Why "Despicable Me" Minions Will Master the Masked Man This Weekend

They're baaaaack. The minions of Despicable Me, that is, and this time they're taking on The Lone Ranger. The Masked Man doesn't stand a chance. Even with Captain Jack Sparrow at his side.

Minions! Sources: YouTube, Universal Pictures.

I've mixed feelings about the matchup, both as a film fan and as an investor. Personally, I found 2010's Despicable Me to be a delight, with the impossibly cute minions softening Steve Carell's hardened supervillain, Gru. Audiences agreed as the film grossed $543.1 million worldwide on a $69 million production budget. Despicable Me 2, which cost Comcast's (NASDAQ: CMCSA  ) Universal Pictures $76 million, could earn that much or more.

By contrast, The Lone Ranger stars Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp in a popcorn adventure that I expect to be entertaining. Trouble is, Walt Disney's (NYSE: DIS  ) Buena Vista Pictures spent $215 million to make the film. Anything less than a World War Z-like surge in interest could derail the Masked Man's prospects.

Such is the danger of investing in big media stocks with film interests. Bad timing and stiff competition can tarnish profits. Big budget films are especially susceptible to the wait-and-see crowd. Moviegoers like me, in other words.

If I wait to rent The Lone Ranger via on-demand, it'll be because I'm more interested in taking  my kids to see Despicable Me 2. Next weekend I'll have moved on to Pacific Rim, Time Warner's aliens vs. giant robots epic.

There's also history to consider. Westerns don't draw as well as animated features or comedy-spy flicks:

Metrics
Animation
Comedy-Spy
Western

Total U.S. box office

$17.92 billion

$1.60 billion

$2.04 billion

No. of films in franchise

321

30

71

Per-film average

$56.34 million

$53.41 million

$28.72 million

Top film in franchise (domestic box office)

Shrek 2

($441.23 million)

Austin Powers in Goldmember

($213.31 million)

Dances with Wolves

($184.21 million)

Source: Box Office Mojo.

Should that matter to you as a Disney investor? I don't think so. Iron Man 3 is such a huge hit worldwide that The Lone Ranger could perform as badly as John Carter and the House of Mouse would still report strong studio profits.

Comcast is a different story. Universal has just 10 releases left in 2013, Box Office Mojo reports. Strong numbers for Despicable Me 2 could make a noticeable difference to Comcast's full-year financial performance. I suspect the minions are up to the task.

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