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Why Inside Out 2 Blew Everyone Away At The Box Office

$85 million. That was the number most had the domestic opening weekend of "Inside Out 2" pegged at before it happened. Slightly below the $90 million debut of the original "Inside Out," that figure was viewed as a perfectly fine start for the sequel. In the wake of box office flop "Lightyear" and a trio of acclaimed movies getting dumped onto streaming, the Pixar Animation Studios brand name was in a vulnerable spot. These events tempered expectations even for a big costly sequel like "Inside Out 2." 

Very quickly, though, that $85 million projection was left in the rearview mirror. "Inside Out 2" instead amassed a staggering estimated $155 million over its first three days of North American play. That's the second-biggest animated movie domestic opening weekend in history, bested only by fellow Pixar franchise title "Incredibles 2."

Buoyed by great word-of-mouth, "Inside Out 2" is poised for a fantastic long life at the box office. The only question now is how did this happen? How did "Inside Out 2" go, in just a matter of days, from a movie that couldn't cross $100 million on opening weekend to setting box office records? There are lots of reasons behind this feat, ranging from the state of the summer 2024 box office to the reputation of its predecessor to the box office haul of "Elemental" and so much more. These wildly varying factors all ensured that the opening of "Inside Out 2" was chock full of joy.

It was the first big summer movie aimed heavily at women

When "The Fall Guy" kicked off summer 2024, its opening weekend audience was 54% male. Nearly half the audience was women, but it was still unusual for a romantic comedy (even an action-oriented one) to lure more men than women. Three weeks later, "Furiosa" opened in theaters everywhere. Despite having a female lead and following up a beloved classic of feminist cinema, only 28% of its opening weekend was women. Debuting between the two was "Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes," which had 60% of its opening weekend revenue stemming from male moviegoers. These three titles reflect the reality that summer 2024, before "Inside Out 2," was largely appealing to just dudes.

Those standards got flipped upside down with "Inside Out 2," which had women comprising 62% of its opening weekend audience. With women in the minority for other summer releases (at press time), "Inside Out 2" especially resonated with a demographic woefully underserved this season. Meanwhile, they made up nearly 2/3 of the debut weekend for "Inside Out 2." It's also not like the surplus of lady moviegoers alienated men from coming to the theater. With 38% of its opening weekend ticket sales coming from guys, "Inside Out 2" grossed just under $60 million from male moviegoers, more than double the opening weekend of "Furiosa." Much like "Barbie" dominated summer 2023, the summer of 2024 got saved by a blockbuster skewing more towards women.

There wasn't a lot of major animated movie competition

Pixar movies released in June have often entered a very competitive marketplace for animated family fare. In 2012, for instance, "Brave" debuted just two weeks after "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted." "Cars 3" in 2017, meanwhile, opened in theaters two weeks after "Captain Underpants: The First Movie." Then there's the classic example of "WALL-E' premiering just three weeks after "Kung Fu Panda" skadooshed audiences everywhere in 2008. Summer is a prime spot to launch kid-friendly fare, which means Pixar titles debuting in June are not alone at the box office.

That was certainly not the case in June 2024 when "Inside Out 2" launched to such a spectacular opening. The only major animated movie in the preceding three months before "Inside Out 2" was "The Garfield Movie." While that movie will turn a profit based on worldwide grosses, it hasn't come close to cracking $100 million domestically. If "WALL-E" thrived against "Kung Fu Panda," then "The Garfield Movie" was nothing for "Inside Out 2" to contend with. That scarcity ensured that "Inside Out 2" could fill a void in the marketplace and feel extra special. Past summertime Pixar movies had to contend with a crowded slate of competing titles. "Inside Out 2," however, had a wide-open theatrical landscape that paved the way for its massive overperformance. 

Pixar sequels have an impressive box office track record

Sequels tend to make money. That's why Hollywood embraces them so frequently. And Pixar sequels, save for the two "Cars" follow-ups and "Lightyear," are pretty much foolproof at the box office. From 2010 to 2019, Pixar released four different sequels that each made $415 million or more domestically. Even lower-grossing follow-ups like "Monsters University" cleared $260 million domestically. Two of these sequels, "Finding Dory" and "Incredibles 2," even set records at the time of their release for the biggest domestic hauls in history for animated features. These aren't the usual supersized sequel box office hauls. Pixar follow-ups are especially sturdy financially and "Inside Out 2" has continued that trend in style.

It's not hard to see why Pixar sequels get an extra big box office boost. Such franchise titles are following up beloved classics, not flash-in-the-pan hits like 2011's "Smurfs" or "Rio." All that goodwill inevitably makes people stoked to return to the "Monsters Inc." or "Toy Story" universes. Meanwhile, the lengthy time it takes to make most installments in Pixar franchises makes sequels like "Incredibles 2" feel like extremely special events. New entries don't drop on an annual or biannual basis like your typical "Despicable Me" feature. Pixar's sequels take much longer to marinate creatively, which allows audience anticipation to heighten. "Inside Out 2" flew past all pre-release expectations, but the gargantuan box office hauls of "Finding Dory" and "Incredibles 2" should have prepared everyone for this outcome.

