Of all the movies distributed by Comcast's (NASDAQ:CMCSA) Universal Pictures, arguably none have achieved the level of success as Jurassic Park. Though the dinosaur flick debuted way back in summer 1993, it remains Universal's only film to ever exceed $1 billion in gross box office receipts, including $402.5 million from the U.S. alone. Adjusted for inflation, that makes Jurassic Park's U.S. box office haul the third-highest for any PG-13 film, trailing only Titanic and Avatar.
So Comcast must be particularly excited for the June 12, 2015, release of Jurassic World, which is no doubt why the film was allocated a whopping $150 million production budget. Jurassic World will open complete with the latest and greatest CGI, huge star power featuring Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, and the potential to spawn a new generation of fans by breathing life back into the prehistoric franchise.
If all goes well, I certainly wouldn't rule out the possibility of Jurassic World reaching $1 billion at the box office. But that milestone is hardly guaranteed, as the film needs to not only fill the enormous tracks left by the original, but also overcome the stigma associated with what many saw as halfhearted follow-ups in 1997's The Lost World: Jurassic Park, and 2001's Jurassic Park III, which gathered "just" $618.6 million and $368.8 million worldwide, respectively.
Not to mention that it follows the May 1 debut of Disney (NYSE:DIS) Marvel's The Avengers: Age of Ultron, whose $1.5 billion-grossing predecessor was still amassing eight-figure weekends at the U.S. box office a full seven weeks into its 2012 theatrical run.
Despite all the hype surrounding Jurassic World right now, I think it's more likely Comcast's next $1 billion movie will come in a different color -- yellow, to be exact:
That's right; Universal and Illumination Entertainment are bringing Minions to theaters on July 10, 2015 -- less than one month after Jurassic World. But how could the animated flick possibly reach $1 billion?
First, keep in mind Minions is set as a prequel to Despicable Me, so should enjoy a broader viewer base assuming it is granted the same PG rating. Minions is also being helmed once again by series director Pierre Coffin and executive producer Chris Renaud, both of whom worked on the first two films in the franchise. Each of those movies also earned enviable "A" CinemaScores from polled audiences, virtually guaranteeing sustained foot traffic in later box office weeks from strong word-of-mouth and repeat viewings.
The $1 billion question
But will audiences respond in kind this time?
First, as a proud father of three children under the age of 7, I can safely say my kids will practically drag me to the theater. And I won't be alone; since it was uploaded early last month, Minions' first official trailer already boasts 20 million views on YouTube, along with a 96% "thumbs up" rating from nearly 100,000 votes:
If that's not quantifiable enough, consider that Despicable Me achieved a solid gross of $543.1 million in 2010, or nearly eight times its modest $69 million production budget. But more pertinent to our discussion is the staggering performance of Despicable Me 2, which turned a $76 million budget into $970.8 million in box office receipts following its July 2013 launch. Most important, note the latter enjoyed significant sales growth over the former with both domestic audiences (up 46.4% to $368.1 million) and viewers abroad (up 106.7% to $602.7 million).
Comcast has plenty to gain if Minions succeeds. In fact, Despicable Me 2's outperformance was so pronounced that in Comcast's most recent quarter, management primarily blamed its absence for a 15.2% year-over-year decline in filmed entertainment revenue to $1.2 billion. Consequently, operating cash flow from the segment also decreased 20.3% to $151 million.
Comcast has not yet released an official production budget for Minions. But in the end, if it can manage to even slightly improve upon Despicable Me 2, Minions will easily tuck its $1 billion achievement into the single front pocket of those little blue overalls.