The battle for the summer box office is about more than wracking up the biggest dollar total. The year's blockbuster movie season is an opportunity to put forth new films to added fanfare and an eager public. This means that new properties have the potential to enjoy an explosive launch, but the big budget, spectacle-heavy nature of the competition stage means that there is also the possibility for tremendous misfires. So far, the summer is looking disappointing for Time Warner (NYSE:TWX.DL).
Warner's Godzilla revival may be turning in a respectable performance, but the rest of the company's original summer slate now looks problematic. The Tom Cruise-led, futuristic actioner Edge of Tomorrow looks to be one of the season's biggest underperformers, and the Wachowski's Jupiter Ascending has been pushed from its planned July 18 release to February. What does this blockbuster season mean for Warner Bros.?
Starting with a bang and proceeding to fizzle
The Warner Bros. studios kicked off the year's big movie season with Godzilla, a film that bowed to a $196 million opening weekend. Despite an explosive opening, the reptilian reboot has enjoyed less than monstrous legs. After a $93 million domestic opening, the film is still crawling to clear the $200 million mark. Godzilla currently has an international gross of approximately $440 million, after its recent Chinese opening scared up an impressive $36 million. A Japanese release is scheduled for July. The film's performance has been strong enough to guarantee a sequel, but its trajectory has dipped below the earnings path suggested by its initial international debut.
While Godzilla will wind up categorized as a win, Edge of Tomorrow looks unlikely to earn that distinction. After two weekends at the domestic box office, the film has nabbed approximately $57 million. Thankfully for Warner, overseas audiences were more receptive to the Tom Cruise outing. Tomorrow currently has a worldwide gross of approximately $240 million. The movie has a stated production budget of $178 million. So, once marketing is factored in, it looks like the movie will break even for Warner. That said, no one makes a massively budgeted summer blockbuster with the hopes of breaking even or generating a small profit when the product hits home viewing distribution.
Was Jupiter Ascending on track to bomb on an interplanetary scale?
Edge of Tomorrow's performance is undeniably a disappointment for Warner, but the recently delayed Jupiter Ascending may be the bigger problem. Pushing back a movie so close to its release date is nearly unheard of and is indicative of serious doubts on the part of the studio. Reports suggest that tracking for the film was abysmal, and people claiming to have seen screeners have indicated that the picture is something of a mess.
Jupiter Ascending was planned as the first installment in a trilogy. Warner likely hoped to score another Matrix-like franchise from the Wachowskis, but the directing team's box office draw is looking seriously compromised after a series of underperformers and the bad buzz currently orbiting Jupiter.
Wachowski weakness and questionable casting
For a movie with a $175 million production budget, the handling of the film has many baffling elements. Channing Tatum looks to be building solid star power (as indicated by last weekend's 22 Jump Street from Sony (NYSE: SNE) bowing to a $57 million opener), but casting Mila Kunis as the lead in what is supposed to be an epic sci-fi trilogy is a confusing move. The actresses' most notable big screen performance is still her supporting role in The Black Swan, and there has been little indication that she is capable of carrying a big budget action movie, let alone a trilogy. Warner's decision to push the movie to the wasteland of a February release suggests that hopes for a Jupiter sequel have descended.
Warner still has strong properties
While this summer's box office stretch looks to be disappointing for Warner, it still has strong properties in the pipeline. The Lego Movie was a big hit for the studio earlier in the year, and sequels and spinoffs are on the way. Additionally, the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them trilogy should score up good totals, even if it fails to match the incredible highs of the Harry Potter films. Then there are the studio's upcoming DC Comics films to consider.
A case of the summertime blues?
It's worth noting that Warner isn't the only studio enduring underperformers this summer. The overall box office performance has been somewhat soft, and big movie's like Sony's Amazing Spider-Man 2 have fallen well short of the mark. Twenty-First Century Fox (NASDAQ: FOXA) and DreamWorks Animation's (NASDAQ: DWA) How to Train Your Dragon 2 has also debuted to a softer than expected domestic performance, and will need a strong international presence and good legs to meet expectations.
The pressure is on...
With two massively budgeted new properties failing to land as planned, it's hard to feel good about Warner's summer showing. It may be too early to crown the studio as the blockbuster season's biggest loser, but the company is at the front of the pack in pursuit of that dubious honor. Warner's ho-hum summer isn't necessarily a bad sign for its future projects, but the underperformance does create added pressure to deliver on the big movies in its pipeline.
Keith Noonan has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends DreamWorks Animation. 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.