The original movie is deeply loved

Even though many Pixar sequels tend to sweep the box office, that doesn't mean every follow-up from the studio breaks the bank. After all, each "Cars" installment made less than the last one domestically. You need a beloved original movie to get to "Incredibles 2" box office numbers. "Inside Out 2" certainly had that at its back. The initial "Inside Out" garnered an A CinemaScore from audiences over its opening weekend in June 2015, an indicator of the great word-of-mouth propelling this title to a leggy summertime box office run. After doing more than four times its opening weekend gross in North America, the film also went on to win the Oscar for best animated feature.

The pop culture accomplishments of "Inside Out" continued well beyond its first 12 months of existence. "Inside Out" inspired academic essays praising the way it reflected the mental health struggles of children. It also inspired ubiquitous memes years after its debut, including one related to the concept of "core memories" that flourished on TikTok. Getting referenced on programs ranging from "Robot Chicken" to "The Simpsons" also didn't hurt its pop culture longevity. The original "Inside Out" struck a deep chord with audiences well beyond its initial theatrical run, and impacting moviegoers like that built a sublime groundwork for "Inside Out 2" to build on. That's how you set up a sequel to avoid a "Cars 3" fate at the domestic box office.

The movie appealed to a diverse crowd of moviegoers

One of the more intriguing statistics from the domestic opening weekend of "Inside Out 2" was that 36% of the movie's audience in North America was Hispanic and Latino. This made this demographic the largest racial market for the film in the region, significantly outpacing Caucasian moviegoers. This impressive feat is one of many instances in recent decades of Hispanic and Latino audiences being a key part of major box office successes. 

As early as 1999, blockbusters like "The Mummy" reportedly beat out expectations because they attracted more Hispanic moviegoers than expected. Back in 2013, this demographic significantly moved the needle on the entire 2013 domestic box office scene. No wonder The Los Angeles Times ran an early June 2024 piece (timed to the demo's massive turnout for "Bad Boys: Ride or Die") declaring that "Black and Latino audiences could save Hollywood."

Despite this population being a key moviegoing audience for decades, Hollywood has continuously struggled to properly respond to this reality. Representation of Latino characters in modern cinema has barely increased from years past. Studies have shown that the film industry is harming itself long-term by repeatedly refusing to cater to this demographic. Those facts loom ever larger after "Inside Out 2" left pre-release box office expectations in the dust, in part by attracting way more Hispanic and Latino moviegoers than expected. This is just the latest smash hit to remind studios of the power of the most dedicated moviegoers around.

Everybody relates to Anxiety

In recent years, anxiety disorders and similar ailments have become even more common among adults and children. How could they not? The world has been constantly in peril in the 2020s. The COVID-19 pandemic, relentless political unrest, and other towering woes with seemingly no solution can make one feel helpless and consumed by all the worst possible outcomes of any given situation. 

Anxiety is incredibly difficult to grapple with, but the condition's ubiquity gave "Inside Out 2" a deeply relatable element to hinge its marketing around. Newbie character Anxiety (Maya Hawke) instantly connected with people in the "Inside Out 2" promotional materials as a physical manifestation of a mental sensation that everyone's been struggling with.

The marketing of "Inside Out 2" promised, among other elements, a candy-colored, upbeat concoction that could also normalize people's often bottled-up experiences with anxiety. Functioning as an animated kid's movie helped make that concept extra digestible to viewers. Moviegoers might not feel so alone seeing fictional characters navigate the horrors of anxiety, but keeping things PG-rated meant it wouldn't seem too daunting for people to watch. That delicate balance between relatability and escapism concerning the concept of anxiety made "Inside Out 2" a deeply relevant, must-see film for many moviegoers. 

Pixar was primed for a comeback

In years to come, "Inside Out 2" may get all the credit for reviving Pixar's box office prowess. However, let's not forget the role "Elemental" had in teeing up the "Inside Out" sequel's financial glory. That 2023 effort was only the second Pixar title to get a traditional theatrical release after March 2020. Its disastrous opening weekend, combined with "Lightyear" tanking in 2022, initially suggested that Pixar was officially down for the count. 

Throwing acclaimed titles like "Soul" and "Tunring Red" to streaming had apparently forever damaged the studio, with perhaps no way it could return to its pre-2020 reputation. Then a funny thing happened: "Elemental" kept going at the box office. And going. And going. Eventually, it demonstrated impressive legs that took it to just over $54 million domestically and an impressive $484 million worldwide.

True, "Inside Out 2" surpassed the lifetime domestic haul of "Elemental" after just three days of release. However, the latter film's leggy theatrical run gave a rebound to Pixar's reputation theatrically. Its strong word-of-mouth reminded people that Pixar movies weren't just built for streaming. They were made for the big screen and viewing with crowds of other people. The astonishing box office run of "Elemental" broke all the rules for how movies are supposed to perform theatrically, and that feat undoubtedly played a part in getting audiences excited to see "Inside Out 2" on the big screen.

