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Aladdin remake opens strong, turns eyes toward July’s Lion King

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How have these live-action flicks done against the originals, anyway?

Naomi Scott and Mena Massoud as Jasmine and Aladdin. Walt Disney Studios

The live-action Aladdin reimagining of Disney’s 27-year-old animated feature rode Memorial Day audiences to an $86.1 million opening weekend, estimates Box Office Mojo, best among all films on U.S. screens for the period.

But the impressive debut raises another point of comparison? How are all these Disney live-action flicks doing when compared to their inspirations? There’s not much of an apples-to-apples way to do it — some films didn’t have animated originals (The Wizard of Oz), and Disney has done live-action remakes for two classics not once but twice (The Jungle Book and a couple of Alice in Wonderland flicks).

And, of course, one would have to adjust box office takes to modern dollar values, and then also understand that movies’ marketing and place on the menu of entertainment options were a greatly different thing even 25 years ago.

Anyway, deep breath, Aladdin’s $86.1 million premiere would have handily beaten the original’s wide-release opening weekend in 1992, which brought in $41 million in today’s money. Again, context matters. Twenty-seven years ago, the Disney Renaissance of animated movies was three years old and on its third flick. Aladdin was a brand-spanking-new thing, even it it was at the time the highest-grossing animated feature ever (very soon to be eclipsed by The Lion King). It started a franchise that included direct-to-VHS sequels, a Disney Afternoon cartoon, and licensed memorabilia galore. So this year’s movie, starring Will Smith, Naomi Scott and Mena Massoud, has some built-in hype and audience nostalgia driving fans to the box office, where its original didn’t.

So by Obi-Wan’s certain point of view, Disney’s 2019 Aladdin is doing better than its predecessor. Of the 11 other live-action remakes Disney’s done since 1996’s 101 Dalmatians, six have done better at the box office when the money is made equivalent. Among these is Dumbo, which is still in theaters and has a 78-year gap between it and the 1941 original. The original is said to have grossed $1.6 million in its original run, about $27.8 million today. Tim Burton’s live-action remake almost doubled that in its opening weekend and has so far made $112 million (and another $235 million from overseas).

Box Office Mojo has collated all of Disney’s live-action reimaginings into this rundown, showing 2017’s Beauty and the Beast as the best earner of the bunch ($174 million opening, $504 million run). Aladdin missed being the fourth movie to open with more than $100 million, but will likely go past that with the benefit of an extra day in the holiday weekend tomorrow. 2016’s The Jungle Book was Disney’s second live-action stab at the animated classic, and pulled in $103.2 million in its first weekend. Yet it was still outperformed by the original, $485 million (in 2016 dollars) to $364 million.

All of this turns a rather expectant eye to The Lion King, whose live-action remake opens in July. That one packs huge star power (Donald Glover, Alfre Woodard, Seth Rogen, Beyoncé, even John Oliver and of course, James Earl Jones) and the original is the highest-grossing animated movie of all time (and was, in the year of its release, second-highest grossing movie of all time). It’s possible this one can be a big success for Buena Vista and still not do as well, comparatively, as the original. This bears watching.