The first weekend for Disney’s new version of “The Jungle Book” has gone just like its executives drew it up. The adaptation of the animated favorite snapped up an estimated $103.5 million, the second-highest opening weekend in April since “Furious 7,” which grossed $147 million, and the second-highest live-action adaptation of a Disney property since “Alice in Wonderland,” which pulled in over $116 million back in 2010.
The film also did brisk business abroad, grossing more than $136 million across 49 international markets. The biggest chunk came from China, where “The Jungle Book” grossed more than $50 million.
“We are ecstatic about where we’re starting,” Dave Hollis, Disney’s distribution chief, told the Los Angeles Times. “When you combine really high-quality filmmaking and the reception you hoped for from critics and consumers enjoying it, the momentum started to snowball.”
While the film boasts A-list talent, with Jon Favreau of "Iron Man" in the director’s chair and voiceover contributions from actors including Scarlett Johansson, Bill Murray and Christopher Walken, its star is relatively obscure. Neel Sethi, 13, had just one other acting credit to his name before landing this role.
But rather than rely on star power, Disney’s marketing department gunned for two audiences who are not always interested in Mouse-y fare. To pique the interests of young men, the entertainment powerhouse invested in ads for the movie that aired during the Super Bowl and splurged on a number of tie-ins at ESPN, a company it also owns.
To boost Hispanic turnout, the company secured a five-week partnership with Univision that saw “The Jungle Book” integrated into several facets of the network’s broadcasts, including sports, news and telenovelas.
The short-term success of “The Jungle Book” is the latest piece of evidence that Disney was right to commit substantial resources to live-action remakes of its most treasured animated movies, including “Pinocchio,” “Dumbo,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Sword in the Stone.” “The Jungle Book” cost $175 million to make.
In addition to those remakes, a number spinoff films, which tell the origin stories of famous Disney characters like Tinkerbell, Maleficent and Prince Charming, are also in the works.
While a strong opening weekend typically augurs well for a film's long-term box-office prospects, high marks with critics for “The Jungle Book” — it scored a 95 percent “fresh rating” from movie critic aggregator Rotten Tomatoes — suggests the movie should continue to do well over the next several weeks.