Disney's (NYSE:DIS) Maleficent enters wide release across the globe this weekend, and it's already off to a great start. But if this unique take on arguably Disney's most iconic villain wants to be a true blockbuster, it still has one huge challenge to overcome.
But before we get to that, some perspective is in order: Maleficent already collected a solid $4.2 million in gross sales from early U.S. previews Thursday evening, easily outpacing the $3.9 million earned by early screenings of Alice in Wonderland in March 2010. But considering Alice in Wonderland enjoyed a staggering $116.1 million weekend debut more than four years ago, why are even the most optimistic estimates still calling for Maleficent to gross only $60 million to $70 million over the next few days?
In short, the figures aren't directly comparable. Maleficent's Thursday screenings began at 7 p.m., while Alice in Wonderland's respective previews technically started at midnight that Friday.
Don't get me wrong. I still think Maleficent will perform exceptionally well -- so well, in fact, it should prove Angelina Jolie's best ever live-action start, beating the $50.9 million earned by Wanted in June 2008. Unfortunately, it's not shaping up to be the potential $1 billion blockbuster for which I had previously hoped.
The dark fairy's greatest challenge
So what's standing in Maleficent's way? In a word: parents.
Despite its family-friendly PG rating, some parents are just too nervous to bring their kids to see this seemingly dark, princess-infused epic. Of course, adults will probably flock to it, but watch the following trailer and tell me you'd be perfectly comfortable bringing a kindergartner to see this film:
I'll admit some of the various clips and other previews floating around have a decidedly more kid-friendly feel. But there's no doubt Disney has its work cut out for it if it wants to fully take advantage of the broader audience Maleficent's PG rating affords.
Think of the children
Of course, there's also the threat of Twenty-First Century Fox Inc's (NASDAQ:FOX) week-old PG-13 holdover in X-Men: Days of Future Past. And Maleficent's advantage there was supposed to be that it could more effectively target women, children, and families. However, if it's too scary to pull in those key supplementary demographics, Disney may have just inadvertently turned the magic wand on itself.
So what can Maleficent do to leap this hurdle into box office stardom? At this point -- barring a shift in direction from the astute marketing minds at Disney -- I think all it can do is hurry up and wait for word of mouth to assure more cautious movie-goers that Maleficent's wares are safe for their little ones' eyes to behold.
Come Monday, then, Disney investors and fans alike would do well to keep an eye on age-specific polled audience ratings from companies like CinemaScore. If both parents and younger viewers alike give it the go ahead, Disney and Maleficent may be granted plenty of breathing room to run up the score over the next few months.
Steve Symington has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.