In the battle for box-office glory, Imax is placing a new bet. The exhibitor - long a haven for fanboys - is bumping Warner Bros.' Kong: Skull Island in favor of Disney's live-action Beauty and the Beast, which hits March 17 and will have a full-week run, unprecedented for a PG title.
The decision to go with Beauty is the latest proof of a market segment that's heating up after years of often playing second fiddle to PG-13 superhero movies and action spectacles. Animated sequel The Lego Batman Movie, currently the top-grossing film of the year domestically with $159.7 million, and the live-action A Dog's Purpose, which has overperformed with $142.8 million to date worldwide, are the latest examples of films rated PG that don't scare away teens or adults.
Disney's live-action division, led by Sean Bailey, is gambling that the trend is here to stay, with future films including The Lion King, Mulan and Cruella. It already has lured in families with nonanimated versions of Cinderella ($544 million worldwide) and The Jungle Book ($967 million). The studio's 2018 release calendar includes A Wrinkle in Time (April 6), Mulan (Nov. 2) and Mary Poppins Returns (Dec. 25). Other studios have such PG pictures as Boss Baby (March 31), Cars 3 (June 16) and Despicable Me 3 (June 30).
The PG renaissance began in 2010 when Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland made more than $1 billion globally. It was followed by 2013's Frozen ($1.28 billion) and 2014's Maleficent ($758.5 million). But the turning point was 2016, when PG titles held eight of the top 20 slots worldwide.
"PG has become the new go-to rating," says box-office analyst Paul Dergarabedian of comScore. "From a business perspective, the rating is perfect because you can grab everyone from little kids to Grandma."
Why the majors are realizing that only now is the question. One reason has to do with the struggles of many nonfranchise films; another is the flight of young men from multiplexes. A third is Disney's success.
"Animation and Disney live-action fairy tales are almost entirely responsible," says box-office analyst Jeff Bock of Exhibitor Relations. "There is a gigantic underserved audience that clamors for true family entertainment." That audience's size shouldn't be underestimated. In the U.S., children younger than 18 make up 25 percent of the population. Worldwide, more than 25 percent are under age 15.
Kids also are going to the movies more frequently than other sectors of the populace, according to the MPAA. Though nearly every demo of moviegoers declined in 2015, two did not: those ages 2-to-11 and those ages 25-to-39 - kids and their parents - and that audience is especially lucrative when it comes to home entertainment.
For Imax, it's deja vu. "We began in the family business, between our documentaries and The Polar Express," notes Imax Entertainment CEO Greg Foster. "Then we started getting into fanboy titles, and they took off. But [in 2016], five of the top 10 movies domestically were rated PG. It is a mistake not to be part of that."
This story first appeared in the March 31 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.