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DreamWorks' "Turbo" Is Making a Box Office Comeback

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Well, color me surprised, but my eyebrows rose along with shares of DreamWorks Animation (NASDAQ: DWA  )  last night following the release of the company's solid second-quarter earnings report.

Of course, I wasn't surprised by the success of The Croods, which helped propel the animator's earnings last quarter. After all, the quirky caveman flick has brought in more than $186 million domestically and $397 million at the international box office, good for a total of nearly $583 million to date. DreamWorks, for its part, took home $71.8 million in revenue from the movie during the most recent three-month period.

And DreamWorks' other movie properties helped to run up the score: Rise of the Guardians brought in $16.7 million from home entertainment during the quarter, and Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted contributed $48.9 million in sales, mostly from worldwide pay television.

In total, DreamWorks reported a 31% year-over-year increase in quarterly revenue to $213.4 million and an even more impressive 73% rise in earnings per diluted share to $0.26.

For those of you keeping track, that crushed analysts' expectations of earnings of $0.19 per share on $187.4 million in revenue.

Could it be? Turbo gains ground
But, really, the elephant in the room was a snail named Turbowhose namesake movie turned in a horrifically bad box office debut earlier this month, bringing in just $21.3 million in the U.S. during its opening weekend.

For reference, that was even worse than Rise of the Guardians' dismal domestic opening take of $23.8 million last year. And considering that one ended up ultimately resulting in $87 million in writedowns for DreamWorks in the following quarter, it was no surprise several analysts chimed in after Turbo hit the big screen to forecast potentially huge writedowns this time around as well.

But speaking on the company's earnings conference call Wednesday evening, CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg stunned those listening when he said Turbo is actually expected to be profitable when all is said and done.

Of course, those profits will likely be muted given the film's slow domestic start and relatively large $135 million production budget, but that's a heck of a lot better than taking a big loss.

To be sure, Katzenberg also took the opportunity to point out that Turbo is generally well liked, with its A- cinema score (A+ among audiences under 18), and claimed:

The film's soft opening is a clear result of an overly saturated marketplace and a difficult release date. This has turned out to be an unprecedented summer, with more family and animated titles than ever, competing for share at the box office. [...] We believe that our specific release date, as well as the difficulty of breaking through the clutter with an original title caused us to fall short of our expectations.

And he's right: Turbo has faced more than its fair share of competition this summer. Remember, on July 3 -- just two weeks prior to Turbo's release -- came Despicable Me 2 from Comcast's (NASDAQ: CMCSA  ) Universal Studios and Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) Pixar's Monster's University hit the big screen on June 21.

So what saved Turbo? According to Katzenberg, look no further than international audiences, with whom Turbo didn't face the same release date challenges as it did with domestic viewers. As of right now, Turbo's worldwide gross comes in at just above $102 million, with international sales contributing around $42 million. 

The thing is, Monsters University took the No. 1 spot in its weekend debut by bringing in more than $82 million domestically and has brought in more than $578 million worldwide so far.

And Despicable Me 2, complete with its enviable $76 million production budget, managed yet again to snag the No. 1 rank in its own first weekend with a huge $83.5 million take. Since then, DM2 has gone on to rock the worldwide box office with a total gross of nearly $667 million to date.

Meanwhile, as I noted last week, Turbo was the No. movie in its own opening weekend, coming in about $3.5 million below the then-two-week-old Despicable Me 2, as the top spot went to a low-budget horror film from Time Warner's  (NYSE: TWX  ) Warner Brothers Studios in The Conjuring, which managed to bring in around $41.8 million in its first three days.

What's more, while around 41.1% of Turbo's overall sales have come from outside the U.S., remember international viewers have so far comprised around 53.2% and 55.6% of sales for Despicable Me 2 and Monsters University, respectively. As a result, it's hard to believe Turbo is really doing all that well compared to its fellow animated competitors right now.

Foolish final thoughts
But I don't want to completely throw water on Turbo's fire.

The one thing Turbo could potentially look forward to is staying power, which is exactly what the folks at DreamWorks are ultimately counting on going forward. In fact, management told investors during its earnings conference call that it expects around 80% to 90% of worldwide P&A (prints and advertising) spending to occur by the end of the third quarter, which should hopefully drive 60% of Turbo's total international box office sales during that time as the popularity of the competition wanes.

In the end, DreamWorks investors are understandably relieved their company seems to have dodged a bullet here. However, remember the company's not totally out the woods yet, so it's a good idea to keep a close eye on Turbo's performance from here on out.

But, remember, this battle also doesn't end with the big screen. The television landscape is changing quickly, with new entrants like Netflix and disrupting traditional networks. The Motley Fool's new free report "Who Will Own the Future of Television?" details the risks and opportunities in TV. Click here to read the full report!

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  • Report this Comment On August 02, 2013, at 10:23 AM, RtotheL wrote:

    I'm looking forward to seeing Turbo! As of yet, I just haven't had the opportunity. My wife and I have seen a movie every chance we've had this summer, but just can't keep up with this summer's list of blockbuster premieres. It's a hefty schedule! We're not made of money, nor made of time. We have to pick our dates carefully to fit our budget. Pacific Rim, we thought, was a GREAT movie, that just happened to suffer from the same overbooked summer Turbo is battling through. Audiences haven't had a chance to catch their breath. It's PREMIERE after PREMIERE!!! Sheesh! Let us come up for air once in a while. We still have to go home now and then to eat and replenish! Some of us even have to work!

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