Disney Director Blasts Studio for Dooming Movie With “Tough” Release Date

in Disney, Entertainment

Lindsay Lamb as The Bride in Disney's HAUNTED MANSION

Credit: Disney

After a very busy summer at the movies thanks to the affectionally-dubbed “Barbenheimer” phenomenon, the director of Walt Disney Studios’ latest ride adaptation, Haunted Mansion (2023), is speaking out about how the House of Mouse blindsided him by giving the movie a “tough” release window, leading to its less-than-impressive performance at the box office.

Characters climb the stairs in a poster for Disney's upcoming 'Haunted Mansion' (2023)
Credit: Disney

Related: How ‘Haunted Mansion’ Connects to the Disney Parks

Disney hasn’t exactly earned a reputation for being kind to its directors, and the company’s latest theatrical endeavor, the Justin Simien-helmed Haunted Mansionis certainly no exception.

Based on the beloved Disney Parks attraction of the same name, Haunted Mansion takes a drastically different approach to the source material than the 2022 Eddie Murphy-fronted cult classic, telling a more layered, complex story of grief, moving on, and discovering new friendships in unexpected places.

Jamie Lee Curtis as Madame Leota in Disney's HAUNTED MANSION
Credit: Disney

Related: ‘Haunted Mansion’ Disney+ Release Date Confirms It Was Doomed To Flop

Boasting an all-star cast from the likes of LaKeith Stanfield, Tiffany Haddish, Rosario Dawson, Owen Wilson, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Danny DeVito, the new reboot sees tour guide Ben Matthias teaming up with the quirky Father Kent, historian Bruce Davis, and psychic Harriet to help single mom Gabbie and her son uncover the otherworldly residents dwelling inside of their New Orleans estate.

Compared to other 2023 releases like Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023) and Halle Bailey’s live-action The Little Mermaid (2023), Haunted Mansion, despite receiving generally positive reviews from audiences, was a box office flop, with its worldwide tally totaling to just $116 million, capping off a very disappointing summer for Disney.

Disney's 'Haunted Mansion' (2023)
Credit: Disney

So, what led to the movie’s demise? Well, for one, its July release date couldn’t have come at a worse time, being one of the first blockbusters to coincide with the SAG-AFTRA strike currently rocking Hollywood. Because of this, its main ensemble couldn’t actively promote the film, with Disney characters taking their place on the red carpet premiere at Disneyland California Adventure’s Hyperion Theater. This could’ve easily drawn attention away from it, especially on the heels of the “Barbenheimer” double feature that hit theaters just a week earlier.

There’s also the fact that Haunted Mansion, a spooky movie perhaps better suited for Halloween, had its theatrical run in summertime — a recipe for disaster. It seems as though Disney meticulously planned this for the movie to release on Disney+ in October, roughly 90 days after it arrived in theaters, very likely with the intentions of drawing new subscribers to the service.

(L-R): Rosario Dawson as Gabbie, Tiffany Haddish as Harriet, LaKeith Stanfield as Ben, and Owen Wilson as Father Kent in Disney's live-action HAUNTED MANSION
Credit: Jalen Marlowe/Disney

With the studio being seemingly unconfident in the film’s ability to succeed, it’s no wonder that its director, Justin Simien, was left feeling betrayed by the whole situation, which he recently opened up about during an interview with The Wrap.

With so much working against it, Simien admitted that the rollout of Haunted Mansion wasn’t exactly what he’d hoped, though ultimately, he was “not really surprised” due to its proximity to Barbie (2023) and Oppenheimer‘s (2023) release date, on top of the SAG-AFTRA strike:

There was a lot of stuff going on with the strike…a lot of stuff that had nothing to do with the movie that I think really got in the way, and that was frustrating to see because I came up in publicity. If you had asked me and sat down with me…I would have seen some of these things coming. I’ll put it that way.

Justin Simien
Credit: Disney

As predicted, “Barbenheimer” detonated at the box office, raking in multimillions across their first few weeks at the global box office. Meanwhile, Haunted Mansion earned just $33 million in its opening weekend — something Simien chocked up to Disney not acknowledging that they were “essentially coming out in the shadow” of these two mega-successful blockbusters:

There’s a lot of folks in the industry that just kept saying, ‘I don’t know’ and ‘That’ll probably not be as big as it sounds like.’ And I was like, ‘It’s going to be huge.’ What ‘Oppenheimer’ did so well — the marketing for ‘Oppenheimer’ embraced the fact that ‘Barbie’ was coming with this gigantic, cultural juggernaut. I don’t know that our campaign necessarily embraced or acknowledged that we were essentially coming out in the shadow of what was clearly such a box office phenomenon.

Ultimately, it’s important to note that Haunted Mansion was still a hit with audiences, particularly, families and longtime fans of the Disney attraction. And despite the less flattering $33 million the film made in its opening weekend, it’s poised to make a splash on Disney+ in the weeks following its October 4 arrival on the streamer, and will likely increase viewership figures the closer it gets to Halloween.

Danny Devito screaming in Disney's Haunted Mansion
Credit: Disney

Even if Haunted Mansion‘s all-star ensemble couldn’t save it from bombing at the box office, this spooky blockbuster will hopefully be a lesson for Disney, helping the studio to avoid any similar release date issues in the future — especially if Justin Simien has anything to say about it.

Do you think it was a poor move for Disney to release Haunted Mansion in summer instead of winter? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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