Hard to imagine it now, but there was a time when animated feature films were unpopular. Though, of course, animated films have always been made since the 1960’s, 70’s and most of the 80’s, but there weren’t that many of them, and most struggled to find an audience.

Disney, which created the genre of the animated feature film back in the 1930’s, still tried during the 1970’s, from time to time, with films such as “The Rescuers”, “Oliver and Company” and their ambitious “The Black Cauldron”, but they pretty much gave up on the whole genre by the mid-80’s.

Well, that was until they released “The Little Mermaid” in 1989 which changed everything. The film was considered a risky bet at a time when Disney was financially in pretty bad shape, but it paid off big time.

The film was a gigantic hit, grossing over $200 million and started Disney on the path to making more animated films such as the “Toy Story” franchise, “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King” among many others; and when they acquired Pixar, it became an unending cash printing machine that’s still cranking to this day.

Not surprisingly seeing all the money that was being made other studios got into the animated movies game such as Dreamworks, Fox, Warners and Sony and for them it’s been paying off huge big time.

True, not all animated films have been successful. There have been several failures along the away. Pixar’s production-plagued “The Good Dinosaur”, which came out last year, that the studio wrote off as a loss before it was released, was a huge bust, and the first box office loser in the 20 year history of Pixar. Dreamworks’ “Turbo” was a straight-out failure, as was Warner’s “Rise of the Guardians”; and their “Mars Need Moms” was such a disaster that the studio practically threw out the production company and filmmakers on their ears and immediately cancelled their production deal.

But the reality is that you just can’t lose making an animated film. They’re such a cash cow now that even weak films such as Warner’s “Storks” or Pixar “Cars” and “Cars 2” (with “Cars 3” set to come out next year) can make hundreds of millions of dollars whether or not they are well-reviewed. (This bring up the obvious question – where are all the black animated feature films? We need them.)

This week’s No. 1 film which, no surprise, was Disney’s “Moana” with Dwayne Johnson and songs by “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. Though there were those who questioned whether an animated film centered exclusively on people of color would fare well with audiences, the film’s spectacular holiday weekend opening proved that was a dumb question to even bring up.

The film opened with almost $10 million on Thanksgiving, and another $21.5 million on Friday, with $81 million for the weekend overall, making it a yet another smash hit for Disney, which is having its best box office year in its entire history; and 2017 looks just as good.

Warner’s “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” – last week’s No. 1 film – dropped just under 40% to come in second with $45 million, and a total of $156 million here in the States, with almost $474 million worldwide.

Marvel’s “Doctor Strange” continues to do great business, coming in third with $205 million so far, and $616 million worldwide.

Both “Arrival” and “Hacksaw Ridge” (each made for around $40 million), also continue to do solid business, becoming fall sleeper hits. However, Hollywood legend Warren Beatty’s return to filmmaking after over a decade away, “Rules Don’t Apply”, has turned out to be one of the biggest flops of the year, not even making $3 million over the holidays. No doubt the film looked too old fashioned and quaint to appeal to today’s audiences. And “Bad Santa 2” also struggled to find an audience. But 12 years is a long time for a sequel to a popular film, and perhaps audiences just didn’t care.

In the meantime “Almost Christmas” actually increased it b.o. take by 5% from last week, performing better than expected and looking to do over $50 million; while “Loving” increased its number of screens to 421 screens for just over $4 million.

Meanwhile “Moonlight” is still holding steady at just over 600 screens for another $1.3 million this weekend, and $8.6 million total. Right now the film still looks good for a $15-20 million domestic total, and it opens overseas starting in January, which will add to its total, making it a very successful film for a picture that cost just under $5 million to make.

However, the big question still remains: will the film play well and wide outside of the urban and arthouse market. Yes it’s a film with a central character who has a “sexual awakening,” but anyone who has seen “Moonlight” would be hard-pressed to say that it’s a “gay film.” It’s more of a story about how one’s environment shapes them over time. But that label has been stuck on the film and that might be keeping certain audiences away from seeing what could very well be the best film of 2016. A24, the film’s distributor has slowly expanded the film to new markets, as if testing to see how it’s received before pushing even further. Currently at just over 600 screens after a month in theaters, it’s unlikely that they plan to give the film a much wider release of 1000 – 2000 screens. But maybe that won’t be necessary.

We shall see.

This weekend’s top 13 films follows below:

1) Moana BV $55,523,000 Total: $81,108,000
2) Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them WB $45,100,000 Total: $156,228,123
3) Doctor Strange BV $13,369,000 Total: $205,093,475
4) Allied Par. $13,000,000 Total: $18,022,000
5) Arrival Par. $11,250,000 Total: $62,387,300
6) Trolls Fox $10,340,000 Total: $135,136,662
7) Almost Christmas Uni. $7,610,000 Total: $36,688,865
8) Bad Santa 2 BG $6,106,658 Total: $9,031,191
9) Hacksaw Ridge LGF $5,450,000 Total: $52,248,382
10) The Edge of Seventeen STX $2,960,000 Total: $10,273,770
11) Loving Focus $1,691,000 Total: $4,069,771
12) Rules Don’t Apply Fox $1,575,000 Total: $2,175,000
13) Moonlight A24 $1,300,000 Total: $8,624,896