Year's end means looking forward as well as looking back. In that spirit, today I'm offering six specific predictions for what we'll see at the worldwide box office in 2014. Will I be proved right or wrong? Read on, and then leave a comment to let me know what you think.
1. Guardians of the Galaxy will be the summer's surprise hit. We know from earlier reports that Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige sees the process of creating Guardians as similar to his team's early work on the 2008 breakout hit Iron Man. The difference this time, of course, is that there's less pressure with Walt Disney's (NYSE:DIS) resources and distribution network at Marvel's disposal. Meanwhile, director James Gunn is a well-known comic book fan -- another good sign when you look at box office history. Guardians of the Galaxy opens on Aug.1 in the U.S.
2. Chris Pine's Jack Ryan won't resonate with moviegoers, killing what was once a golden franchise. I can't be the only one who grew up reading Tom Clancy novels. In those stories, Jack Ryan wasn't a James Bond clone but rather a CIA analyst forced to confront uncomfortable circumstances. No longer. In Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, director Kenneth Branagh teases the character as an analyst before unveiling an explosive story wherein Chris Pine's Ryan "isn't an analyst anymore." Viacom's (NASDAQ:VIAB) Paramount Pictures will distribute the thriller, which hits U.S. theaters on Jan. 17. The studio's last try at cashing in on the late author's work -- 2002's The Sum of All Fears -- earned a solid $193.9 million worldwide on a $68 million production budget.
3. Aaron Paul won't be enough to save Need for Speed from bombing. Did you know that DreamWorks Studios is adapting Electronic Arts' acclaimed video game franchise in concert with Disney's Touchstone Pictures and Reliance Entertainment? No? You aren't alone. At the time of writing, only 2,752 users at Rotten Tomatoes said they want to see the film. By contrast, 55,158 said they still want to see Fast & Furious 7, postponed for the moment due to the untimely and tragic death of actor Paul Walker.
4. Godzilla suffers the Pacific Rim effect. As much as I want this film to succeed, it suffers from two glaring problems. First, history: Pacific Rim -- a similar genre film -- needed a huge overseas haul in order to make break-even and Godzilla has a reported $160 million budget. Second, moviegoers don't seem interested. Only 6,256 people on Rotten Tomatoes said they wanted to see the film at the time of writing. Production partners Time Warner (NYSE:TWX.DL) and Legendary Pictures are going to need a huge turnout to win big with this giant monster.
5. X-Men: Days of Future Past fails to justify its massive production budget. High expectations and huge budgets can kill a film's chances for profit. Early buzz for Days of Future Past is positive enough that it's likely to avoid outright failure, which I'd say (gulp) is anything less than $700 million in worldwide grosses. Sorry, 21st Century Fox, but that's what you face when you spend on the order of $220 million to produce your film -- and that's before prints and advertising costs. Also, keep in mind that its predecessor, X-Men: First Class, earned just $353.6 million worldwide on a $160 million budget. Fox is asking a lot of director Bryan Singer.
6. The Hobbit: There and Back Again out-earns the first Mockingjay. I've left the boldest 2014 box office prediction for last. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire has already outperformed its predecessor while the latest in The Hobbit series -- The Desolation of Smaug -- is tracking about 15% below the prior entry. Why would the equation reverse itself in 2014? Two reasons. First, the title: There and Back Again is familiar nomenclature to fans who've read Tolkien and even those who casually remember the Lord of the Rings prequel. Second, taste. While the first two Hunger Games books are action-packed, Mockingjay slows the pace. Lionsgate has nevertheless chosen to adapt the story over two films. Keeping audiences engaged could prove to be a challenge.
Now it's your turn to weigh in. What are your 2014 box office predictions? Which studios do you expect to thrive? Which will struggle? Leave a comment below, and a Happy Foolish New Year to you and your family.
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 and Time Warner 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.
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