- The Little Mermaid movie box office: Directed by Rob Marshall, Disney’s $250 million 3D live-action reboot of its 1989 animated hit had a solid domestic debut this past Memorial Day weekend. On the downside, prognosticators had been expecting a more impressive opening. More worrisome: International figures were downright disappointing.
The Little Mermaid movie box office: Directed by Rob Marshall, the Walt Disney Studios’ 3D live-action fantasy had a ‘solid’ domestic debut – but that may not be good enough
May 26–29 (Memorial Day) weekend box office: Despite all the cheesiness about The Little Mermaid having made “a splash” at the North American (U.S. and Canada only) box office this past Memorial Day weekend, Walt Disney Pictures’ 3D live-action retooling of its 1989 hit about a lovestruck mermaid topped the domestic chart without actually making any giant waves (lame pun intended).
Directed by Academy Award nominee Rob Marshall (Chicago, 2002), adapted by two-time nominee David Magee (Finding Neverland, 2004; Life of Pi, 2012) from Hans Christian Andersen’s 1837 fairy tale, and featuring Halle Bailey, Jonah Hauer-King, and Melissa McCarthy, The Little Mermaid grossed $118.8 million (including an estimated $10.3 million from Thursday previews) from 4,320 theaters over the four-day Memorial Day weekend ($95.6 million Fri.–Sun.) according to final studio figures found at boxofficemojo.com.
Sure, that’s a remarkable figure. Just bear in mind that early four-day weekend estimates had hovered around $120–$125 million.
Fifth biggest Memorial Day weekend debut ever?
Officially (i.e., if you choose to ignore higher movie ticket prices), The Little Mermaid boasts the fifth biggest Memorial Day weekend debut ever, trailing only:
- The Joseph Kosinski-Tom Cruise action sequel Top Gun: Maverick ($160.5 million in 2022).
- The Gore Verbinski-Johnny Depp action sequel Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End ($139.8 million in 2007).
- The Steven Spielberg-Harrison Ford action sequel Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull ($126.9 million in 2008).
- The Brett Ratner-Hugh Jackman action sequel X-Men: The Last Stand ($122.9 million in 2006).
As attested by the short list above, The Little Mermaid – with the not insignificant assistance of premium-format surcharges (38 percent of the opening-weekend gross, as per boxofficepro.com) – had the biggest (unadjusted) Memorial Day weekend debut for a movie that’s neither an action sequel nor male-centered.
However, once you choose to do a little inflation-adjusting – as you always should, unless you’re a publicist for the Hollywood studios – The Little Mermaid wouldn’t be included among the Top Five or Top Ten Memorial Day weekend movies. Perhaps not even among the Top 20.*
Something else: Let’s not forget that The Little Mermaid cost a reported $250 million (as always, not including marketing and distribution expenses), which means there’s absolutely no chance Disney’s musical fantasy will be able to recover its production cost (let alone its total cost) at the domestic box office alone.
* Among the titles ahead of The Little Mermaid on the inflation-adjusted chart (not one centered on a female character) are Fast & Furious 6, Aladdin, X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Hangover Part II, Solo: A Star Wars Story, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, The Day After Tomorrow, Bruce Almighty, Mission: Impossible, Mission: Impossible II, Godzilla, and even the perceived box office dud Pearl Harbor.
The Little Mermaid v Aladdin
In the last 15 years, Disney’s live-action remakes of its past animated hits – e.g., Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast – have been mostly successful in the North American market (and even more so internationally), with Jon Turteltaub’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (domestic cume: $63.2 million in 2010; approx. $84 million in 2022–23) and Tim Burton’s Dumbo (domestic cume: $114.8 million in 2019; approx. $134 million in 2022–23) as two notable exceptions. (COVID pandemic victims like Niki Caro’s Mulan and Craig Gillespie’s Cruella don’t count.)
Among these live-action reboots, the most “comparable” title to The Little Mermaid is Aladdin, a pre-COVID musical fantasy adventure that also debuted on Memorial Day weekend. (Coincidentally, one also starring a black American performer).
