Box Office: ‘The Little Mermaid’ Swims to $118.6M Memorial Day Debut

The Little Mermaid is swimming laps around the competition at the Memorial Day weekend box office.

Disney’s live-action remake of the iconic animated film is headed for an estimated four-day domestic debut of $118.6 million, the holiday’s fifth-biggest opening of all time, according to final weekend actuals. The three-day gross is an estimated $96 million-plus. (On Saturday, the film looked to earn north of $120 million over the long holiday weekend, but domestic estimates shifted.)

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Overseas, Little Mermaid started off with a disappointing $68.1 million from 51 markets for a projected global launch of $186.7 million through Monday. The pic drowned in China, opening to just $2.5 million. Box office pundits say the social media campaign protesting a Black actress being cast as Ariel could be having an impact in Asian markets and elsewhere.

In North America, The Little Mermaid earned a promising A CinemaScore. It is the first 2023 summer tentpole to target females, who made up 68 percent of ticket buyers. The film is also drawing an ethnically diverse audience; 35 percent of ticket buyers so far were Black, followed by white (33 percent), Latino (23 percent) and Asian/other (9 percent). Black moviegoers overindexed in a major way, while white moviegoers underindexed.

Rob Marshall directs the live-action adaptation. The new Little Mermaid stars Halle Bailey as Ariel, the spirited young mermaid who makes a dangerous deal with the evil sea witch Ursula (Melissa McCarthy) in order to experience life on land and meet the dashing Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King). The pact, however, poses a great risk to her father’s watery kingdom.

Bailey’s performance as Ariel has drawn praise from critics amid a racist backlash from social media commenters protesting the casting of a Black actress in the title role. Disney insiders don’t expect these protestations to hurt the film in North America but agree the backlash could be impacting the film’s performance in certain markets overseas.

The cast also includes Daveed Diggs, Awkwafina, Javier Bardem, Jacob Tremblay, Noma Dumezweni and Art Malik.

Last year’s Top Gun: Maverick scored the biggest Memorial Day opening of all time with $160.5 million, followed by 2007’s Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End ($153 million), 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull ($151.9 million) and 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand ($122.9 million). Pirates and Indiana Jones both opened on a Thursday, so it isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison. The Friday-Monday earnings for those two films were $139.8 million and $126.9 million, respectively.

Universal’s Fast X easily came in No. 2 as it crossed the $500 million mark at the global box office in its first 12 days of release. The pic grossed $28.5 million for the four days and $22.9 million for the three, which represented a 66 percent drop from its opening weekend. Fast X will finish Monday with an estimated worldwide haul of $507.3 million after earning another $24.3 million internationally for a fantastic foreign total of $399.3 million.

Disney and Marvel took the No. 3 spot with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, which is expected to cross the $300 million threshold domestically in its fourth weekend after earning an estimated $25.3 million for the four days.

Universal and Illumination’s The Super Mario Bros. Movie placed No. 4 in its eighth weekend with $6.2 million for the four days.

Legendary and Screen Gems’ action-comedy The Machine and Robert De Niro comedy About My Father are also opening nationwide but aren’t expected to be big earners.

The Machine, from Screen Gems, stars Bert Kreischer and is inspired by the comedian’s stand-up act of the same name. Mark Hamill co-stars in the film, which is pacing for a $5.8 million four-day opening from 2,409 theaters and a fifth-place finish.

Lionsgate’s About My Father looks to come in at No. 6 with an estimated $5.3 million opening from 2,464 theaters.

New Afghanistan war film Kandahar, from Open Road/Briarcliff, is coming in No. 7 with roughly $3 million from 2,105 cinemas, followed by A24’s and Nicole Holofcener’s dramedy You Hurt My Feelings, which is looking at a four-day debut of $1.8 million from 912 locations.

May 28, 9 a.m.: Updated with revised grosses.
May 29, 7:40 a.m.: Updated with revised grosses.
May 30, 7:48 a.m.: Updated with Little Mermaid weekend actuals.

This story was originally published on May 27 at 8:13 a.m.

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