Overblown expectations can be a dangerous thing, even for entertainment juggernaut Disney (NYSE:DIS). The world's expectations for the new Star Wars film, for example, have been steadily building since Disney paid $4 billion for Lucasfilm in 2012.
Disney coughed up a similar amount to purchase Marvel in 2009. Meanwhile, the media giant behind Mickey Mouse paid more than $7 billion in 2006 to buy Pixar, the animated studio known for hit films such as Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and Cars. Disney has since done incredible things with these investments, cranking out new hit films and building lucrative franchises around them. In fact, Disney's 2012 Avengers movie grossed a whopping $1.51 billion worldwide -- making it the third highest grossing movie of all time.
Perhaps more importantly, the one thing all of these investments have in common is that they give Disney a seemingly bottomless pits of franchise-rich characters. The Star Wars deal is no different.
More than a movie
With mere weeks before the flick's Dec. 18 box office debut, analysts are predicting it will be one of the highest-grossing movies on record. That's a bold assertion -- even for Disney, a company that has celebrated blockbuster hits such as E.T., The Lion King, Pirates of the Caribbean, and more recently Frozen.
Benjamin Swinburne of Morgan Stanley predicts the upcoming Star Wars installment will generate global box office sales of roughly $2 billion. For comparison, that is nearly as much as George Lucas' three films in the second trilogy combined, which together grossed $2.5 billion. As you can see, expectations for this film are out of this galaxy.
Nevertheless, the potential impact to Disney's bottom line presents a clear opportunity for investors, despite what may be overblown expectations for the upcoming film.
Another Disney empire in the making
Sure, Disney has plenty of hit movies under its belt. However, what the company does better than any of its rivals is create lasting franchises that extend beyond movies into lucrative theme park rides, apparel, toys, award-winning Broadway shows, television series, books, and video games.
We saw this with Disney's film The Lion King, which it later turned into a Broadway show that has now been running for 18 years. Moreover, Pirates of the Caribbean was one of Disney World's most popular theme park rides long before Disney transformed it into a profitable movie series. The company's latest installment of the series, On Stranger Tides, was released in 2011 and generated worldwide box office sales of $1.04 billion -- earning it a spot as the 12th-highest grossing movie of all time.
Now having secured the rights to Star Wars, the sky is the limit for Disney. What it comes down to is great characters, and that is an area in which Star Wars can't fail. The company is already building a home for its Star Wars characters in the happiest place on earth. Disney is bringing the franchise to life with two 14-acre Star Wars themed land expansions at its Disney Land Park in California and Disney World in Florida.
In what Iger is calling "Disney's largest, single-themed land expansion ever," the company isn't just rolling out a few rides, but rather an immersive Star Wars experience. Guests will get to visit a Star Wars planet complete with a Mos Eisley cantina, a chance to fly the Millennium Falcon, and narrowly escape an epic battle between the First Order and the Resistance.
Disney hasn't yet said when the expansions will open. However, the new attractions could draw tens of thousands of Star Wars fans to its parks each year, thereby significantly boosting park revenue for Disney down the road.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens will kick off the massive franchise potential for Disney in other ways as well. The film isn't even in theaters yet, but Disney has already worked out deals for Star Wars-branded merchandise sales overseas as well as discussions for a live-action TV series.
A worthy franchise
At the end of the day, Disney is much more than its Hollywood movies. It's a company with richly diversified revenue streams that should continue to reward investors for many decades to come. There's also the visionary leadership of Disney's CEO Bob Iger to consider. Since Iger took the helm in 2005, Disney's stock has risen from $24 per share to where it trades today at around $117 a share.
Star Wars will likely prove to be one of the most profitable franchises in Disney history. However, even if that doesn't happen, Disney offers investors plenty of other compelling reasons to own its stock for many generations to come.