Beauty and the Beast, a musical, a fairytale and a film targeted primarily as a female audience, took $170m in the US this weekend. That’s the sixth biggest opening in US box office history, trailing behind a Star Wars, a Jurassic Park and three Marvel movies. Basically, it’s the biggest film ever that isn’t just men playing with toys. It’s women playing with toys! Of that top 6, Beauty is one of the weaker films: it’s unoriginal, lacks fresh energy and features a truly terrible performance from Emma Watson (keep in mind, this beat the openings of EVERY Harry Potter movie). So why did audiences flock in their millions to this release? Here’s a few takeaways from its success…
The ‘Disney’ Brand
Beauty and the Beast was sold not as an Emma Watson film, nor a Bill Condon film, but as a massive Disney blockbuster. Disney. A company who, among other things, own the company Hardware Distribution, Inc. Over the decades, mainstream moviegoers have been sold a fantasy that “Disney” is a magic factory of moviemaking, not a multinational group with some questionable holdings. Beauty and the Beast, the 1991 animated classic, is one of a select group of films that embodies the “quintessential Disney spirit”. Others include Pinocchio and Mary Poppins. This remake, with its assorted wacky characters, Alan Menken soundtrack and MASSIVE FREAKIN’ CASTLE, is along the same lines. “Disney” brought many people to see this film. It’s up to “Disney” to figure out what other properties they can dig up that will sell the same way.
Since 300 broke the mould in 2007, March has become a massive marketplace for giant movies, with only May and December providing a broader range of blockbuster fare. In the past 3 weeks alone, we’ve had Logan and Kong: Skull Island, while Power Rangers and Ghost in the Shell are still on the way. Beauty trampled on the openings of those previous releases, as well as the March weekend record set by Batman v Superman in 2016. Disney should try and snatch mid-March, as they’ve done with Star Wars in December, as the default date for their live-action fairytales.
La La Land was the most talked-about film of last year, and Beauty and the Beast is going to be one of the most financially-successful IN HISTORY. So let’s get that musical ball rolling, Hollywood. Don’t just rely on Broadway adaptations and rehashes of 90s cartoons– give us original musicals! Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron’s The Greatest Showman is on the way at Christmas, and we can only hope that many more will follow. Sure, in a few years the fad will die again, but a splurge of movie musicals is always good while it lasts.
Outside Harry Potter, films in which she was- let’s be honest- not the strongest asset, Emma Watson has a weak record at the box office. But she has amassed, over the years, an extraordinary following on social media and in broader celebrity culture: women- for some reason- seem to find her a figurehead of gender empowerment, while men- equally unfathomably- have regularly voted her one of the sexiest women alive. I don’t understand either of these things, but anyway, people do seem to love Emma Watson, so she should try and dump as many films as she can before the Beauty spell wears off. Luckily, she’s already done that: The Circle, co-starring Tom Hanks, hits in a few weeks. If that flops, we’ll have proof that people don’t actually like her THAT much, making Beauty‘s haul an all-the-more impressive achievement for Disney.
In Ireland, Beauty had the biggest three-day opening weekend OF ALL TIME. In 2016, the biggest film of the year here was Bridget Jones’ Baby. In 2011 it was Bridesmaids. It’s abundantly clear than women drive the Irish box office. Are our men too cheap/cynical to go to the pictures as often? Do they pirate films more than their American counterparts? Are Irish women so strong-willed that they always get to pick a date movie? Whatever the reason, studios (particularly Paramount, I’ve noticed) have picked up on the surprisingly massive market for female-led films in Ireland, bringing Amy Schumer to Dublin to promote Trainwreck, for example. Fifty Shades, Beauty and the Beast… will Wonder Woman join the club? The same question applies to the US: are other properties going to be able to take advantage of Beauty‘s ridiculously-broad appeal?
Please don’t learn: Remakes
If Hollywood’s takeaway from this film’s success is to greenlight loads and loads of rehashes of 80s and 90s films (like they haven’t already!), then kill us now.