The “Big Six” Movie Studios; Does Disney’s Lucasfilm Purchase Make Disney King?

It’s been a while, folks. Sandy left me without power for a while (still waiting on that hot water to return, too!), but a few things have happened in the media and branding world that I’d love to comment on. I’ll start with Disney’s $4 billion purchase of George Lucas’ child, Lucasfilms.

Listen while you read! 

My first thought upon hearing this news is that this gives Disney a commodity that makes the brand not quite a monopoly on successful, profitable series, but something close to it. We’ll delve further into this hypothesis by contrasting Disney’s strong franchises to others out there.

There are six movie studios that are considered today’s “big six”: Disney, Paramount, Columbia, Warner Bros., Universal, and 20th Century Fox.

In terms of powerhouse series, Disney owns the wonderful cartoon films children of the ’90s grew up on (OK, not technically a series, but this does include include Toy Story, still spawning sequels), The Avengers and all of its individual superhero series, and now Star Wars and Indiana Jones.

Here’s some background on Disney to help you out:

  • The Avengers film last summer pulled in $623 million in the U.S. alone. It pushed out The Dark Knight to take the No. 3 spot in the all-time domestic box office rankings. (If you’re curious, The Avengers’ worldwide pull was $1.5 billion.)
  • Toy Story 3, a sequel that came 15 years after the original, raked in $410 million domestically in 2010.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and POTC: On Stranger Tides are Nos. 8 and 10 on the all-time worldwide box office gross, respectively.
  • The original Star Wars movie in 1977 earned $307 million its first time in theaters. But its total domestic gross is actually $460 million, meaning this movie alone sold another $153 million in re-releases as it gained popularity across generations. Is that not crazy? And five movies followed. And the craze only grew.

Now that you have some idea of Disney’s prowess in the movie studio competition, let’s examine how the other contenders in the category stack up when it comes to moneymaking:

Warner Bros. v. Disney:

This is a tough contest to call. In terms of the powerhouse series, Warner Bros’ studio produced/owns the Harry Potter, Dark Knight, and Lord of the Rings mammoths. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II earned $1.3b worldwide. The Dark Knight Rises has pulled in $1b so far worldwide and is No. 7 right now in the ranking of all-time box office gross, on both the domestic and the worldwide lists.

But all of these series are over (or will be, once The Hobbit rolls out next month), and despite HP/LOTR/DK having 14 (about to be 15) very profitable movies between them, Disney already has plans to crank out a new Star Wars movie (and I would not be surprised if an Indiana Jones announcement was far behind. I’m sure Shia LaBoeuf is around somewhere.). For comparison, the most recent Star Wars movie, which was Episode III: Revenge of the Sith in 2005, earned $380m domestically and $848m worldwide. I bet the new follow-up, with the invigorated blood Disney will surely pump in the series, earns even more.

Disney may have a lot of juice in terms of series, but you just can’t discount the fact that Warner Bros. knows how to pick ’em. If they struck gold with Harry Potter, the Lord of the Rings, and the Dark Knight series, I’m certain they will do it again.

To call the winner of this match, let’s examine the movies in the top 20 of the all-time worldwide box office.

Disney’s claim to fame (including Star Wars now) is 8/20 while Warner Bros’ is 7/20. I was hoping this would be a bit more definitive, but it’s still too close to call, huh?

Winner — Tie.

Paramount v. Disney:

Paramount is responsible for many successful series of late, including the Transformers, Mission: Impossible, Paranormal Activity, Shrek, and Friday the 13th. It also co-produced the second biggest movie of all time, Titanic (co-producer 20th Century Fox is discussed further below).

But having one mammoth on your plate doesn’t help you going forward; the money’s been made and the brand created, but Titanic certainly is not about to birth any sequels.

So, I’d still argue that any future Star Wars films (and I’m certain there will be more than the one that has been announced) + The Avengers and all of its follow-ups (remember, The Avengers had a $1.5b worldwide gross) from Disney could easily knock out Transformers (the latest grossed $1.1b worldwide) + Mission: Impossible (the latest grossed $694m worldwide) at the box office.

Winner — Disney

Columbia v. Disney:

While Columbia is the brain behind many iconic films—recent examples are The Social Network, Moneyball, and Across the Universe—the studio does not play around with film franchises too much. Its only current holding is the Bond series, and even at that, it’s responsible only for the two films that have come out since Daniel Craig took over as 007.

Winner — Disney

Universal v. Disney: 

Like Columbia, Universal puts out popular films each year such as Snow White & the Huntsman and Despicable Me, but it does not incorporate many film franchises into its umbrella. The few that are still active are Fast Five, American Pie,and the Jason Bourne series—certainly not monetary competitors for the cash crown Disney holds.

Winner — Disney

20th Century Fox v. Disney: 

So, 20th Century Fox has two claims to fame in the movie world, and they happen to be the two most profitable films ever: Avatar and Titanic (co-produced with Paramount).

But if we’re talking series, where a lot of money stands to be made in the move industry, 20th Century does not court many of them. Ice Age and Alvin and the Chipmunks are the franchises 20th Century is pushing right now.

But it’s tough to count out a movie studio that has the two biggest movies ever.

Just to try to make this a little clearer, let’s combine the worldwide grosses of Avatar and Titanic: $2.78b + $2.19b = $4.97b profit at 20th Century Fox.

In comparison, Disney’s ownership of the top 10 is: The Avengers‘ $1.51b + Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest $1.07b + Toy Story 3 $1.06b + Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides $1.04b = $4.68b at Disney.

Still no clear consensus.

Winner — Tie

So, my original hypothesis, that the Lucasfilms acquisition gives Disney a holy monopoly, was proven wrong. There are two competitors, Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox, who are hot on the heels. Good. For one brand to run away with the game would be no fun.

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