Is Universal Positioned to Crush the 2014 Summer Movie Season?

Summer means big business. Every studio spends months meticulously planning their summer schedules and then it's up to moviegoers to decide the winners and losers. Join us as we break down each studio's roster of films and the odds of success. 

Universal (a subsidiary of Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA  ) ) has seven films on the slate for summer 2014 and in a rare case, only one of them is a sequel or remake. The studio's lineup has something for almost every demographic (sorry, young kids). 

The past

Universal might be off to the best start of any studio. In January, Lone Survivor hit number one in its first week of expanded screenings, followed immediately by Ride Along and its three-week reign atop the charts. The result? Better than $100 million in U.S. grosses. Ride Along has spawned a sequel and helped cement the bankability of lead actor Kevin Hart.

Credit: Universal

The following month Universal turned to teenagers and the Valentine's Day romantic drama Endless Love. While not a monster hit, the movie looks to have broken even and served as a nice bridge to Liam Neeson's thriller in the air, Non-Stop, which powered its way to over $175 in worldwide ticket sales.

All number courtesy of

Altogether that's over $300 million in ticket sales worldwide and all with films made for $50 million or less. It's quite an accomplishment and one that resulted in five weeks of topping the charts. It's rare for a studio to go three-for-three and even rarer to do it without breaking the bank. Universal is in a great position to keep that hot streak going this summer and become profitable for parent company Comcast.

The future

The studio's biggest releases are on two opposite ends of the spectrum. Following on the success of Ted, Universal is reteaming with Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane for A Million Ways to Die in The West, an adaptation of a novel he wrote. The comedy ensemble also stars MacFarlane and is expected to play to his core 18-49 demographic. The movie's only competition that week will be Disney's Maleficent, which is aimed a much younger audience. West has the potential to match Ted's strong run a few years ago and if so would be a huge financial boon for the studio.

Credit: Universal

Fast forwarding to August, Universal releases the most serious film on its roster, Get On Up. Starring Chadwick Boseman (who fronted the studio's Jackie Robinson bio-pic 42 last year), the drama tells the story of the Godfather of Soul James Brown. Universal will be gunning to get this film into award season contention, and a summer release ensures the drama has a shot at profitability as well. As with WestUp will go head-to-head with another Disney tentpole (Guardians of the Galaxy), but should be fine as they targeting different demos.

Other highlights from Universal's slate include the Seth Rogen/Zac Efron family vs. frat comedy Neighbors, Karl Urban and James Marsden's psychological thriller The Loft, horror film As Above, So Below, and The Purge: Anarchy, a sequel to last summer's sleeper hit. Analysts are also buzzing about Lucy, the Scarlett Johansson/Morgan Freeman action film team-up from Luc Besson, director of The Professional and The Fifth Element.

The risk

This is an ambitious slate and the studio and Comcast know it won't go seven for seven this summer. There is a lot of risk in play here, especially considering the apparent collapse of the horror film genre in the first quarter of 2014. Purge and Below fall squarely in that realm -- in other years, they'd be seen as likely hits, but audiences have spurned similar films.The Quiet Ones' terrible opening a few weeks back should temper expectations here. On a more positive note, some worried that a trend toward more wholesome fare could be a bad sign for Neighbors and The West. But Neighbors opened last weekend to a boffo $50+ million, which is good sign for West. 

Credit: Universal

You can also expect Get On Up to match the appeal of 42 and make a solid impact with audiences, provided it gets the same level of critical support. While 42 ultimately was blanketed by award voters, it also had an April release day, which is not normally conducive to gunning for a Oscar. Get On Up releases Aug. 1, which is a more typical time for Oscar-hungry movies. Even though Oscar films don't necessarily translate into big profits for their studios, it helps draw talent for future projects, and that can be just as important to studios and investors.

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