Box Office: Top 10 Walt Disney Animation Studios


frozen 2013 movie ImageFrozen is up to almost $350 million domestically and over $810 million worldwide. That’s huge, the sort of huge Disney haven’t produced on their own since The Lion King, more than 19 years ago. So I asked myself how big is Frozen really, when compared to the past feature films of Walt Disney Animation adjusted for inflation?

For the purpose of answering this question as accurately as possible we have to set a few ground rules. We are talking about in-house Walt Disney animations, so Pixar is out of the picture. To qualify a movie has to first and foremost be an animation, so Marry Poppins is out of the picture. Because we’re dealing with films that are up to 77 years old and accurate data for worldwide box office is absent when going that far back, we’ll have to settle for North American grosses only and adjust them based on ticket prices at the time of their release (or subsequent releases).

The answer is Frozen sits in 13th place on the adjusted for inflation chart. Make no mistake, that is a great result and don’t expect anything from Walt Disney Animation to get as high for a very long time. Actually by the time Frozen leaves theaters it will probably be 11th, just barely missing the top 10.

Now you’re probably wondering how that top 10 must look if a hit as big as Frozen didn’t make it in, right? It’s a pretty insane list, believe me. Actually don’t take my word for it, see for yourself. But first know that currently Beauty and the Beast is 12th ($378.7 million adjusted, $218.9 million without adjusting) while Peter Pan is 11th ($380.9 million adjusted and $87.4 million not adjusted). So now you know I expect over $380 million for Frozen.

10. Aladdin (1992) $437.8 million ($217.3 million)
Let’s get something out of the way first, Aladdin is my all-time favourite Disney animation. Having seen it more times than I can count on both hands, I’m definitely very biased when it comes to just about anything Aladdin related. I grew up watching the cartoon series, even saw the crappy TV and direct to video sequels, so I won’t try and explain why it’s such an amazing movie. Now I’ll let you in on a little known fact regarding Aladdin‘s box office, unlike all the other movies on this top 10, which had at least one re-release (some even a dozen), this 1992 adventure made all of its money on the first try. Until The Lion King two years later, Aladdin was the highest grossing animation of all time, so it might come as a surprise to know Disney never re-released the movie in theaters. That actually makes its final box office tally all the more impressive, even today, adjusted for inflation or not.

9. Lady and the Tramp (1955) $465.3 million ($93.6 million)
The biggest earner for Disney since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Lady and the Tramp didn’t fare so well with critics back then. Despite some not so great reviews at the time, Lady and the Tramp earned its classic status over the years and was re-released 1962, 1971, 1980 and 1986.

8. Bambi (1942) $531.9 million ($102.2 million)
That’s a lot of money, right? Well you would not have guessed it but during its initial run, back in 1942 (during World War 2) Bambi actually did not recoup its budget ($1.7 million), bringing in just $1.64 million at the box office domestically. Because of the war there was no way to get the movie overseas so Disney was stuck with yet another box office flop on his hands. Not just that but the animation was hit with mixed reviews, most of the complaining having to do with the lack of fantasy elements and the bad light it put hunters in. Bambi was re-released in the years after the war and has since become one of the most popular and profitable Disney animations. Could I then call this a timeless classic when it so clearly came out way ahead of its time? In the end justice was served and now Bambi is seen as the masterpiece it had been all along.

7. Pinocchio (1940) $562.8 million ($84.2 million)
Again, because of the release date timing, this too had problems making back its budget at the box office. With a cost of $2.2 million (a lot of money at the time) Pinocchio only made back about $1 million for Disney after taking in somewhere between $1.4 and $1.9 million at the box office during its initial run. But unlike Bambi critics seemed to like Pinocchio. Re-released many times after, Pinocchio turned into one of Disney’s most profitable projects. The animation ended up winning two Oscars in 1941 for original score and original song (“When you wish upon a star”).

6. Sleeping Beauty (1959) $606.8 million ($51.6 million)
With a budget of $6 million Sleeping Beauty was by far the most expensive Disney animation at the time. Unfortunately the movie had a mediocre initial release, generating only $7.7 million at the box office, not even close to recouping its production costs. The underperformance resulted in massive layoffs in the animation department and the first annual loss in a decade for the company. Sure, it wasn’t only Sleeping Beauty‘s fault, but it sure contributed a good deal to a terrible 1960 for Disney. Fortunately re-releases in 1970, 1979, 1986 and 1995 made Sleeping Beauty one of studio’s biggest hits.

