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The Real Reason Haunted Mansion Bombed At The Box Office

Disney's "Haunted Mansion" failed to scare up a storm at the summer box office. 

When it comes to mining IP, Disney is king. Beyond giving their animated projects the live-action treatment, the media giant has made significant efforts to find inspiration (and billion-dollar franchises) across their various brands and divisions. While Disney will always be known for its cinematic output, it's difficult to deny their mammoth footprint in the world of theme parks and attractions. Over the years, the studio has managed to adapt several of their iconic attractions, giving viewers a different taste of their favorite rides. As companies across Hollywood continue to search for properties to adapt, it's a slick move on Disney's part to adapt attractions that are already bringing in millions of visitors a year. 

So far, Disney has had mixed success with this creative direction, with their most profitable and recognizable adaptation being the billion-dollar grossing "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise, which is based on the ride of the same name. And while the future of the  "Pirates" franchise seems to be in limbo, Disney is already hard at work trying to find its next cash cow, ignoring the theatrical bombs that was 2015's "Tomorrowland." 

Earlier this summer, Disney debuted a film based on "Haunted Mansion" — their second adaptation of the spooky Disneyland ride. Starring LaKeith Stanfield, Rosario Dawson, Owen Wilson, and Tiffany Haddish, the film debuted to a muted $24 million. Internationally, the family-friendly horror flick failed to find an audience, with a foreign total standing just below $23 million. Against a budget of $150 million, "Haunted Mansion" is a bomb for Disney, reducing any chances to kickstart a franchise. With mixed reviews from and a poor release strategy, "Haunted Mansion" was always meant to be a fumble for the media giant.

Haunted Mansion isn't a crowdpleaser

A "Haunted Mansion" film should, in theory, be the perfect cinematic outing for any family eager to occupy their time for two hours. While Disney hasn't had much success with adapting their theme park rides aside from "Pirates of the Caribbean," a "Haunted Mansion" film could be accessible horror film that directly ties into the ride. Disney previously adapted "Haunted Mansion" with Eddie Murphy back in 2003. While Murphy's collab with Disney was a critical misfire, it was a mild success at the box office, proving that it was an IP worth revisiting.  

With the 2023 film, Disney and director Justin Simien had the opportunity to learn from the 2003 film's missteps. Notably, they could have paid attention to how the Murphy film attempted to be both a comedy and horror project, but failed to succeed on either front. History clearly repeats itself, as contemporary audiences had the same issues with the 2023 film. Looper critic Cynthia Vinney was mixed on the reboot, criticizing it for having a lackluster plot and not doubling down on either horror or comedy. "This is a double-edged sword as no one will be afraid to go see 'Haunted Mansion,' but the laughs aren't enough to keep adults and teenagers interested," Vinney wrote, awarding the film a 6/10. 

Several critics agreed with this sentiment, calling the film out for its genre inconsistencies. Paying audience members also felt the same way, giving the film a B+ CinemaScore, a mediocre grade for what should have been a crowd-pleasing flick. The film failed to engage audiences in both the comedy and horror department, which led to poor word of mouth. Naturally, the film cratered in its sophomore weekend, suffering a 62% drop with a $9 million gross. 

Haunted Mansion received no promotion

Filmmakers have always blended horror and comedy together to create timeless projects. The fusion of the genres has resulted in some of the greatest films of all time, like "Ghostbusters" and "Beetlejuice."  The blend equally works well with children's films, with projects like 2015's "Goosebumps" and Eli Roth's "The House with a Clock in Its Walls" proving to be both financial successes and favorites amongst children. 

Why did the 2023 "Haunted Mansion" stumble, despite being a key part of the world's most recognizable brand? It simply didn't appeal to audiences. While initial reactions to the "Haunted Mansion" trailers were positive, especially amongst fans of the ride, Disney wasn't able to sustain positive momentum, thanks in part to the SAG-AFTRA strike. The on-going strike prohibits actors from promoting their films in any and all capacity. Unfortunately for "Haunted Mansion," its release coincided with the strike, restricting stars like the Oscar-nominated LaKeith Stanfield and ever-charming Rosario Dawson from discussing the film at press junkets or on talk shows, limiting the project's ability to breakout.  

With little to no promotion, "Haunted Mansion" was doomed to be a disappointment. With no stars to rely on, director Justin Simien was thrust into the position of promoting the film solo. While speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, Simien expressed that no promotion from its leading stars would have a "pretty dramatic" impact on the film. "It's not a sequel to that first movie or a remake," Simien explained. "It's not building on an existing audience. We need publicity. We need word-of-mouth. This is going to hurt it." 

While it's difficult to know if "Haunted Mansion" would have succeeded if it received adequate promotion from its stars, it's certainly easy to see how little to no media footprint may have impacted the film's performance, especially during a crowded summer. 

