Doubts over box office for Alice sequel won’t dent Disney appetite for live-action remakes

Experts question Johnny Depp’s star power and say Alice Through the Looking Glass may make only half the money Alice in Wonderland did, but Disney has several potential live-action blockbusters lined up

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 May, 2016, 12:13pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 May, 2016, 3:22pm

As Disney readies to go back down the rabbit hole with Alice Through the Looking Glass, its box office prospects get curiouser and curiouser.

Based on a Lewis Carroll novel, the live-action sequel (in US cinemas on Friday) reunites Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter and Mia Wasikowska from Tim Burton’s CGI-heavy Alice in Wonderland, which stunned with US$334.2 million domestically and a little more than US$1 billion globally in 2010. Since then, Disney has churned out a string of successful remakes of some of its most enduring animated classics, including Cinderella (US$201.2 million), this spring’s The Jungle Book (US$327.4 million) and Sleeping Beauty spin-off Maleficent (US$241.4 million), starring Angelina Jolie.

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But experts say Alice Through the Looking Glass could be the first hiccup in Disney’s live-action frenzy. Despite its family appeal and tactical Memorial Day weekend opening in the US, the PG-rated adventure has just 48 per cent positive reviews from critics on aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes. BoxOffice’s editorial director, Daniel Loria predicts a US$54 million start on its way to a US$170 million total – about half of what Alice in Wonderland pulled in the US. “I don’t think it’s going to have the same magic so many years later, with a follow-up property that may not be immediately familiar,” Loria says.

Expect to see a lot more live-action remakes of Disney animated classics

Erik Davis, managing editor for Fandango.com and Movies.com, says: “If it doesn’t do as well, the star power of Johnny Depp could play into it, being not as powerful as he once was.” A sequel that comes long after the original “can work for a film if the anticipation was there and people are waiting to see how the story continues”, he says. “But in this case, I don’t get the sense that the audience was hankering for a follow-up.”

If Alice Through the Looking Glass underperforms, don’t expect it to slow the studio’s roll. Disney has already announced second instalments for both The Jungle Book and Maleficent, with many more live-action remakes in the pipeline. Those include Tim Burton’s Dumbo; a Mary Poppins sequel with Emily Blunt; Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton; Cruella, a 101 Dalmatians spin-off starring Emma Stone; and a Reese Witherspoon-led Tinker Bell film.

More immediately, there’s fantasy adventure Pete’s Dragon (in theatres August 12), which Loria projects will bring in US$100 million total. That precedes the highly anticipated Beauty and the Beast (March 17, 2017), whose teaser trailer was released this week. Boasting a star-studded cast of Emma Watson, Dan Stevens and Ewan McGregor, and incorporating songs from the 1991 animated original, it could be Disney’s biggest live-action remake yet.

“If they can tap into the wow factor that The Jungle Book had with its motion-capture performances, while at the same time tap a bit into the Frozen phenomenon [with the music], it could be an easy billion-dollar gross worldwide,” Davis says.

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With name recognition, and built-in merchandise and theme-park opportunities, it’s no wonder Disney continues to reopen its animated vault – whether these remakes spawn franchises or not.

“These films don’t come with the need to become billion-dollar global films, but they all have built-in breakaway potential,” Loria says. “Unlike [Disney’s] Star Wars or Marvel movies, which are meant to open the doors to two or three sequels in the next five years, these movies can exist as potentially lucrative one-offs.”