Blockbuster summer films could turn Disney’s studio hiccup into a hit

Marvel's "Avengers: Age Of Ultron" Booth Signing During Comic-Con International 2014
SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 26: (L-R) Actors Paul Bettany, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, James Spader, Chris Hemsworth, Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smulders and Mark Ruffalo onstage at Marvel's "Avengers: Age Of Ultron" Hall H Panel Booth Signing during Comic-Con International 2014 at San Diego Convention Center on July 26, 2014 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney)
Photograph by Alberto E. Rodriguez — Getty Images for Disney

The Walt Disney Co. reported blockbuster earnings Tuesday morning, with overall profits up 10% year-over-year. But the quarterly picture wasn’t entirely rosy for the world’s largest entertainment company.

Disney’s (DIS) movie studios business saw a 6% drop in second-quarter sales, to $1.7 billion, from year-to-year. But don’t let that decline fool you into thinking the film division at the “Mouse House” is struggling. In fact, Disney’s slate of summer blockbusters — one of which is already crushing its box-office competition — has the company’s third most-profitable unit (behind TV networks and theme parks) poised for an impressive showing in the current fiscal quarter.

First of all, the second-quarter drop was primarily attributable to relatively few films being released during the three months ending March 28. Disney only put out four films in that period and the best performers from that group were McFarland, USA — which brought in $43 million in ticket sales, according to Box Office Mojo — and Cinderella. The live-action fairy tale adaptation has fared reasonably well — earning $190 million so far — but the movie opened on March 13, so much of those ticket sales came after the end of the second quarter.

The current quarter will have the benefit of ongoing sales from Cinderella as well as the huge sales figures already being racked up by Avengers: Age of Ultron. It is a sequel to Disney’s 2013 blockbuster Marvel’s The Avengers, which is one of the highest-grossing films of all-time. Disney released the latest installment from the Avengers franchise last weekend and the sequel has already grossed more than $200 million domestically. Foreign audiences have also flocked to theaters to the tune of $439 million in overseas ticket sales despite the movie not yet opening in China’s massive market.

What’s more, Disney has two more big film releases planned before the end of the current quarter, including this month’s release of Tomorrowland, an intriguing sci-fi flick starring George Clooney that is expected to eventually top the $100 million-mark in ticket sales. And, next month, the company will put out the new animated film from Disney and Pixar, Inside Out. The last Pixar feature, 2013’s Monsters University, grossed more than $260 million domestically.

Should Disney fare well overall at the box-office this summer, it would help Hollywood bounce back from last year’s industry-wide drop-off in summer ticket sales. The forecast for this summer is far brighter, though, as other major studios also have their own impressive slates of blockbusters releases on tap for the season when the industry tends to see a large chunk of its annual sales.

Looking at the rest of the year, Disney has a few more highly-anticipated releases that, if all goes as planned, should help lift the studio division’s profits. Another comic book movie, Ant-Man, will hit theaters in July, while a second Pixar animated feature, The Good Dinosaur will be released in November, marking the first time in history two Pixar films have been released in the same year. And, in December, Disney will finally see the fruits of its 2012 Lucasfilm acquisition when it releases the latest installment of the Star Wars series, which is already one of the most-hyped movie releases in years.

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