Toy movies! Sometimes they win at the box office, sometimes they lose. There are a surprising number of animated or live-action films based on toys. For every win like The LEGO Movie you get a loss like, well, Playmobil: The Movie, which had one of the worst openings of all time.
Playmobil was released in the U.S. on December 6, 2019, based on the German building toys. Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe, voices a lead role as Rex Dasher, with other famous names filling out the voice cast. However, they did not help it at the box office in its opening weekend.
Playmobil: The Movie opened to $670,000 at the domestic box office after its December 6 release. Since STX opened the movie in an optimistic 2,337 North American theaters, that came down to a per-screen-average of $287.
That breakdown is per The Numbers. By comparison you can see how sad that $287 per-screen average is. Frozen II has been out for three weekends now but it's at the top with a per-screen average of $7,974. Even Joker, which has been out for 10 weekends, had a per-screen of $1,088. No one else is as low as Playmobil, although Charlie's Angels in its 4th weekend is close with a per-screen average of $306 and Ad Astra in its 12th weekend is at $303.
PlayMobil's $660,000 domestic opening puts at it #4 on the list of worst wide openings, for movies that were released in more than 2,000 theaters. It's just ahead of Jem and the Holograms and behind Saw's 10th anniversary release, per Box Office Mojo.
This is not to shame Playmobil: The Movie. I feel sorry for it now. But there are several reasons why this happened.
1. Did You Even Know This Movie Existed?
Look, I'm not exactly the target audience for a kids movie, but I do tend to see many ads for kids' movies -- like The LEGO Movie, Frozen II of course, or even The Emoji Movie, which was a blockbuster compared to this. I can say with confidence I did not see a single commercial or poster or anything for Playmobil: The Movie. The official Twitter account only has 1,229 followers so it feels like someone wasn't even trying to get this movie much attention. Also, is Playmobil enough of a brand to carry a movie? It's not exactly LEGO or Barbie or Transformers.
2. It Needed Good Buzz, And Instead It Had Bad-To-None
Kids' movies can be critic-proof, but under-the-radar movies need good buzz to survive. That has to come from word-of-mouth. Strong trailer buzz, neighbors or friends talking about the movie, reading positive fan reports on social media, etc. On Rotten Tomatoes, 48 critics gave Playmobil: The Movie a low 19% rating. Only 53 users weighed in, being more generous with 66%. The movie has a B+ CinemaScore, which sounds good, but only a 4.5/10 rating from 1,122 users on IMDb. The good reactions weren't good enough to build buzz. The bad reviews may have turned away anyone on the fence.
3. It Shouldn't Have Opened So Wide
Apparently Playmobil struggled to even get this release at all. It was originally supposed to come out a couple of years ago. When it eventually did premiere in June 2019 at the Annecy Festival, Cartoon Brew reported it was widely criticized. The site even saw the animated film coming as one of the biggest box office bombs of the year. So there were early signs six months ago that maybe this film shouldn't get such a wide release in the U.S./Canada. With so little awareness and interest for this movie, a wide release on over 2,000 screens just made the low per-screen average more noticeable.
4. It Seems Like More Of A Home Release
Even though Playmobil didn't have any new direct competition this weekend, families who just saw Frozen II are probably saving their pennies for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (and the Jumanji sequel). This weekend was the calm before the storm of Jumanji: The Next Level and then Star Wars. I can imagine families -- if they even heard of Playmobil -- thinking they'd wait until it arrived on digital/DVD, etc. Maybe it'll show up on Netflix or one of the other 9 million streaming services. It can wait.
If it makes Playmobil feel any better, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part also underperformed at the box office in early 2019, although it still made $191 million worldwide off a reported $99 million production budget. Playmobil: The Movie was reportedly made for $40 million -- not counting marketing, although there clearly wasn't too much marketing for the U.S. release. It has made $12.5 million internationally, although most of that seems to be from releases earlier this year.
As we wait to see if Hollywood takes this as a lesson to make fewer toy movies, keep up with everything heading to the big screen next year with our 2020 movie release date schedule.