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Why Lightyear Failed At The Box Office, According To Pixar CCO Pete Docter

One of the most "buzzed" about movies of 2022 was the "Toy Story" spinoff "Lightyear," but the film failed to send the box office to infinity and beyond. "Lightyear" marked the titular character's return to the screen after Summer 2019's "Toy Story 4," so anticipation was high. Upon its release in June, however, the film only managed to make $118 million domestically and $226 million worldwide. 

While that may sound like a significant chunk of change, "Lightyear" bombed by Disney's standards, as it didn't even break even with domestic ticket sales. "Lightyear" reportedly cost over $200 million to make, not counting the millions that went into marketing the film. With sobering numbers like that, the studio had to look inward to see what went wrong. While the film divided fans, overall, Buzz's solo adventure gained decent enough reviews with a 74% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

So, it wasn't bad reviews that kept audiences away, but one obstacle the film did face was that the summer of 2022 belonged to one pilot and one pilot alone. "Top Gun: Maverick" blew up the summer box office and the box office overall for 2022. "Lightyear" simply didn't stand a chance competing against the nearly $1.5 billion worldwide earner which was released the month before. Pixar CCO Pete Docter doesn't put the blame on the legacy sequel, though. He has his own theories on why the film just didn't work.

Docter thought not including other toys from the franchise hurt the film

In a career-spanning interview with The Wrap, Pixar CCO Pete Docter gave his honest opinion on why "Lightyear" may have failed at the box office. He said, "We've done a lot of soul-searching about that because we all love the movie. We love the characters and the premise. I think probably what we've ended on in terms of what went wrong is that we asked too much of the audience." He suggested that audiences expected to see the other characters like Woody and Rex from the world of "Toy Story" in the film, and they didn't even get a toy story at all, leading to an audience interest disconnect. He continued, "And then we drop them into this science fiction film."

Docter even blamed the marketing as well and said, "Even if they've read the material in press, it was just a little too distant, both in concept, and I think in the way that characters were drawn, that they were portrayed. It was much more of a science fiction." He credited the film's director, Angus MacLane, for really stepping up to the task with the film and for wanting to make the world portrayed real for audiences. Docter continued, "But the characters in 'Toy Story' are much broader, and so I think there was a disconnect between what people wanted/expected and what we were giving to them."

"Lightyear" is presented as the sci-fi adventure film that Andy saw that inspired him to want the Buzz Lightyear toy. An opening scroll of text explains this at the beginning of the film, but it wasn't presented much in the marketing, leading audiences to be confused as to what the film really was.