I wrote before about how Disney has not had a good year. They are supposed to be celebrating their 100th anniversary, yet have seen so many problems both behind the scenes and with their current releases. Films have either consistently underperformed or have outright flopped, the writer and actor strikes have halted all further production, and CEO Bob Iger garnered ire for statements about the strikers alongside rumors of potentially selling assets of the company. It has been a lot of turmoil, even for a corporation as huge as Disney. And yet, there has been a surprising success story underneath all of this that not only serves as a bright spot here but could serve as a message for all of the big studios regarding their current strategies with theatrical releases.

The story of success relates to Elemental, this year’s Pixar release. This is because, initially, it was viewed as a colossal failure for the studio when it first came out. It opened at 29.5 million, which not only was below initial expectations but was the lowest opening for the studio in years and a bad sign given the 200 million production budget. Many cited the underperformance due to audiences opting to wait for the films to be released on Disney+ since Pixar had a couple of its recent films released on the platform first and people got used to the release model. There also wasn’t much public excitement for the film since it felt played out in regard to Pixar bringing sentience to another topic and how the film only got mildly positive reviews meaning it wasn’t something people were rushing towards.

However, as of this month, the film has made 450 million and is projected to reach 500 by the end of its run. This is because Disney held off on any digital release until September and committed to keeping the movie in theaters for a long period of time. As of late, studios have tended to put underperforming films on digital platforms early if they don’t perform well enough on their opening weekend. Disney, in spite of the initial low performance, decided to let the film play out, much to the joy of those involved with it. It ended up working and is proof that not going to digital immediately could help an initially struggling film in the long run. Most of this was also due to its strong performance overseas, with ¾ of the box office coming from there. In particular, the film did well in South Korea due to it resonating with many since the film’s director, Peter Sohn, based the story on his own background of being a Korean from a family of immigrants. The film also benefited from having the market of animated films to itself for almost two months until the release of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem in August which made it one of the few options for kids during the summer months. What was initially perceived as a flop has become a sleeper hit and a welcome success for Disney in a year of misfires.

This isn’t the only recent occurrence of an animated film overcoming a poor opening weekend due to strong legs at the box office. Puss in Boots: The Last Wish opened up to 26.2 million over its opening days due to competition with Avatar: The Way of Water. Universal put the film on digital in January only a few weeks after the film release. They did this since their model is to release the films they see as underperformers on digital early to recoup costs. However, due to good word of mouth and free space in regard to rival animated films, it was able to turn around and make a good amount of money theatrically and the film overall is now highly regarded.

What this shows is that there is both value in patience with theatrical releases and that films can still make up for early performance over time if given the opportunity to do so. However, the issue is that studios don’t seem to be recognizing this and are instead focused on embracing new forms of release to quickly recoup perceived losses. Paramount has slated September for the digital release of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem since it only grossed 28 million in its opening weekend. A similar situation happened even quicker for Blue Beetle since its digital release was announced not even a week after its first day in theaters. Some films have even been released to streaming only such as the Predator prequel Prey due to a lack of confidence in studios for certain films to perform well and relegating some films to be attractions on their new platforms.

However, it’s clear that there is the potential for movies in slow situations to make their money back in theaters. And even if a film ends up flopping with this opportunity, it wouldn’t hurt to give it a chance in theaters and the home media and streaming service money can still be present but just come up later. Plus, there is not much competition in theaters with future releases at the moment given the current strikes. Dune Part Two got delayed and it’s apparent that studios are steadfast in not accepting any current strike deal. If studios want to maintain some sort of stability, they need to allow their films to perform properly since it just feels like they toss anything not performing up to their standards onto streaming or home media immediately. This is less about the studios though and more about the artists and crew getting their hard work attention and the success they deserve. Seeing something on the big screen is special and allowing more people to view a good or even great film that is initially overlooked in this format benefits a lot of people and provides the best possible experience.

It’s understandable at some level why studios jump at the bit with these new models. They want to ensure that profit comes in at any level possible especially if it seems they have a theatrical lame duck. However, Elemental should tell them that they should be more cautious in having this mindset immediately since allowing the film to spread its wings paid off for them in the end in spite of all the obstacles.