Family audiences turned out in force, propelling Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” to the top of the box office over the Memorial Day weekend. The film, a live-action remake of the 1988 animated favorite, earned a splashy $117.5 million over the four-day holiday. It ranks as the fifth largest Memorial Day debut — last year’s “Top Gun: Maverick” set a new record for the holiday with its $160.5 million launch. At one point over the weekend, it looked as if “The Little Mermaid” might even open north of $120 million, but ticket sales flagged slightly.
For Disney, the film’s popularity is a testament to its strategy of digging deep into its vaults and rebooting animated titles as live action movies, something it has done successfully with the likes of “Aladdin,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King.” Waiting out on the horizon: Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, the Oscar-winning director of “Summer of Soul,” is helming a remake of “The Aristocats” for Disney.
If it wants to turn a profit, “The Little Mermaid,” which carries a production budget of $250 million, will need to keep appealing to crowds over the next few weeks. That could be more challenging internationally since the animated original isn’t as beloved in many countries as it is in the U.S. So far, the film has earned an underwhelming $68.1 million from more than 51 markets, including such major territories as France, the U.K., Mexico, Australia, Brazil and South Korea.
“The Little Mermaid” stars Halle Bailey as Ariel, the daughter of King Triton (Javier Bardem), ruler of an ocean kingdom, who becomes enamored with a prince (Jonah Hauer-King) above the surface. Her desire to be with him spurs her to make a pact with Ursula (Melissa McCarthy) to give up her soaring voice in return for a human form. Rob Marshall, the filmmaker behind musicals such as “Chicago” and “Into the Woods,” directed this music-heavy tale, which features such songs as “Part of Your World” and “Under the Sea.” Analysts believe that the film was helped by its PG rating and multi-generational appeal — people who saw the original as children are taking their own kids to the movie some three and a half decades later.
“It’s a perfect family film,” said Paul Dergarabedian, chief analyst at Comscore. “The character of Ariel resonates as strongly today, if not stronger, than it did when the original animated film opened.”
Two other summer releases used the holiday to pad their grosses. Universal’s “Fast X” picked up $28.7 million over the long weekend. The sequel to the long running vehicular franchise has struggled at the domestic box office, earning a dispiriting $113.6 million after two weeks. It has performed better overseas, where it has earned nearly $400 million to bring it global haul north of $500 million, making it the third highest-grossing movie of 2023. The franchise has crossed the $7 billion mark at the global box office to become the fifth highest-grossing film series of all-time.
Disney and Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” took third place with $26.1 million for the four-day holiday. That brings the gross for the superhero sequel, intended to serve as a farewell to the galactic team, to $305.6 million.
The rest of the top five was rounded out by Universal’s “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” which grossed $8.3 million, and Sony and Legendary’s action-comedy “The Machine,” which debuted to a measly $6 million over the four-day stretch. “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is currently the most popular film of the year, having earned more than $1.2 billion at the global box office.
“The Machine” was part of a trio of new releases that flopped. Lionsgate’s “About My Father” with standup Sebastian Maniscalco earned a paltry $5.4 million over the four-day holiday, while the latest Gerard Butler action-thriller, “Kandahar,” stumbled with a $3 million bow (Open Road and Briarcliff backed that film). It’s a reminder of just how great a challenge it is to get people to show up to the cinema for something that isn’t a remake, reboot or sequel.