Avatar to Spidey: Best Box-of­fice Bets

Movies with di­nosaurs and su­per­heroes are set to score big bucks

The Washington Post Sunday - - MOVIES - BY MICHAEL CAVNA michael.cavna@wash­post.com

Towering film fran­chises are more than sea­sonal tent poles. So of­ten planned out in mul­ti­ple­course, they can func­tion like big-tops unto them­selves.

And th­ese days, with so much in Hol­ly­wood rid­ing on what’s as re­li­ably bank­able as an ATM, the cir­cus never quite seems to leave town. Just as the lat­est Span­dex fran­chise de­parts, in storm the lightsabers.

Has­bro an­nounced this month that Para­mount is lin­ing up the next four — count ’em, four — “Trans­form­ers” films over the next decade. That put sit on along-range plan­ning track in league with fran­chises from DC, Uni­ver­sal and all things Dis­ney. This, as the“Fast and Fu­ri­ous” fran­chise re­port­edly eyes “Straight Outta Comp­ton” di­rec­tor F. Gary Gray for the eighth in­stall­ment, even as “Fu­ri­ous 7” ($1.5 bil­lion) is poised to over­take “The Avengers” and be­come the fourth­biggest film ever.

So now that such fran­chise kings as “Harry Pot­ter” ($7.7 bil­lion) and “Lord of the Rings” ($5.8 bil­lion) are safely re­tired on their golden thrones — and “Hunger Games” ($2.3 bil­lion and count­ing) is down to its fi­nal bul­let next month — which ac­tive film fran­chises have the most up­side go­ing for­ward?

Well, try­ing to pre­dict such huge for­tunes—be it live-ac­tion, an­i­ma­tion or some CGI hy­brid — can prove to be cloudy with a chance of cracked crys­tal balls. But here is Comic Riffs’s work­ing Top 15:

15. IRON MAN: On the one hand, the trio of Tony Stark films has amassed nearly $2.4 bil­lion world­wide. And the char­ac­ter that ef­fec­tively launched the dom­i­nance of the MC U is not only nec­es­sary in the forth­com­ing Avengers team-up films, but surely has an open door to con­tinue. But for how much longer — and for how much more salary and points—will Robert Downey Jr. even con­sider solo­ing in the suit? Any year now, he may go the way of Hugh Jack­man’s Wolver­ine.

14. MIS­SION IM­POS­SI­BLE: A sim­i­lar ques­tion holds true for Tom Cruise, al­though this one-man cruise mis­sile, in his mid-50s, looks as fa­mously driven and stunt-happy as ever. Plus, this year’s “Rogue Na­tion” ($679 mil­lion world­wide) has per­formed al­most iden­ti­cal ly to its 2011 pre­de­ces­sor, so the fan­dom is hold­ing steady.

13. PI­RATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: As with RDJ and Cruise, Johnny Depp is an­other multi-decade star in his 50s who may grow weary of re­turn­ing to his Dis­ney fran­chise ($3.7 bil­lion world­wide and count­ing). Then again, Depp seems to slip into his self-in­vented char­ac­ter like a sec­ond skin, and given that it was in­spired by Keith Richards, Capt. Jack Spar­row may yet prove as death­less — as long as the rum and pay­checks hold out.

12. BOND, JAMES BOND: Un­like the pre­vi­ous three fran­chises listed, the Broc­coli fam­ily can for­ever trade in for a fresh mid­dle-aged 007. (Hello, Idris Elba?) The $4 bil­lion fran­chise holds on as nobly as the idea of Bri­tain as a su­per­power — its up­per lip as stiff as a shaken martini. Be­sides, the Cold War-born fran­chise has spanned JFK to Obama, Khrushchev to Putin, and just may well out­live us all. Never say never.

11. ICE AGE: Blue Sky Stu­dios has been able to print money for years off this nearly $3 bil­lion fran­chise. And un­like Pixar’s “Toy Story” fran­chise — where each and ev­ery film bears incredible au­di­ence ex­pec­ta­tions — Scrat and friends can roam less en­cum­bered by nar­ra­tive weight. It’s all a mat­ter of when the fran­chise de­cides to go ex­tinct.

10. STAR TREK: A fea­ture-film fran­chise nearly as old as “Star Wars” (this “five-year mis­sion” has been ex­plor­ing since 1979), this en­ter­prise not only has proved steady, but J.J. Abrams also jump-started the crew es­pe­cially deftly be­fore dis­em­bark­ing for “Star Wars.” Now, “Fast & Fu­ri­ous” helmer Justin Lin as­sumes the $2 bil­lion bridge for next year’s “Be­yond” — the fran­chise’s 13th film. (Hello, Idris Elba.)

