Paramount Pictures CEO Challenges Disney and Pixar With Nickelodeon Animated Movies

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and SpongeBob movies are in the works from Nickelodeon Movies.

In the 1990s, the Disney Renaissance and Nickelodeon dominated animation. But with Walt Disney Animation Studios' Strange World bombing at the box office, and Pixar's Lightyear and Elemental failing to open in the #1 spot, Brian Robbins, president and CEO of Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon, says audiences are looking to other studios for animated entertainment. The Super Mario Bros. Movie, from Universal's Illumination and Nintendo, scored the best box office of 2023 to date with $1.3 billion; Sony's animated Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is in fourth place with $676 million, behind only Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 ($844 million) and Fast X ($719 million). 

"It's not about Disney and Pixar anymore," Robbins told Variety, referencing Lightyear and Elemental's lukewarm box office. "People are looking for animated movies that are irreverent and have a comedic point of view."

That includes Nickelodeon's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem (in theaters August 2nd), a Seth Rogen-produced reboot of the heroes in a half-shell that has already greenlit a theatrical sequel and Paramount+ spin-off series. The new movie, which counts The Mitchells vs. the Machines and the Oscar-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse as influences on its animation style, currently sits at 97% on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics praising its blend of heart and humor.

Next, Nickelodeon will release PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie exclusively in theaters (September 29th), while an animated musical movie relaunch of The Smurfs is in development from Paramount Animation.

Also in the works from Paramount Animation: Transformers One, an animated prequel of the Hasbro toy franchise featuring the voices of Chris Hemsworth, Brian Tyree Henry, and Scarlett Johansson; SpongeBob SquarePants spin-off Saving Bikini Bottom: The Sandy Cheeks Movie; and The SpongeBob Movie: Search for SquarePants, slated for a theatrical release in 2025.

Paramount established Avatar Studios in 2021 to develop new animated content from Nickelodeon's Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, including a theatrical trilogy of CG-animated Avatar movies.

"Avatar: The Last Airbender and Korra have grown at least ten-fold in popularity since their original hit runs on Nickelodeon, and [Nickelodeon Animation president] Ramsey Naito and I are incredibly excited to have [creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko's] genius talent on board to helm a studio devoted to expanding their characters and world into new content and formats for fans everywhere," Robbins said when announcing the Airbender franchise expansion in 2021. "Creator-driven stories and characters have long been the hallmarks of Nickelodeon, and Avatar Studios is a way to give Mike and Bryan the resources and runway to open up their imaginations even more and dive deeper into the action and mythology of Avatar as we simultaneously expand upon that world and the world of content available on Paramount+ and Nickelodeon."