There's an old saying that those who do not remember the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them. It seems Hollywood studios ignore that mantra. Time and again, they will make some of the same errors done before and seem to learn nothing from them.
Yet it's amazing to see how, thirty years after doing it before, Disney made a huge mistake with a would-be blockbuster movie, releasing it at the worst possible time for its theming. It's remarkable how the release of this summer's Haunted Mansion movie was as bungled as Disney's release of Hocus Pocus in 1993.
At least the latter turned into a fantastic cult hit still loved thirty years later to the point of getting a sequel. It's up in the air if Haunted Mansion will do the same, but it shows Disney doesn't grasp that just maybe releasing a Halloween movie in the middle of the summer isn't a good idea.
The scheduling issues
In one way, it's a bit understandable why Disney tried for Hocus Pocus in July of 1993. It was aimed at kids, and so taking advantage of the summer season with them out of school seemed smart. Keep in mind, the Internet was in its infancy, cable TV wasn't as commonplace so movies were still the go-to distraction. However, Disney did falter, underestimating just how busy this 1993 summer was going to be.
Jurassic Park was still dominating the box office in mid-July to take away family viewing. On the one hand, Disney was smart for a family-themed movie when films like In the Line of Fire and The Firm were out. However, Hocus was also released the same weekend as Free Willy and if it's a choice between witches or a friendly whale, who are kids going to go for?
In Disney's defense, they had the October slate set with The Nightmare Before Christmas, which was a great fit for both Halloween and Christmas and putting another similar-themed film there might have clashed too much. Still, a movie set on Halloween, involving witches in a July setting, was clearly not going to work. Despite the star power of Bette Middler and others, the movie never came close to making back its budget.
Compare that to Haunted Mansion with Disney likewise thinking the summer would be better for a big-budget film based on a Disney ride. It worked for the Pirates movie and Jungle Cruise, so it could work here, right?
What Disney couldn't count on were two things: First, the actor's strike that prevented the cast from doing promotion, which cost them publicity. Second, of course, was the "Barbieheimer" phenomenon as even Tom Cruise and a new Mission: Impossible film couldn't stand up to that box office onslaught.
In hindsight, given how rough the October box office has been, Disney releasing Haunted Mansion here would have been far better thanks to fewer movies around and succeeded nicely. Even the 2003 Eddie Murphy film seemed better suited for a November release, this was a movie screaming out to be seen in the fall, not July.
Just like before, Disney ended up with a box office flop, even worse given Haunted Mansion's budget was far higher. And unlike Hocus, it's unsure if it will have the same second life after its theatrical run.
The second life of each film
Of course, Hocus Pocus may have flopped in theaters, but as soon as it hit home video in time for Halloween, it found a new life as a cult classic. It worked with the themes, the camp attitude and before long the Sanderson Sisters' costumes were must-sees at parties. It's only grown since with annual airings on Freeform and Disney Channel to the point it got a terrific sequel.
Can Haunted Mansion have the same later success? It's hard to tell for now. Reviews weren't that good, and it doesn't seem to be tearing it up on Disney+ like Elemental is. Yet one never knows when a movie can connect with later audiences to become a favorite, as the film did have some charm with its cast and setting.
However, it's fascinating to see how, almost exactly thirty years apart, Disney made the exact same mistake, releasing two Halloween-themed movies in the wrong time period. Both would have been better suited for the fall season and while Hocus Pocus has since become a modern Disney classic, it's unsure if Haunted Mansion will have that same afterlife yet still a strange connection between these two sure-to-be Disney Halloween TV mainstays.
Hocus Pocus and Haunted Mansion both streaming on Disney+.