With Frozen recently passing $1 billion and the Summer movie season right around the corner, now is as good a time as any to dive in to this question.
To date, only 16 movies have reached this level in their initial runs (Jurassic Park and The Phantom Menace needed 3D re-releases). With the rapid expansion of the foreign marketplace and the addition of 3D premiums, the chance of getting to $1 billion is higher than ever: in the past three years alone, nine different movies have made it there.
Of those nine, only one (Frozen) was an original movie. The rest are sequels, which were all able to grow an existing fanbase (rather than create one from scratch). It should be no surprise, then, that the 2014 releases with the best chance of reaching $1 billion are mostly franchise titles.
Of course, there's always a chance that something will surprise, as Frozen recently showed (it wasn't even included in this same feature last year).
Also worth noting: next year has three movies that are essentially guaranteed to earn over $1 billion: Avengers: Age of Ultron, Bond 24 and Star Wars: Episode VII. Other strong contenders include Fast & Furious 7, Minions and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2.
Here the odds on some of 2014's biggest movies, broken down in to two categories: "sequels" and "originals."
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (April)
By the end of its first weekend in the U.S., the Captain America sequel had already earned over $300 million worldwide. With strong reviews and good word-of-mouth, it seems like a safe bet that The Winter Soldier can wind up above Thor: The Dark World ($645 million). Still, it would require incredible holds to get to $1 billion, and it's going to run in to tough competition from The Amazing Spider-Man 2 beginning in mid-April. Odds: 10%
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (May)
The Spider-Man character has always had a strong worldwide presence: all four of the movies so far have earned over $750 million. However, even with 3D premiums, 2012's The Amazing Spider-Man was the lowest-grossing one so far, which suggests this series has lost some of its luster.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 does have a number of advantages, though. First, it has a better release date—the first weekend of May has historically been the best place to launch a comic book movie, and both The Avengers and Iron Man 3 recently over-performed in this spot. It also ups the ante with a handful of villains, including fan favorite Green Goblin.
Still, The Amazing Spider-Man only received a so-so response, which makes two underwhelming Spider-Man movies in a row. That's not a good trend, and usually foreshadows declining grosses. As of now, the best-case scenario for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is probably around $850 million worldwide. Odds: 20%
X-Men: Days of Future Past (May)
Bringing together the original cast and the First Class cast, X-Men: Days of Future Past is being positioned as the Avengers of X-Men movies. The original team delivers a strong jolt of nostalgia, while the First Class group has a significantly higher profile now than they did three years ago (in particular, Jennifer Lawrence is now a global superstar). Add in an exciting, high-stakes story involving time travel, and Days of Future Past is guaranteed to be the highest-grossing X-Men movie yet.
Unfortunately, the X-Men franchise doesn't have the greatest track record at the box office. Its domestic high is $234.4 million (2006's X-Men: The Last Stand), while its overseas high is $282.3 million (last year's The Wolverine). If it can grow the audience like The Avengers or The Dark Knight, it will clear $1 billion, but the odds of that happening are low. Odds: 20%.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 (June)
The first How to Train Your Dragon earned just shy of $500 million worldwide in early 2010. With goodwill from that well-received installment, and with a Summer that's oddly lacking animated competition, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is going to see significantly higher numbers. Last Summer's Despicable Me 2 leveraged its strong brand in to a 79 percent increase: if Dragon 2 does the same, it will fall just short of $900 million. Odds: 25%
Transformers: Age of Extinction (June)
From day one, the Transformers franchise was a huge moneymaker. It reached new heights with the third installment, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, which earned over $1.12 billion worldwide (currently sixth all-time). While Age of Extinction loses Shia LaBeouf, it adds Mark Wahlberg and dinosaur robots (so, probably a net gain).
With the questionable quality of the past two installments—and the general franchise fatigue that usually sets in by a fourth entry—Age of Extinction will almost certainly take a dip at the domestic box office. It's foolish to think this is made for U.S. audiences, though, and it should hold relatively steady overseas. In particular, look for it to put up record numbers in China: the last one earned over $165 million there, and Age of Extinction is partially set in the country. Odds: 70%
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (July)
The first Apes reboot—2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes—earned $482 million worldwide, and remains well-liked three years later. The sequel takes the story in an exciting new direction, pitting apes against humans in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. With a strong mid-July release date and the addition of 3D, it's undoubtedly going to get a big bump over its predecessor.
As with most of these other movies, though, the odds are extremely low that a sequel can double its predecessor's grosses. As a result, Apes is a very unlikely $1 billion contender. Odds: 15%
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 (November)
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire earned $865 million worldwide, which was a 25 percent improvement over its predecessor. If Mockingjay Part 1 experienced a similar boost, it would wind up close to $1.1 billion.
The odds of that happening again are slim. The first half of the Mockingjay book is largely set-up, and diverts significantly from the Hunger Games structure (there aren't any "games" this time around). Penultimate chapters in the Harry Potter and Twilight franchises—both of which were also the first half of a final book—only gained two percent on their predecessors. Mockingjay Part 1 will almost certainly do better than this, but $1 billion still isn't a lock. Odds: 40%
The Hobbit: There and Back Again (December)
The first Hobbit movie made it just past $1 billion, while The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug petered out around $950 million. The final installment will likely get back over $1 billion: audiences seemed to enjoy Smaug more than its predecessor, and series conclusions tend to see increased attendance. Odds: 55%
Continued with a look at 'Godzilla,' 'Interstellar,' 'Guardians of the Galaxy' & More >>
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• 'Hobbit' Journeys Past $1 Billion
• 'Hobbit' Huge Again, Bond Becomes Billionaire
• 'Dark Knight Rises' Joins Billionaire Club
• 'Avengers' Reaches $1 Billion Worldwide
• What's the Next Billion Dollar Movie?
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