July 14, 2013

SHOWBUZZDAILY’s State of the Studio: Disney


The calendar may have us at barely mid-July, but for the major movie studios, the summer season has already peaked.  The would-be, sometimes-are blockbusters have been arriving since the first weekend in May, and although there are still a few major productions left to open (notably 20th’s The Wolverine and Sony’s Elysium), for the most part we’re heading into the lower-budget, lower-profile part of the season.  So this seems like a fair time to take a look at how the studios have prospered–or not–in the most important part of their year.

We begin with Disney, which kicked off the summer movie season and has been at both the top and the bottom of the pile as the weeks have gone on, although luckily for the studio, the top has been higher than the bottom has been low.  It’s worth noting that although Alan Horn has been Chairman of The Walt Disney Studio for more than a year, the movies we’re getting in summer 2013 are still the ones green-lit by his predecessor, Rich Ross, simply because of how long it takes to develop and produce a major motion picture.  We won’t really know what Horn has brought to Disney until next year.  However, it’s clear that for the foreseeable future, Disney intends to follow the virtually all-blockbuster approach it’s pursued in the last few years, with releases coming either from Marvel, Pixar, Disney Animation or other mega-producers like Jerry Bruckheimer, and Lucasfilm still to come (with occasional smaller productions from DreamWorks, for which Disney puts up only a portion of the budget).




Estimated Cost (Including Worldwide Marketing):  $350M

US Box Office Thru 7/14:  $407M

Overseas Box Office Thru 7/14:  $805M

Box Office Total Thru 7/14:  $1,212,000,000

The genius of Marvel’s overall movie strategy (and then Disney’s acquisition of Marvel and furtherance of that plan) was underscored by the colossal success of Iron Man 3, which built on the success not only of its own franchise but the mega-blockbuster The Avengers to outgross Iron Man 2 by an almost unbelievable $600M, doubling the value of an already smash-hit series.  The strategy will almost certainly continue to pay off with upcoming sequels to Thor and Captain America.  The only we-should-all-have-such-problems cloud on the horizon is that the studio doesn’t have Robert Downey, Jr under contract for any more Iron Man installments (he is committed to 2 more Avenger movies), and since this is one of the relatively few franchises closely linked to one particular actor, at some point Disney will have to grit its teeth and push the button on a wire transfer so huge it’ll crash the server at Downey’s Swiss bank.  


Estimated Cost (inc Worldwide Marketing):  $300M

US Box Office Thru 7/14:  $238M

Overseas Box Office Thru 7/14:  $236M

Box Office Total Thru 7/14:  $474,000,000

Monsters U is still in play, especially overseas, so it should reach $575M and perhaps more before it’s done.  That would put it above Pixar’s recent Brave and Cars 2, a very profitable neighborhood.  Disney’s only mistake was underestimating the giant appeal of Despicable Me 2, opening Monsters U just 12 days before Universal’s minions arrived on the scene.  That left several million dollars on the table that an earlier opening might have scooped up.  Pixar’s brand name isn’t quite as flawless as it was just a few years ago (see:  Brave and Cars 2), and the studio can no longer assume the division’s films will stomp over everything in their path, which will require a little more respect for the competition.


Estimated Cost (inc Worldwide Marketing):  $400M

US Box Office Thru 7/14:  $71M

Overseas Box Office Thru 7/14:  $48M

Box Office Total Thru 7/14:  $119,000,000

Well, they can’t all work out.  Much has already been written about the dismal failure of The Lone Ranger, which will likely put a dent in all those marvelous Marvel and Pixar profits to the tune of as much as $200M.  On the other hand, Disney is getting a 5th Pirates installment and a probable sequel to Alice In Wonderland out of the mess, so it’s not a total loss.  Depp, Bruckheimer and Verbinski will bandage their wounds, and after Cowboys & Aliens and The Lone Ranger, the next massively-budgeted western is scheduled for release just about half past never.


PLANES (8/9):  Not a sequel to Cars (it actually hails from Disney Animation rather than Pixar), but it might as well be, considering the way the marketing links the two.  A bit of a risk, because DreamWorks’ upcoming Turbo will already be providing plenty of cute talking vehicles a few weeks earlier.  Also, Planes arrives only 9 days after Sony’s pre-sold The Smurfs 2, and if the blue creatures have box office hold, the planes may fly a bit low.  Still, there seems to be an inexhaustible hunger for quality animation, especially during the summer when kids (and parents) need family-friendly movies.


THOR:  THE DARK WORLD (11/8):  Right now, Marvel can do no wrong.

DELIVERY MAN (11/22):  The year’s token release from DreamWorks, a comedy with Vince Vaughn about a man whose donated sperm fathers over 500 children.  Vaughn is far from the top of his game these days, but the studio risk here will be very low.

FROZEN (11/27):  More Disney Animation, featuring arctic comic-adventure.  It’s the only animated movie scheduled to open for Thanksgiving weekend, which should guarantee it a big start.

SAVING MR. BANKS (12/13):  The studio’s Oscar play, and a particularly homegrown one, with Tom Hanks as Walt Disney himself and Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers in the story of the making of Mary Poppins (which happens to be a great yarn).  Risk will be limited, and the upside could be tremendous if the film catches on with critics and holiday audiences seeking something heartwarming but different.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."