Disney In Depth: 2016 Walt Disney Studios Film Preview
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Following a strong 2015 slate, The Walt Disney Studios continues its eclectic lineup of original productions, branding via Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, and Disney, and a few remakes. 2016 should once again demonstrate Disney’s prominence in the film business, though Universal is experiencing a creative and critical resurgence to some degree. What Disney holds in its favor is consistency (in quality, generally) and accessibility (familiarity with properties). Consumers know (almost) precisely what they receive in buying a ticket to a Disney movie – even if Disney now has its hands in Lucasfilm and Marvel films.

Here is a preview of 2016 films from The Walt Disney Studios.

Note: Release dates are subject to change, along with the titles of films. There is also a chance that films currently without specific release dates (not featured on this list) may be slotted for 2016. Examples include Disneynature’s Born in China and potentially The Queen of Katwe. All information is accurate as of December 17, 2015.


The details: Billed as “the most daring rescue mission in U.S. Coast Guard history,” this movie – which is very subtle about its “Disney branding,” likely to lure in older viewers – stars Chris Pine, Eric Bana, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster and Holliday Grainger.

Box office predictions: This movie will finally debut after a series of release date changes, first set for a premiere in April 2016 before being bumped up to October 2015, and finally in its January 29, 2016 spot. This is an extremely competitive date, for it battles none other than Kung Fu Panda 3, as well as no less than three other wide releases. A $15 million debut would be solid, though given Finest Hours opens in IMAX screens, too, it should perform a little stronger. Expect Finest Hours to benefit somewhat from its source material’s recognition, though a final domestic gross higher than $60 million is unlikely unless it attains mass critical love. But I’m crossing my fingers that this one swims rather than sinks.

Click here for The Finest Hours trailers and more.

ZOOTOPIA (March 4)

The details: Foxes, rabbits, gazelles, elephants, and other creatures become anthropomorphized in Walt Disney Animation Studios’ next feature. Zootopia possesses so much promise. After first learning about the project at D23 Expo back in 2013, I considered it to be the most anticipated animated project from The Walt Disney Studios at that point in time. It looks brilliant. An entire world is populated with and created by animals, full of tongue-in-cheek pop cultural references, Disney storytelling, awesome gags, and inspired visual development. Essentially, the story follows an unlikely friendship: sly fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) and uptight rabbit Officer Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin). The sloth-themed teaser is genius, though not everyone might appreciate the slooooooow pace of the sharp scene. If this clip is any indication of what Zootopia holds for viewers, my anticipation level could not be much higher.

Box office predictions: This is the first time since 2007’s Meet the Robinsons that Disney has opened an animated project in March. Though this weekend has worked to the studio’s favor in previous years (i.e. Cinderella and Oz), I wonder if Zootopia has the same “must-see” element in audiences’ eyes, especially since it competes with several other major releases. Nonetheless, I expect this to make around $45 million or so during its first weekend, and eventually accruing at least $150 million domestically.

Click here for the Zootopia trailer and more.


The details: What happens when you throw in the director of Iron Man, sprinkle in some legendary actors via vocal performances, and translate a classic Disney animated film into a CGI live-action product? Here is the newest twist on The Jungle Book, which appears like an epic in the vein of Avatar, but mostly with animals. The hype regarding the early footage shown at D23 Expo 2015 was overwhelmingly positive in terms of its amazing visuals. The trailer appears to capture some of that potential.

Box office predictions: Its mid-April release date seems strategic, as I am guessing Jon Favreau‘s The Jungle Book would like to rake in some of the same early summer dollars that Furious 7 earned this year. The tentpole films are premiering earlier than ever – just look at Batman v. Superman – and Jungle Book is no exception. I suspect this to experience “hit status” right away based on early buzz. Despite it coming out during a busy weekend, it should rule as “king of the jungle” and earn at least $55 million or so – if not much more. Domestic earnings could exceed $175 million if it has legs.

Click here for the trailer for The Jungle Book and more.


The details: There is not much to say about this purely IMAX release. Its IMDB page simply describes it as an “exploration of Earth and beyond as seen from outer space.” Who does not enjoy space-themed documentaries? Director Toni Myers is known for her work in major IMAX hits Space Station 3D and Hubble 3D. Disney’s distribution of an IMAX doc comes about for the first time in about a decade.

