5 Films Likely to Rule the Holiday Season Box Office

We’re now squarely in the middle of November, which signals the release of Oscar-hopeful films and the last of the year’s blockbusters fighting for a share of holiday moviegoers. And when it comes to holiday blockbusters, there’s no shortage of films this year that have the potential for box office takes rivaling the year’s biggest.

So which films have the best shot at making bank as the holiday movie season heats up? Here are five films, in order of release, that have the best shot at topping the list of holiday blockbusters.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (November 22) 

Lionsgate’s (NYSE:LGF) The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is the second installment in the the Hunger Games franchise, with Mockingjay Part 1 set to be released on November 21, 2014, and Mockingjay Part 2 set to be released November 20, 2015. Continuing the story of last year’s The Hunger Games, the second installment sees Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) forced to return to the even-more-dangerous Seventy-Fifth Annual Hunger Games as rebellion stirs in the districts.

The Hunger Games, which was released March 23, 2012, ended up grossing nearly $700 million worldwide in its theatrical run — and if you believe the industry analysts and recent reports, Catching Fire is set to leap over the previous entry’s box office totals when it’s released later this month. Not only will Catching Fire benefit from a nice holiday spot just ahead of Thanksgiving, but the series — both in book form and film form — has become increasingly popular.

Of course, the area where Catching Fire’s box office could really see an explosion is its overseas box office totals. The Hunger Games’ $283 million foreign take could easily double this time around, as Lionsgate has aggressively pushed its international marketing, recently taking the film’s stars off the set of Mockingjay to tour Europe in the lead-up to release. Add in Lawrence’s ascension to the acting A-list after receiving an Academy Award for Best Actress and you have all the ingredients for a film that could easily be the hugest of the holiday season.

Frozen (November 27)

Walt Disney Co.’s (NYSE:DIS) Frozen is a computer-animated children’s film which blends music, comedy, and fantasy. Based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale The Snow Queen, the film is the fifty-third film produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios. When a prophecy traps a kingdom in perpetual winter, Anna teams up with extreme mountain man Kristoff and his sidekick reindeer Sven on an epic journey to find Anna’s sister Elsa, the Snow Queen, and put an end to her icy spell.

In a recent article from Variety, it was reported that Disney executives are privately expressing a level of enthusiasm for Frozen that says the film could rank among it’s best ever — including Beauty and the Beast’s high ceiling established 22 years ago. Led by Broadway songwriter Robert Lopez – the writer behind the edgy musicals Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon — Disney seemingly took a risk in bringing in Lopez and his wife Kristen Anderson-Lopez for Frozen, but by all accounts it appears to have been an unbridled success.

Early reviews for Frozen seem to support Disney’s confidence in the film. Top critics from the Hollywood Reporter, Variety, and The Wrap have already given the film very positive marks and the film seems set to be the children’s film hit of the holidays.

The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug (December 13)

Warner Bros.’ (NYSE:TWXThe Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug is the second installment in Peter Jackson’s trilogy of films based on  J. R. R. Tolkien’s 1937 novel The Hobbit. The Desolation Of Smaug continues the events of 2012′s An Unexpected Journey, as Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf the wizard, and a party of thirteen dwarves travel to Mirkwood, Esgaroth, and Dale to combat the dragon Smaug. The series, which acts as a prequel to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, will conclude in 2014 with There and Back Again.

Despite a somewhat lukewarm response in North America, at least when compared to Warner Bros.’ Lord of the Rings trilogy, An Unexpected Journey earned a whopping $1.01 billion worldwide, surpassing both The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers. And with anticipation for The Desolation Of Smaug seemingly stronger than An Unexpected Journey’s, especially now that the minor controversy over 48 frames-per-second is more or less accepted, it’s more than likely that the second installment could blow past the numbers of the first installment in the series.

The box office battle between Lionsgate’s Catching Fire and Warner Bros.’ The Desolation Of Smaug is likely to be the biggest this holiday season — and both have a shot at unseating Despicable Me 2′s $364 million domestic total and maybe even Iron Man 3′s $409 million domestic total. While the first round between the box office titans saw the domestic advantage go to The Hunger Games as An Unexpected Journey ran away with the foreign lead, this year is likely to see a much tighter race on both fronts.

The Wolf of Wall Street (December 25)

It’s been a topsy-turvy ride when it comes to The Wolf of Wall Street’s release by Paramount (NASDAQ:VIA) Pictures. After stating that the film’s editing was behind schedule, Paramount initially announced that the film would come in 2014 rather than the holiday season of 2013. But just as that news was sinking in, director Martin Scorsese and Paramount announced that the film would indeed make the 2013 cut, with a Christmas Day release.

Based on Jordan Belfort’s memoir of the same name, The Wolf of Wall Street tells the story of Belfort’s rise and fall in the 1990s due to crimes related to stock market manipulation and running a penny stock boiler room. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio along with Jonah Hill and Matthew McConaughey, The Wolf of Wall Street is in the running to be a major player when the award season heats up — and given the history of partnerships between DiCaprio and Scorsese, the film is likely to be a big hit at the box office as well.

While The Wolf of Wall Street isn’t exactly a tentpole-type release, a worldwide gross above $200 million is fairly certain, especially when one considers the previous three partnerships between the actor and director: Shutter Island, $294 million; The Departed, $289 million; and The Aviator, $213 million. That’s a pretty striking record and shows each subsequent film making more money than the last. We’ll have to wait and see if The Wolf of Wall Street continues the trend.

47 Ronin (December 25)

Like The Wolf of Wall Street, Universal (NASDAQ:CMCSA) Pictures’ 47 Ronin has experienced no shortage of release date shifts. Originally set to be released November 21, 2012 (that’s not a typo), it was later moved to February 8, 2013, and finally to Christmas Day due to additional time for special effects, re-shoots, and post-production. By all means, it appears that Universal is well aware it has a problem on its hands with 47 Ronin.

Still, a film like 47 Ronin has to be impressively bad not to reach an audience that just wants a decent action film. Will the film make a profit on its reported $175 million production cost? Probably not. But the film seems like a good bet to see a decent box office as one of the few epic action films of the holiday season while having many characteristics that make it a solid bet for foreign success, including a cast of mostly Japanese actors and a movie-star (Keanu Reeves) with box office appeal around the world.

The best comparison film for 47 Ronin is probably 2003′s The Last Samurai, which starred Tom Cruise and was a similar action blockbuster. On a production budget of $140 million, The Last Samurai made a solid, but unspectacular, $111 million in North America, but did strong business overseas, where it made $345 million. Worldwide, The Last Samurai earned $456 million, and given 47 Ronin’s $175 million price-tag, Universal is hoping it sees similar results, especially overseas.

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