Friday, June 14, 2024

How ‘Kung Fu Panda 4’ Is Kicking It With $500M+ Global Box Office: Analysis

EXCLUSIVE: DreamWorks Animation/Universal’s Kung Fu Panda 4 crossed the $500M mark globally this past weekend, reaching the milestone on a staggered release pattern that has worked well for the partners in the past (think Puss in Boots: The Last Wish). Through Wednesday, it’s at $324M international box office and $509M worldwide.

Directed by Mike Mitchell (and co-directed by Stephanie Ma Stine), the fourquel arrived eight years after the third installment of the franchise that began in 2008 and is the first of the series released by Universal after the studio acquired DWA in 2016. All told thus far, the series has grossed $2.328B, the No .2 highest-grossing DWA franchise behind Shrek

KFP4, which has done gangbusters in Mexico ($35.6M through Wednesday) and logged the biggest April animation opening of all time in Korea, is poised to become the third-highest-grossing film of the bunch. Although if comping to current exchange rates (and excluding China and Russia), it would be the biggest.

So what makes this such an enduring property, and how did the marketing team at Universal put the kung fu grip on audiences around the world?

Margie Cohn, President of DreamWorks Animation, tells Deadline: “Kung Fu Panda is beloved IP and has characters and worlds that are already established. The trick, especially when you’ve done three movies, is finding the right story, the right people to make the movie and offer audiences what they love while providing a unique viewing experience. If you’re not doing that, we don’t think audiences come.”

RELATED: ‘Kung Fu Panda 4’ Review: Jack Black Is Back As Lovable Dragon Warrior On A New Mission In This Winning DreamWorks Sequel

KFP4, has the series’ highest audience score of the series on Rotten Tomatoes, added new characters and gave Po (Jack Black) a partner in Zhen (Awkwafina) as well as introducing the first female villain of the franchise in Viola Davis’ The Chameleon. 

Cohn adds: “You cannot ignore the Jack Black factor. He is a promotional workhorse, he is a delightful human being, and he is endlessly funny — that is a key element as well.”

Jack Black poses at the ‘Kung Fu Panda 4’ Australian Premiere (Photo: WireImage)

And, she says, “we had the right filmmaker. Not only has Mike Mitchell done a lot of films for DreamWorks, he understands what a gift it is to have a franchise and what you need to do to elevate and get it out in the world.”

Still audiences have become more discerning over the years, so what keeps people coming back to the Panda movies? Says Cohn, “I think the glut of animation, if I may use that word because it sounds unattractive, but there’s been so much going into the marketplace and it’s appealing to a range of ages and also made at very different price points. I think what that has done is you have a bifurcation of people who actually just love animation and then kids and families… It’s hard because I know one of our biggest and most vocal Hollywood supporters, Guillermo del Toro, keeps saying it’s not a genre, it’s filmmaking. That’s how we approach it.”

RELATED: ‘Kung Fu Panda 4’ Trailer: Jack Black Is Back In Latest Installment Of $1.8B Franchise

Are there plans for more? Per Cohn, “We have to find the right story and the right timing, but we did establish a partnership between Po and Zhen and we established the Den of Thieves which was so much fun, and the evil bunnies and all of that. There’s probably another story there and I think we’ll explore it, but once again you don’t want to saturate the market too much before you have the right elements in place.”

One of the key elements this time around was also the staggered release pattern internationally. Says Universal Pictures International President of Distribution, Veronika Kwan Vandenberg, “Universal is very intentional about looking for the right opportunities by film. We have a discussion about a global launch corridor, we’ll align on a domestic date and then date around that internationally in terms of what makes sense market by market.”

For KFP4, the offshore markets were specifically aligned to play through holidays — whether that was the Easter period, Benito Juarez Day in Mexico, the Eid holiday in the Middle East, Election Day in Korea or into the Qingming festival in China. 

Although China has proved fickle towards Hollywood in the past few years, the Kung Fu Panda IP has deep ties to the culture there. While KFP3 did an impressive $154.3M in China, it played during the lucrative Luna r New Year period which boosted those numbers.

