In 2013, The Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS) grossed an incredible $1.711 billion in domestic box office receipts, behind only the $1.867 billion achieved by Time Warner (NYSE:TWX.DL) and its subsidiaries.
Disney's total came with the help of just 17 films, of which 10 were actually released during the calendar year. By contrast, Time Warner benefited from a total of 35 movies on the big screen in 2013, 26 of which launched after Jan. 1.
In short, while Disney didn't rule the box office in absolute numbers last year, each of its films packed a significantly bigger punch. So big, in fact, that four of Disney's films made last year's top 10 in Iron Man 3, Monster's University, Frozen, and Oz The Great and Powerful.
And even with no Pixar movies slated for release this year -- the first time that's happened since 2005, by the way -- 2014 should be much the same with 13 new Disney films on their way.
In order of appearance, here are the five I think will perform the best:
1. Muppets Most Wanted
With the launch of Muppets Most Wanted on March 21, Disney will unleash everyone's favorite puppets on the big screen for the first time since their namesake movie in late 2011.
But instead of putting them alongside Jason Segel and Amy Adams, this time audiences will enjoy the sarcastic musings of Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, and Tina Fey.
So how might Muppets Most Wanted fare? The 2011 hit took in "just" $88.6 million in the U.S., but also enjoyed a favorable reception overseas to bring its worldwide total to $165.2 million. That might not sound like much, but The Muppets proved more than worth Disney's investment given its modest $45 million budget.
Disney hasn't provided an official budget for Muppets Most Wanted yet, but it seems fair to assume the latest price tag shouldn't be all that much higher. What's more, Muppets Most Wanted arrives a comfortable two weeks after DreamWorks Animation's (NASDAQ:DWA) Mr. Peabody & Sherman, and three weeks before Blue Sky Studios' Rio 2. That should give it plenty of time to rack up the lion's share of its sales with a captive target audience.
2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Then on April 4, Disney Marvel is pulling out the big guns with Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
I don't expect this sequel to match the box office heroics of last year's Iron Man 3, which ended as 2013's highest grossing movie with $409 million domestically and $1.215 billion worldwide.
But I do expect Captain America 2 to improve on its $145 million predecessor, which took in just $176.6 million in the U.S. and $370.6 million globally. That makes it the second-lowest grossing movie in the current Marvel Cinematic Universe, ahead of only 2008's The Incredible Hulk.
So why I do I think it'll outperform this time? For one, Disney not only upped the ante by spending $25 million more to produce Winter Soldier, but also knows Captain America today enjoys a significantly larger built-in fanbase thanks to the $1.5 billion blockbuster that is The Avengers.
As for Cap's competition, Divergent arrives just two weeks prior, but that won't do much to keep die-hard Marvelites away. Meanwhile, Sony (NYSE:SNE) Pictures' The Amazing Spider-Man 2 won't hit theaters until May 2, once again giving Disney plenty of time to run up the score.
Next, beginning on May 30, Angelina Jolie will portray one of Disney's most famous antagonists in Maleficent.
Jolie also served as executive producer on set alongside Joe Roth, who most recently lent his producing talents to other successful live-action fairy tale renditions including Disney's Alice in Wonderland, Comcast Universal's Snow White and the Huntsman, and Oz the Great and Powerful.
Of the three, you can bet Disney would most love to replicate the success of Alice in Wonderland, which ultimately grossed an astounding $1.025 billion worldwide in 2010.
If you're having trouble recalling Maleficent's role in Disney history, perhaps this will refresh your memory:
Maleficent will need to compete with the week-earlier release of Fox's X-Men: Days of Future Past, but something tells me it'll have little trouble approaching Alice's stellar performance if Disney keeps pumping out goosebump-inducing trailers like that.
4. Guardians of the Galaxy
As a Marvel geek myself, I'm most excited about Disney's Aug. 1 debut of Guardians of the Galaxy.
From left to right in the picture above, you're looking at Avatar's Zoe Saldana, Parks and Recreation's Chris Pratt, (the voice of) Bradley Cooper, WWE wrestler Dave Bautista, and -- in a manner of speaking -- Vin Diesel.
Even if Guardians' success seems a foregone conclusion operating in the same universe as The Avengers, it easily contains the strangest set of characters Marvel has attempted to bring to life so far. That's why I argued last month it was time for Disney to really start hyping the film, and why I was happy when its first official trailer was released earlier this week. Even now, the comics world still seems to be in a frenzy.
Guardians' biggest challenge will lie in maintaining its box office momentum in the face of the Aug. 8 release of Viacom Paramount's promising live-action reboot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. However, similar to Captain America: The Winter Soldier's delayed clash with Divergent, it's hard to imagine TMNT being a significant hurdle for Marvel's latest franchise-to-be.
5. Big Hero 6
Finally, Disney will introduce yet another Marvel team on Nov. 7 with the debut of Big Hero 6.
Only this time, it'll come from the brilliant minds at Walt Disney Animation Studios, the same group responsible for a little film we know as Frozen.
Unfortunately, details are short with Big Hero 6 still so far away. But Disney has made it clear it will star a robotics prodigy, his closest robot companion, and a "reluctant team of first-time crime fighters" trying to thwart a plot to destroy a high-tech city named San Fransokyo. Most importantly, audiences have been promised it will feature "comic-book style action and all the heart and humor audiences expect from Walt Disney Animation Studios."
On a more worrisome note, Big Hero 6 will need to contend with Lions Gate's The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 opening two weeks later. That still shouldn't be much of a problem, though, if Big Hero 6 can even partially replicate Frozen's incredible staying power, which has resulted in a nearly $1 billion worldwide run since its record-setting launch last November.
Steve Symington 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.