Haunted Mansion's summer release was misguided

It makes sense why Disney decided to release "Haunted Mansion" during the middle of the summer. Kids are out of school, which means families are incentivized to kill time at the cinemas. While the box office hasn't fully recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic, families are showing up to cinemas in droves, with several of the year's biggest hits being kid-centric and family-friendly projects. So far, the highest-grossing film of the year is "The Super Mario Bros. Movie," with a domestic gross of $574 million. Other noteworthy hits include the animated "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse" and Disney's "The Little Mermaid." Clearly, families and children are enjoying their return back to the cinemas. 

But with so much competition at the multiplex, it was difficult for "Haunted Mansion" to break out thanks to its misguided July 28 release. The film opened at number three, just behind the juggernauts "Barbie" and "Oppenheimer." While "Haunted Mansion" isn't in competition with the R-rated "Oppenheimer," it did likely face some strife from "Barbie," which has grossed over $1 billion worldwide. Both "Barbie" and "Haunted Mansion" are PG-13 and appeal to families and teenagers. Seeing as "Barbie" was able to promote itself prior to the SAG-AFTRA strike and was the recipient of thousands of memes, it stands to reason that the Greta Gerwig film was far more appealing to audiences. 

Beyond that, "Haunted Mansion" released during a month where there were far more superior horror films for viewers to visit. The film's debut coincided with the release of A24's "Talk to Me," which opened to $10 million. In its second weekend, "Haunted Mansion" was eclipsed by the family-friendly "TMNT: Mutant Mayhem," a film that has already outgrossed the spooky Disney flick. Perhaps "Haunted Mansion" could have succeeded in a less crowded cinematic landscape. 

Haunted Mansion could have soared during Halloween

Disney likely assumed that "Haunted Mansion" would prosper in the summer but it's likely that it could have genuinely soared in October, just in time for Halloween. 2023's October offerings are relatively slim when it comes to family-friendly fare. A number of horror films, like "Pet Sematary: Bloodlines" and "Totally Killer," are slated to hit streaming services in the beginning of the month. Theatrically, the month is relatively dry until October 14's "The Exorcist: Believer," a film that will definitely scare up a storm at the box office. Seeing as the film is gunning for a mature audience, it would have survived quite well alongside the teen-focused "Haunted Mansion." Besides the Justin Long-starring "Dear David" and Blumhouse's "Five Nights at Freddy's," which is set to debut both theatrically and on Peacock, "Haunted Mansion" would have had little to no competition. 

While October is stacked with anticipated projects like "Killers of the Flower Moon" and the David Gordon Green-directed "Exorcist" sequel, it's relatively dry when it comes to films that appeal to families. During the fall month, "Haunted Mansion" could have carved out a great release for itself as it would have faced minimal competition. Not only would it be the only family-friendly horror film in town, but it also would have been the perfect film for teenagers to escape to thanks to its PG-13 rating. 

In fact, a late September release would have also sufficed, as it would have given "Haunted Mansion" time to grow and become a fixture of sorts in October. Unfortunately, in the crowded summer months, "Haunted Mansion" has become an afterthought despite its stacked cast. Then again, there's a chance that "Haunted Mansion" was always poised for failure, no matter when it released. 

Haunted Mansion's bloated budget isn't doing it any favors

Even with a more promising release date and promotions from its leading stars, there's still a chance that "Haunted Mansion" would have bombed at the box office. Despite mixed reviews, the film could have genuinely succeeded, if not for its bloated budget. It's somewhat mind-boggling to see that "Haunted Mansion" boasts a budget of $150 million, per Variety. Budgets that soar north of $100 million are typically reserved for large-scale action blockbusters, such as superhero fare, or projects that already have a built-in brand. While "Haunted Mansion" is definitely an IP-play for Disney, it also doesn't have the same cultural weight and finesse as their other multimedia brands like "Star Wars" or Marvel. 

For a film with a budget of $150 million, not accounting for marketing, "Haunted Mansion" would need to make a significant chunk of change to be considered profitable. And unlike the "Pirates of the Caribbean" series, which has widespread appeal as an action-adventure franchise, "Haunted Mansion" is bogged down because of its horror genre. Only one horror film this year, "Scream VI," has grossed over $100 million domestically, meaning that the genre still has its limits in terms of potential. Sure, "Haunted Mansion" isn't a pure horror film, and has comedic elements, but it's clearly being dragged down by its subject matter. 

If "Haunted Mansion" truly wanted to succeed, it should have reeled in its budget. A smaller budget would have allowed the film more room to grow at the box office. There's a certain limit to how some films can succeed and Disney should understand that, especially when it comes to granting big budgets. While "Haunted Mansion" failed to find an audience in cinemas, its possible the horror-comedy will become a cult favorite once it hits Disney+.