In the least surprising box office windfall since the last Star Wars movie, Disney’s live-action (sorta! Y’know, lotsa computer animation in there!) remake of its own 1991 classic Beauty and the Beast put up stupid numbers over its opening weekend – a record-setting $170 million, the largest opening ever for a March release (topping last year’s Batman v Superman, thank gawd), the largest opening ever for a PG-rated film (topping last year’s Finding Dory), and the seventh-largest opening weekend for any movie, ever (just ahead of Beauty star Emma Watson’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows – Part 2). It’s also the biggest opening ever for a female-centered film, topping 2013’s The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. It also grossed an additional $180 million overseas, for a staggering worldwide total of $350 million.
So what was the magic formula here? Familiarity and family-friendliness, apparently. Beauty is one of Disney’s most beloved properties, previously spawning theatrical re-releases and a Broadway stage adaptation, among other spinoffs; its 1991 release date also made it a fave among Millennials, and the casting of Ms. Watson fused the film with another beloved franchise, the Harry Potter movies. A handful of carefully handled controversies made the film seem a bit more progressive than it is. And then there’s the Disney brand, which means a family audience that will pretty much always show up.
It doesn’t really matter that the movie is so meh; Disney is now all-in in the remaking-its-classics business, so expect more titles to join the slate alongside the already-announced returns to Dumbo, Mulan, The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, and Aladdin. Just remember, this is mostly Tim Burton’s fault.