For the film industry 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 expectations.
Next to Universal, Warner Brothers (a subsidiary of Time Warner (NYSE:TWX)) had the best start to 2014 as two of its three wide releases took the box office by storm. The company also experimented with a video on demand (VOD) option that made fans of a certain TV show very happy. With a summer slate that includes eight mainstream releases, will the success continue?
You can't talk about Warner without mentioning the elephant in the room ... just in this case it's made out of Legos. The Lego Movie absolutely dominated. Produced for $60 million -- a steal given the time and effort that clearly went into it -- the movie grossed nearly $445 million worldwide while sitting on top of the box office for three straight weeks. Lego (of course) has a sequel and potential spinoff on the way, which means this will be a lucrative franchise for the studio.
But it wasn't just Lego for Warner Brothers. In the first quarter, it also released 300: Rise of an Empire and Veronica Mars. Rise of an Empire earned over $328 million worldwide, impressive given that the sequel didn't have the same stars as the original and the concept was harder to develop given 300's finite ending.
The big-screen version of teen TV drama Veronica Mars obviously didn't approach those numbers, but it was largely paid for by crowd-funding. The movie got a limited run in theaters, and with an undisclosed profit from video-on-demand (VOD), it made a mark on the industry.
Meanwhile the less said about the studio's Winter's Tale the better as the romantic drama was frozen out by audiences. The Valentine's Day weekend release couldn't find any traction and it wasn't hard to see why. The film bombed thanks to a convoluted plot and stiff competition. Even industry experts had a hard time explaining what this film was about.
Warner's summer slate is front-loaded with most of its assumed blockbusters coming at the start of the season. Among those are Godzilla, Blended, Jersey Boys, and Tammy, which are all expected to be well received by audiences. Godzilla kicks of the slate this weekend and is tracking high thanks to positive early buzz. Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston leads the ensemble, which includes Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, and Ashley Olsen. This could be a rare case in which 3D truly enhances the experience for audiences, not just sucks more dollars from them.
In lighter fare, the studio also has two comedies featuring talented duos. The bankable combo of Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore reunite for the third time with Blended, the story of two single parents stuck together on vacation in Africa with their respective clans. Early tracking here has not been positive.
Melissa McCarthy will look to follow up on her success with last summer's The Heat by teaming with Susan Sarandon for Tammy. The comedy opens over the July 4 weekend and centers on a down-on-her-luck woman who reluctantly takes a road trip with her aunt.
Warner Brothers has two of the summer's riskiest projects in Tom Cruise's Edge of Tomorrow and the Wachowskis' Jupiter Ascending. Tomorrow is essentially a futuristic war version of Groundhog Day and Jupiter is the latest opus from the pair behind The Matrix. Both have detractors as many aren't sure what kind of juice Cruise and the Wachowskis still have at the box office. The failure of Jack Reacher and Cloud Atlas took a lot of wind out of the sails of the one-time A-listers and the studio is banking on a return to form this summer.
While both of those films carry high budgets and high expectations, the biggest question mark may be Jersey Boys. One of Broadway's best-received musicals of all time is getting the big-screen treatment, but with Clint Eastwood as its director. Nothing against the Oscar winner (who clearly has proved his prowess on both sides of the camera), but it seems like as odd choice for the Unforgiven star to be helming a musical. Jersey should find an audience, but don't pick it in your Oscar pool.
Although the film is one of Warner's big awards plays for 2014, the Academy hasn't recognized Eastwood with so much as a nomination since 2007's Letters From Iwo Jima. But reaction to the first trailer and early footage from CinemaCon was positive so it's possible the buzz could grow.
Warner's release schedule overall is nicely structured -- almost like the studio is bracing itself in case one or two of its tentpoles fail to launch big. Still it's going to be imperative for Godzilla to get off to a good start this weekend to set the pace for the rest of its slate.
This August is shaping up to be one of the cinema's strongest in years. Warner's two entries that month -- Into The Storm and If I Stay -- are lower profile than Disney's Guardians of the Galaxy and Lionsgate's Expendables 3. So look for Warner to strike it big at the beginning of the summer and hold its breath at the end.
Brett Gold has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. 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.