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Why Wasn’t the Film Delayed?


Haunted Mansion, the eagerly awaited film rendition of the well-known Disney theme park attraction, promised to transport viewers to an exhilarating and spooky trip unlike any other. Directed by Justin Simien and starring Rosario Dawson, Owen Wilson, Tiffany Haddish, and Jamie Lee Curtis, the film was meant to draw moviegoers into a story of suspense, bravery, and paranormal marvels.


Released in July 2023 during an already loaded slate of major blockbusters (including Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, Barbie, and Oppenheimer), the film performed about as well as could be expected against this stiff competition. Not surprisingly, it earned a disappointing $67 million domestically for a worldwide grand total of $117 million. When all was said and done, it became Disney’s worst opening of 2023, mirroring the film’s 2003 predecessor.

This left analysts wondering why the film was released during the busy summer blockbuster season. Had they waited to release this film in October, it is entirely possible that we’d be telling a much different story. So, why was Haunted Mansion released during the summer instead of fall? The history of the Haunted Mansion release is convoluted and filled with detours. Before deciding not to further push back the release of the movie, Disney carefully considered a variety of issues, such as competition, seasonal appeal, and other distribution strategies.

Let’s shed some light on the decision-making process and examine the many reasons why this film was released when it was.

Update November 5, 2023: Halloween might be over but this article has been updated with more information regarding the Haunted Mansion’s box office performance and what the Halloween slate of 2023 films looked like and how the movie would have faired at the box office.


The Many Release Dates of Haunted Mansion

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

One of the key questions that arises is why Disney decided not to delay the film further. Disney thought about the dangers of an additional delay after Haunted Mansion had already endured multiple delays after having been in development hell since 2010. Back then, Guillermo del Toro was initially slated to write and direct, but this went south in 2013. The project was officially announced in August 2020, and filming began the following year. Its release date was pushed forward from March 2023 to August 2023 before being moved back to a few weeks in July.

So far, the reasons behind these decisions have not made their way back to us foolish mortals. In the movie business, however, time is of the essence, and delaying much longer may have impacted the movie’s momentum and reception. Avoiding further delays could have definitely been a factor in keeping its release date.

Need To Fill A Slate In The Schedule

The-Marvels
Marvel Studios

Haunted Mansion‘s release date of July 28, 2023, originally belonged to another high-profile Disney film: The Marvels. Yet the weekend after Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania opened to a big opening weekend, but disappointing reviews and audiences mocking the CGI, Disney decided to push The Marvels back to November 10, 2023.

The Marvels was delayed for a number of reasons, as it could not come out until after Secret Invasion. Marvel also likely wanted to pace out their superhero offerings as Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 would open two months prior. It also gave the team more time to work on the CGI for the movie.

This left a prime slot on the summer calendar open, so Disney bumped up Haunted Mansion a couple of weeks from August to late July. While that might seem like a lot, it put it right in the crossfire of what would become one of the biggest movie weekends ever: Barbenheimer.

Disney Thought Haunted Mansion Could Beat Barbenheimer

The Ghosts in Haunted Mansion
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

There’s something to be said about Disney’s ambition. Disney’s attractions are nothing if not popular. This isn’t the first time they’ve released a movie about a park attraction – that honor, in fact, goes to Tower of Terror. It’s possible the studio hoped to cash in on the ride’s cult following during a time of the year when park attendance was also at its peak. Releasing the film during the summer then took advantage of families both on summer break and during peak vacation season.

Related: Haunted Mansion: Breaking Down Every Easter Egg in the Disney Remake

The studio’s confidence in the film’s potential to hold its ground against the other blockbusters likely played a role as well. With a cast boasting the like Rosario Dawson, LaKeith Stanfield, Tiffany Haddish, and more, alongside acclaimed director Justin Simien at the helm, Disney believed the film had all the ingredients for success, even in the face of stiff competition. Disney might have sought a position as a dark horse should either Mission: Impossible, Barbie, or Oppenheimer not have performed well. Or perhaps they hoped to piggyback off the other’s success.

Disney’s thinking is not that far off. After all, everyone expected Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl to be a box office bomb before it opened. Like Haunted Mansion, it opened in July during the height of the summer season, when attendance to the theme parks would be at a massive high. Yet, whereas Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl became one of the biggest hits of 2003, Haunted Mansion became one of the biggest flops.