Directed by Guy Ritchie, and with Will Smith and Mena Massoud headlining the cast, Aladdin opened in the U.S. and Canada with $116.8 million (Fri.–Mon.; approx. $136.5 million in 2022–23) from 4,476 locations in late May 2019, ending its run with $355.6 million (approx. $416 million in 2022–23), in addition to an astounding $695.1 million internationally. Worldwide total: $1.050.7 billion. Budget: $183 million.
And that means The Little Mermaid debuted far more modestly than Aladdin.
Could it be because the latest Disney release has a weak 47 percent approval rating (6/10 average) among Rotten Tomatoes’ “top critics”?
No. After all, Aladdin has an even worse approval rating: 41 percent (5.3/10 average).
The reasons for The Little Mermaid’s not-so-splashy opening are unclear.
Underwhelming international debut
Outside the U.S. and Canada, The Little Mermaid has scored $79 million. That’s no more than an acceptable figure, especially considering that the movie has already opened in most major territories, including China, where it bombed with a disastrous $2.6 million (total to date).
Although not as dismal, figures elsewhere have been noticeably lower than Aladdin’s (see below), which, admittedly, had a stronger box office draw in Will Smith, who’s a more well-established name overseas than Melissa McCarthy.
The Little Mermaid’s biggest international market thus far is Mexico, where it has taken in $9 million ($8 million on the weekend proper). Next in line are the United Kingdom/Ireland with $8.6 million (weekend gross: $6.2 million), Italy with $5.1 million ($4.7 million), Brazil with $4.5 million ($4 million), France with $4.4 million ($3.7 million), and Australia with $4.3 million ($4 million).
In Hans Christian Andersen’s Denmark, The Little Mermaid has raked in $466,200 (weekend gross: $358,600).
In late May 2022, Aladdin opened with an estimated $122.1 million overseas. For the countries listed above, the opening-weekend figures found at Box Office Mojo are the following: Mexico with $8.9 million, the U.K./Ireland with $7.3 million, Italy with $6.3 million, France with $3.6 million, Australia with $5.3 million, and Denmark with $555,500. (Brazil’s opening-weekend figures are incomplete.)
It remains to be seen whether The Little Mermaid will grow some sturdy, long-lasting legs (honest to god, no pun intended) and somehow manage to recover its mammoth costs at the global box office. Else, there will likely be no The Little Mermaid Meets the Pirates of the Caribbean in 2025.
Racist online trolls’ box office effect?
Lastly, some pundits have claimed that an inordinate number of negative reviews – possibly motivated by racism – posted on the IMDb and other sites have dampened enthusiasm for the musical fantasy featuring a black American actress as the Andersen-created title character.
That would make perfect sense if you believe that people check out IMDb, Reddit, or AlloCiné reviews by sassygirl445534 or kewtguy18553 before deciding whether or not to go see a branded Disney release with a massive advertising blitz worth tens of millions of dollars.
Besides, it’s hardly as if moviegoers who take the trouble to read reviews would have been unable to find The Little Mermaid pans elsewhere, as numerous international critics have dismissed the $250 million production as “aesthetically silly,” “generic,” “extremely mediocre,” and “outrageous.”
The Little Mermaid cast
Besides Halle Bailey as the title character, Ariel; Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric; and two-time Oscar nominee Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids, 2011; Can You Ever Forgive Me?, 2018) as the sea witch Ursula, The Little Mermaid features Oscar winner Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men, 2007) as Atlantica’s King Triton, Noma Dumezweni as The Queen, and Art Malik as Sir Grimsby.
In addition to the voices of Daveed Diggs, Jacob Tremblay, and Awkwafina.
Top Eight movies on the domestic chart: Four new box office bombs
Rounding out the Top Eight movies on the domestic box office chart over the Memorial Day weekend – including four new releases, all flops – were the following:
- At no. 2, Louis Leterrier’s action thriller Fast X grossed $28.5 million ($23 million Fri.–Sun.; down 66 percent on its second weekend). Domestic cume: $113.5 million. Worldwide: $519.8 million. Cast: Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez. Distributor: Universal Pictures. Budget: $340 million.
