Walt Disney Pictures originally announced the film in June 2011 under the working title 1952, and later retitled it to Tomorrowland, after the futuristic themed land found at Disney theme parks. In drafting their story, Bird and Lindelof took inspiration from the progressive cultural movements of the Space Age, as well as Walt Disney's optimistic philosophy of the future, notably his conceptual vision for the planned community known as EPCOT. Principal photography began in August 2013, with footage shot in British Columbia, Alberta, Florida, and Spain with second unit filming in France, California and the Bahamas.
An adult Frank Walker and Casey Newton relate to the audience their experiences, beginning with Frank's visit to the 1964 New York World's Fair as a child. In the flashback, he meets David Nix, an official who is unimpressed with Frank's prototype jet pack. Frank does draw the attention of a young girl named Athena. Seeing his potential, Athena gives Frank a pin embossed with a "T" symbol and tells him to follow her aboard the fair's "It's a Small World" attraction. Frank sneaks onto the ride, where his pin is scanned and he is transported into a futuristic cityscape known as Tomorrowland. He falls from a ledge, but straps on his jet pack in mid air and lands safely before Nix and Athena.
The narration then shifts to the present, where Casey Newton sneaks into a decommissioned NASA launch pad in Cape Canaveral, where her father Eddie is an engineer. She sabotages the machines that are dismantling the launch pad and returns home, where Athena, who hasn't aged a day since 1964, sneaks another pin that is programmed to Casey's DNA into Casey's motorcycle helmet. The next night, Casey attempts to break into the NASA compound again, but is arrested. At the police station, she sees the pin among her personal items, and discovers that upon contact, the pin instantly shows her a view of Tomorrowland that only she can see. She briefly explores the vision until the pin's battery runs out.
Assisted by her brother Nate, Casey finds a Houston memorabilia store related to the pin. Upon meeting the two owners, Hugo (named for early science fiction publisher Hugo Gernsback) and Ursula, Casey is questioned about it, and when she says she knows nothing else about it, they attack her. Athena bursts in and fights Hugo and Ursula, who are both revealed to be robots. The two girls escape as the robots self-destruct, destroying the store. After stealing a car, Athena reveals that she is an Audio-Animatronic robot, and the one who gave Casey the pin, revealing that she needs her help to save the world. Athena drives Casey to Frank's home in Pittsfield, New York and leaves her there.
The reclusive Frank declines Casey's request for an audience, but she manages to lure him out of the house and sneak in, locking him out. Frank re-enters through a secret tunnel and tells her angrily that he was thrown out of Tomorrowland and cannot go back. He also asks if she would like to know the exact moment of her death. Casey ponders whether accepting the truth about her time of death would actually be the cause of it, and while she admits that she would like him to tell her, says that she probably would not believe him, preferring to make her own destiny. When she says this, a monitor showing the probability of the end of the world changes its reading from 100% to 99.9994%, which startles Frank. Robot agents appear at Frank's house ordering him to turn over Casey or be killed.
After evading the robots and reuniting with Athena, the trio uses a teleportation machine that Frank invented, and transport themselves to the Eiffel Tower in Paris. They enter a room with mannequins of Gustave Eiffel, Jules Verne, Nikola Tesla, and Thomas Edison. Frank explains that the four men were the founders of Plus Ultra, a group of inventors dedicated to finding other dreamers and inventors who shared the hope of shaping a better future, which eventually led them to discover a new dimension where Tomorrowland was founded. The trio enter a rocket hidden underneath the tower, which launches into outer space and travels to another dimension, arriving at a now-desolate Tomorrowland. Nix appears to greet them, and takes them to a building linked to a tachyon machine designed by Frank that can show images from the past and future, from which Casey learns that a worldwide catastrophe will happen in the near future. Because of this discovery, Frank lost all hope and was banished from Tomorrowland. Casey does not accept that the world is destined to end, and the future slightly changes as a result, a fact that Frank glimpses, but which Nix ignores before ordering them arrested.
As they await being sent back to Earth, Casey realizes that when the tachyon machine tells the public that the world is coming to an end, it causes the people to accept the apocalypse. This in turn makes the end of the world all the more possible, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Destroying the device could avert the apocalypse. Nix opens a portal to an uninhabited, uncharted island, attempting to exile them to live out the last days of the world there, but Frank refuses, seeing that Nix has simply given up on Earth and intends to allow the apocalypse to happen. A fight ensues and Frank tries to use a bomb to blow up the machine. Mistakenly, the bomb goes off outside the portal and the explosion pins Nix's leg under debris. Nix retrieves a plasma gun and aims at Frank. Athena, who was able to see it happening beforehand due to the tachyon images, jumps in front of him and is damaged beyond repair, which activates her self-destruct sequence. In her last moments of consciousness, Athena instructs Frank to take her to the machine and reveals that she loved him. Her self-destruction bomb destroys the machine, which kills Nix as well.
