‘Missing Link’ Director Discusses LAIKA at the Box Office: “We Can’t Win in That System”

     January 31, 2020

Have you seen Coraline, ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls and Kubo and the Two Strings? I hope so because LAIKA is churning out some of the absolute best animated content – and feature films in general, for that matter. And the pattern continues with their 2019 release, Missing Link. The movie rocks an 89% on Rotten Tomatoes, scored a Golden Globe win for Best Animated Motion Picture and now has an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature Film as well, but when the movie hit theaters in April of 2019, it landed with a thud at the box office.

Missing Link opened with just about $6 million dollars for its first weekend in wide release and only accumulated $16.6 million total at the domestic box office. We’ve seen the numbers dip for LAIKA releases consistently over the years and, in my opinion, that’s downright criminal. The animation studio, lead by Travis Knight, is delivering some of the most beautifully complex, poignant and innovative animated features out there. It’s a thrill to see them rewarded for their work with Academy Award nominations, but what can be done to ensure their films reach the widest possible audience in the theater? That question has weighed heavily on my mind for quite a while now so during the Collider FYC Q&A with Missing Link writer-director Chris Butler, I had to ask him to weigh in on the matter.

missing-link

Image via United Artists Releasing

“It’s difficult thing. The box office measure of a movie is flawed. I think we all know that. The landscape until streaming came along was becoming unworkable for independent movies, in a sense. For example, the release date of Missing Link was sandwiched between Shazam! and Dumbo on one side and Avengers Endgame on the other. So we had no hope. Within a week, all our screens had gone. You can’t win in that situation.”

So what’s the solution? Is it even possible to play the game alongside juggernauts like Disney? Here’s what Butler had to say: 

“I’ve spoken to many people along the way who feel like the way to make that work is to beat those people at their own game, but you can’t. We’re talking about Disney. They own the frickin’ world. And we’re not making those kinds of movies, and I don’t want to. I love those movies. I’m an animation fan. I love everything that’s out there. I love Disney, I love Pixar, I love DreamWorks, I love all those things. But I don’t want to copy them. I don’t want to ape them in order to make money. I want to continue to make movies that have their own voice. That’s the trick is finding, how do you make that work in this landscape.”

missing-link-laika

Image via United Artists

While Butler doesn’t see much hope for LAIKA in the current system, there are developments happening that are already having a positive impact on the kind of content taking the spotlight:

“I don’t believe you can make it work in the box office which is entirely governed by how many bums you get on seats in the opening weekend. We can’t win in that system. So I think what needs to happen is a conversation about what’s next. Interestingly enough, the landscape is changing. Streaming is making things very different. You look at the Oscar nominations this year; it is probably the most diverse line-up of nominees that we’ve ever had, and that’s because of Netflix.

 

I think it would be wrong to think of Netflix as an independent studio, because they’re not, but what they’ve allowed is for diversity of content and I think that, ultimately, is where you get a bit more creative freedom. If you look at Klaus, if you look at I Lost My Body, those movies would not be made to be released theatrically. They just wouldn’t survive. So I think it’s wonderful that streaming is allowing for more diversity of content. Where we fit in? I’m not sure yet.”

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Photo via Laika

While Butler doesn’t have the answer to LAIKA’s box office future, he did take a moment to highlight the benefit of being in Academy Award contention:

“As disappointing as the box office for this movie was, critically, it’s very exciting. The awards season? More exciting. It’s given us a chance to get it out there to more people. And that’s the thing; when people see it; they love it. So, yeah, I agree. It’s a difficult situation and over the past 10 years the make-up of film releases has changed quite a lot. We’ve just got to figure it out.”

As a huge LAIKA fan, hopes are high that they do figure it out and find the best possible release strategy so more can see and enjoy the highly detailed, painstaking work required to produce such stunning and powerful material. 

If you’d like to hear more from Butler on the creation of Missing Link, we’ve got the full FYC Q&A for you in the video at the top of this article. And if you’re looking for more Collider FYC content, check out our latest episode shot in Park City at the Sundance Film Festival right here.

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