When Marvel's The Avengers: Age of Ultron hits theaters on May 1, it seems inevitable that the super-powered sequel will quickly breeze past the $1 billion mark at the box office. After all, Marvel's The Avengers not only became Disney's (NYSE:DIS) single highest-grossing movie by raking in an astonishing $1.519 billion in 2012, but it also stands as the third-highest grossing film of all time, behind only Avatar and Titanic.
That's not to say reaching $1 billion is easy. Only three of the nearly 1,400 films released over the past two years have achieved the feat, including Paramount's Transformers: Age of Extinction, from Viacom (NASDAQ:VIA), at $1.087 billion, Disney Animation's Frozen at $1.274 billion, and Marvel's Iron Man 3 at $1.215 billion.
And the fact Disney is responsible for two of the three is no fluke. In fact, as of this writing, Disney claims seven of the 19 total movies to ever reach the $1 billion milestone -- eight if you count 1999's Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace, as Disney acquired Star Wars creator Lucasfilm for $4 billion in 2012. Disney's remaining $1 billion-plus titles include two films from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, 2010's Alice in Wonderland, and Pixar's Toy Story 3.
But after The Avengers: Age of Ultron, where will Disney find its next $1 billion movie?
It might well be Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens, which hits theaters on Dec. 18, 2015. Before that, however, another Disney movie could beat Episode VII to the punch:
Those little voices in your head are worth big bucks
Call me crazy, but I think the June 19 release of Disney Pixar's Inside Out fits the bill nicely.
What makes Inside Out so special?
First, it's being directed by Pete Docter, the same man behind both Monsters, Inc. and Up. Both films earned rare A+ CinemaScores from polled audiences, practically guaranteeing that they would have enduring success from positive word of mouth and repeat viewings over the course of their theatrical runs. It seems reasonable, then, to expect that Inside Out will enjoy a similar positive reception.
What's more, remember that last year Pixar decided to push back the release of The Good Dinosaur until November 2015, which means Inside Out will be the animation studio's first release in two full years since Monsters University. Perhaps more importantly, it'll also be Pixar's first non-sequel release in three years since Brave made its debut in 2012. So you can bet audiences will be hungry for the flagship wit, novelty, humor, and raw emotion we've come to expect Pixar's cinematic creations to evoke.
All of those things showed up in spades when Disney U.K. released Inside Out's first official full trailer last week:
But even then, Monsters, Inc. reached only $528.8 million in 2001, while Up managed a more impressive $731.3 million in 2009. So how could Inside Out possibly reach $1 billion?
For perspective, Up's more recent results are more effective for comparison purposes. And adjusted for U.S. inflation, Up's performance in today's dollars would have been closer to $805 million.
At the same time, however, the premise of Up was arguably more difficult to discern than that of Inside Out based on its earliest previews alone. It's no surprise, then, that many industry observers have already chimed in to express their excitement, calling this first full trailer "magnificent" and "a clever, mind-bending treat," and even claiming that it "might just herald a new golden era at Pixar."
Marketing, Disney style
What's more, Disney's enviable marketing machine is already working in full force and just launched individual video introductions to warm moviegoers to each emotive character, including Anger, Fear, Joy, Disgust, and Sadness.
Also of note: Instead of the soccer game as shown in the U.K. trailer, the father's emotions are watching hockey in the beginning of the U.S. version. In short, Disney is methodically marketing Inside Out to foreign audiences in an apparent bid to bolster international sales.
Of course, there are no guarantees, and that's not to say Inside Out absolutely must reach $1 billion to be successful. Quite the contrary: Considering Pixar generally spends between $175 million and $200 million to bring its concepts to life on the big screen, anything above the $500 million range would arguably be considered a moderate success. And that's especially so as Inside Out should not only set up loads of merchandising revenue after the curtains fall, but it could also be the start of yet another multi-film franchise for Pixar.
Given all the catalysts, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if Inside Out becomes the next Disney film to reach $1 billion after The Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Steve Symington owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool recommends Apple, Google (A and C shares), Netflix, and Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't 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.