That wasn’t a possibility for KFP4, but Universal, in an unprecedented scenario, was able to organize three weekends of paid previews ahead of the market’s March 22 release. 

There was also a huge campaign during Lunar New Year which helped towards the current $48.7M gross in China. 

Overall regarding the promotional campaign, Cohn says, “You cannot underestimate the skill and enthusiasm of the Universal marketing team.”

To wit: Po & co’s journey to the box office began ahead of the film’s first trailer, with the Dragon Warrior panda flying during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. 

The Po balloon at the 2023 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York (Photo: Getty Images)

The first trailer debuted on December 13 and then played in front of the holiday season’s biggest family films, Wonka and Migration. In addition to a custom trailer featuring Po in a desert landscape for Dune: Part Two, all trailer content has received over 400 million views.

The film’s early domestic marketing capitalized on key winter holidays and sporting events as well as placements during the Grammy Awards and across the regular NBA season, wrestling, hockey and UFC.

In February, Kung Fu Panda 4 dominated the Lunar New Year season with a social blitz, YouTube food influencer collaborations and Awkwafina participating in San Francisco’s Lunar New Year Parade as the Grand Marshal. The campaign tripled down on Super Bowl Sunday with three spots during pre-game, post-game and the surprise overtime.

On digital, the film had a custom sponsorship for Bad Bunny’s Most Wanted tour launch and also sponsored Quinta Brunson’s Hot Ones episode. “Keep Calm & Po” pause ads launched across Max, Peacock, DirecTV, Kargo and Paramount+ in February. 

Linear highlights included custom vignettes for The Daily ShowChoppedPremio Lo Nuestro and Top Chef, as well as placements on Abbot ElementaryAmerica’s Got Talent, the People’s Choice Awards Pre-Show, and the premieres for American Idol and The Masked Singer.

The campaign also invited audiences to become the next Dragon Warrior through interactive digital activations. In late February, Roblox players interacted with Po in a bespoke custom game, which became the No. 1 branded experience on the platform and, for the first time in Roblox history, provided one million free film-themed “emotes.” 

The campaign further collaborated with TikTok for its first-ever branded mission which received hundreds of submissions from fans showing off their best “Skadoosh” moves. Elsewhere, over 600K fans on YouTube and social platforms joined Po in a four-hour video of guided meditations and breathing exercises.

Star power was also key to an extensive publicity tour. James Hong (Mr Ping) was honored on February 22 with a Hand & Foot ceremony in Hollywood and commemorated by the City of Los Angeles, which declared that day “James Hong Day.” 

The movie premiered at The Grove with Black, Awkwafina, Dustin Hoffman, Ian McShane, Hong, Bryan Cranston and the filmmakers in attendance. Leading up to the premiere, Black and Awkwafina appeared on Today, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy FallonThe Kelly Clarkson ShowWatch What Happens Live and The Drew Barrymore Show.

Themed partnerships included Fly By Jing, Tower 28, Waze; Karma and Luck, World Wildlife Fund and Burger King.

Additionally, the film received significant support from NBCUniversal’s Symphony program and theme park activations. Comcast, Universal Pictures and DWA also partnered with the Philadelphia Chinese Development Corporation.

International marketing highlights included high-impact placements across linear, out-of-home and experiential opportunities. In Germany, Let’s Dance, the No. 1 family program in the spring for the market, incorporated Po into the stage during the live March 1 episode. In Mexico, a custom AR spot ran during the live Super Bowl broadcast on February 11. This placement was seen by more than 2.8M viewers. 

And in China, a Po lantern statue was unveiled at Universal Beijing Resort City Walk on February 24 in celebration of the Lantern Festival. The event was a hit, with 22.8M+ exposure thanks to coverage clippings on Weibo and collaborations with influencers on RED. There was also a 3D LED display in Chengdu Taikoo Li Yingjia during the week of March 18 showcasing the Dragon Warrior to an estimated 9M people. 

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