Wilson, Rosario Dawson, and more.
The star power for these two films was no match for opening in theaters with Haunted Mansion opening a week after one of the biggest sensations in box office history, the release of Barbie and Oppenheimer on the same day.
The Downfall of Indiana Jones 5 and Haunted Mansion
Beginning with the individual budgets of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny and Haunted Mansion. These two 2023 Disney films cost $295 million for Indy 5 and $150 million for Mansion.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny
The Dial of Destiny in many ways set itself up for failure. With a budget that high, it would have taken a massive box office haul in order for the movie to be profitable for the studio.
Sitting around $376 million at the global box office is nowhere near what Disney wanted (or needed) Indiana Jones 5 to make it globally.
For clarity, movie studios don't even take home all the earnings at the box office, it's split (roughly 50/50) with the movie theaters.
That would equate to The Dial of Destiny losing Disney over $100 million for the studio based on those results. There is room for further earnings post-theatrical window, but this isn't the outcome Lucasfilm was looking for when it greenlit another Indy film.
When watching the film, it's clear how the budget ballooned to be that high, bringing back Harrison Ford can't be cheap, plus they travel to several locations and there are plenty of VFX shots used throughout, especially in the third act.
However, the film's reliance on nostalgia and a built-in fanbase was probably the biggest mistake Disney made. Following the unbelievable success of 2022's Top Gun: Maverick, starring Tom Cruise, Disney may have (mistakenly) gotten even more confident that the fifth Indiana Jones movie would be a huge hit.
Unfortunately for them, the box office results clearly communicate that the 2008 Indiana Jones film (not owned or distributed by Disney) already used up all of the legacy sequel brownie points, grossing $790.6 million worldwide.
Disney swung for the fences and struck out, but what about when the studio just tries to get on base?
The cast of Haunted Mansion is no joke, including LaKeith Stanfield, Rosario Dawson, Owen Wilson, Danny DeVito, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Jared Leto.
Reportedly, the majority of its budget went into this cast full of recognizable stars, somewhere between $50 to $75 million.
Hindsight is always 20/20, but it wouldn't have taken a genius to realize that Haunted Mansion may not reach its full theatrical potential in July, a week after Barbenheimer (one of the biggest weekends in box office history).
The film to date has grossed just $85.3 million worldwide, an objective flop in every market it's played in. Based on the budget, this could lose Disney another $100 million.
In a way, Haunted Mansion is simply one of the most forgettable films to have been released this summer. An unexpected reality considering the cast and built-in fanbase with a connection to the original ride.
Back to the drawing board for new ways to profit off of preexisting IP.
How Can Disney Fix Its Box Office Problem?
To be fair, a couple of misfires at the movie theaters aren't going to drag Disney completely down. A film like Marvel Studios' Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 earned $845.5 million on a $250 million budget.
In this case, Guardians was a big risk that completely paid off, something that Marvel became known for during the mid to late 2010s.
Another win for Disney this year came as a surprise, taking a while to build up steam. Pixar's Elemental got off to a slow start in theaters but has earned $458.4 million worldwide on a budget of $200 million.
This is not as big of a success, but in the beginning, it looked like the film would be joining Lightyear as another recent Pixar failure in theaters.
The problem is films like Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania, The Little Mermaid, and Indiana Jones 5 should have all been major investments that earned an even greater return.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic rewrote the playbook on theatrically released films, Disney owned the box office in 2019. The company distributed seven films that grossed over $1 billion at the box office:
- Captain Marvel - $1.13 billion
- Avengers: Endgame - $2.798 billion
- Aladdin - $1.05 billion
- Toy Story 4 - $1.074 billion
- The Lion King - $1.657 billion
- Frozen II - $1.26 billion
- Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker - $1.07 billion
In 2023, Disney is projected to have zero $1 billion earners.
Some major tests are ahead for the company, none bigger than The Marvels, releasing on November 10. While it was a commercial success, Captain Marvel isn't a beloved comic book adaptation, nor is the recent Secret Invasion Disney+ series that ties into this upcoming crossover film.
Disney isn't the only company hurting from big-budget risks. Warner Bros.' The Flash cost a jaw-dropping $300 million. Ironically, the film was ridiculed for its poor VFX. The movie will go down as a historic flop, only grossing $268 million at the worldwide box office.
A word of advice, stop over-relying on VFX and reshoots on films that pose a huge risk. As mentioned, everything Disney touched turned to gold in 2019, but in 2023 a live-action remake like Little Mermaid ($250 million budget) pales in comparison to films like Alladin, The Lion King, or Beauty and the Beast.
The seventh-highest-earning movie of the year, grossing $568.1 million, the reimagined Mermaid isn't necessarily a flop, but Disney is setting its expectations too high, while also putting its money where its mouth is.
While impossible to recreate, Barbie's $145 million budget is looking like the best theatrical investment of the year, especially considering how this will drive merchandise and toy sales.
Leaning more into calculated risks without letting the budget get too out of control should be the approach for Disney. Bob Iger seems to want to redirect the ship, refocusing on big-budget movies that have a low risk of flopping like Toy Story 5, Frozen 3, and Zootopia 2.
Consumers may not love a continual reliance on brand recognition and sequels, but it's the safest way forward without risking losing money on its theatrical films during a calendar year.
Haunted Mansion and Indiana Jones 5 are dragging the House of Mouse's 2023 slate down, better luck streaming on Disney+.