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Disney In Depth: Is ‘Maleficent’ A Spellbinding Success?
Brett Nachman   |  @   |  

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Now that Maleficent has hit theaters, surprising critics and viewers alike with its strong box office earnings during its opening weekend, one question is on every analyst’s minds. Will this trend continue? To determine its potential future success in many areas, we must evaluate the film from various angles.

Among Disney’s most hyped films since it was first announced more than two years ago, Maleficent has drawn attention for its scale and star power. The highly budgeted fantasy adventure starring A-lister Angelina Jolie as the despicable and iconic Disney villain was bound to generate anticipation. But as the past few years have shown with live-action fairy tales, their resonance with audiences can range from mighty movies (Alice in Wonderland) to weak entries (Mirror Mirror). Was Maleficent destined to perform well or fall flat on its special effects-laden face? The answer is not quite as clear.

Its marketing since the initial trailer late last year has remained consistent and focused on better understanding the backstory of Sleeping Beauty from the baddie’s perspective. However, Maleficent has used its identifiable brand and story and spun it around somewhat. Little has centered on Princess Aurora, but rather on why Maleficent cast the sleeping spell. The attention on the “why” aspect has worked to its favor, intriguing audience members who love the 1959 film.

Disney Maleficent Angelina Jolie

Yet what looks magical and like a winning formula in advertisements does not always translate to the finished film. Enticing moviegoers to catch the film in theaters and encouraging them to think of the product highly is a hard potion to conjure up. Surprisingly, the movie has seemed to brew a favorable concoction. The allure of the villainous fairy, complemented by Jolie’s commendable execution in portraying the complicated outcast, has made for an enrapturing character study.

Maleficent may be no Captain Jack Sparrow, but Jolie’s undeniable presence in the role of the frazzled fairy possesses some comparisons to the Johnny Depp pirate. Each of these characters, one a familiar face in the Disney environment and the other once a novel swashbuckling figure, takes over the scene. Jolie, like Depp, commands every moment on screen with complexity and charisma. The characters can be both serious and puzzling, yet also demonstrate a whimsical side. Jolie’s Maleficent, as a forceful female character, has appealed to women and young girls in the same vein of Depp as Sparrow with men and boys.

More significant than that, though, has been Disney’s strategic and pervasive usage of Maleficent in various venues to interest the public. Whether it be within the theme parks or on television screens, it has proven almost unavoidable. The huge scale of the picture, furthered by the brand identity, has worked in unison to get audiences thinking about the summer blockbuster.

Audiences who caught Maleficent in her live-action glory during her opening weekend responded favorably to the picture. Viewers scored the film a strong “A” via CinemaScore, which bodes well for word of mouth and repeat viewings. Needless to say, other releases will compete for female viewers and kids, but it is doubtful the movie should only earn less than $150 million domestically, as analysts had initially projected. Reaching closer to $200 million here in the United States seems possible now. Foreign earnings should prove even stronger. That is, assuming interest is not entirely front loaded. We have seen that all too frequently with many other May 2014 releases. A worldwide total of more than $500 million total might be obtainable for this project, once feared to majorly disappoint.

Disney's Maleficent

I doubt that a second Maleficent film will be in the works, as the story feels rather complete and the movie may not be profitable enough for Disney to take the leap. Yet the studio should feel relieved that the film will not be a box office flop like The Lone Ranger was. I appreciated The Lone Ranger more than many individuals, and even feel it is a more entertaining romp than Maleficent. But Jolie’s film has more favorable elements in its formula to the masses. The movie may drop off of individuals’ radar when hitting theaters in the coming weeks, but rest assured that these types of films will still be produced.

Next year sees two of Disney’s animated films come to life with the premieres of Cinderella in March and The Jungle Book come October 2015. Disney fans will know this won’t be the first time Disney has made live-action versions of these two tales. Each property was translated to this format with movies in the 1990s. Recall Brandy as Cinderella or the less-remembered 1994 take on The Jungle Book? Well, Disney will return to stories they know well with these new takes. For all we know, Disney may be relying on its familiar animated characters for future films. After all, it was just announced that a live-action Beauty and the Beast is in the works. Might we find out the unknown backstory of Gaston? That could become a reality soon enough.

Disney Maleficent Angelina Jolie

Maleficent represents another entry in the studio’s line up of fantastical and engrossing films. It signals that perhaps the live-action fairy tale is not dead, but rather alive and well in the right hands. This time around, we can credit Jolie and director Robert Stromberg for producing a solid and entertaining picture. Its future success, though, rests in the hands of moviegoers who choose what type of movie they want to catch. Unfortunately, not even the powerful Maleficent can cast a spell on viewers’ decisions.

This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth, Thursdays on Geeks of Doom.



  1. I’m sorry, but however much the Disney fan I am, and I enjoyed this movie, you just cannot label it a success; the same way as it is a joke that Oz the G&P gets labelled as a success. As said, it may reach $500m, but it isn’t until it reaches $500m that the film makes any money, so saying it is a success now when it is still thoroughly in the red cannot be logical and calling it a success when it may be breaking even is also highly over rating it from a financial stand point. Yes, lots of people have gone to see it, but once again Disney has spent too much money making the movie to begin with meaning it has to be a box office smash just to break even. With Maleficent at least Disney’s consumer side is also bringing in some money to offset against the movie, so as a franchise as a whole it is probably making some money in the long run. But the film, right now, losing money, and that may be the point until BluRay sales come in, and I just cannot label that a “success story”.

    Comment by Mark Petar — June 6, 2014 @ 9:13 pm

  2. You make some valid points, Mark. Definitely, Oz wasn’t as much of a hit as the studio had hoped, but it certainly proved to be a mild success. I don’t necessarily think Maleficent is a success, at least not at this point. The film cost about $180 million to make, so it would need to earn at least $360 worldwide to break even – discounting marketing costs, of course. The movie may be profitable, but we won’t know for at least a few months. Like I wrote, I believe what is encouraging is that the film didn’t bomb like some people may have expected. Thanks for your thoughts. :)

    Comment by Brett Nachman — June 7, 2014 @ 1:53 pm

  3. Yes, at least it didn’t bomb. I wish it were possible nowadays to really get a grip on a movies success vs cost; but for that you need to be able to account for box office, merchandise profits and then later dvd/br sales. Oz left the box office still in the red, it had very little (and poor) merchandise, but I am pretty sure DVD sales probably took it into the black. What confuses me, is that Tron Legacy is exactly the same (finishing with a box office just under double production and marketing) but you never hear Tron Legacy talked about with the same reverence as Oz; yes, it didn’t make quite as much a the box office, but it cost £60m less to make as well so it ends up financially the same. I just think Disney needs to get a grip on budgets, movies are being set up to fail because they have to be such gigantic smash hits at the box office just to break even and when they are not (despite being awesome films like John Carter) they are labelled this mass flops. If the budget had been half way reasonable to begin with, then either these movies would have been financial successes or much more marginal losses.

    Comment by Mark Petar — June 8, 2014 @ 3:04 am

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