The biggest blockbuster of 2019 probably won’t be “Avengers: Endgame” or “Star Wars: Episode IX,” numerous film industry experts said at CinemaCon in Las Vegas this week.
Disney’s live action remake of its classic animated film “The Lion King.”
“It’s got a shot at being the biggest movie of all time,” Brock Bagby, executive vice president at B&B Theatres, said, noting that the film has appeal with multiple generations and is a well-known entity in the U.S. and abroad.
Disney shared footage of the film, due out in July, on Wednesday, showcasing the same beautifully rendered and realistic CGI that “The Jungle Book” remake displayed in 2016. In the clip shown to CinemaCon attendees, a young Simba and his father Mufasa discuss the lion cub’s future.
“Look, Simba, everything the light touches is our Kingdom,” James Earl Jones’ iconic voice booms. “One day the sun will set on my time here and will rise with you as the new king. It will be yours to protect.”
The hyper realistic visuals of the Pride Lands and the lions themselves, who looked like something out of a nature documentary, wowed the crowd of theater owners, industry professionals and critics, drawing audible gasps.
“I definitely think ‘The Lion King’ is going to be among the year’s biggest films at the box office,” Erik Davis, managing editor of Fandango said. “Not only is the nostalgia factor a major draw on this title, but the effects are groundbreaking and they look incredible.”
“Add to that a marvelous ensemble cast, a host of songs we all know by heart and a director who has emerged as a major visionary talent in Jon Favreau, and the recipe is there for hearts to be warmed and records to be broken,” he said.
The remake features a stunning cast that includes Beyonce (Nala), Donald Glover (Simba), James Earl Jones (Mufasa), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Scar), Billy Eichner (Timon), Seth Rogen (Pumbaa) and John Oliver (Zazu).
Beyonce’s fan base alone could be a major driving force for the film. The musical sensation has 126 million followers on Instagram and nearly 15 million on Twitter.
Of course, star power isn’t the only ace up Disney’s sleeve. “The Lion King” has long been one of company’s most beloved properties. The original animated feature earned more than $968 million globally in 1994 — that’s a whopping $1.65 billion when adjusted for inflation.
The film even spawned a Tony-award winning musical that has become one of the longest-running theatrical productions in history. More than 95 million people have seen “The Lion King” musical, shelling out more than $1.5 billion in New York alone to see the show that debuted in 1997.
“The Lion King’s worldwide gross exceeded that of any film, Broadway show or other entertainment title in box office history,” according to a Disney fact sheet. “It has taken 10 ‘Star Wars’ films to surpass ‘The Lion King’s’ cumulative stageplay worldwide gross.”
For reference, “Star Wars” has grossed more than $9.49 billion globally across its 10 feature films.
The “Lion King” musical has become a global phenomenon, having been translated into eight languages, including Japanese, German, Korean, French, Dutch, Mandarin, Spanish and Portuguese.
This widespread, global affection for “The Lion King” bodes well for the upcoming live-action remake. Particularly considering “The Jungle Book” earned $966.5 million at the worldwide box office in 2016 and Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” remake hauled in more than $1.26 billion globally.
“The Lion King” may not have the same kind of bombastic opening weekend of a Marvel or Star Wars film, Bagby warned. Typically, those types of blockbusters haul in $200 million or more domestically in their first days “Lion King” it is the type of film that is going to play all summer and see quite a bit of repeat viewing, he said.
Currently, the top five highest-grossing films are: “Avatar” ($2.78 billion), “Titanic” ($2.18 billion) and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” ($2.06 billion), “Avengers: Infinity War” ($2.04 billion) and “Jurassic World” ($1.67 billion), according to Box Office Mojo.
Disclosure: Comcast, the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC, owns Fandango and is the distributor of “Jurassic World.”