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Disney insiders advise patience when it comes to determining "TRON: Legacy" 's box office success

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Disney insiders advise patience when it comes to determining "TRON: Legacy" 's box office success

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Wyatt M. dropped me a line yesterday to ask:

Because of Tron: Legacy being a "disappointment," does this mean that everything Disney had planned for it isn't actually going to happen? Personally, this was my favorite film of the year, and I'd hate to see the sequel, television show, and online world never happen. I see some real potential here, and there's nothing worse than wasted potential. Thanks!

Given that "TRON: Legacy" has only been out in theaters for three days now, it's a trifle early to be calling this Joseph Kosinski film a disappointment, don't you think?

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Take a look around the Web, Wyatt. The language that's being used to describe the estimated $43.6 million that "TRON: Legacy" pulled in over its first weekend in domestic release isn't disappointing. It's  nice, respectable, solid but not spectacular.

Now if you want to talk about disappointing box office, check out Sony's "How Do You Know." This James L. Brooks movie cost that studio a reported $120 million to make and only pulled in an estimated $7.6 million over its opening weekend. Now that's a real disappointment.

Now as for "TRON: Legacy" ... I guess one could argue that this relaunch of the "TRON" franchise didn't entirely meet industry expectations. And given that this high profile tentpole reportedly cost $270 - $320 million to make & then market, conventional wisdom would suggest that the Mouse is going to be extremely challenged when it comes to recovering its initial investment in this production.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

But you have to understand that Disney is different, Wyatt. That this corporation can leverage characters & franchises in ways that other entertainment companies only dream about. Case in point: ElecTRONica, which has been dazzling thousands of weekend visitors to Disney California Adventure theme park since early October. These folks have been snatching up "TRON: Legacy" merchandise and buying overpriced "TRON" -themed drinks for weeks now. Which means that Mickey actually found a way to make money off of this movie before it was even released to theaters.

Or - better yet - how about the "TRON: Legacy" soundtrack ? This Walt Disney Records release sold over 70,000 units during its first week in release, making it the first score soundtrack in five years to debut in the Top 10. And - again - most of the money that's made off of sales of this Daft Punk recording then flows directly back into the Mouse's pocket.

So would Disney executives have been happier if "TRON: Legacy" had performed more like Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" (which earned $116.1 million over its first weekend in domestic release) or "Toy Story 3" (which made $110.3 million) over its opening weekend? Absolutely. But given that the audience segment that was most eager to see this "TRON" sequel  was males over the age of 18, rather than the entire family (Which is what helped power "Alice" and "TS3" to those impressively high opening weekend numbers), Disney's promotional  staff knew that it was facing a real challenge with the launch of this particular production. Which is why you saw them mounting the sort of marketing campaign that they did.

Copyright 20th Century Fox Film Corporation and Walden Media LLC. All rights reserved

Now what's kind of interesting - when you talk with Disney insiders about "TRON: Legacy" 's box office performance  - is how quickly these people then change the subject to "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader." In particular, how it's taken the third "Narnia" movie 10 days to make $42.7 million. Which is basically the same amount that "TRON: Legacy" earned over its first three days in domestic release.

To hear these company insiders talk, Disney really dodged a bullet in December of 2008 by opting out of its deal with Walden Media to co-produce any further "Narnia" films. And given how "Dawn Treader" has performed domestically to date, this movie will really have do spectacularly overseas if Fox is to be expected to then participate in production of "The Silver Chair."

And speaking of overseas ... The Disney insiders that I spoke with this past weekend urged me not to rush to judgment when it came to "TRON: Legacy." People both inside & outside of the industry will get a far better sense of how this Joseph Kosinski film will perform long-term at the box office by looking at "TRON: Legacy" 's second weekend in domestic release. More to the point, that studio officials anticipate that this "TRON" sequel will do quite well overseas.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

So long story short, Wyatt: No one's hitting the "TRON" panic button. Not yet, anyway. Near as I can tell, the "TRON: Uprising" animated series is still on track to debut on the Fall of 2011 with a series of teaser mini-episodes while the full-blown show will premiere sometime in the Spring on 2012.

And as for that "TRON: Legacy" sequel ... Well, the greenlighting of that film always hinged on how well the first "TRON" sequel performed at the box office. Though my understanding was - given that the second "TRON" sequel was always supposed to cost far less than "TRON: Legacy" (because, of course,  many of the costumes, props and sets - as well as CG assets - that had been created for the first "TRON" sequel could then, in theory, be repurposed for a "TRON: Legacy" follow-up) ... Well, the way I've heard it described is that "TRON 3" was supposed to be the "Wrath of Khan" to "TRON: Legacy" 's "Star Trek - The Motion Picture." In that -- now that modern moviegoers have been reintroduced to the characters & the world of TRON -- Disney could then step around the ponderous backstory & mythology inherent with the relaunch of a 1980s sci-fi franchise and now create an action-packed sequel that deliberately broadened the appeal of these pictures.

So who knows? If "TRON: Legacy" does well enough worldwide, we may yet get "The Wrath of TRON." Or whatever it is that Walt Disney Studios was going to call "TRON 3." But a lot of this genuinely depends on how many tickets get sold to this Joseph Kosinski film.

Copyright 1982 Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved

So if you really do want to see that "TRON: Legacy" sequel and/or see some "TRON" -themed attractions start popping up in the Parks, Wyatt, my advice is to go back and see this Walt Disney Pictures release a few more times. Better yet, bring a few friends along with you.

And then - on your way home - swing by your local Disney Store and/or Toys R Us and buys some of those "TRON: Legacy" toys. Because anything that indicates to Mouse House management that there is actually a largish audience out there that is interested in all manner of "TRON" -related product will then help keep this franchise alive.

