Are audiences turning their backs to “The Little Mermaid” live action?

“The Little Mermaid” live-action has a high production cost with hefty CGI, but its box office revenue is not meeting expectations.

Similar to other live-action films by Disney, “The Little Mermaid” had a relatively high production cost of around $250 million, according to Deadline. In addition, Disney also allocated an additional $140 million for the global marketing campaign. With such a huge budget, the live-action movie will need to earn around $625 million to $650 million in box office revenue in order to break even.


This is a rather ambitious target, given the recent market conditions that have been heavily impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, for Disney, this number is a reasonable goal, and it’s not surprising that they took a significant risk with this project. Live-action films have been a lucrative venture for Disney in recent years, even amidst certain criticisms when it comes to their quality. For instance, live-action adaptations of animated classics like “Alice in Wonderland”, “Aladdin”, “Beauty and the Beast”, and “The Lion King”, have all easily surpassed the billion-dollar mark when it comes to box-office.

Prior to “The Little Mermaid”s release, many international experts expected the film to achieve a similar success. Some even predicted that “The Little Mermaid” would easily earn around $1 billion due to the beloved original story. Furthermore, a series of early reviews from critics praised the film’s quality, and a Rotten Tomatoes score of 71% was achieved prior to release.

Disappointing box-office for “The Little Mermaid”

“The Little Mermaid” had an impressive opening in the North American market, having earned $118 million in its first four days. This performance is similar to the first-weekend box office revenue of the 2019 live-action “Aladdin” ($116.8 million) and falls short of “The Lion King” ($191 million). 

However, the film was not well-received in many international markets, particularly in China. Its first-week box office revenue in the Chinese market was a meager $2.5 million, which is only a fraction of the $53 million earned by “Aladin”. According to the ticketing platform Maoyan, “The Little Mermaid” is likely to earn only around $4 million until it leaves the Chinese cinema.

The Little Mermaid

Furthermore, “The Little Mermaid” is facing a strong wave of backlash from many countries such as South Korea, France, and Germany. Many audiences are dissatisfied with Disney’s changes to the appearance and personalities of the characters in the film. Among them, the majority of criticisms revolve around Halle Bailey not being suitable for the role of Ariel, despite her excellent vocals and somewhat decent acting skills. The portrayal of Prince Eric in the live-action also failed to win the audience’s favor, adding to ongoing criticisms. 

With international box office revenue currently standing at a disappointing $78 million, “The Little Mermaid” may still expect some success in major markets such as Japan, Italy, Brazil, and so on. However, the reception of audiences in these countries has not been overly enthusiastic for Disney’s project either. Before its release, some sources predicted the film could earn around $250 million in the international market. However, that goal is becoming more and more distant, with the alarming lack of enthusiasm in major markets, especially in China. 

If it fails in international markets, the possibility of “The Little Mermaid” suffering significant losses is extremely high. According to Deadline’s analysis, Disney’s film is currently in a difficult situation with a large disparity between domestic (North American) and international box office revenues. It seems that only the North American audience is paying attention to the film, while in many other nations and regions, Disney’s latest venture has fallen on deaf ears. 

Clearly, “The Little Mermaid” was not originally aimed at the tastes of markets outside North America, and shortcoming has become the film’s downfall, with profit aspirations now seemingly impossible to achieve. 

Adding to this, after the heavy impact of Covid-19, domestic box office revenue alone will hardly help Hollywood blockbusters turn a profit or even break even. Last year, “Avatar: The Way of Water” surpassed the $2 billion mark but only earned around $684 million in North America. Therefore, with the current numbers achieved by Disney’s “The Little Mermaid”, there’s still a long way to go to break-even.

Controversial female lead or low-quality script? 

On film forums and discussion groups, many people have been debating the reasons behind the negative reaction to “The Little Mermaid”. A majority of people believe that the film failed right from the casting stage, claiming that Halle Bailey is clearly “too different” from Ariel in the animated version. The protégé of Beyoncé may boast an extraordinary singing voice, but the role she takes on is viewed as unsuitable in many markets. 

Halle Bailey’s casting for Ariel is considered to be controversial in many markets

However, many viewers don’t blame Halle Bailey and instead attribute the major flaw to the laziness and lack of effort from “The Little Mermaid” production team. The character design and costume choices were deemed a “disastrous failure”, these people said, and no matter how good of a job Halle Bailey does, she can’t save such a project. 

In addition, some criticize Disney for lacking creativity and being too formulaic with the production, which made the live-action film devoid of life. The movie failed to capture the magical charm that made the animated classic so successful.

At the same time, Deadline suggests that the possibility of “The Little Mermaid” breaking even is a big question mark. The film is currently in a situation where it is almost certain not to be profitable, if based solely on box office revenue. Even if it manages to have an extended run in theaters, “The Little Mermaid” will be up against heavy competitions, with June being blockbuster season with highly anticipated releases like “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” “Transformers 7,” “The Flash,” and “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny”.

Of course, Disney can still earn additional revenue through online streaming, television rights, and merchandise related to the film. However, this revenue also heavily depends on the performance of “The Little Mermaid” at the box office. Commenting on “The Little Mermaid” prospects, a film finance insider told Deadline, “Not a huge disappointment, but a disappointment, nonetheless”, especially considering Disney’s recent streak with live-action movies. 

Source: k14, Deadline

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