Disney and The Rock: A Great Tag Team

Can you smell what Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) is cooking?

Over the weekend, the Mouse House entered the multiplex ring with none other than Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, and it laid a decisive smackdown on the competition, one worthy of any wrestling match.

The movie in question, The Game Plan, seemed to catch many observers by surprise. According to, it earned just shy of $23 million, and it ranked in first place, beating General Electric's (NYSE: GE  ) Universal release The Kingdom, Lions Gate Entertainment's (NYSE: LGF  ) Good Luck Chuck, and Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX  ) The Brave One. Part of Disney's good fortune comes from showing a family-friendly flick while the rest of the industry has been focusing on less family-oriented movies.

Sure, $23 million may not sound like a lot these days, but we're past the summertime box office season and not yet into the Thanksgiving/Christmas time frame. It's decent dough for a weekend right about now, and Disney is pretty pleased that it beat expectations with the project.

This is another treat for Disney and its movie-studio business. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End plundered the global theatrical marketplace this year, taking in more than $960 million. Ratatouille wasn't necessarily a cold dish, either -- yes, it did have a disappointing time out of the gate, and it probably should have earned more considering it got good reviews, but it still turned out pretty delicious, scoring $420 million worldwide.

The Game Plan won't do as well as either of those celluloid juggernauts. Instead, shareholders should hope it lives up to another tough-guy-has-to-deal-with-kids flick that Disney released -- remember Vin Diesel's The Pacifier? No, I didn't see it either, but it grossed nearly $200 million worldwide. Disney will try to keep the momentum going this fall with the upcoming films Enchanted and National Treasure: Book of Secrets.

Although the film won't move the needle as Pirates did, it might offer further proof that Disney's branding strategy works. Disney wants to focus on family fare and keep its movie slate to a minimum number of releases that yield a maximum return. While I find it limiting, you never know when a movie like The Game Plan could become a nice little franchise, spawning sequels and turning into a moderate-sized movie business (assuming it has legs). The High School Musicalfranchise surprised Wall Street by becoming a sleeper hit backed by the fickle tween crowd.

When big, expensive, "tentpole" productions such as Viacom's (NYSE: VIA  ) Transformers" or DreamWorks Animation's (NYSE: DWA  ) Shrek the Third are launched, the prospects are usually there for a killer weekend. But pictures like The Game Plan, The Pacifier, and last spring's success story, Wild Hogs, sometimes sneak in surprising profits. Next weekend will ultimately tell how big a hit The Game Plan truly is, but for now the film sets a nice tone for the upcoming end-of-year run at theaters for the Mouse and its movie brands.      

Disney is cooking, indeed:

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