For many Americans, summer signifies barbecues, baseball, and the beach.
For Hollywood and its corporate media bosses, it means business. It's the time when film studios roll out their big budget blockbusters in the hopes that moviegoers will flock to their local theater for action-packed adventure and air conditioned comfort.
But in a crowded summertime market, the stakes are high. When movie executives get a hit, lucrative franchise opportunities are endless. When films flop, money and reputations go out the door.
"Good movies are hard to make," says Laura Martin, an analyst with Needham and Company. With hundreds of millions of dollars spent making and marketing summer flicks, "it's all or nothing," for the studios, she claims.
So what's on tap in Tinseltown this summer? And what do these films mean for the studios and their corporate overlords?
Here's the low down on what investors can expect from Hollywood in the coming months:
The Amazing Spider Man 2: Last weekend's debut of Sony's (SNE) "The Amazing Spiderman 2"marked the start of the summer movie season. So far, so good. The picture has raked in over $380 million in worldwide box office receipts, according to Box Office Mojo. That's a relief for Sony executives, who have been under attack from Sony shareholder and activist hedge fund investor Daniel Loeb for last summer's expensive bombs "After Earth"and "White House Down". While Disney owns the actual rights to the Marvel comic universe, Sony has a deal to produce and distribute the Spiderman movies.
Godzilla: Warner Bros. is gearing up for the May 16th release of "Godzilla", a franchise that has traditionally played well in international markets, said Anthony DiClemente, a media analyst with Nomura Securities. The studio is coming off a bit of a hot streak. In its first quarter earnings, Time Warner (TWX) (parent company of CNNMoney), experienced a 7% jump in profit, thanks in part to the success of Warner Bros. animated "Lego Movie", which has grossed over $450 million globally.
How to Train Your Dragon 2: DreamWorks Animation (DWA) is hoping to build off the wildly popular success of the first "How to Train Dragon" when the sequels opens on June 13th. The independent media company needs a lift. It's had a rough go lately, recording a first quarter loss due to the less-than-stellar performance of "Mr. Peabody and Sherman". DreamWorks' stock has tumbled about 35% this year.
Transformers: Age of Extinction: The fourth installment of the highly profitable Transformers series hits theaters on June 27th, and Paramount wants the Mark Wahlberg film to annihilate the competition. Viacom (VIAB), which owns Paramount, reported a rise in profit in its most recent earnings, but theatrical revenues were down because Paramount's international ticket sales slumped. While Transformers is Paramount's most anticipated summer release, the studio also has reboots of "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" and "Hercules" on the calendar to pump up sales.
X-Men: Days of the Future Past: Like Sony, 20th Century Fox doesn't actually own the rights to Marvel characters, but executives are trying to follow a winning formula by exercising their development deal with Disney to produce "X-Men: Days of the Future Past", opening July 18th. While some hardcore comics fans have expressed concerns about continuity issues in the X-Men films, analysts seem confident that 20th Century Fox can deliver on that movie and others. After what DiClemente described as a"content slump" from Fox over the holiday season, he's watching for success from the company's already released "RIO 2" and its upcoming May 23rd launch of "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes".
Guardians Of The Galaxy: Disney shows no sign of cooling down after its November win with "Frozen", which has spawned plans for a Broadway show, integration into theme parks, merchandise, and a rumored sequel. Now, it's hoping that its July 25th "Guardians of the Galaxy" can mirror those results, with CEO Bob Iger commenting on his company's earnings call Tuesday that Disney (DIS) believes the film has "strong franchise potential." Investors seem pleased: Shares of the home of Mickey Mouse have soared more than 21% over the past six months. But like other studios, Disney is no stranger to summer duds. "The Lone Ranger"was a colossal failure last year, and the studio said at the time it would have to take a write down of up to $190 million for losses on the film.
Expendables 3: Lionsgate (LGF) is betting on a throwback cast to draw in a young audience in the "The Expendables 3", which comes out on August 15th. The high-octane movie includes such classic action stars as Sylvester Stallone, Harrison Ford, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, among others. Things haven't been too rosy for Lionsgate's stock, which is down roughly 17% this year. As a small publicly-traded entertainment company, "one movie can move the needle" for its shares, DiClemente said. But Lionsgate may still have some some firepower in its arsenal: The studio is set to open the last two chapters of its celebrated Hunger Games franchise in late 2014 and early 2015.