Back in the present, Frank and Casey's audience are revealed to be androids like Athena, who are entrusted with new pins and instructed to bring other "dreamers" to Tomorrowland.
In 2010, Damon Lindelof began discussions with Walt Disney Studios about producing a modern science-fiction Disney film, with Tomorrowland as a basis. The project was greenlit by Walt Disney Pictures' president of production, Sean Bailey in June 2011 with Lindelof signed on to write and produce a film with the working title of 1952. Lindelof asked Jeff Jensen—who had previously published material on Lindelof's Lost television series—if he was interested in contributing to story elements. Jensen agreed and began to research the history of the Walt Disney Company, particularly Walt Disney's fascination with futurism, scientific innovation and utopia, as well as his involvement with the 1964 New York World's Fair and Disney's unrealized concept for EPCOT. In May 2012, Brad Bird was hired as director. Bird's story ideas and themes were influenced by the fading of cultural optimism that once defined society in the 1950s, '60s, and early '70s, stating that, "When Damon and I were first talking about the project, we were wondering why people's once-bright notions about the future gradually seemed to disappear".
While keeping information about the plot secret, when asked in November 2012 whether the project would be Star Wars: Episode VII, Bird denied the rumor, but confirmed that Tomorrowland would be a science-fiction film, with Lindelof adding that the film would not center on extraterrestrials. Later that month, George Clooney entered negotiations to star in the film. In February 2013, Hugh Laurie joined the film. In July 2013, Britt Robertson was cast.
On January 23, 2013, nearly a week before the title change, Bird tweeted a picture related to the project. The image showed a frayed cardboard box labeled 1952, supposedly uncovered from the Walt Disney Imagineering developmental unit, and containing items like archival photographs of Walt Disney, Technicolor film, envelopes, a vinyl record, space technology literature, a 1928 copy of an Amazing Stories magazine (which introduced Philip Francis Nowlan's Buck Rogers character), and an unidentified metal object. On August 10, 2013, Bird and Lindelof gave a presentation at the D23 Expo in Anaheim, California, where they opened the "1952" box and revealed many of its contents. Later that day a pavilion was unveiled on the D23 Expo show floor which presented the items for close inspection by guests. There was also an accompanying iPhone app which took viewers through the exhibit much like one would experience at a museum. Michael Giacchino was hired to compose the film music.
Originally, the film included overt references to Walt Disney's involvement with Plus Ultra, the fictional organization founded by Gustave Eiffel, Jules Verne, Nikola Tesla, and Thomas Edison—including the idea that Disneyland's Tomorrowland was intended to be a cover-up for the real one developed by the group—however, the scenes and dialogue were omitted from the final cut of the film. Pixar Animation Studios created an animated short film, narrated by Maurice LaMarche, that explained the backstory of Plus Ultra, which was planned to be incorporated into an excised scene where a young Frank Walker is transported beneath the "It's a Small World" attraction, and through an informative series of displays, reminiscent of classic Disney dark rides.
Principal photography commenced in Enderby, British Columbia on August 19, 2013, and also filmed in Vancouver (including the H. R. MacMillan Space Centre) and Surrey, ending on January 15, 2014. In October 2013, Kathryn Hahn was cast as a character named Ursula. Also in October, it was announced that part of the filming would take place in the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia. In November 2013, scenes depicting the Newtons' hometown were shot at New Smyrna Beach, and the Carousel of Progress attraction at Walt Disney World in Florida. On February 5, 2014, additional filming took place at the It's a Small World attraction at Disneyland in California. The film's production designers incorporated the designs of Space Mountain and Spaceship Earth as architectural features of the Tomorrowland cityscape. Per a suggestion by Bird during production, the Walt Disney Pictures opening production logo features the Tomorrowland skyline instead of the studio's conventional fantasy castle. Industrial Light & Magic created the visual effects for Tomorrowland.
During post-production, a number of scenes featuring actress Judy Greer as Jenny Newton, Casey's (Robertson) late mother were cut in order to improve the film's runtime. Greer's role was reduced to minor cameo, while actor Lochlyn Munro, who portrayed Casey's live-in uncle Anthony, had his scenes removed completely.
