It's not often you see a movie exceeding $1 billion in global box office sales.
Of the nearly 700 films released over the past year, only two were able to do so. Curiously enough, both came from the creative minds at The Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS): First with $1.125 billion last summer from Disney Marvel's Iron Man 3, and more recently with $1.11 billion (and counting) from Walt Disney Animation's Frozen.
In fact, Disney accounts for seven of the 18 films that have ever managed to top the $1 billion mark worldwide -- unadjusted for inflation, that is -- with some of its other massive titles including Marvel's The Avengers, Pixar's Toy Story 3, and two films from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.
But this begs the question: What will Disney's next $1 billion movie be?
I think investors and movie fans need look no further than the May 30 debut of Maleficent:
If the name sounds familiar, it's because Maleficent is the same thorn-manifesting, dragon-morphing, prince-kidnapping antagonist you've known and loathed ever since Disney first released Sleeping Beauty in 1959.
This in mind, nobody can guarantee Maleficent will ultimately be massive enough to reach $1 billion at the box office this year. But I love its chances considering Disney enlisted the exceptional writing talents of Linda Woolverton, whose work includes 1994's The Lion King and 2010's Alice in Wonderland. Even unadjusted for inflation, The Lion King achieved an incredible $987.5 million in worldwide box office sales 20 years ago, while Alice in Wonderland managed to reach $1.025 billion.
Regarding the latter, it appears Disney has identified an intriguing recipe for success: spend buckets of money to create convincing live-action takes on classic animated properties. While Disney hasn't released official production budget numbers for Maleficent, it seems fair to assume it must be in the neighborhood of the $200 million Disney spent bringing Alice in Wonderland to life.
Only this time, Disney has replaced Johnny Depp's supporting role as the Mad Hatter with Angelina Jolie headlining as Maleficent. Just take a look at Maleficent's latest goosebump-inducing trailer:
What's more, there's a notable lack of closely scheduled big-budget competition for Maleficent in its crucial first weekends.
By the time Maleficent is released in the U.S., News Corp's (NASDAQ:NWS) 20th Century Fox will have already enjoyed the spoils of X-Men: Days of Future Past for a full week. Meanwhile, the only other film simultaneously entering wide release will be Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) Universal's A Million Ways to Die in The West.
Nobody expects Comcast's western comedy to set any records, but X-Men: Days of Future Past could be huge -- and it had better be for the sake of News Corp., which is rumored to have spent upwards of $240 million on the production. But even then, it's not as though the target audiences will overlap to a great degree between News Corp's mutant-powered action flick and Disney's princess-infused fantasy.
After that, it's not until three weekends following Maleficent's release audiences will be able to enjoy DreamWorks Animation's (NASDAQ:DWA) worthy sequel in How to Train Your Dragon 2. By the time DreamWorks tries its hand at grabbing movie-goers' attention, Maleficent will have already secured the lions share of its early sales.
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What do you think? Will Maleficent be able to reach $1 billion in total sales? Even coming close would be a huge win for Disney, which has already rewarded investors handsomely by nearly quadrupling over the past five years alone.
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Steve Symington has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends DreamWorks Animation and 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.