9. SPI­DER-MAN: Su­per­man al­most cracked this list, but so much de­pends on next year’s “Bat­man v. Su­per­man: Dawn of Jus­tice,” out­side of the Man of Steel’s Jus­tice League ser­vice over mul­ti­ple films. Spidey, in some ways, is a more in­ter­est­ing case. On one hand, there is re­boot fa­tigue with this $4 bil­lion fran­chise; on the other hand, be­cause Sony has now granted par­tial cus­tody to Mar­vel, we look for his own films to re­bound.

8. DE­SPI­CA­BLE ME: This sum­mer’s “Min­ions” ($1.1 bil­lion and count­ing) is now one of the top-10 big­gest films. Ever. Yes, you read that right. Dur­ing Uni­ver­sal’s incredible 2015, the “De­spi­ca­ble Me” spin off in the $2.6 bil­lion fran­chise is the sec­ond-big­gest an­i­mated film ever, trail­ing only the mon­ster “Frozen.” And yel­low should con­tinue to equal green.

7. X-MEN: One of the two fran­chises (along­side Spidey) that re­ally launched su­per­hero films’ third wave (af­ter Don­ner and Bur­ton), it sits as re­gal as Pa­trick Stew­art and Ian McKellen, and ever-in­fused with first-class new blood. Last year’s “Days of Fu­ture Past” (nearly $750 mil­lion glob­ally) was the first Xfilm to top the $500 mil­lion mark; next year’s “Apoca­lypse” could well top that.

6. FAST & FU­RI­OUS: The nearly $4 bil­lion fran­chise drifted into all-time ter­ri­tory this year, as “Fu­ri­ous 7” be­came a Top-5 all-time film (as it chases down “The Avengers” for the No. 4 slot). But hav­ing been spurned by two of its pre­vi­ous di­rec­tors, can it score a gifted new driver?

5. THE AVENGERS: As this year’s “Age of Ul­tron” nears the bil­lion­dol­lar mark in over­seas re­ceipts alone, Joss Whe­don makes his tri­umphant exit — and it fully dawns that we have to wait three years till the next true Avengers team film, “In­fin­ity War, Part 1.” (Next year’s Cap­tain Amer­ica film, “Civil War,” will have to tide us over.)

4. JURAS­SIC: It was as if the Spiel­berg-sprung fran­chise were frozen in am­ber for 14 years, just wait­ing for the right di­rec­tor to bring it back to life. This year’s “Juras­sic World” ($1.7 bil­lion) has now grossed more than the first two Juras­sic films com­bined (un­ad­justed for in­fla­tion); is the big­gest film ever by some­one not named Cameron; and nailed the ’90s-nos­tal­gia zeit­geist. We await a se­quel in sev­eral years.

3. AVATAR: And speak­ing of Jim Cameron: This is the real wild card in the deck. The di­rec­tor of the two big­gest films ever will go back to the blue “Avatar” well three times (as slated) be­tween 2017 and 2020. That’s a big gam­ble, but the re­turns could be record-break­ing.

2. TRANS­FORM­ERS: Al­though last year’s “Age of Extinction” saw a fran­chise dip do­mes­ti­cally, the global au­di­ence re­mains mas­sive for then early $4 bil­lion prime power house—and it’s the over­seas mar­ket that lets Has­bro con­fi­dent ly an­nounce the next four Trans­form­ers films, po­ten­tially lock­ing in Mark Wahlberg till he’s just about Tom Cruise’s age now.

1. STAR WARS: Uni­ver­sal has grabbed many of the box-of­fice head­lines this year, but Dis­ney — on the strength of “The Force Awak­ens” — could head into the new year break­ing some ma­jor records. If J.J. Abrams can course-cor­rect the fran­chise in the wake of the pre­quels, “Star Wars” could even­tu­ally dou­ble the $4.5 bil­lion global take of the first six films. May the Force — and the 3-D ticket price — be with them.

PARA­MOUNT PIC­TURES VIA AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

“Trans­form­ers: Dark of the Moon,” top, and “De­spi­ca­ble Me,” above, are part of the two most re­li­ably big-bucks film fran­chises. Global au­di­ences are mas­sive for the nearly $4 bil­lion Trans­form­ers movies, even though last year’s “Age of Extinction” saw a fran­chise dip do­mes­ti­cally. This past sum­mer’s “Min­ions,” with $1.1 bil­lion in sales, is one of the top-10 big­gest films ever. It is the sec­ond­biggest an­i­mated film, trail­ing only “Frozen.”

UNI­VER­SAL STU­DIOS VIA AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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