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures released a teaser trailer for Tomorrowland on October 9, 2014. Beginning in mid-April, a sneak peek of the film was presented at Disneyland and Epcot in the Tomorrowland and Imagination Pavilion theaters, respectively. Tomorrowland held its world premiere at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California on May 9, 2015. The film was released on May 22, 2015 in theaters and IMAX. Tomorrowland was the first film to be released in Dolby Vision format in Dolby Cinema in North America.
Despite owning the trademark to the word "Tomorrowland" in the United States since 1970, Disney released the film in the United Kingdom and several European markets, including the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg as Tomorrowland: A World Beyond, because ID&T had previously registered the trademark in 2005, for their electronic musical festival of the same name. In compliance to Disney's ownership of the trademark in the United States, ID&T renamed the American version of their music festival as TomorrowWorld.
Tomorrowland was released by Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital download on October 13, 2015. The Blu-ray and digital releases include behind-the-scenes featurettes, the Plus-Ultra animated short film, and deleted scenes.
Upon its first week of release on home media in the U.S., the film debuted at number 3 at the Nielsen VideoScan First Alert chart, which tracks overall disc sales, and number 4 at the Blu-ray Disc sales chart with 47% of unit sales coming from Blu-ray.
Tomorrowland grossed $93.4 million in North America and $115.7 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $209.2 million, against a budget of $190 million.
The Hollywood Reporter estimated that the film cost $330 million to produce and market, and noted that the financial losses by Disney finished anywhere between $120 and $140 million. According to them, Tomorrowland was the third original tent-pole film of 2015 to underperform, following Jupiter Ascending and Seventh Son. Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures distribution chief, Dave Hollis, commented on the film's debut performance, saying, "Tomorrowland is an original movie and that's more of a challenge in this marketplace. We feel it's incredibly important for us as a company and as an industry to keep telling original stories."
Tomorrowland opened in the U.S. and Canada on Friday, May 22, 2015 across 3,970 theaters, earning $9.7 million on its opening day, which was on par with Pitch Perfect 2 (which was in its second week). The film's Friday gross included a $725,000 during its early Thursday night showings from a limited run of 701 theaters. On its first three-day weekend, it earned $33 million, coming in at first place after a close race with Pitch Perfect 2 which grossed $30.8 million. During the four-day Memorial Day weekend, it earned $42.7 million — the lowest opening for a big-budget tentpole since Disney's Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, which opened to $37.8 million in 2010.
Considering the film's $190 million budget ($280–330 million including marketing costs), many media outlets considered the film's opening in the U.S. and Canada a box office disappointment.
Outside North America, it earned $32.1 million in its opening weekend from 65 countries, finishing in first place among newly released film and in third place overall behind Avengers: Age of Ultron and Mad Max: Fury Road. The film's top highest openings occurred in China ($14.1 million), Russia and the CIS ($4.3 million), the UK, Ireland and Malta ($3.2 million) Mexico ($2.8 million), France ($2.5 million) and Japan ($2.1 million). In total earnings, its top three countries are China ($18.8 million), Russia and the UK ($7.6 million respectively).
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a rating of 50%, based on 257 reviews, with an average rating of 5.9/10. The site's consensus reads, "Ambitious and visually stunning, Tomorrowland is unfortunately weighted down by uneven storytelling." On Metacritic, the film has a score of 60 out of 100, based on 47 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". In CinemaScore polls conducted during the opening weekend, cinema audiences gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale.
Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave the film two and a half stars out of four, saying "Brad Bird's Tomorrowland, a noble failure about trying to succeed, is written and directed with such open-hearted optimism that you cheer it on even as it stumbles." Stephanie Merry of The Washington Post gave the film two out of four stars, saying "Maybe the ultimate goal of Tomorrowland remains obscure because once you know where the story is headed, you realize it's a familiar tale. The movie can conjure up futuristic images, but the story is nothing we haven't seen before." Moira MacDonald of The Seattle Times gave the film two and a half stars out of four, saying "Though it's made with great energy and inventiveness, there's something ultimately muddy about Tomorrowland; it's as if director Brad Bird got so caught up in the sets and effects and whooshing editing that the story somehow slipped away."
