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Disney In Depth: The Walt Disney Studios 2014 Preview (Part 1)
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Brett Nachman   |  @   |  
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Welcome to 2014, another exciting year for The Walt Disney Company! 2014 will bring the releases of an expected 14 films from Walt Disney Studios (11 from Disney and three from Touchstone).

What is hot on the studio slate? In the next two editions of Disney In Depth, beginning with this one, we will preview each of the film entries.

THE WIND RISES (February 21)

The details: An all-star cast will voice the characters for the English version of Hayao Miyazaki‘s supposedly final film. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, Stanley Tucci, Elijah Wood and John Krasinski are among the voice talents in this Touchstone Pictures-distributed release. The PG-13-rated adventure, which has already been nominated for a Golden Globe for “best foreign language film,” focuses on a successful airplane designer during the turbulent historical events of the 1920s and 1930s.

Box office predictions: Disney has branded the Studio Ghibli picture with the rarely utilized Touchstone banner (now primarily used to distribute DreamWorks Pictures releases), thus limiting its marketing campaign. Expect domestic earnings to fall anywhere from $10 to $20 million. Previous Miyazaki releases, as distributed by Disney, included The Secret Life of Arrietty ($19 million) and Ponyo ($15 million) – and those had the advantage of the “official Disney stamp.”

NEED FOR SPEED (March 14)

The details: Move over, Fast and Furious. A new frenetic franchise could be joining the race. Aaron Paul leads a bunch of car enthusiasts in this big-screen adaptation of the popular video game brand. “Framed for a crime he didn’t commit, muscle car mechanic and street racer Tobey (Aaron Paul) gets out of prison determined to settle the score with the man responsible for his false conviction,” the synopsis, associated with the film trailer, reads. Whether or not the movie replicates the excitement and fun of the racing games remains to be seen, but the preview suggests neat stunts and thrills. Michael Keaton and Dominic Cooper also star.

Box office predictions: While Speed should come in first, or second, at the very least, during its opening weekend – its only competitors are indie Grace of Monaco and Tyler Perry’s The Single Moms Club – box office grosses could be limited. The trailer has not sold many fans of the franchise. The Paul vehicle could burn out fast. Expect $45 million total on the lower end and up to $75 million on the higher end. Who knows?

MUPPETS MOST WANTED (March 21)

The details: Get ready for more Muppet mayhem this March. Jim Henson’s favorite crew of comedians returns to theatres, and this time Kermit meets his doppelgänger. Constantine, a criminal resembling the famous frog – albeit with a big mole – has taken Kermit’s place. Who will stop his shenanigans? Ty Burrell, Tina Fey and Ricky Gervais headline the A-list stars, many of whom will appear in cameos. The clips shown at the D23 Expo indicate its strong hilarity, as does the most recent trailer.

Box office predictions: While reaching the $90 million domestic earnings of 2011’s The Muppets may be unrealistic for this sequel, which is not being released around Thanksgiving, it could come close. Competition is fierce in late March with the releases of Divergent and Noah, but the Muppets’ family friendly values and mass audience appeal could translate to anywhere from $60 million to $85 million. We shall see.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (April 4)

The details: Chris Evans reprises his role as Cap, otherwise known as Steve Rogers, in this sequel to the 2011 feature. Joining him in this modern-day action thriller are Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), his pals from Marvel’s The Avengers. Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp and Robert Redford help round out the impressive cast. While not much is known about the entitled Winter Solider (a.k.a. Bucky Barnes, Rogers’ war comrade who apparently died), this increases the mystique and anticipation. The trailer proves action aplenty and fun in spades, and the early footage from D23 Expo substantiates that. Count on Marvel and The Walt Disney Studios to make a majorly appealing production.

Box office predictions: The first film earned a cool $176 million domestically. One could expect The Winter Soldier to eclipse that figure, but its early April release date may limit that. The month is rarely known to produce any huge movies, save for Fast Five, which earned $80 million in its opening weekend. Perhaps Winter Soldier could make $70 million in its first three days. Like how Thor: The Dark World improved on its predecessor’s numbers, this Captain America sequel may do the same, but likely only barely so. It would be surprising if this Marvel movie earned more than $190 million here in the United States.

BEARS (April 18)

The details: The Walt Disney Studios values its Disneynature banner, which has produced among the highest-earning nature documentaries ever released. They have experienced mixed critical success, but this one looks like a hit. Bears follows a family of grizzly bears over the course of one year in Alaska. John C. Reilly was recently announced as narrator of the doc. This marks the first theatrical Disneynature release in two years, as 2013’s Wings of Life only saw a home release.

Box office predictions: Disneynature films have earned as little as $15 million domestically (2011’s African Cats to as high as $32 million domestically (2009’s Earth). Expect Bears to perform moderately, maybe more than $25 million if it is lucky. Earnings will be contingent on the success of other April releases, though following one week after Rio 2 will presumably hurt its bottom line in drawing family audiences.

MILLION DOLLAR ARM (May 16)

The details: A return to the Disney sports film. Yes! Jon Hamm heads this baseball-set dramedy, in which he plays a sports agent who recruits up-and-coming cricket athletes from India. Another based-on-a-true-story pic, Million Dollar Arm follows The Walt Disney Studios’ awesome tradition in releasing feel-good sports movies, including Miracle and Invincible. Bill Paxton and Alan Arkin add star power, playing a coach and scout, respectively, while Lake Bell – brilliantly funny in indie In a World – has the role of Hamm’s wife. The trailer emphasizes the film’s heartwarming and funny sides.

Box office predictions: Unfortunately, its earnings may be held back by one Godzilla of a film. Seriously, it’s Godzilla, also a May 2014 release. Million Dollar Arm would be lucky if it made the top three in its opening weekend, but at least it should perform moderately. Many Disney sports pictures gross around $60 million (look at Secretariat, Miracle and Invincible possessing similar takes). Its tough release date may usurp any opportunity to gross more than $50 million, but this piece of counter programming could work in its favor. Moviegoers may just be tired of the big-budget action films of May.

MALEFICENT (May 30)

The details: Well, here’s one of those massive May productions. Maleficent, the Angelina Jolie fantasy that has many Disney fans and Jolie followers in a tizzy, looks to repeat the success of Alice in Wonderland. Robert Stromberg, who earned an Oscar nomination for his art direction work in Alice, directs this Sleeping Beauty story from the viewpoint of the evil fairy. Or is she just misunderstood? We shall find out this May. The trailer and early footage from D23 Expo platform its special effects and Jolie’s eerie performance. Consider me excited.

Box office predictions: Maleficent should surely be The Walt Disney Studios’ best performing film of the year if its strong marketing continues and if the product is actually good. An opening north of $100 million could happen, though a more conservative estimate would be around $85 million – $90 million. Eventually it may take in some $300 million domestically, though $260 million – $275 million may be more predictable. On the other hand, some could argue this may be an absolute flop. I would suspect that interest alone in seeing Jolie as the villainous character will translate to huge numbers, even if the actual storyline may disappoint some.

This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Return back to Disney In Depth next Thursday for a look at The Walt Disney Studios’ films that will premiere during the second part of 2014. Follow me on Twitter for Disney news and updates.

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