- At no. 3, James Gunn’s superhero actioner Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 grossed $26.8 million ($20.8 million Fri.–Sun.; down 36 percent on its fourth weekend). Domestic cume: $306.3 million. Worldwide: $743.9 million. Cast: Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana. Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. Budget: $250 million.
- At no. 4, Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic’s computer-animated adventure The Super Mario Bros. Movie grossed $8.3 million ($6.4 million Fri.–Sun.; down 33 percent on its eighth weekend). Domestic cume: $561.7 million. Worldwide: $1,282.9 billion. Voice cast: Chris Pratt and Anya Taylor-Joy. Distributor: Universal Pictures. Budget: $100 million.
- At no. 5, Peter Atencio’s action comedy The Machine debuted with a paltry $5 million from 2,409 venues. Four-day domestic cume: $5.9 million. Cast: Bert Kreischer and Star Wars veteran Mark Hamill. Distributor: Sony Pictures. Budget: $20 million.
- At no. 6, Laura Terruso’s comedy About My Father debuted with an even more anemic $4.3 million from 2,464 venues. Four-day domestic cume: $5.4 million. Worldwide: $5.7 million. Cast: Sebastian Maniscalco, Robert De Niro, and Leslie Bibb. Distributor: Lionsgate. Budget: $29 million.
- At no. 7, Ric Roman Waugh’s action thriller Kandahar debuted with a disastrous $2.3 million from 2,105 venues. Four-day domestic cume: $2.8 million. Worldwide: $3.3 million. Cast: Gerard Butler and Navid Negahban. Distributor: Open Road Films.
- At no. 8, Nicole Holofcener’s enthusiastically received “adult” comedy-drama You Hurt My Feelings debuted with an estimated $1.4 million from 912 venues. Four-day domestic cume: Est. $1.8 million. That figure is not a total catastrophe simply because Holofcener’s efforts are made on a modest budget. Cast: Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Tobias Menzies. Distributor: A24.
“The Little Mermaid Movie Box Office: Underwhelming Hit” notes
Unless otherwise noted, “The Little Mermaid Movie Box Office: ‘Solid’ Debut Not Enough” box office information via Box Office Mojo. Budget info – which should be taken with a grain of salt – via BOM and/or other sources (e.g., the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Screen Daily, The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, Deadline.com, etc.).
Comments about The Little Mermaid, The Machine, About My Father, Kandahar, You Hurt My Feelings, and other titles being hits/profitable or flops/money-losers at the box office (see paragraph below) are based on the available data about their production budget, additional marketing and distribution expenses (as a general rule of thumb, around 50 percent of the production cost), and worldwide gross (as a general rule of thumb when it comes to the Hollywood studios, around 50–55 percent of the domestic gross and 40 percent of the international gross goes to the distributing/producing companies).
Bear in mind that data regarding rebates, domestic/international sales/pre-sales, and other credits and/or contractual details that help to alleviate/split production costs and apportion revenues are oftentimes unavailable, and that reported international grosses may be incomplete (i.e., not every territory is fully – or even partially – accounted for).
Also bear in mind that ancillary revenues (domestic/global television rights, home video sales, streaming, merchandising, etc.) can represent anywhere between 40–70 percent of a movie’s total take. However, these revenues and their apportionment are only infrequently made public.
Lastly, although a more accurate reflection of a film’s popularity (i.e., its number of tickets sold), inflation-adjusted estimates should be taken with extreme caution. For instance, they’re based on average domestic ticket prices (via the National Association of Theater Owners, unless otherwise noted) whereas numerous major releases scored a large chunk of their box office take at top-priced venues.
Jon Hauer-King, Halle Bailey, and Melissa McCarthy The Little Mermaid movie images: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.
“The Little Mermaid Movie Box Office: Underwhelming Hit” last updated in May 2023.