Colin Covert of the Star Tribune gave the film two out of four stars, saying "A well-oiled machine of visuals, and yet a wobbling rattletrap of storytelling, the sci-fi fantasy Tomorrowland is an unwieldy clunker driven into the ditch at full speed." James Berardinelli of ReelViews gave the film two and a half stars out of four, saying "For a while, it doesn't matter that the plot meanders. The story seems like a jigsaw puzzle inviting us to solve it. That's the fun part. However, when the resolution is presented, it underwhelms."
A. O. Scott of The New York Times gave the film a negative review, saying "It's important to note that Tomorrowland is not disappointing in the usual way. It's not another glib, phoned-in piece of franchise mediocrity but rather a work of evident passion and conviction. What it isn't is in any way convincing or enchanting." Lou Lumenick of the New York Post gave the film two out of four stars, saying "The film never adds up to the sum of its parts, effectively a two-hour trailer for a movie I'd still be interested in seeing." Steven Rea of The Philadelphia Inquirer gave the film two and a half stars out of four, saying "Unlikely to be remembered in decades to come - or even in months to come, once the next teenage dystopian fantasy inserts itself into movie houses."
Ty Burr of The Boston Globe gave the film two and a half stars out of four, saying "Rapturous on a scene-by-scene basis and nearly incoherent when taken as a whole, the movie is idealistic and deranged, inspirational and very, very conflicted." Stephen Whitty of the Newark Star-Ledger gave the film one and a half stars out of four, saying "Strip Tomorrowland down to its essentials, and you get an ending out of "I'd like to teach the world to sing" and a moral which boils down to: Just be positive, OK? So OK. I'm positive Tomorrowland was a disappointment."
David Edelstein of New York Magazine gave the film a positive review, stating that "Tomorrowland is the most enchanting reactionary cultural diatribe ever made. It's so smart, so winsome, so utterly rejuvenating that you'll have to wait until your eyes have dried and your buzz has worn off before you can begin to argue with it." Inkoo Kang of The Wrap also wrote a positive review, saying "Tomorrowland is a globe-trotting, time-traveling caper whose giddy visual whimsies and exuberant cartoon violence are undermined by a coy mystery that stretches as long as the line for "Space Mountain" on a hot summer day." Brian Truitt of USA Today gave the film three out of four stars, saying "A spectacular ride for most of it, and while you're a little let down at the end, you kind of want to jump back on and do it all over again."
Linda Barnard of the Toronto Star gave the film three out of four stars, saying "Brad Bird presents a gorgeously wrought, hopeful future vision in Tomorrowland, infusing the family film with enough entertaining action and retro-themed whiz bang to forgive an awkward opening and third-act weakness." Joe Neumaier of the New York Daily News gave the film three out of four stars, saying "Tomorrowland wears its big movie heart on its sleeve, which is to its advantage." A.A. Dowd of The A.V. Club gave the film a B-, saying "Bird stages the PG mayhem with his usual grasp of dimension and space, his gift for action that's timed like physical comedy. He keeps the whole thing moving, even when it begins to feel bogged down by preachiness and sci-fi exposition."
Brian Skutle of Sonic Cinema gave the film a B–, saying "What’s so surprising about the film isn’t how simple the story is, but how lacking of energy the whole thing is. Gone is the excitement and passion that drove The Incredibles and Ratatouille, the high-wire suspense of Ghost Protocol and the nostalgic feeling of The Iron Giant. Bird feels less like the author of this film and more like a hired hand to give Disney a big-budget tentpole based on studio notes." Forrest Wickman, of Slate Magazine, said the film's "politics might be a little incoherent, or naïve. It is a kids’ movie, after all." Amy Nicholson of LA Weekly gave the film a B+, saying "Bird has made a film that every child should see. And if his $190 million dream flops, he'll be asking the same question as his movie: When did it become uncool to care?"
In October 2015, Bird commented on some of the film's criticisms:
"People will argue about whether we told the proper story or not. People ask, 'Why did you spend so much time in a car when you could have been in Tomorrowland?' But the movie was always intended to be a road movie and its title seemed to suggest, to some people, that the whole movie was going to take place in Tomorrowland. We had a lot of ideas for Tomorrowland but just running around Tomorrowland is not a movie. There has to be a conflict. It has to be somewhat interesting. We set out to make a fable or a fairy tale about what happened to the positive view of the future and how can we get it back and pursue that idea. For better or worse, we did."
The musical score for Tomorrowland was composed by Michael Giacchino. A soundtrack album was released digitally on May 19, 2015 followed by a physical release on June 2, 2015. Songs not included on the album but featured in the film include "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" and "It's a Small World (After All)", both written by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman, and "I Got Mine" by The Black Keys.Track listing