Disney (NYSE:DIS) is dominating the box office for the third year in a row, but the media giant still needs its next theatrical release to be hit. Cars 3 hits a multiplex near you tomorrow, and Disney needs some heavy revving out of the latest installment in the saga of Lightning McQueen.
Cars 3 is rolling out during the third weekend of June, and that's significant, because it's when two of the three highest-grossing computer-animated films of all time -- Disney releases, actually -- also made their debuts.
Let's go over a few of the reasons Cars 3 won't be just any release for the House of Mouse.
1. Sequels are the gifts that keep on giving these days
There was a time when Pixar didn't want to put out follow-ups to its full-length features. Toy Story 2 was more about Disney's strong-arming of Pixar for a sequel to 1995's industry-defining Toy Story, and Disney eventually acquired all of Pixar to make sure it had ultimate say in the future.
Now we're in the midst of a steady trickle of sequels. Finding Dory became the country's highest-grossing computer-animated release when it rolled out during this same weekend last year. Disney has The Incredibles 2 and Toy Story 4 slated to hit theaters on the third weekend of June in 2018 and 2019, respectively.
A flop this weekend could send doubts rippling into the market about this four-year streak of sequels. A hit, however, would keep the momentum going from last year's Finding Dory last year.
2. The franchise needs a boost
Cars 2 was a disaster. It generated 21% less in domestic box-office receipts than the original did five years earlier. There's a reason audiences stayed away: Cars 2 commands the lowest Rotten Tomatoes score among all Pixar releases. Just 39% of the critics that the movie hub tracks recommended the movie, making it the only Pixar release that had the majority of reviewers panning it.
Cars 3 has an initial rating of 67% on Rotten Tomatoes. That's better than Cars 2, but it's still ranking as the second worst score among Pixar releases. Critics don't buy movie tickets, of course, and a movie can resonate with young audiences. Disney had better hope that's the case here. It's already coming off last month's disappointing Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, which is shaping up to be the lowest-grossing release in the five-film series. If Cars 3 falls short of the two earlier releases, it will be the last checkered flag for the franchise.
3. Disney needs Cars to remain cool
Disney made a huge investment in the Cars franchise when it opened Cars Land at Disney's California Adventure in Anaheim. The ambitious expansion opened a year after Cars 2 flopped. Another stinker would take some of the shine off the franchise and the theme-park attraction.
Disney also initially cashed in on the first film's success with race car-themed consumer products. Cars 3 can breathe new life into the products and licensing opportunities, or it can extinguish the franchise's potential. So, yes, there's a lot riding on Cars 3 this weekend.