It's understandable if the Smurfs are feeling a little blue.
The new animated film Smurfs: The Lost Village, hoping to revive the Sony franchise, will face tougher-than-expected competition when it opens this weekend. It will be going up against a pair of holdover films featuring an authoritarian baby voiced by Alec Baldwin and a princess named Belle, respectively, raising the question: How many family PG titles can the market sustain during the lucrative spring break/Easter corridor?
And given the crowded market, people are questioning whether Sony should have pushed back the release of Smurfs: The Lost Village to get it further away from Disney's Beauty and the Beast, which opened March 17, and Fox/DreamWorks Animation's The Boss Baby, which hit theaters March 31.
At one point, the movie was slotted for March 31, but it was then moved to April 7, presumably to provide more distance between it and Beauty. But Fox and DreamWorks swooped in and moved Boss Baby from March 10 to March 31 - instead of risking seeing that movie's second weekend wiped out by Beauty, Fox gambled that even if Beast held strong, there would be an opening to launch Boss Baby during Beast's third weekend. That gamble paid off.
"We have a great runway for the film," maintains Sony domestic distribution chief Adrian Smith. But one rival studio exec counters, "Smurfs doesn't have a good date. At the same time, no one knew Boss Baby would perform this well."
Last weekend, The Boss Baby opened to $50.2 million in North America, well ahead of expectations - prompting some to speculate that Baldwin's popular impersonation of President Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live may actually have aided the animated film.
Boss Baby was able to wrest the box-office crown from Beauty and win the weekend. Still, Disney's Beauty continued to do formidable business in its third outing, earning another $45.2 million. (Sometime Tuesday or Wednesday, the live-action update of the classic animated film will waltz past the $400 million mark domestically and $900 million worldwide.)
Given how those two movies have been performing, Smurfs has no hope of beating either Boss Baby or Beauty in its domestic debut, which means another disappointment for Sony, which is in sore need of a box-office win. Prerelease tracking suggests the reboot will launch in the mid-teen millions, while its two competitors in the family space could earn close to $30 million each.
Sony insists a domestic opening in that range would be acceptable - The Smurfs 2 debuted to $17.5 million in late July 2013 - considering the real strength of the franchise lies overseas, where the first two films earned 75 percent of their total gross. Additionally, there is no other major-studio family film opening in North America until Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul bows May 19, giving Smurfs the advantage of a strong run over Easter and beyond. (Easter weekend is April 14-16 this year.)
Box-office analyst Paul Dergarabedian of comScore agrees that Boss Baby is a big surprise. "I think part of the reason it over-indexed is because of Alec Baldwin and his Trump parody on SNL," he says.
But Dergarabedian also believes there is room in the marketplace for other family titles. "I wouldn't completely count out Smurfs. I don't have kids, but all my friends that have kids will go see it. PG is the hottest rating right now," he adds.
Others aren't so sure. On March 28, Harvey Weinstein announced he was pushing back the release of Leap! - an animated film voiced by Elle Fanning - from April 21 to Labor Day weekend because of the crowded playing field.
While there may not be a major-studio feature offering until Fox's Diary of a Wimpy Kid sequel, Open Road Films will launch Spark on April 14, one week after Smurfs, while Disney will release its panda documentary Born in China on April 21.
Smurfs also faces fierce competition overseas, considering the staying power of Beauty and the looming debut of The Fate and the Furious, which opens April 14, the beginning of Easter weekend. Smurfs began rolling out last weekend in its first foreign territories, earning $15.4 million. This weekend, it adds another 30 markets.
In July 2011, The Smurfs was a major win for Sony, grossing $142.6 million domestically and $421.1 million abroad for a $563.7 million worldwide total. Two years later, its sequel came in much lower with $71 million in North America and $276.5 million internationally for a global cume of $347.5 million. This time around, the studio decided to reboot the series with an all-new take - the hero is female - and a new voice cast featuring Demi Lovato, Rainn Wilson, Joe Manganiello, Jack McBrayer, Danny Pudi, Michelle Rodriguez, Ellie Kemper, Ariel Winter, Mandy Patinkin and Julia Roberts.