‘How To Train Your Dragon 2’ Shy of Friday Box Office Expectations: Coincidence or Inevitable?

The Friday results are in, and How To Train Your Dragon 2, Dreamworks Animation’s follow-up to the highly acclaimed and beloved 2010 original, starts its run with a slightly tempered box office haul of $18.5 million, according to Box Office Mojo, setting a new weekend estimation at below $55 million. While by no means a weak start (the original took in $12.1 million its opening Friday by comparison), it does fall a bit shy of predictions set by websites such as Los Angeles Times, which expected the film to have a $60 million or more weekend. The animated sequel was beaten out by 22 Jump, which is yet another sequel (of the non-animated sort), with a Friday haul of $25 million.

Again, this is not a failure on the part of How To Train Your Dragon 2. After all, the film is receiving nearly-unanimous positive reviews from across the board (including a positive review from us here at The Inquisitr), and despite the disappointing start to its earnings, it’s still quite the solid foundation. But as a sequel to such a well-loved movie set up against no real competitors (at least no competitors seemingly shooting for the same demographic), I have to ask the following: Was How To Train Your Dragon 2 fighting an uphill battle from the very start?

Consider How To Train Your Dragon 2‘s marketing. From an American perspective, nine times out of ten, animated films are marketed as strict comedies. Think about it: The Lego Movie, Madagascar3, Despicable Me 2, any of the recent Pixar films–even the most serious ones–were marketed as comedies. Even Frozen, Disney’s biggest animated film ever was subjected to the incredibly misleading trailers, focusing on the comedic moments of the film, rather than showing the story. But despite any misgivings one may have in how these films are marketed, the fact remains that they all brought in more than $60 million in their first weekend. How To Train Your Dragon 2 was not treated in the same manner. In its trailers, it instead opted to showcase the film’s adventure, heart, and universal themes of family and friendship, with hardly any comedy to speak of. As a result, young kids may have not bugged their parents to take them to the film as much as they may have otherwise.

This push in marketing could have very well brought about a short term unintended consequence. While younger children may not have clamored to see the How To Train Your Dragon 2, there was a noticeable trend all over social media for the film, as pointed out by Variety in their box office prediction article. And because of this interest from the slightly older social media savvy crowd, come June 13, 2014, the audience had a choice to make: How To Train Your Dragon 2 or 22 Jump Street? I’ll say it more directly in case this isn’t clear enough: How to Train Your Dragon 2 had a good portion of its audience stolen by 22 Jump Street.

The implications are heavy. How could How Wo Train Your Dragon 2, an animated film, have had its sales eaten by 22 Jump Street, a hard R-rated comedy, with as much in common tonally as Neighbors had with Frozen? Think about it. The original How To Train Your Dragon was a critical success for a reason. It displayed strong themes and storytelling that was not afraid to take chances regarding its characters and the struggles they went through. This is not too common in American animation. The sequel promised not only more stunning visuals, but even more of this more mature storytelling that isn’t always evident in the marketing for similar animated tales. While it is a family film, its demographic was bound to skew up a bit from the bottom, creating a slight overlap with the same middle school to high school demographic that will inevitably make its way out to the theaters.

This all being said, I do believe it is a short-term consequence. Those who made the decision to see 22 Jump Street will hopefully continue to be drawn to How To Train Your Dragon 2 in the coming weeks. If the positive buzz on the film’s quality is any indication, the it will ultimately have strong staying power that will help to trump its slightly muted opening.

What do you think kept How To Train Your Dragon from performing at its peak this Father’s Day Weekend? And is this just a short term consequence or a display of the fact that dramatic animated films simply don’t sell as well as animated comedies?