The film that dominated this weekend's box office isn't a blockbuster new release — but a hand-drawn animated film first released in 1994. The Lion King's 3D re-release (only the second time the film's returned to the big screen) more than doubled studio estimates for its weekend gross, amassing $29.3 million. With most commentators agreeing that 3D is dead and hand-drawn animation is a has-been style, what's behind the film's surprising success? Here, four theories:
1. A new generation jumped at the chance to see The Lion King
A "circle of life" thing is happening here, says Disney executive Dave Hollis. Children of the '90s for whom the film was a monumental theatrical experience are now parents of the 2010s, eager to evangelize their own kids. And millennials who fell in love with the film on DVD or through the Broadway musical finally have a chance to see it on the big screen, says Anthony D'Alessandro at Indie Wire. "It's a fresh experience, much like the 1997 Star Wars re-issues were for the Y Generation."
2. Family movies aren't as good as they used to be
The Lion King 3D's success proves that today's theaters are "utterly bereft of family friendly options," says Claude Brodesser-Akner at New York. Despite the "usurious upcharges" attached to 3D tickets, parents rushed their families to theaters for The Lion King. When the summer's biggest family releases have been the critically trashed Mars Needs Moms and Cars 2, agrees Amy Windsor at Babble, you know it's been a particularly woeful season. And considering Simba's only real competition next week is the dubious-looking Dolphin Tale, "the Mouse House could easily push this re-release to $70-80 million," says Gregory Ellwood at HitFix.
3. People actually do like 3D movies… when they're good
After disappointing 3D ticket sales for films likes Pirates of the Caribbean and Green Lantern, many assumed that audience enthusiasm for the eye-popping 3D craze had flattened out. But the real problem was the mediocrity of those films, says Erik Lomis, head of distribution at the Weinstein Company. The successful 3D release of The Lion King suggests that audiences may still enjoy the technology when there's a good movie behind it.
4. Hollywood is onto something with the 3D re-release trend
Recent announcements that Titanic and Top Gun would be re-released in 3D were met with skepticism. But The Lion King 3D proves that this could actually be a worthwhile (and not merely profit-generating) way to revisit good, classic cinema. It's a veritable "green light to open the vaults" and begin producing 3D versions of other past classics, says Sean O'Connell at Cinema Blend.