Disney Wanted The Movie On Disney+ in Time For Halloween

Haunted Mansion's Twisting Portrait Gallery
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Theatrical releases, however, are far from the only metrics under consideration. Disney also had to decide on the timing for a Disney+ distribution for the film after its initial screenings. By releasing in October to DVD, Blu-ray, and streaming on Disney+, they would be able to appeal to audiences looking for family-friendly entertainment in the convenience of their own homes during the colder, spooky season.

This is a tactic that has paid off for Disney in the past exactly thirty years ago. Hocus Pocus was released in July 1993 and was also a box office and critical disappointment. However, it found a second life on home video and cable reruns, where it has now become a Halloween classic. No, nobody associates Hocus Pocus as a flop but as a Disney classic. Disney likely looked at their schedule and opted that this was the most financially profitable future for the movie in the long term, sacrificing the box office for a long-term gain.

Would Haunted Mansion Have Done Better in October?

The Cast of Haunted Mansion Reacts to a Potential Haunting
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The controversy over whether Haunted Mansion should have been moved to October to coincide with Halloween adds yet another layer of intrigue to this puzzle. Disney had two films scheduled for September that it could swap places with Haunted Mansion: 20th Century Pictures’ A Haunting in Venice, and The Creator. A Haunting in Venice being set at Halloween meant the studio likely wanted to keep it in September close to October. The Creator opened on September 30, 2023, so Disney could have swapped the films as The Creator could have been a potential summer blockbuster while Haunted Mansion could have led into October.

Yet a September 30, 2023 release date would have seen the movie facing stiff competition on two fronts. Horror audiences would have been pulled towards Saw X, while family audiences likely would have gone to see Paw Patrol: The Mighty Movie. Haunted Mansion could have suffered even worse, and the following weeks did not look better. It would have faced competition from horror audiences from The Exorcist: Believer while the next week, Taylor Swfit’s Eras Concert Tour, which was not even announced until August 31, became the box office hit of the month. Then, both kids and horror audiences would have flocked to go see Five Nights at Freddy’s, a movie that Haunted Mansion could not compete with.

Related: 10 Movies to Watch to Get You Hyped for Disney’s Haunted Mansion

It’s hard to argue that the October spooky season would have been a perfect backdrop for the frightening plot of the film. It’s also possible that the film might have faced as much competition from other Halloween-themed films. Haunted Mansion might have found it difficult to stand out among them, given the number of horror movies fighting for viewers’ attention, especially considering its appeal comes from family-friendly horror-comedy entertainment.

Did The WGA & SAG-AFTRA Strikes Affect Haunted Mansion’s Release?

Haunted Mansion
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The intriguing casting choices of characters like Jamie Lee Curtis as Madame Leota and Jared Leto as the renowned Hatbox Ghost also lent an aura of excitement and mystery to the film. Who would get to play whom? Fans are excited to learn more about these characters’ parts in the disturbing story and see how these outstanding actors perform on the big screen. While fans are excitedly anticipating the ghostly exploits that will take place inside the mansion’s walls, the entertainment business was still going through difficult times as screenwriters and actors alike fought for better contracts. Both were encouraged not to spend money on films by struck companies.

The film’s world premiere faced its own set of challenges due to the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike. Notably, major stars like LaKeith Stanfield, Tiffany Haddish, and others couldn’t attend. In spite of this, Disney decided to proceed with the event, albeit without the expected star power. Their own cast members played a part instead, with the red carpet at Disneyland featuring characters from the park. The decision was not without controversy and was widely criticized. But the premiere went on as scheduled. The premiere’s occurrence in such uncertain conditions raised attention to the industry’s ongoing problems with the strike. While the WGA part of the strike is over, studios have still been forced to reconsider their plans for upcoming premieres and promotional activities.

By messing up the release date, Disney failed to capitalize on one of the most childlike times of the year in a season that promotes sugary treats and dressing up in costume. Much like the snafu of the Disney+ release of the long-anticipated Hocus Pocus 2, Disney again lost a vital opportunity thanks to this too-soon release. Instead, Haunted Mansion came and went, lost amidst a sea of overwhelmingly successful blockbusters.



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