2014 Preview: 3 Movies That Could Be Big-Budget Disasters

No studio is immune to box-office bombs.

Look at 2013's worst. Walt Disney's Buena Vista Pictures produced The Lone Ranger and then distributed The Fifth Estate. "Awful" is too polite a word to describe the resulting losses, totaling at least $150 million by my math.

Therein lies the trouble with investing in moviemakers. I mean, if Disney can get it so wrong, how can any of us mere mortals hope to profit owning stock in the major media names? I'll have more on what makes for a good entertainment stock in a follow-up article. For now, let's review what I believe are the three conditions that most often lead to box-office disaster. Specifically:

1. Unoriginal thinking. Predictable stories that copy much of what we've seen before can go sideways in a hurry. Remakes and sequels that try too hard to capture the magic of the source material tend to fall into this category. Recent examples might include Red Dawn and Total Recall.

2. Letting gimmicks drive the story. Audiences crave good stories and sympathetic characters. Special effects, no matter how impressive, can't compensate for a bad script performed poorly. I'd count Green Lantern among recent examples.

3. Too big to succeed. Most movies earn the bulk of their box-office take in the first three weekends. Some aren't even that lucky. Thus, the bigger the budget, the greater the chance a movie will fail.

Which 2014 movies are most likely to suffer these flaws and punish their parent studios in the process? Here are my three picks.

Um, guys? Parachuting onto the back of a giant monster might be dangerous. Source: Legendary Pictures.

Godzilla
Studio: Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures
Release date: May 16, 2014
Estimated production budget / box-office breakeven: $160 million / $320 million

Why it should lose: Creature features tend to draw niche audiences. Pacific Rim, another collaboration between Legendary and Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX  ) Warner Bros., appears to have barely recovered its costs with a $407 million worldwide gross on a $190 million budget, Box Office Mojo reports.

Why it might win anyway: We're talking about Godzilla, people. Millions of aging geeks who remember the 1970s Japanese monster flicks could show up to see the big, green kaiju with a distinctive screech for a roar. Meanwhile, the supporting cast includes Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston and Aaron Taylor Johnson from both Kick-Ass films.

Projected impact: Legendary is the principal financier and is likely to take the hit if Godzilla fails. Warner is putting more muscle behind its DC Comics properties.

Joel Kinnaman stars in the role actor Peter Weller made famous. Source: Sony/Columbia.

Robocop
Studio: Sony's (NYSE: SNE  ) Columbia Pictures
Release date: Feb. 12, 2014
Estimated production budget / box-office breakeven: $120 million / $240 million

Why it should lose: Action remakes can work -- 2010's The Karate Kid, for example -- but how do you replace Peter Weller, who turned a metallic-sounding "your move, creep" into a catchphrase? A 1993 sequel to the sequel (i.e., Robocop 3), in which Weller gave way to Robert John Burke, made less than $11 million on a $22 million production budget.

Why it might win anyway: The movie stacks up against a predictable mix of romance and fantasy movies on Valentine's Day weekend, including remakes of About Last Night and Endless Love. Action fans looking for something different could show up in force.

Projected impact: After a disastrous 2013 that precipitated a management shake-up at the studio, Sony would love for Robocop to be an early 2014 win. The real test doesn't come till May, though, when The Amazing Spider-Man 2 arrives in theaters.

Russell Crowe stars in director Darren Aronofsky's take on the classic Bible story. Source: Paramount Pictures.

Noah
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Release date: March 28, 2014
Estimated production budget / box-office breakeven: $130 million / $260 million

Why it should lose: According to The Hollywood Reporter, test screenings with audiences didn't go as well as Paramount and studio parent Viacom (NASDAQ: VIAB  ) might have hoped. The movie also opens on the heels of Hunger Games wannabe Divergent and Disney's Muppets Most Wanted. Tough competition, to be sure.

Why it might win anyway: Controversy tends to draw well. Look at recent history: 2004's The Passion of the Christ grossed more than $600 million, while 2006's The Da Vinci Code topped $750 million. An impassioned response to Noah -- for or against -- could produce similar results.

Projected impact: Not much. Filmed entertainment accounts for less than a third of Viacom revenue and a minuscule 6% of pre-tax operating profit. Noah's capsizing wouldn't be the end of the world for Viacom and Paramount, which still owns the TV and movie rights to the lucrative Star Trek franchise.

Now it's your turn to weigh in. What 2014 movies do you expect to bomb? What movies are you most looking forward to? Leave a comment below to let us know what you think.

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Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On December 15, 2013, at 3:07 AM, ddemee01 wrote:

    I'm amazed that Disney doesn't show these terrible movies to older children, teens and young adults to see what they think about these movies before they release them. If they don't, it's their fault for losing millions of dollars. Shame on them. I truly hope they do much better with the upcoming Star Wars movie or they will lose more than money, lose fans. Don't screw it up!

  • Report this Comment On December 15, 2013, at 7:53 AM, SuntanIronMan wrote:

    RoboCop 3 was terrible for the same reason why RoboCop 2 wasn't as good as RoboCop (1): child actors. Casting a child a leading role of a R-rated movie is almost a guaranteed recipe for disaster. When it comes to these types of movies, children should be seen and not heard. In RoboCop (1) we only saw Murphy's kid in extremely brief flashbacks scenes (probably 20-seconds out of the entire movie).

    That and RoboCop 3 was a humorless bore of a movie. RoboCop 2 wasn't very good in the humor department either (tried way to hard, and failed, to replicate the dark/morbid humor of RoboCop 1). RoboCop 2 did had its moments of humor, but not many.

    From what I've seen of the RoboCop remake thus far (from the trailers), it seems like they are going down the humorless RoboCop 3 route. It also seems like (from the trailers) they will use Murphy's kid way too much in the movie. Did anybody at Columbia Pictures bother watching RoboCop 2 and 3?

    What made RoboCop so good was the in-movie commercials (like the American made "6000 SUX" with its 8.2 MPG fuel economy), characters referencing said in-movie commercials, Weller's deadpan one-liners, the lack of children (I can't emphasize that enough!), and the over-the-top... everything, like Murphy's death or the OCP boardroom scene with the stop motion ED-209 and the lines of dialog delivered during the aftermath. Who doesn't remember those scenes? Non-computer generated blood special effects is very under appreciated art form.

  • Report this Comment On December 28, 2013, at 11:05 AM, flyersfan28 wrote:

    I for one cant wait for "Godzilla". Lets just hope that the trailers are not hiding a bad movie like the last "Godzilla" movie, with matthew Broderick which was terrible. As for "Noah"I will see it before any Muppet movie and I have never heard of this "Divergent". As for the "Robo-Cop remake. Will be skipping that one as NO remake can ever be better then the original. and more then likely it will be rated "PG-13. And the main reason that "Robo-Cop 2 was terrible is because Orion Pictures were to cheap to hire the writers of the original, plus they wanted to have it written and completed before the writers strike that year. And the original writers wanted to have some time to write the sequel which Orion said no to.

  • Report this Comment On December 28, 2013, at 11:11 AM, flyersfan28 wrote:

    This writer has no idea what he is talking about.The Karate Kid remake was terrible. Most of the people who say the Karate Kid remake probably had no idea it was a remake.And the same will be true for Robo-Cop many who will be seeing the trailer most likely weren't even around when the original Robo-Cop was in theaters. And if they were not told it was remake would have no idea it was. and if they watched both will most likely say "The remake is better"NOT!!!

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