But what do you folks think? Would you be interested in seeing Disney produce a "TRON: Legacy" sequel (especially if the next film had a far stronger story)? Or would you be perfectly happy if the Walt Disney Company waited another 28 years before it then made another attempt to revive / relaunch its "TRON" franchise?

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Your thoughts?


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  • I haven't seen it yet because I don't go to movies alone... Every time I have asked anyone to go with me they are either working or busy some other way. There is a theater upstairs from where I work but I think all it has are 3D and I can't get my mom to go to a 3D movie to save her life.

  • I just got back from seeing Tron and I thought it was pretty good.  It's easy to see where they left openings for a sequel and I think they should make one.  When you consider the world-wide box office totals, plus the merchandising and future dvd profits they are most likely going to at least break even on this picture.  Now if they do that or even make a profit on Legacy and have the infrastructure already in place for a sequel then that might be more likely to make money.  I hope they do it and include Tron into the MUCH needed redo of Tomorrowland.

  • Good form Jim! Good form.

    I love how people presume what success and failure are these days based on nothing.

    Tron 3 would be amazing. It will happen.

  • Jim,

    I'm really disappointed that Disney greenlit this script.  The concepts, the feel of futuristic nostalgia, and the visuals--all are great.  Some visuals really great.  But the script needs to really hum when you throw $300M down on the table.   It seems like that there were some producers very enthusiastic about revisiting the world of Tron, only their enthusiasm was mainly scenic, which I guess is not an entirely bad thing.  It's a shame, because a good script could've floated the Tron world for a long time.  Beyond that, I was hoping that Tron would be the vehicle that helped Disneyland re-focus Tomorrowland at Disneyland.

  • I think Disney will end up making a sequal with a slightly smaller budget. I really enjoyed the movie and would love to watch it again.

  • I have already seen it Twice.   It is so amazing visually, the story is a little weak, however it is there.  I think that there could have been a few more plot points, but as it is it does work.  I took my wife and her parents, they really enjoyed it as well.  They said it was a different experience, and I think that is what Disney was trying to do, expand what they normally do.   Go see and don't judge the story too hard, it is a unique story line.  Look at Avatar, that story line has been used a ton of times, but it was successful.  Just as Quto says "Open Your Mind."

  • Couldn't agree more, Jim. Having watched 'Legacy' in IMAX 3D on opening night and taken three days to fully compose my thoughts about it into order, I believe that Disney have taken a huge and yet very brave gamble here.

    The original Tron is a defining point of my childhood, and I'm smack bang in the middle of the target demographic. Since being blown away by the first 'test' teaser trailer, I've spent months getting increasingly excited about the film, giving the Mouse plenty of pounds and dollars in exchange for blue neon products. 'Legacy' itself is far from perfect, as much as it pains me to admit, but it is still an incredbile experience. For me, it is less of a film and more of a sensory journey - much like a Disney thrill ride. It will divide audiences for it's lack of coherence and 'talky' sections, but personally I think this will live on - as the original did - in Blu-Ray and DVD sales.

    I sincerely hope Disney greenlight the proposed sequel(s) - I'm in agreement with you that storylines branching out from this story can create a much more cohesive, broader world. The brief introduction of the son of a key character from the first film, played by a well regarded actor, surprised me, and hints at grander things to come.

    Besides, Disney may well have covered themselves by creating enough income from excitement generated for 'Legacy' that any 'disappointment' from box office takings could be offset. As long as merchandise keeps coming out based on the Tron world, I'll keep giving the Mouse my hard earned cash!

  • Well about time you even mention Narnia. I know it's no longer a Disney film but still. Anyways, Prince Caspian opened to $55 million and that was seen as a disappointment, but the film had no legs and dropped off the radar fairly quickly because of competition.

    If Tron can drop less than 50% in its second week then I think Disney can say it didn't flop. Sad really, after all the effort put into the marketing campaign and the best it can do is $43 million.

  • Ouch...Harry Potter beats Disney AGAIN.

  • I enjoyed TRON:Legacy, but frankly I don't think it's worth a second viewing, particularly when there are a lot of other interesting movies out this season. I was quite disappointed that we never got to see "Tron" in the film other than as a flash-back or completely masked character who mimicking Darth Vader's swan song sacrifices himself in the last minutes of the film.

  • "Tron 3 would be amazing. It will happen."

    The response to tron is so poor they've cancelled a sequel of any kind.

  • yeah isnt really the same univers of the first movie Tron .. but it's a great familial movie.

  • Tron Legacy pulled in $6MM on Monday (Tuesday's numbers not yet avail (as of wed 9:12am).  $6MM on a Monday when most of the public schools are still in session (no matinees for teens and tweens) has to be viewed favorably, even for a new release.

  • Well, Tuesday numbers are in, and they pulled in another $6MM.  that puts the domestic total at $56MM, through Tuesday.   Yes, it cost more than that, and a boat load of marketing. Will be interesting to see how it performs this weekend when Fockers and True Grit open.

  • Interesting that you say how "Dawn Treader" is a disappointment when it's already recouped what it cost to make when you combine domestic and overseas dollars. "Dawn Treader" actually was number one box office overseas in it's second week, with even Harry Potter beating "Tron".  So yes, it HAS "performed spectacularly overseas", and if you'd bothered to look up the numbers before posting this, you'd have seen that. I think you'll find this Narnia movie has much better legs than "Tron" and given that C.S. Lewis' children's stories have been beloved worldwide for decades, it's not hard to imagine why.

    I will not be surprised at all to see "Silver Chair" made. Given what a stinker of a movie "Caspian" was (and it abysmal marketing and timing on the market) for "Dawn Treader" to have made back it's cost to film aready everyone would expect "Silver Chair" to do even better with it's quality lead in from "Dawn Treader".

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