EXCLUSIVE: Next weekend Walden Media will see the release of two of its films. Lionsgate is debuting Wonder on Nov. 17 and Sony is also putting the animated feature The Star into the market via their Affirm label. Both films are targeting a family audience. The Lionsgate film is based on a best-selling book of the same name about an 11 year-old boy with facial differences who tries to find his way through school. The Star is an animated film about a group of animals who end up finding their destiny with the first Christmas.
The Star was actually supposed to be released this weekend, but Sony decided to move the film up a week. For Walden Media, that poses an unusual situation. The decision was made by the Chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment’s Motion Picture Group Tom Rothman, said Walden Media CEO Frank Smith.
Smith said he initially had concerns because both “The Star and Wonder are intended for a wide family audience. We have two films coming out the same weekend, it doesn’t seem like the best situation but you have to look at the films separately and apart. I think he was doing the right thing for that film. He didn’t want to lose out on the Thanksgiving weekend.”
Current tracking forecasts have The Star at $10M and Wonder at $9M. Both titles are skewing toward older females, meaning moms. Cross Creek Pictures faced a similar situation back on Sept. 18, 2015 when Warner Bros. went wide with its Johnny Depp mob movie Black Mass aimed and older adults, and Universal gave a 545 theater limited start to Everest in Imax. Everest went wider during Black Mass‘ second frame in 3,006 theaters.
Had The Star bowed this weekend, it would be against PG-13 family comedy Daddy’s Home 2 and the adult-oriented Murder on the Orient Express. On Wednesday, Nov. 22, Disney/Pixar’s Coco enters the Thanksgiving stretch and will naturally share the top of the box office chart with Warner Bros.’ behemoth Justice League. But, logically, it’s an odd decision: The Star is an animated faith-based film which would draw a different audience than Daddy’s Home 2.
Going way back, originally Lionsgate was initially going to release Wonder back on April 7. They moved the film to November in February. Before Sony settled on Nov. 17 for The Star and prior to that Nov. 10, they were eyeing Dec. 8. However, the more leg room you have for a holiday release, the better.
The Star, says Smith, “is directly faith-based, however it is still pretty broad. It’s still got comedy and heart in it. Wonder on the other hand, has no direct faith elements in it but we heard from some of the top religious leaders in the country and they said that involves all the moral messages that we embrace. So it is interesting that you have these two films, one is faith based and one is just good moral messaging, coming out on the same date.”
The decision from Sony was to give The Star some room to breathe, but as it is now it has only one week before Coco comes into the marketplace.
“You want to give this film some space and get it out as close to Christmas so with Tom’s decision to move the date it makes sense for Sony and this film. Is it the perfect world for Walden? No, but is it best for the film? Yes. Will there be cannibalization? Probably yes, but I think The Star is more of a slow burn.”
Smith is very high on both films.
He added, “I’m so proud of Wonder because it really delivers. It’s often hard to get the magic of the book on screen and I think we got it with this one. It’s just a good film and word of mouth will be good.”
“We’re so proud of The Star — a one-of-its-kind animated film for the holidays that serves a faith audience,” added Rich Peluso, exec VP of AFFIRM Films. “There was a nice opportunity to move closer to the holidays and to stay on the most screens possible in the lead up to Christmas. This film will have life beyond opening weekend and play into the holidays.”
Anthony D’Alessandro contributed to this piece.