Will Hollywood Film Distributors Continue to Play Nice?

A look at the 2014 box office forecast and why it should do well even with fewer proven franchise releases.

Jan 10, 2014 at 8:13AM

For the second year in a row, Hollywood broke box office records. Movies released in 2013 generated approximately $10.9 billion in revenue, surpassing the record of $10.8 billion set in 2012. What was most impressive was that the industry was able to do this with only one film reaching the $1 billion mark: Iron Man 3.

A major reason for doing so well is that studios have been foregoing head-to-head competition with their key films, spacing out the release of movies in order to keep from cannibalizing the films. Past practices have had the distributors releasing films against one another, which took revenue and market share from each company.

Results over the last couple of years confirm that this strategy works. Twelve films in 2013 broke the $200 million mark in the domestic market, and in 2012 eleven films generated over $200 million in U.S. ticket sales. In 2011, seven broke the $200 million level in domestic sales.

2013 winner
Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX) Warner Bros. topped the box office market share in 2013, generating $5.04 billion in sales. This made it only the second company in history to surpass the $5 billion mark, with Viacom's (NASDAQ:VIAB) Paramount being the first film distributor to do so in 2011.

Another milestone for Warner Bros. was that it sold over $3 billion in international tickets. Along with Disney (NYSE:DIS) in 2013, this made Warner Bros. the first to produce global revenue at that level. Domestic revenue for Warner Bros. was $1.9 billion, with international revenue coming in at $3.14 billion.

Topping its slate of films was Man of Steel at $662.8 million, Gravity at $653.3 million, and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug bringing in $633.1 million as of this writing. Without the staggered release schedule, it is unlikely that Gravity would have done as well as it did. This points to some sleepers in 2014 if Hollywood continues to keep its releases farther apart.

It looks like 2014 will be a challenge for Warner Bros., as it only has a sure thing in The Hobbit: There and Back Again. It's releasing at least 18 films in the year, so there's sure to be a sleeper or two in there. Even so, the year is not as predictable as 2013 was. It won't be as easy for the rest of the industry, either.

Disney in 2013 and ahead
As mentioned earlier, Disney only released 10 films in 2013 but was still able to come in second in box office revenue. Its total was about $4.73 billion, which was the best it has ever done. In the domestic market it generated $1.72 billion in revenue, with the global market bringing in $3.01 billion.

Leading the way for Disney was Iron Man 3 with a hefty $1.2 billion in revenue. It was followed by Monsters University with $743.6 million, and Thor: The Dark World, with $629.9 million.

Disney will release at least fourteen films in 2014, with the only guaranteed hit being Captain America: The Winter Soldier. A sleeper for Disney could be Guardians of the Galaxy, though outside of fans of the comic it's not as widely known. Similar to Warner Bros., Disney will need a couple surprise hits to do well.

Universal Pictures
Comcast's Universal Pictures finished third at the 2013 box office, led by Despicable Me 2 with $918.8 million in revenue and Fast & Furious 6 with $788.7 million. Overall revenue was $3.67, with $1.42 billion of it being domestic and $2.25 billion of it international revenue. Universal will have to rely on breakout hits next year, as there is no sure blockbuster among its 2014 releases.

Twenty-First Century Fox dropped a little in 2013, with global revenue at 20th Century Fox studio coming in at $3.40 billion. Its top two films were The Croods at $587.2 billion and The Wolverine at $414.8 million.

It has one of the strongest film slates in 2014, including X-Men: Days of Future, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and Night at the Museum 3. There are also several sleepers that could do very well for the year, making it a strong probability that Fox will outperform its 2013 totals.

Sony, Lionsgate/Summit, and Paramount
The biggest disappointment in 2013 was Sony, which finished in fourth place for 2013. It fell from $4.4 billion in revenue in 2012 to $3.01 billion in 2013. The release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in 2014 should help the company, but its current film slate for the year looks fairly weak.

Lionsgate (NYSE:LGF) continues to move up in box office market share, again beating out Paramount for the 5th place spot. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire led the company with $797.5 million in sales, with Now You See Me being a nice surprise at $351.7 million. Its total revenue for 2013 was $2.32 billion. The company has The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 in 2014 to ensure another strong season, and has several proven franchises that should do well.

Paramount was just behind Lionsgate, generating $2.31 billion in revenue. If it wasn't for the performance of World War Z, which brought in $540 million, it would have vastly under performed. Its films in 2014 will be led by Transformers: Age of Extinction, which should ensure that it will surpass its 2013 revenue total.

Year ahead
Looking to 2014, it's not as clear as it was in 2013. Each distributor has at least one blockbuster, and it looks like the company with the most sleeper hits will win the box office race. As long as the industry continues to release films at intervals, it should do very well.

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Gary Bourgeault has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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