When the first trailer for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from Viacom's (NASDAQ:VIA) Paramount Pictures was released, fan reactions were mixed. This isn't the first time that the film has been divisive, however; from out-of-context statements from Michael Bay leading some to think that the titular turtles would be aliens to complaints about the character design adding nostrils to the turtles' beaks, at least a portion of the filmgoing public has been calling the movie a surefire flop since before filming began.
With that said, Ninja Turtles will likely be a major release for Paramount and executives are hopeful that it is the start of a new franchise of "Transformers" proportions. Will the film perform strongly enough to dominate the August box office, or is the draw of the turtles just not that strong?
Paramount's summer slate
This summer is likely to be a strong one for Paramount, with Transformers: Age of Extinction releasing on June 27, followed by the Dwayne Johnson-starring Hercules on July 25 and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on Aug. 8.
The "Transformers" franchise has performed well at the box office with each of the previous installments, and despite some longtime fans disliking the direction that the films have taken the characters, Age of Extinction should see a strong box office showing with the introduction of a new leading man (Mark Wahlberg, replacing Shia LaBeouf as the human friend of the Transformers) and the new threat of the Dinobots. While no one knows whether the film will top the $1.12 billion worldwide take of Transformers: Dark of the Moon, there's little doubt that the new sequel will have a strong showing.
Hercules is the biggest unknown of the three films, since it's not a sequel or a reboot of an existing franchise. There has been some positive buzz surrounding the film, however, especially in comparison to January's The Legend of Hercules. While that filmed bombed, earning only $44 million worldwide, Paramount's take on the character will likely stand strong as one of its summer tentpoles.
This puts Paramount in a good position for a blockbuster season that's already seen its first certified hit from Disney's (NYSE:DIS) Marvel Studios: Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Earning $75.2 million in 32 territories in the week before its U.S. release, the latest entry in the Marvel cinematic universe made it clear that there was definitely money to be made this year.
Rebooting the turtles
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were last seen on the big screen in 2007's TMNT from Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX.DL) Warner Bros. studio. Earning $95.6 million worldwide on a $34 million budget, the animated film did well commercially but received mixed reviews and plans for a possible sequel were eventually dropped. Viacom's Nickelodeon purchased all rights to the characters two years later, essentially closing the door on that film universe.
Though it has been seven years since TMNT (and a full 24 years since the first live-action film was released), the Turtles have remained popular both in comics and animated form. It only makes sense that the franchise's new owner would want to capitalize on this popularity on the big screen, partnering with Michael Bay and Brad Fuller's Platinum Dunes for that company's first non-horror offering.
The new film uses CGI in place of animatronic costumes to create the non-human cast, replacing much of the original live-action film's comedy with a bit more action-oriented fare (though it is still aimed at younger audiences that enjoy the "Transformers" movies).
Turtles vs. aliens
In the weeks following the release of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, there's not a lot of competition that's aimed at the same target audience. Both Lion's Gate Entertainment's (NYSE:LGF-A) The Expendables 3 and the Weinstein Company's Sin City: A Dame to Kill For come out in the following weeks, but both films court older audiences, so they aren't likely to make much of a dent in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' box office.
There is one potential threat to Ninja Turtles in August, though: Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy. Another part of the company's Marvel cinematic universe, it opens a week before Ninja Turtles and targets a large portion of the same audience. While many consider it to be one of the riskiest Marvel films to date, it could very well get a box office bump from the success of The Winter Soldier and the positive response that its first trailer received.
The battle for August
Both Guardians of the Galaxy and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are likely going to show a strong performance in August. As much as some would like to see one or both films underperform, the strength of their franchises and their release toward the end of summer vacation puts them in a prime position to reap the rewards of additional showings (due to summer matinees), kids getting ready to head back to school, and what's sure to be heavy marketing.
The big question is which film will do better. If Guardians of the Galaxy has a strong enough opening and gets enough positive buzz, it could potentially beat out Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the latter's opening weekend. While that won't stop either film from seeing significant returns in the August box office, it could still hurt the Turtles' box office if more of the film's target audience wants to see a talking raccoon than a bunch of talking turtles.