Features and Columns · Movies

‘LEGO Movie 2’ Fails to Stack Up

Everything’s not awesome for the ‘LEGO Movie’ franchise as the new sequel performed way below expectations.
Lego Movie
Warner Bros.
By  · Published on February 11th, 2019

The LEGO Movie franchise is falling apart. Since the debut of The LEGO Movie exactly five years ago, the series of animated features based on the iconic toy bricks has seen diminishing returns at the box office. While The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part opened better than The LEGO Ninjago Movie, the new installment came up remarkably short considering it’s a direct sequel to the very successful original. Has the novelty worn off? As the variation of the hit song goes in The LEGO Movie 2, “Everything’s not awesome.”

The first movie drew an opening weekend audience of 8.7 million back in February 2014. According to Box Office Mojo, the sequel couldn’t even sell half as many tickets, the estimated turnout being just 3.8 million. That’s also much worse than the debut of The LEGO Batman Movie, which sold about 6 million tickets during its first three days in February 2017. As mentioned, The LEGO Ninjago Movie, which also came out in 2017, was a relative flop, debuting with just 2.3 million fans on its opening weekend.

According to Box Office Pro, The LEGO Movie 2 was tracking really well for as much as 6.6 million tickets sold, which would still be fewer than the first movie but still an upturn from the last couple releases in the franchise. Last week, the site lowered its prediction just slightly to a gross equivalent to 6.1 million tickets. Box Office Pro was way off on their forecast for LEGO Batman and LEGO Ninjago, as well. Everything after the first movie has underperformed by almost half its anticipated figure, proving that interest in the brand isn’t translating to theatrical necessity.

One response to the disappointment of The Second Part is the flooding of the market for LEGO movies. But four releases in five years isn’t a lot, especially for franchises these days. The fact that Warner Bros. put two out in the same year was a mistake, but waiting five years for the direct sequel may also have been a bad idea. Not that animated features are easy to turnaround quickly, but the studio also already clearly had plans for multiple spinoffs and such early on. Of course, the drop in attendance for The LEGO Batman Movie, which focused on a favorite character from The LEGO Movie (who is also Batman!), may have been a sign that this franchise wasn’t going to stay strong.

There might be a science to animated feature sequels. We’ve seen recently that very late sequels to Pixar movies wind up doing better than the originals: Incredibles 2 opened with an audience of 19.5 million compared to The Incredibles‘ 11.3 million; Finding Dory drew 15.5 million compared to Finding Nemo drawing 11.7 million. Otherwise, the sweet spot seems to be three years. The first three Shrek movies increased in opening-weekend attendance with such a pattern. Despicable Me and Madagascar both did very well with their first sequels, which also came out just three years later.

But eventually all these animated franchises took a dive, and typically it’s with the fourth installment. Shrek Forever After and Despicable Me 3 (which was part four if you include Minions). My theory falls apart with Ice Age, which fell hard with the third and fourth movies and then severely crashed with its fifth installment. Still, odds are in favor of The Secret Life of Pets 2, out this summer just three years since the original, outperforming its predecessor while Toy Story 4 could potentially underwhelm at the box office — not that I’d bet on that one bombing or anything.

Technically, The LEGO Movie 2 is part four of its branded franchise. We probably won’t see a LEGO Movie 3. Are there any other factors that caused such a downfall? The LEGO toy brand is one of the most popular on Earth. It’s also one of the most saturated, though that doesn’t seem to hurt its brick set sales or its video games that turn other movies, such as Star Wars, Harry Potter, and recently Incredibles 2 into LEGO Movies themselves. As is often the case with the expense of going to the movies, I wonder if parents just said, “You’ve got all this other LEGO junk to watch and play with at home for now, let’s wait for this movie to come out on home video, which will be very soon, too.”

Remakes didn’t fare much better over the weekend. What Men Want, a gender-swapped redo of What Women Want, also fell below expectations with just 2 million tickets sold compared to the forecast 2.7 million. Back in 2000, the original drew an opening-weekend crowd of about 6.2 million. In third place, Cold Pursuit, Hollywood’s take on the 2016 Norwegian movie In Order of Disappearance, sold 1.2 million tickets, down even from the lowered prediction by Box Office Pro last week of 1.3 million. Perhaps the controversy of Liam Neeson’s confessed racist past put a dent in that one. Meanwhile, fellow debut The Prodigy did about what the experts thought it would do.

In other box office news, the Oscar-nominated shorts programs improved in ticket sales over past years. While the results aren’t broken down by category (live-action, animated, and documentary shorts nominees are shown separately), the estimated attendance for the lot of them over their first weekend was 104,000. Last year’s shorts debuted to a crowd of just 75,900. In 2017, it was 78,300. And going back from 2016, the shorts sold the following number of tickets in their debuts: 65,200 (2016); 51,300 (2015); 41,400 (2014); 46,800 (2013); 52,100 (2012); 38,300 (2011); 36,300 (2010); and 20,100 (2008). There wasn’t much of a change in screen count either, but this year the shorts were distributed by Magnolia rather than Shorts International.

Here are the weekend’s top 10 titles by the number of tickets sold with new and newly wide titles in bold and totals in parentheses:

1. The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part – 3.8 million (3.8 million)
2. What Men Want – 2 million (2 million)
3. Cold Pursuit – 1.2 million (1.2 million)
4. The Upside – 0.8 million (9.5 million)
5. Glass – 0.7 million (10.9 million)
6. The Prodigy – 0.65 million (0.65 million)
7. Green Book – 0.38 million (6.8 million)
8. Aquaman – 0.35 million (36.4 million)
9. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – 0.34 million (19.9 million)
10. Miss Bala – 0.3 milllion (1.3 million)

All non-forecast box office figures via Box Office Mojo.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.