6 Animated Summer Films: What Worked and What Didn’t

(source universal)

When it comes to computer-animated children’s films this summer, there has been no shortage of choices when it comes to going to the movie theaters. The genre once seemed like a sure thing to bring in audiences, but as we’ve seen this summer, there now exists the possibility for the genre to become overly saturated.

But even with all the talk of over-saturation in the children’s film market, it’s still been a summer of extremes. On one hand, Universal’s (NASDAQ:CMCSA) Despicable Me 2 and Disney’s (NYSE:DIS) Monsters University have steam-rolled the competition. Despicable Me 2 even led NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke to say that the film would “end up being the single most profitable film in the 100 year history of Universal Studios.”

Other films haven’t been so lucky. DreamWorks Animation’s (NASDAQ:DWA) Turbo and recently released The Smurfs 2, coming from Sony (NYSE:SNE), have both found themselves under-performing. Planes, which also came from Disney and just opened this past weekend, seems likely to fall somewhere in the middle.

So in a crowded summer for computer-animated children’s fare, what separated the winners from the losers? Here’s a list of the six major animated releases this summer and some reasons why they might have performed the way they did.

1. Despicable Me 2, Universal

At the top of the list is Universal’s Despicable Me 2, which currently stands at $338 million domestically and $725 million worldwide. While the film is second in total worldwide gross this summer to Disney’s Iron Man 3, the much smaller budget of the animated film puts it firmly at the top of the list when it comes to return on investment. Being the “single most profitable film in the 100 year history of Universal Studios” is no small feat for a studio that once released Jaws in 1975.

So how did this film perform so well? One explanation is likely the fact that it’s a sequel to a popular animated film. The timing of the film’s release also worked out extremely well — coming out only two weeks after Monsters University, the film could have suffered from that film’s success, but instead seemed to piggyback off of it. Despicable Me 2 then had a solid two-week lead on the next animated film’s release — DreamWorks Animation’s Turbo. So the film found itself in good position early in the summer before the market started to get overly saturated.

There’s also something to be said about the fact that the film was good — it currently holds a 75 percent “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and, despite what executives sometimes seem to think, kids do notice that stuff.

2. Monsters University, Walt Disney Co.

Source: Pixar Studios

Next up is the Pixar animated Monsters University, which has made $260 million domestically and $615 million worldwide.

Released on June 21, the film was one of the first to get to the theaters this summer and likely benefited from being the first big children’s film released in the heart of summer. While another film, 21st Century Fox’s (NASDAQ:FOXA) Epic, actually beat it to theaters by about a month, Monsters University basically had the children’s movie market all to itself for the next two weeks while continuing to have solid business weeks after.

Aside from the great timing, the film likely benefited from being, like Despicable Me 2, the sequel to a well-regarded animated film — both critically and with children. Having the Pixar badge never hurts, and the film also opened to great reviews — Rotten Tomatoes shows the film as having a 78 percent “Fresh” rating among critics.

3. Epic, 21st Century Fox

(Source Fox)

At third place on the list, Epic came out a little earlier than the others on this list and gets lost in the summer animated talk. However, with a release date of May 24, the film falls under Box Office Mojo’s summer season, so it will be included on this list. Epic, coming from Fox, made $106 million domestically and a worldwide total of $245 million.

This is the point in which the list takes a turn towards the unprofitable. With a production budget of $100 million, Epic likely broke even at best when marketing costs were added to the figure. While the films later on this list suffered from over-saturation of the children’s film market, Epic has no excuse. It was the first to the theaters right when schools were getting out, but didn’t capitalize. So what happened?

Well, one issue seems to be, unfortunately, that the film is an original story and is not a sequel like the two films above it. With no built-in fan-base, the film didn’t garner much buzz. Of course, if the film was really good, this could have been overcome, but that wasn’t necessarily the case. While the Rotten Tomatoes score of 64 percent “Fresh” is by no means terrible, it’s fairly average with many critics pointing out that the film felt all too familiar.

4. Turbo, DreamWorks Animation

Chevy DreamWorks Turbo Movie

Turbo, still in theaters, is the film that caused many onlookers to question whether the children’s film market was over-saturated. The film currently stands at $75 million domestically and $130 million worldwide. For a film that cost $135 million to produce, you can see why it is being called a flop.

In the case of DreamWorks Animation’s Turbo, you can likely chalk up the issue to market-saturation like most analysts have been saying. The film came out only two weeks after Despicable Me 2, which has actually continued to beat Turbo at the box office every weekend. During Turbo’s opening week, it’s also likely that Monsters University, which had then been out for about a month, was still eating into Turbo’s box office. Bad timing.

Timing was likely what did the film in since it was received fairly well by critics. Rotten Tomatoes has it at 64 percent “Fresh” overall — and if you look to the “Top Critics,” the film rises to a very respectable score of 73 percent “Fresh.”

5. The Smurfs 2, Sony

(source sony)

The Smurfs 2 is another film currently in theaters that appears to be suffering from over-saturation. The film has currently made $46 million at the domestic box office and $99 million at the worldwide box office.

This one’s a little more complicated to explain because the film could be analyzed completely differently looking at its foreign performance vs its domestic performance. Domestically, the film is under-performing a great deal compared to the original film so it would appear that the impact of the film being a sequel didn’t help as much as the films higher up on the list. Released into a market flooded with animated films, The Smurfs 2 didn’t really ever stand a chance — especially with a “Fresh” percentage of 13 percent. Ouch.

However, in the long run this film might end up being profitable because of the series’ strange ability to perform well overseas. Sony is banking on this fact to make up for the tepid results at the domestic box office and when all is said and done, the film might actually be profitable enough to shoot up to number three on this list. But no further.

6. Planes, Walt Disney Co.

(source disney)

The newest film on this list, Planes looks like it will make about $25 million or so in its opening weekend domestically. The film has not been released worldwide as of yet.

The film will likely end up around the number four spot on this list when the summer is through despite releasing into an arduous film climate. The animated comedy was originally intended as a direct-to-DVD spin-off of Pixar’s Cars franchise and was not made by Pixar despite the film looking as if it was. Because of children who are huge fans of the Cars franchise, this film is likely to pull in decent numbers at the box office despite the fact that the film has a 24 percent “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Look for Planes to eventually settle somewhere in the realm of $100 million domestically with a high yield overseas.

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