The live-action 'The Little Mermaid' is released in theaters: will it be a hit or a flop?

The movie starring Halle Bailey hits the big screen this Friday and is expected to become one of this year's top grossing box office hits despite the racial controversy that precedes it.

Disney took a risk and it looks like it might pay off. The decision to cast black actress Halle Bailey as Ariel was seriously debated but ultimately didn't make a difference. The numbers speak for themselves. According to Deadline, "The Little Mermaid" is expected to gross $180 million in its first weekend in theaters.

The movie is estimated to gross $120 million from the U.S. market alone while the other $60 million will come from the rest of the world.

These numbers would place "The Little Mermaid" as the fourth highest-grossing release of Memorial Day weekend. It is only surpassed by last year's Memorial Day weekend release of "Top Gun Maverick" (160.5 million), the 2007 release of "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" ($139.8 million) and the 2008 release of "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" ($126.9 million).

Will the new version of 'The Little Mermaid' be one of Disney's highest-grossing live-action films?

If forecasts are confirmed, the version starring Halle Bailey would easily beat several of Disney's remakes released in the last several years. It would beat "Aladdin," which was released over Memorial Day in 2019 and grossed $116.8 million. It would also beat "Maleficent: Mistress of Evil" which made $100 million in 2019, and "Cinderella" from 2015 which grossed $74 million.

Only "Beauty and the Beast," which grossed $174.7 million in its first weekend at the box office and the 2019 live-action version of "The Lion King" which made $191.6 million would be ahead of "The Little Mermaid."

A controversial movie

The remake of "The Little Mermaid" is undoubtedly Disney's most daring bet. The decision to change Ariel's skin color by casting Halle Bailey in the lead role unleashed a flurry of backlash and sparked controversy that is still being debated to this day. Director Rob Marshall spoke out against the critics who accused him of complying with a woke agenda. He gave EW the following statement:

I wasn't anticipating that because, in a way, I felt like we've moved so far past that kind of thing but then you realize, in a way we haven't. It was very moving to me to see how important this kind of casting is for the world. There is no agenda, we just were looking for the best actor for the role, period. The end. We saw everybody and every ethnicity. The goal was to find someone who can be incredibly strong, passionate, beautiful, smart, clever and with a great deal of fire and joy.

His words were of little use and the controversy continued. Disney debuted the trailer during the Oscars and it did not get very positive feedback. The trailer has more than a million dislikes on YouTube. If the live-action "The Little Mermaid" becomes one of the highest-grossing feature films of 2023, as predicted, things could change. The race has begun.