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‘Inside Out 2’ buoys ailing movie theaters

By Samantha Masunaga and Christi Carras, Los Angeles Times
Published: June 22, 2024, 6:00am

For the first time since Warner Bros.’ “Barbie” took the box office by storm last summer, the team at Shankweiler’s Drive-In Theatre in Orefield, Pa., has been forced to turn dozens of cars away from its four-acre, 300-parking space lot.

The cause? Huge demand for Pixar’s “Inside Out 2.”

“It was a very hard winter. It was a bumpy spring,” said the drive-in’s co-owner, Lauren McChesney. “This has kind of changed everything for us right now.”

For months, theater owners have been lamenting the sorry state of the box office. Ticket sales are down 24 percent so far this year compared to 2023. Would-be blockbusters, including “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” and “The Fall Guy,” have fizzled.

But the success of “Inside Out 2” has brought welcome relief to beleaguered theater owners, as well as Walt Disney Co.-owned Pixar, especially during the all-important summer movie season.

The sequel to 2015’s “Inside Out” notched a massive domestic opening weekend, hauling in $155 million, shattering pre-release projections that ranged from $80 million to $100 million. The movie’s total global box office revenue is now about $295 million.

“We thought that it would be popular,” McChesney said. “We weren’t actually expecting it to sell out.”

Analysts said the movie lighted a spark for this quarter’s box office revenue, providing hope that this year’s box office declines are a reversible trend.

“You never want to get too high after one good weekend, and you never want to get too low after a bad box office weekend, but I look at this weekend as the start of something bigger,” said Eric Handler, media and entertainment analyst at Roth MKM.

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Though the movie has been a hit with families, young adults turned out too. Moviegoers ages 18 to 34 accounted for 37 percent of the opening weekend domestic audience for “Inside Out 2,” according to Disney. That demographic has been tough for studios to entice in recent months and suggests Pixar was able to tap into moviegoers’ nostalgia, said Daniel Loria, senior vice president at the Boxoffice Co.

“It was able to capture a specific part of the audience that we really haven’t seen over-index so far,” he said.

Last year’s dual labor strikes delayed the release of some anticipated movies, leading to an overall weaker lineup. Though “Inside Out 2” will be a bright spot of success, box office revenue for the second quarter will still likely be down significantly compared to last year, Handler said.

“Things will get better, but we haven’t fully turned the corner yet,” he said. “But there are definitely better days ahead.”

The movie’s success is also a win for famed computer animation studio Pixar, which has had a rough time since the pandemic abruptly cut short its release of “Onward” in 2020 and resulted in its next three titles (“Soul,” “Luca” and “Turning Red”) going directly to streaming on Disney+.

Its first movie back in theaters (“Lightyear”) tanked, and although 2023’s “Elemental” ended up having long legs, the company hasn’t landed a bonafide blockbuster like this since “Toy Story 4” five years ago.

“Half a decade is an entire generation of kids that don’t experience these movies at the movie theater,” said Loria. “So the fact that they were able to create this moviegoing moment … is hugely valuable for Pixar.”

The combination of “Inside Out 2” and Sony Pictures’ Will Smith and Martin Lawrence-led “Bad Boys: Ride or Die” is a “great springboard” into the rest of the summer season, said Jeff Kaufman, chief content officer at Malco Theatres, a chain with 34 locations across six states, including Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi.

The Memphis, Tenn.-based chain knew from pre-sale numbers that “Inside Out 2” would be big but had no idea that walk-up ticket sales would also be as in demand, he said.

“People just kept coming,” Kaufman said. “Theaters were prepared, we had enough screens allocated and seats allocated … but what’s it been, a year? The last one that’s been this big was “Barbie,” so you lose your muscle memory on the operational side going, ‘What do we do with all these people?’”

Kaufman quotes Newton’s law of inertia when it comes to moviegoing habits: An object in motion stays in motion. With the success of “Inside Out 2,” and the strong slate of movies coming after it, he hopes audiences keep returning throughout the fall and holiday season.

There’s reasons for optimism. Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment’s family-friendly “Despicable Me 4” and the irreverent R-rated Marvel crossover “Deadpool and Wolverine” are both headed to theaters next month.