No longer is it fair to call sci-fi "fantasy," and horror programming "niche". Not when it's likely that 100 million or more fans around the world will take to the the Internet, TV, and the movie theater to watch The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special, "The Day of the Doctor," this weekend.
Live ratings in dead TV
Frankly, this should be obvious. All manner of sci-fi movies and TV shows are performing well. Take Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which has received more than its share of criticism yet has substantially improved the Tuesday night fortunes of Walt Disney's ABC television network. Over at AMC Networks, The Walking Dead routinely draws 12 million viewers per episode, making it cable's most-watched show and one of the most popular dramas on all of television. The show's success has spurred a spinoff, due to begin airing in 2015. At the movies, seven of the top 10 worldwide grossers tracked by Box Office Mojo are either superhero, sci-fi, or fantasy films.
This stock is catching fire
Some headlines peg star Jennifer Lawrence's payday for Catching Fire at near $10 million. A win for her and her agent, to be sure. But what about Lions Gate Entertainment (NYSE:LGF-A)? The studio effectively doubled the budget for The Hunger Games in making the sequel, and early reports predict the film will earn at least $161 million. Why such a specific number? The Dark Knight Rises earned $160.8 million in its 2012 debut and ranks as the highest 2-D opening of all time. Analysts see Catching Fire taking the crown.
What might that mean in terms of foot traffic? Using $8 as the average price per ticket sold would have Catching Fire drawing 20.1 million fans to U.S. theaters alone. Overseas territories are likely to bring millions more to the cinema. Let's hope so. Success could create a tailwind for other Lions Gate properties, such as Divergent, and boost returns for investors who like the company's edgy fare.
Bigger on the inside, outside, and everywhere
Doctor Who returns to the BBC and its various partner channels for the 50th anniversary special this Saturday. The show is likely to be actor Matt Smith's last appearance as the 11th doctor, giving way to Peter Capaldi. (Editor's note: Smith will actually be leaving following the annual Christmas special. Tim and the Fool regret the error,) "The Day of the Doctor" has the title character dealing with his other selves, regenerated reflections of his past in what seems to be a Rubik's Cube of a paradox. A perfect situation for the clever, dark, brilliant, troubled, 1,000-year-old Time Lord.
There's plenty of social media support for the premiere. YouTube has spent the week celebrating the show via some of its most popular channels, including Nerdist and EmergencyAwesome. Discovery Communications' (NASDAQ:DISCK) BBC America plans a live pre-show simulcast on the Internet and via its cable channel, which is scoring its highest ratings ever thanks to its association with the quirky Time Lord. Here in suburban Colorado, I know of at least two watch parties among primary and middle school "Whovians," as we fans of the show like to be known.
Sci-fi's 100 million fan army
Globally, Doctor Who tends to draw 77 million viewers, including anywhere from 6-10 million per episode in the United Kingdom. Just what you'd expect from the world's most successful sci-fi franchise, as calculated by The Guinness Book of World Records. Add in another 23 million for Catching Fire, perfectly plausible when you consider enthusiasm for the film here in the U.S., and you've at least 100 million tuning it to sci-fi for the weekend's entertainment.
I'll be among them. Will you? Tell us all about your favorite sci-fi franchises in the comments box below.
Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team and the Motley Fool Supernova Odyssey I mission. He owned shares of Walt Disney at the time of publication. Check out Tim's web home and portfolio holdings or connect with him on Google+, Tumblr, or Twitter, where he goes by @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader.
The Motley Fool recommends AMC Networks, Discovery Communications, 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.