People love something lighter

The releases dominating the first four weeks of summer 2024 were largely darker titles. That wasn't necessarily a bad thing. Terrific motion pictures like "Furiosa" used their bleak tones for outstanding narratives and striking visuals. However, so many downbeat titles in a row didn't exactly offer the sort of chipper motion pictures people gravitate towards in the summertime. 

Save for the occasional exception like "Oppenheimer," the biggest summer movies in history have been upbeat titles. The grimness of "Furiosa," the somberness of "Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes," or even the grungy, dirty look of the comedy "The Fall Guy" didn't always strike the right chord for moviegoers looking for traditional summertime escapism. With that dearth of upbeat new movies, the summer box office inevitably struggled. 

"Inside Out 2," meanwhile, was the complete opposite. Posters and trailers showcased vibrantly colorful emotions occupying every color of the rainbow. Even more ominous emotions like Anxiety and Embarrassment appeared in hues of orange and pink, respectively. Trailers and TV spots also emphasized a lighthearted tone full of one-liners, cheeky commentary on universally recognizable teenage behavior, and broad physical comedy. Even with the promise of typical Pixar pathos, "Inside Out 2" was promoted as exactly the kind of bubbly cinema that usually flourishes at the summertime box office. Coming off a May packed full of downbeat films just made it stand out even more to moviegoers. 

Great word-of-mouth helped the movie

On opening night, "Inside Out 2" grabbed an A CinemaScore from audiences, reflecing the film's excellent word-of-mouth. Audiences surveyed by the service PostTrak, meanwhile, gave the project an encouraging average rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars. This came hot on the heels of solid reviews from professional critics, indicating to audiences that this project wasn't a case of "Cars 2" all over again. 

"Inside Out 2" rode a wave of positivity that doesn't always occur for sequels. Sometimes, these titles garner massive initial box office but don't get outstanding word-of-mouth. Just look at 2023's "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania."  It had a tremendous opening weekend but fell off a cliff afterward thanks to dismal audience reception. A familiar brand name on the poster of your movie can only get you so far. 

"Inside Out 2" didn't have the same problems that sequels like "Quantumania" had. Just look at how well it held day-to-day over opening weekend: After an opening day of $49 million (removing $13 million in Thursday night screenings), "Inside Out 2" increased from that outsized opening day by roughly 4%. No sudden wave of poor audience reception caused box office numbers to crash after just one day. Instead, satisfied moviegoers kept on coming out throughout the weekend. The "Inside Out" brand sparked audience interest in "Inside Out 2," but positive buzz surrounding the sequel's artistic merits gave the movie strong legs across its opening weekend.

Pervasive marketing bolstered the film

At the start of November 2023, the marketing campaign for "Inside Out 2" began with a teaser trailer that introduced audiences to both the idea of Riley experiencing puberty and Maya Hawke's Anxiety. Already the groundwork was laid for an eventually strong box office run, thanks to this trailer becoming the most-watched trailer ever for an animated Disney movie. That began a promotional push putting "Inside Out 2" everywhere. This included the creation of an AirBnb rental home designed to look like the inside of Riley's mind. These materials played on people's familiarity and love for the first film, while simultaneously promising plenty of new elements, namely emotions rooted in puberty. These aspects reassured prospective moviegoers that "Inside Out 2" was no retread of its predecessor.

Compare that marketing campaign to the promotional push for "Lightyear" two years earlier. That movie was doomed from the start when it was announced at Disney Investor Day in December 2020. A tweet from actor Chris Evans, attempting to explain that the movie was "the origin story of the human Buzz Lightyear that the toy is based on," instantly confused people. From there, the marketing emphasized a weirdly buttoned-up tone that only inspired further questions from moviegoers rather than excitement. The "Inside Out 2" promotional campaign, by contrast, kept things simple in its inescapable marketing. 

This summer has lacked big all-ages blockbusters

For the last two decades, the summer moviegoing season has typically started with a Marvel Studios spectacle, the kind of reliable box office juggernaut that draws everybody to the local movie theater, from teens to families to adults and everyone in between. With no Marvel Studios title kicking off summer 2024, there was an immediate void in this season's cinematic offerings. Initial releases in May 2024 like "Furiosa" and "The Fall Guy" bombed at the box office, only appealing to older moviegoers. They couldn't function as all-ages crowd-pleasers like past summertime smashes such as "Jurassic World." Meanwhile, younger-skewing titles like "The Garfield Movie" had little pull for adults. Summer 2024 was initially defined by titles with very narrow appeal.

"Inside Out 2," it turned out, was the perfect replacement for a Marvel/"Jurassic World"/"Top Gun"-sized all-ages hit. The animated feature immediate appealed to younger audiences and their parents. However, the impressively insightful qualities of the original "Inside Out" also made "Inside Out 2" something that intrigued older audiences and teenagers. This wasn't just a movie for one age bracket; anyone could go and get something out of it. People had been waiting for just that kind of movie throughout the first financially limp month of summer 2024. "Inside Out 2" played on that desire from moviegoers for a summer blockbuster that everyone could go and see. No wonder, then, that its opening weekend shattered all expectations.