With more than $3.3 billion earned at the global box office in 2013, films based on comic-book franchises have never been more popular. Now that 2013 is behind us, it is time for comic fans, moviegoers, and investors alike to know what 2014 has in store. Let's take a closer look at Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS), Lions Gate Entertainment (NYSE:LGF-A), Twenty-First Century Fox (NASDAQ:FOXA), Viacom (NASDAQ:VIAB), and Sony's (NYSE:SNE) Columbia Pictures have up their sleeves.
The first film to get the ball rolling will be the Jan. 24, 2014 release of a small Australian-American film entitled I, Frankenstein based on the graphic novel of the same name. In it, Frankenstein's monster, also confusingly named Frankenstein, survives to a dystopian present day and is involved in a centuries-old war between demons and gargoyles. Shareholders of distributor Lions Gate Entertainment(NYSE:LGF-A) should not expect much at all from this film.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The first major comic-book film of the year will be the April 4, 2014 release Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Set two years after the events of Marvel's The Avengers, this is Walt Disney's(NYSE:DIS) ninth entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In the film Captain America, Black Widow and ally the Falcon find themselves in a global conspiracy involving S.H.I.E.L.D. and a new, yet familiar enemy, the Winter Soldier.
Coming off of Iron Man 3's $1.2 billion box office returns and the $627 million and counting of Thor: The Dark World, Disney's The Winter Soldier is one of two comic-book films that will likely be the highest-grossing of 2014.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 would be the second film likely to vie for the title of highest-grossing comic-book film of the year. Set to be released on May 2, 2014, this sequel to The Amazing Spider-Man reboot has some high expectations after the previous film grossed more than $752 million at the box office in 2012.
This film is of huge importance for Sony's(NYSE:SNE) Colombia Pictures, which hopes to use this film to create a larger story universe akin to Disney's Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is the second of a planned three Spider-Man films and will also help to springboard the launch of two recently announced Sony spin-off films focusing on Spider-Man villains The Sinister Six and Venom.
In the film, the X-Men of the present day (X-Men, X-Men: X2, X-Men: The Last Stand) will join forces with the X-Men of the past (X-Men: First Class) to prevent a disastrous future for all mutant/humankind. If that brief plot synopsis seems complicated and a bit convoluted, that's because it is.
Of all of the major comic-book films produced recently, Days of Future Past certainly seems the most comic-book like with its time travel story elements. It remains to be seen how the general movie-going public will respond to such a concept. On a personal note though, this is the comic-book film I am most looking forward to in 2014.
Guardians of the Galaxy
Disney's Guardians of the Galaxy will certainly be one of the most ambitious films of the year when it is released on Aug. 1, 2014. This superhero-action sci-fi epic set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe involves a team of unlikely heroes from across the galaxy as they battle the forces of Thanos. The character of Thanos was last seen in 2012 smiling menacingly during the final few seconds of The Avengers.
And when I say unlikely team of heroes, I really mean it. Guardians of the Galaxy has an ensemble cast of human and humanoid characters played by Parks and Recreation actor Chris Pratt, Star Trek actress Zoe Saldana, and former WWE wrestler Dave Bautista (to name a few). In addition to the live-action cast, it will also feature computer-generated characters such as a 23-foot tall tree-like creature voiced by Vin Diesel, as well as a four-foot tall genetically engineered anthropomorphic raccoon with a serious chip on his shoulder voiced by Bradley Cooper.
I take back what I said about Days of Future Past. Guardians of the Galaxy will definitely be the most comic-book like film of the bunch!
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Initially planned to be released sometime in 2012, then planned for Christmas 2013, and now planned for Aug. 8, 2014 -- that is rarely a good sign -- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is the controversial comic-book film reboot from Viacom's(NASDAQ:VIAB) Nickelodeon Films. "How on earth can a film about four anthropomorphized turtles possible be controversial," you might be asking yourself? Well, when Michael Bay and childhood-fan nostalgia are involved, these things tend to happen.
As primarily a children's franchise made into a film presumably aimed at nostalgic 20-year-old to 30-year-old men, fans and even past TMNT actors have objected -- sometimes graphically so -- to creative changes that included dropping the "Teenage Mutant" from the title and reimagining the characters as an alien race of turtle-like beings. After initially taking fans and fan criticism head-on, Michael Bay has since retracted his comments, reinstated the original title, and insisted that the characters will not be aliens. Not exactly the best way to begin the first of three planned films, is it?
Big Hero 6
The final comic book film of the year is also the only comic-book film explicitly made with children in mind. Big Hero 6 is Disney's newest 3D computer-animated action-comedy adventure film. The story follows 13-year-old robotics genius Hiro Hamada as he deals with the murder of his older brother. Together with his robot, a determined Hiro must team up with other young aspiring heroes to discover the identity of his brother's killer.
Scheduled to be released on Nov. 7, 2014, Big Hero 6 is the 54th film in the Walt Disney Animated Classics series and the first of what are sure to be many Disney animated films to feature Marvel characters. Big Hero 6 is not very well known even among comic book readers, which is why this is possibly a sleeper hit in the making. With the more traditionally kid-friendly superheroes going in a darker direction -- particularly Time Warner's horribly depressing Man of Steel Superman reboot -- there are not many superhero movies that parents would feel comfortable taking their young children to see.
With the grittiness of a Marvel property but the family friendly magic associated with animated Disney films, Big Hero 6 has the potential to appeal to moviegoers of all ages.