Box office predictions: IMAX films are hard to judge. Its performance will be contingent on not only the amount of publicity it receives, but also by how many theaters will screen it. Additionally, its length of time appearing on IMAX screens will determine its earnings. I have to believe attaining at least $5 million is possible, should it play for several years, as in the case of Roving Mars and Aliens of the Deep (two previous Disney IMAX releases).


The details: A summer juggernaut awaits. Captain America, Iron Man, Ant-Man, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Winter Soldier, Falcon, Black Panther, Vision, Scarlet Witch, and War Machine are all here for the inception of Phase 3 in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The superheroes contend with the government seeking to better manage these extraordinary personalities, leading to a rift in philosophies amongst members of the Avengers. Uh-oh. Looks like a battle is about to begin!

Box office predictions: A domestic opening north of $175 million is pretty likely, but after seeing how Avengers: Age of Ultron could not live up to the inflated box office expectations, everyone must predict with caution. I still believe that number is possible, and it could eventually secure a place as Marvel’s second-biggest film to date. Critical reception should account for a major piece of this, but ultimately how fans react will determine its legs.

Click here for the Captain America: Civil War trailer and more.


The details: Wonderland was just the beginning for Alice. Six years after the box office smash that re-envisioned Alice in Wonderland through the lens of Tim Burton comes James Bobin (The Muppets) serving in the director’s chair. Most of the original cast returns for this new tale, which involves the element of time travel and Time, a mysterious, part-mechanical character played by Sacha Baron Cohen. But Johnny Depp is very much the star, returning to his wildly remarkable role as the Mad Hatter.

Box office predictions: While Walt Disney Studios benefited from Alice in Wonderland in turning 2010 into a landmark year for the division, it is doubtful that Alice Through The Looking Glass will also earn more than $1 billion worldwide. In any case, a domestic opening weekend north of $60 million appears probable. Then again, it premieres at the same time as highly-anticipated X-Men: Apocalypse and may suffer from the “Depp fatigue” that has plagued his more recent films, such as The Lone Ranger, Mortdecai, and Transcendence. But Alice should not have any trouble in performing moderately well, at least in the $150 million – $200 million range.

Click here for the Alice Through the Looking Glass trailer and more.


The details: Are you ready to once again hum “just keep swimming” for hours on end? Ellen DeGeneres is back in her most famous role to date: a terribly forgetful, yet endearing fish. Dory takes the spotlight this time – as if she didn’t in the first film – as she remembers her family and is off to travel to Monterey, California. Joining the original voice cast of DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, and Willem Dafoe are Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy as Dory’s parents, as well as Ty Burrell, Ed O’Neill and Kaitlin Olson.

Box office predictions: The original film grossed $340 million in the United States, making it Pixar’s biggest earner to date – and that was back in 2003. More than a decade has passed, yet the desire for a new film featuring these characters has not subsided. Its domestic opening could realistically top Toy Story 3‘s record-breaking (for a Pixar release) $110 million. Final earnings may also exceed Finding Nemo, considering that Inside Out managed to accomplish that feat earlier this year with more than $350 million.

Click here for the Finding Dory trailer and more.

THE BFG (July 1)

The details: The Walt Disney Studios returns to translate a Roald Dahl book into a motion picture spectacular. Two decades ago was the critically acclaimed, but underrated James and the Giant Peach. Now, from director Steven Spielberg, we have a big friendly giant on the big screen. The first trailer was somewhat ambiguous and does not give much of an indication of how closely The BFG will resemble the book of the same name. Yet we can clearly see that fantastical elements, CGI, and hopefully Spielberg’s signature directing qualities will be part of the equation.

Box office predictions: I have no clue how this will resonate with audiences. It is only within the past couple of weeks that we saw the teaser trailer, and I don’t have a sense of potential audience members’ level of interest. Presumably, its early July release date suggests Disney thinks this can be a monstrous hit. Over the four-day July 4 weekend, it could reasonably earn at least $40 million or more. In the end, though, reviews are a major factor in movies’ performances in many cases. Receiving $100 million domestically is possible.

Click here for The BFG trailer and more.

