The Walt Disney Studios’ most exciting slate of films in recent memory arrives in 2015. Despite a few films shifting release dates from when I first considered this to be Disney’s most major year ever back in May 2013, the line-up of movies can excite anyone. Whether you adore Disney’s standard fare (sports, sci-fi, fantasy, and animation) or even anything under the Pixar, Lucasfilm, or Marvel banners, Disney will surely dominate the box office and perhaps even release critical hits, too.
This first part of two consecutive editions of The Walt Disney Studios 2015 Preview will focus on each of the theatrical films to debut from The Walt Disney Studios this year.
STRANGE MAGIC (January 23)
The details: If George Lucas sought to transplant one of his abstract visions to the big screen, this would epitomize it. Jar Jar could seem like an artistic masterpiece after peering at one of Strange Magic‘s characters. Placed into the general public’s awareness only a few months ago, this late addition to the 2015 schedule comes from Lucasfilm Animation and the distribution of Disney’s Touchstone Pictures. Loosely based on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, its trailer alone appears to come from one of Lucas’ dreams that may not have as much potential as he thinks. At least a few members of its voice cast, including Alan Cumming and Kristin Chenoweth, are renowned performers.
Box office predictions: Does Disney not have faith in this project, since it will not premiere from its signature banner? This recalls 2011’s Gnomeo and Juliet, an animated musical comedy from Touchstone that surprisingly earned nearly $200 million worldwide. However, can we expect this oddity to gross that much? Likely not. Its lack of brand familiarity, poor release date and general wackiness also echo Mars Needs Moms, which bombed. I cannot expect Strange Magic to perform well. My estimate comes at perhaps $40 million total if it is lucky, but more likely around $30 million domestically. Disney may be saving its “magic” for its March tentpole.
MCFARLAND, USA (February 20)
The details: Cast Kevin Costner as a motivational coach to transform a struggling team of low-income runners to winners, and you should have a success story. Right? Let us hope so. This cross-country story reflects the California teens in the late 1980s who avoided the challenging social conflicts in their community to become champions. The premise sells me and so does its feel-good trailer. McFarland, USA might face difficulties in attracting moviegoers tired of formulaic plots and situations, but Disney knows how to offer solid comfort food.
Box office predictions: Million Dollar Arm did not follow in the footsteps of its Disney sports film predecessors to earn around $60 million, instead earning half of that. Disney wisely delayed McFarland, USA to a more open February slot, as opposed to its previously scheduled Thanksgiving time period, in which it would have failed miserably. Here it has the chance to draw some viewers to the theatres with its inspirational true story roots. Earning $45 million domestically would be a safe bet here, as star power alone will not lead McFarland to lead the competitive box office race during a generally slow month.
CINDERELLA (March 13)
The details: First there was Alice in Wonderland. Then Maleficent. Now it’s Cinderella. Later this year, The Jungle Book enters the scene. Disney’s new takes on its animated classics from the 1950s and 1960s have allowed the studio to rest on its laurels. The first two films’ profitability reinforce the idea that this strategy of depicting altered versions of the stories we all know makes sense. Cate Blanchett stars as Lady Tremaine in 2015’s Cinderella, a Kenneth Branagh-directed film that features trademarks of these types of films: much CGI; a relatively unknown young lead; a complicated and sometimes fantastical environment; and a major budget. Though Cinderella seems smaller in scale compared to Alice and Maleficent, its potential to reinvigorate the brand remains consistent.
Box office predictions: Disney has reserved early/mid March to huge films, such as Alice, John Carter, and Oz The Great and Powerful. Cinderella shall follow the company of Tim Burton’s spectacle and Oz, even if earnings may not amount to as much. However, much interest in the project – take a look at the trailer’s high viewership already – may sustain into its release. A $60 million opening weekend is possible, and a total domestic gross of close to $200 million could be within reach. Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Box office be good!
MONKEY KINGDOM (April 17)
The details: The Disneynature label possesses a nice track record in offering documentaries that have critical acclaim, support conservation efforts and expose individuals to the lives of various types of animals that inhabit our planet. This year sees Monkey Kingdom, which places the spotlight on creatures from South Asia. Mark Linfield, who directed 2012’s Chimpanzee, also heads this project. Suraj Sharma (Life of Pi, Million Dollar Arm) will narrate.
Box office predictions: These documentaries do not premiere with the intention or possibility of topping the charts, but they can perform respectably for the genre. Final domestic earnings should fall between $15 million – $20 million, though Kingdom‘s earlier release date compared to other Earth Day-timed Disneynature films may help its overall box office stamina.
AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (May 1)
The details: Bring it on, James Spader! Our favorite team of superheroes – other than the Justice League or X-Men, depending on your cup of awesomeness-flavored tea – returns. But there’s a new baddie in town who plans on taking down humans. Here comes Ultron. The whole main gang of Marvel characters from the previous Avengers film also stars in Avengers: Age of Ultron, along with Cobie Smulders, Hayley Atwell, Tom Hiddleston, and, yes, Stan Lee, in his reliable cameo appearance.
Box office predictions: One of the year’s most anticipated films, Age of Ultron should match its predecessor’s $200 million opening weekend domestically. Perhaps it will even eclipse that number if fan fervor continues to grow and if critical acclaim also mirrors the first movie. Ultimately, Age of Ultron may not have the staying power to gross more than $600 million in the United States, but that is not improbable.
TOMORROWLAND (May 22)
The details: Does Brad Bird have a surprise for moviegoers? The 2013 Disney D23 Expo made it appear as if that elusive cardboard box from 1952 holds more secrets than the storyline of this equally furtive project. George Clooney stars as a “grizzled inventor” who – based on the teaser trailer – may harness the ability to take a troubled young woman (Britt Robertson) to a spectacular place known as Tomorrowland. I have not been this pumped about a live-action Disney film in several years, and with the strong crew pedigree that also includes producer Damon Lindelof and music by Michael Giacchino, Tomorrowland may allow Disney to showcase its often dismissed sci-fi chops.
Box office predictions: Though Tomorrowland should easily land in first during its opening weekend and may earn more than $50 million domestically during those first three days, its competition could compromise its legs. I want to believe it can make more than $150 million by the end of its run in the United States, but if it receives less than favorable reviews and premieres just prior to more intriguing movie fare, Tomorrowland could crash and burn. Yet I have faith in Disney and Bird.
This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth. Stay tuned next Thursday for the second edition that will analyze other theatrical releases from Disney this year.