Walt Disney Co.’s (DIS) “Beauty and the Beast” premieres on more than 4,000 screens Friday, and judging from early ticket sales and analyst estimates, the media company has another blockbuster on its hands.
So much so that Wall Street firm Piper Jaffray analyst Stan Meyers predicted after screening the movie that Disney could take in $900 million from the film. If that turns out to be true, Disney would have a strong start to 2017 coming off of an impressive showing for its film business last year. In 2016, four of the top five grossing movies were all Disney films. "Finding Dory" brought in $486 million in domestic box office sales, while "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" brought in $425 million in the U.S. "Captain America: Civil War" did $408 million in box office sales in the U.S. and "The Jungle Book" earned $364 million. Universal’s "The Secret Life of Pets" came in at fourth place in 2016 with domestic ticket sales of $368 million. On a global scale, all four of the Disney films had gross sales of $900 million to $1 billion, and that doesn't take into account merchandising and products centered on the films.
Little Competition This Weekend
While the live-action remake of the 1991 classic is getting good reviews, Disney has something else going for it: little completion in terms of new movies this weekend and in the next few weeks. Given the darker edge to the film, it is also expected to appeal to a wider audience, which in turn should boost sales.
“We attended an early screening of Beauty and the Beast and walked away incrementally more confident in our $900M global box office forecast,” wrote Piper Jaffray analyst Stan Meyers in a research report covered by Barron's. “We expect the film to open in the $130-$140M range, ahead of the current $125M tracking with $8M in IMAX domestically. Beyond the film, we expect the release to reinvigorate consumer products sales and drive incremental attendance to the theme parks.” The analyst said the firm still “favors” Disney’s stock and thinks the film business will improve margins over time and “widens its competitive moat.”
There’s one controversy associated with the remake that may impact sales, although not so much in the U.S. "Beauty and the Beast" has a gay subplot that has caused consternation among Christian groups and in at least two foreign countries. Earlier this week the movie was halted in Malaysia, a majority-Muslim country, despite cutting a gay scene out of the movie. According to the Associated Press, Malaysia’s two main movie chains said the screening was postponed but didn't provide a reason. Film Censorship Board chairman Abdul Halim Abdul Hamid told the AP said it was approved by the board after a minor gay scene was taken out of the movie, noting promoting that homosexuality is forbidden in Malaysia. The film was given a P13 rating, which means children under the age of 13 can't see the film without parental guidance. (See also: Disney: Hubbub Over Gay 'Beauty/Beast' Character.)