Summer 2014 has already seen the release of some big cinematic movies. Sony's The Amazing Spider-Man kicked off the blockbuster movie season way back at the beginning of May. Warner Bros. Godzilla next had a monstrous opener, but its legs were cut short by X-Men: Days of Future Past. The ensemble mutant actioner from Twenty-First Century Fox currently stands as the summer's biggest success story, reinvigorating the series and earning impressive overseas numbers. Meanwhile, Disney's (NYSE:DIS) Maleficent looks to be a solid performer on track for an approximately $500 million performance, much akin to 2013's Oz: The Great and Powerful.
With these big hitters already taking their opening bows, attention turns to the summer's remaining high-profile films. DreamWorks Animation's (NASDAQ:DWA) How to Train Your Dragon 2 opens this weekend, and the company has a lot riding on the film. Will the family pic meet expectations? Does it have a shot at outearning Transformers 4: Age of Extinction and becoming the highest-grossing movie of the summer?
Positive critical and audience reception will light a fire for Dragon 2
The first How to Train Your Dragon film opened in 2010 and would become a breakout hit, generating approximately $500 million in global box office take. The movie benefited from a marketable cast of characters, an accessible aesthetic, and great word of mouth. The sequel looks to ratchet these elements up a notch, with critical reception in particular looking much stronger for the second film. Just days before How to Train Your Dragon 2's official release, the film currently enjoys 100% positive average on review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes.
Word of mouth should be more beneficial to How to Train Your Dragon 2 than any other big-budget movie this summer. While the May and early June release windows were crowded with high-profile flicks that evidenced degrees of cannibalization, the newest movie in the Dragon series will enjoy two full weeks at the American box office before the arrival of the next megamovie. Viacom (NASDAQ:VIA) and Paramount's Transformers: Age of Extinction opens June 27, and currently stands as the favorite to rack up this summer's highest box office total. How to Train Your Dragon 2 looks to benefit from being the most high-profile family film of the summer, and by far the most notable animated release. The next film in the release pipe with the chance to do big things in the family demographic looks to be Earth to Echo, which doesn't open until July 2.
Look for DreamWorks' dragons to have legs
Tracking from May pegged the high-flying sequel for a $55 million to $70 million opening weekend. Performing at the top end of such projections would be a strong start for the film, but there are reasons to believe it can beat expectations. Even if the film were to open with more muted numbers, the past few years have shown successful family films to be less frontloaded than other blockbuster counterparts. Disney's Frozen opened with approximately $67 million at the domestic box office before climbing to a North American total of approximately $400 million and a worldwide gross of approximately $1.245 billion.
How big will series growth be?
With strong audience favorability for the first How to Train Your Dragon, excellent critical reception to the second, and a lack of high-profile competition, I like the DreamWorks film to cross $800 million internationally, and think that it has an outside shot of nearing the $1 billion mark. Admittedly, that puts my projections at the upper range of expectations, but the film's ingredients make it an attractive candidate for overperformance.
How much cash will the Transformers rev up this time?
Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon was the highest-grossing film in the series, generating approximately $1.12 billion at the global box office. Whether July's Age of Extinction can improve on this total remains unclear. The series' domestic haul peaked with the second installment at approximately $429 million before delivering approximately $352 million with Moon. The new Transformers film should perform exceptionally well in China. The series 2011 entry stands as one of the country's highest-grossing films, and the Chinese market has grown considerably since that third Autobot outing. Declining domestic totals being offset by growth overseas is a trend that has already been evident this summer for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and X-Men: Days of Future Past.
Even if it's not summer's No.1, Dragon 2 will win for DreamWorks...
When it's all said and done, Transformers: Age of Extinction will likely hoist the summer's box office crown. The film has a great shot of approaching its predecessor's earnings, or even surpassing them. Still, How to Train Your Dragon 2 should emerge as one of the season's biggest winners. Even if the series' second outing fails to near the $1 billion mark, the already announced How to Train Your Dragon 3 should get a reenergized crack at the box office gold standard in 2016. The franchise is a major winner for DreamWorks Animation.
Keith Noonan 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.