PETE’S DRAGON (August 12)

The details: Full disclosure, I was not much of a fan of the original. Save for the music and a few minor elements, I could not see the appeal. Nonetheless, Disney views this as another promising property for reinventing. Bryce Dallas Howard and Robert Redford lead this new version, which was filmed in New Zealand and features a CGI version of Elliot.

Box office predictions: August is usually the month when studios release their “extra movies,” or sometimes more experimental projects. For instance, Guardians of the Galaxy fits that bill. Following Warner Bros.’ Suicide Squad will reduce its earnings potential, and Dragon also opens the same weekend as a Ben-Hur remake. Pete’s Dragon should gross $25 million or more on opening weekend, but I question if it could make more than $80 million or so. Future news about the project might indicate interest level.


The details: Disney still has a few more DreamWorks films to distribute. The Girl on the Train is one of the few adult-catered entries on Walt Disney Studios’ 2016 schedule. Based on the recent bestselling murder-themed thriller, this film adaptation stars Emily Blunt and Justin Theroux. Tate Taylor of 2011’s The Help directs. Remember how that was a sensation? Girl on the Train could join that same status.

Box office predictions: Bridge of Spies, Disney’s more recent DreamWorks distribution under its Touchstone Pictures banner, performed moderately well this year (debuting in October). Last year, Gone Girl, also a book adaptation, was a monster success upon its October 2014 premiere. Considering the obvious comparisons between Gone Girl and Train, this 2016 movie may have box office staying potential. A domestic opening higher than $25 million is possible, and it may earn $100 million if word-of-mouth is strong and older adults check out Girl on the Train several weeks after hitting theaters.

Click here for more on The Girl on the Train.


The details: The newest superhero from Marvel to obtain his own film is Benedict Cumberbatch‘s portrayal of Doctor Strange, a neurosurgeon who adopts mystical thinking and practices upon a healing-based life after a car accident. Joining him are Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Rachel McAdams.

Box office predictions: An early November opening allows Doctor Strange to have a few weeks of its own, more or less. Its opening will likely match Ant-Man, since not many people know about this character. Then again, the lack of major October titles might work in The Walt Disney Studios’ favor. We know that a huge movie opening after a deficit of interesting releases can be beneficial. I predict a domestic debut of $55 million or more, and eventual U.S. earnings around $175 million.

Click here for more on Doctor Strange.

MOANA (November 23)

The details: Disney animation fans, rejoice. 2016 brings two movies: Zootopia and Moana. Aficionados appear to be more interested in the latter film. Moana is probably going to be the next Frozen, if early word is any indication. The eponymous voyager is a girl who braves the South Pacific seas who pairs with Dwayne Johnson‘s demi-god Maui to embark on an exciting adventure. D23 Expo 2015 revealed more of the character designs and musical elements. Everyone appreciates a well-rounded Disney heroine. Alan Tudyk (Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen, Big Hero 6), now the John Ratzenberger of newer Disney animation films, will also voice a character.

Box office predictions: Thanksgiving can be kind to animated movies from The Walt Disney Studios – well, except for Treasure Planet and The Good Dinosaur, I suppose. Moana could open with $70 million over the five-day weekend. It may follow Tangled‘s box office trajectory – or perhaps similar to Frozen if the hype persists for many months to come.

Click here for more on Moana.


The details: Finally, a new chapter in Star Wars will unfold. Who knows if Rogue One will remain as mysterious in its marketing as The Force Awakens. The information is limited at this point, one year prior to its premiere. Essentially, a group of Rebel fighters aims to snatch the plans for the Death Star. Good luck, guys! Felicity Jones, Forest Whitaker, and Alan Tudyk (once again in a 2016 Walt Disney Studios production) are among the cast members.

Box office predictions: Perform well, you must. I won’t even try to make an approximation on this one. As long as it earns $250 million domestically, I don’t think anyone should raise an eyebrow. Rogue One‘s spin-off status makes comparing its possible earnings to that of Force Awakens‘ monstrous hype a moot point.

Click here for more on Star Wars: Rogue One.

What films from The Walt Disney Studios are you most excited for in 2016? Share your thoughts!

This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth, the first and third Thursdays of each month on Geeks of Doom.

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