It would be an understatement to say that Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX) Warner Bros. studio has had some major hits in the past. With the studio's 100-year anniversary coming in 2023, Warner Bros. has produced classics including The Wizard of Oz, Rebel Without a Cause, and The Neverending Story. It has produced and distributed some noteworthy modern classics as well, including Interview with the Vampire, the "Matrix" trilogy, and the eight-film "Harry Potter" series. This is on top of the various films associated with Time Warner's DC Comics characters.
With that said, 2014 is the start of something great for the studio. The next several years should be very profitable for Warner Bros., and it all starts here.
Warner's 2014 slate
Warner Bros. has already had a major hit this year in The LEGO Movie. Earning over $400.5 million worldwide to date on a budget of only $60 million, the film will likely enjoy significant Bluray, DVD, and digital sales later this year as well. The studio already has a sequel in the works, which is slated for release in 2017; the sequel was actually ordered a few days before the film hit theaters, based on early buzz about the film.
The LEGO Movie isn't all that Warner has had going for it recently, either. 300: Rise of an Empire has earned nearly three times its $110 million budget worldwide, and Warner Bros. is also distributing the Kickstarter-funded Veronica Mars film that has earned $3.02 million in a limited theatrical release (which was a first-of-its-kind same-day theatrical and digital-at-home release.) The studio's only real flop this year has been Winter's Tale, which to date has only made one-fifth of its $60 million production budget.
There's still a lot of time left in 2014, however, and Warner Bros. has 18 more films slated for distribution before the year is over. Some of these will likely be major hits as well, including Godzilla, Tom Cruise's Edge of Tomorrow, the Wachowski-directed sci-fi film Jupiter Ascending, and distribution deals for Christopher Nolan's Interstellar (where Warner Bros. is distributing internationally) and The Hobbit: There and Back Again.
Blockbuster hits and where to find them
In addition to its 2014 slate, Warner Bros. recently made a major announcement regarding the continuation of its "Harry Potter" franchise. While plans had previously been announced to turn the supplementary "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" book into a feature film, a New York Times feature on Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara recently revealed that the project was now planned to be a trilogy of films following the adventures of Newt Scamander, a "magizoologist" who was active 70 years before the beginning of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.
Given the success of the "Harry Potter" films, this new trilogy set in the same universe should be a significant draw (though whether it will come close to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II's $1.34 billion global box office remains to be seen). Acting as an "extension" of the wizarding world portrayed in the "Harry Potter" books and films, the first movie may be the first to show wizards in North America (as it reportedly opens in New York City) and will contain adventures that could very well shape the world in which the "Harry Potter" adventures take place.
Super friends on film
Another major announcement is expected soon regarding Warner's DC Comics film properties. The announcement is said to refer to a "film series" and will likely include a "Justice League" film, which will help Warner to stand tall against Disney's (NYSE:DIS) Marvel Studios and its "Avengers" franchise. This shouldn't come as much of a surprise since Warner Bros. is working on the "Batman vs. Superman" follow-up to last year's $668 million hit Man of Steel, though the scope of the series will be interesting to see.
Originally, it had been announced that there would be a "Flash" film in 2016 between the Man of Steel sequel and a "Justice League" outing, but little has been said about that since it was first mentioned. With the 10-month delay of "Batman vs. Superman" and actress Gal Gadot being signed to a three-film contract as Wonder Woman (presumably for "Batman vs. Superman," the "Justice League" movie, and a "Wonder Woman" solo film), many assumed that Warner's attention had shifted to building off of the "Batman vs. Superman" casting.
When the full DC Comics film slate is announced, possibly this July at Comic Con, it may be larger than some expect. Warner Bros. may be planning yearly films that are slated for the next several years (similar to how Marvel Studios has two films per year planned through at least 2018).
How long will this prosperity last?
The good news for Warner Bros. is that its box office success shows few signs of slowing anytime soon. Some of the studio's upcoming films such as Godzilla, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and Mad Max: Fury Road could easily net sequels (or launch new franchises) if successful, and provided that the studio can get a firm grip on its budding DC Comics universe it should see a profitable franchise there as well.
The remainder of 2014 and much of 2015 should bring significant profit to Warner Bros., and future sequels such as The LEGO Movie 2, DC Comics films, and potential Godzilla or Mad Max sequels should create major releases for several years beyond that. Assuming that the studio adds additional strong films to its slate in the coming years, it should continue seeing major hits throughout the year for several years into the future.
John Casteele 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.