09 jungle book Image

5. The Jungle Book (1967) $615.2 million ($141.8 million)
This truly timeless classic did not just settle for the bare necessities, no it did not. The Jungle Book was an instant hit grossing a record $73 million on its first run in 1967. It was re-released again in 1978, 1984 and 1990, ending up with the number we have today. Having cost only $4 million to produce, The Jungle Book was incredibly profitable for Disney.

4. Fantasia (1940) $693.4 million ($76.4 million)
Currently the 22nd highest grossing film of all time adjusted for inflation, Fantasia had a troubled release back when it first came out. This very expensive and ambitious two hour movie cost a fortune to produce at the time, over $2.2 million. Deemed an even bigger box office failure then Pinocchio (back then), Fantasia put Disney in a very uncomfortable position financially. It was the animation’s 1969 re-release that would turn it into a hit and finally recoup the money spent making it. Let’s just put it this way, 1969 was a special time that embraced Fantasia‘s psychedelic nature. Subsequent releases in 1977, 1982, 1985 and 1990 made Disney a lot of money. In 1999 they released a sequel titled Fantasia 2000 ($60.6 million domestically).

3. The Lion King (1994) $744.3 million ($422.7 million)
What can I say about The Lion King that hasn’t been said before? In this digital age of having just about any movie ever made only a few bites of data away, a re-released movie has to be very special to make over $90 million domestically in 2011, even if we’re talking about a 3D re-issue. The Lion King is that special and Disney are now hoping Frozen will end up being just as special.

2.101 Dalmatians (1961) $834.3 million ($144.8 million)
Now this one here is something else, having made more money at the box office with each subsequent release in 1961, 1969, 1979, 1985 and 1991. And to think Walt Disney himself criticized 101 Dalmatians for its artistic look.

1. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) $910.1 million ($184.9 million)
The oldest film on here is also most successful of all. Snow White and the Seven Dwarf marked a new cornerstone for film-making, it being the first full-length traditionally animated feature film (which won Walt Disney an Oscar). Let’s just put it this way, the Disney we have today would not exist if it wasn’t for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The movie might seem dated today for some, but nobody can deny what it did for the genre and not just Disney.

What’s your favorite Walt Disney animated movie?

  • Varg2000

    First, adjusting films for inflation just doesn’t make much sense to me, thus I only look at actual numbers and not adjusted numbers. That of course means Frozen did more money worldwide (over 950 million dollars, and counting) on its original run than The Lion King did (which was around 760 million dollars). Frozen also grossed more money domestically (over 370 million dollars) than The Lion King did (which had over 310 million dollars). I also believe Frozen will reach well over the 1 billion-mark as the highest grossing Disney-film of all time. Anyhow, this means the Snow Queen dethrones the Lion King and takes over this Disney-kingdom, or shall I say “queendom”?

    Secondly, I’ve watched and enjoyed a truly great number of films throughout my life, and I’ve discovered many favourites on the way, but Frozen just have to be the only film that I can honestly call by the title of “the greatest film ever made” or “the best film I’ve ever seen”. Never have I seen such a seemingly flawless film that touched that deep into my soul, it actually made me cry, and films don’t make me cry. This is Disney showing what a “masterpiece” truly looks like, and what better way to celebrate their 90th Anniversary than to present to us their greatest achievement of all time? I love and respect Disney’s old classic masterpieces and the people that made them, but I have to say that Frozen is undoubtedly their best film and animated film of all time! Never in my entire life have I seen such a spectacular, amazing, breathtaking, and incredible film.

    • disneydude

      you have to adjust for inflation. if the value of a dollar was less back in 1937, the film obviously would have made less money. lets say it only cost $1.50 to see a movie in the 1930’s and today it cost $9.50, you have a major difference between how much the movie will make. adjusting for inflation only evens the field and compares the actual amount in today’s values.

      • Varg2000

        I understand why we adjust for inflation, but we don’t have to, and I although I do take inflation into consideration, my main focus is on the actual and physical amount of money that a film brought in at the time of release.

        • Ryan Silver

          ya you do

          • Varg2000

            Huh?

    • UltimateWDWfan

      It is anything, but flawless. Olaf, the Snow Monster, the wolves, or Kristoff make no impact on the movie at all. Plus not adjusting inflation would make it seem better than it is. Paying $10 for a movie now days compared to $2 to see older movies when they came out. Big difference. Plus it is easier for more theaters and more countries to show Frozen now days then when say Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs came out.

  • JoseRio

    As of now (July 21, 2014) Frozen has made $1.2 BILLION in the box office.