With the addition of 3D ticket pricing and the rapid expansion of the foreign market in areas like China and Russia, reaching $1 billion definitely isn't all that it used to be. Still, it hasn't lost all its prestige, and hitting that mark remains an undeniable sign that a movie is a global sensation.
Four 2012 movies reached that coveted level, though only one (Skyfall) was a major surprise. 2013, on the other hand, doesn't have as many obvious choices, and it's therefore unlikely we'll once again see four $1 billion titles.
Excluding Jurassic Park—which will obviously pass $1 billion thanks to its 3D re-release—here's a look at the 2013 movies that could ultimately reach $1 billion, along with what we think the odds are of that happening.
Iron Man 3 (May)
Instead of viewing Iron Man 3 as a sequel to Iron Man 2 ($624 million), it's more beneficial to view it as a spin-off featuring the most-popular character from The Avengers (sorry, Hulk, but Tony Stark/Iron Man is still easily the most widely-liked member of the team). That movie ranks third all-time with over $1.5 billion worldwide; if Iron Man 3's drop from The Avengers is in line with that of recent spin-offs X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Puss in Boots, it will absolutely earn over $1 billion. Odds: 60%
Star Trek Into Darkness (May)
Star Trek Into Darkness looks like a massive blockbuster, but it's coming off a 2009 predecessor that only managed to earn $128 million overseas. Into Darkness is clearly designed with a foreign audience in mind—director J.J. Abrams was mandated to make it 3D, and it appears like a large portion of the movie is set in futuristic London—and four years of positive word-of-mouth on the 2009 movie will significantly increase demand for this one. Still, it would need to get past $600 million overseas, which would be an unprecedented overseas jump. Odds: 5%
Fast & Furious 6 (May)
2011's Fast Five put the Fast & Furious franchise in a great position: not only was it by-far the highest-grossing entry yet with $626 million worldwide, but it was also a major crowd-pleaser that featured the kind of post-credits twist that has had fans chomping at the bit for the past two years. The previews for Fast & Furious 6 deliver all the car-related destruction these fans expect, while also presenting a new story and new location (London/Europe). Still, it's entirely possible that this series is nearing its ceiling, and a 60 percent increase worldwide is hard to fathom. Odds: 25%
Monsters University (June)
Monsters University is the third Disney/Pixar sequel in the past four Summers; the first one, Toy Story 3, is the highest-grossing animated movie ever with $1.06 billion, while Cars 2 underwhelmed a bit with $560 million. Monsters, Inc. is a very well-liked Pixar movie, but isn't put on quite the same pedestal as the first two Toy Story movies. Also, instead of actually moving the story forward, Disney/Pixar opted to go the prequel route, which means the story itself won't be nearly as essential for audiences. If Monsters University turns out to be a return to greatness, then $1 billion is a possibility, but don't count on it. Odds: 15%
Despicable Me 2 (July)
In 2010, Despicable Me introduced audiences to the Minions and earned over $543 million worldwide. As well-liked as it is, though, history suggests it has no chance of reaching $1 billion: in fact, using other recent closely-timed animated sequels as comparable titles, it's unlikely that Despicable Me 2 makes it past $700 million. Odds: 10%
Thor: The Dark World (November)
Coming off The Avengers, the second Thor movie will clearly do better business than the first ($449 million). Still, the title character isn't nearly as popular as Iron Man, and so it's doubtful that it holds on to more than half of The Avengers's $1.5 billion. Odds: 20%
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (November)
At the domestic box office, The Hunger Games earned an incredible $408 million, which is more than any of the Harry Potter or Twilight movies. Unfortunately, it was a modest overseas performer with $283.2 million. In much the same way as the Twilight franchise experienced a huge overseas bump from the first to second movie, though, so should The Hunger Games, and a foreign total for the sequel in the realm of $500 million wouldn't be surprising. That still makes $1 billion tough to reach, but if a non-3D movie is going to do it in 2013, it's going to be Catching Fire. Odds: 40%
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (December)
Each Lord of the Rings movie earned more than its predecessor, and by that logic The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug should be able to top An Unexpected Journey $1.02 billion. No matter how vocal the fans are, though, it has become abundantly clear that An Unexpected Journey isn't as well-liked as the original movies. Therefore, it's going to take an impressive marketing effort to get Smaug to avoid the modest three percent dip that would put it below $1 billion. Odds: 50%
Only three "original" movies—as in, not sequels or prequels—have ever earned $1 billion worldwide. Two of those movies were made by James Cameron (Avatar and Titanic), and the third (Alice in Wonderland) owes at least a tiny amount of its box office to goodwill generated by Avatar a few months earlier. All of this is to say that the odds are extremely low that an "original" 2013 movie reaches $1 billion.
Oz The Great and Powerful had a miniscule chance of performing similar to Alice in Wonderland, though any and all hope was squashed when it opened considerably lower than Alice on an overseas basis this past weekend (around 50 percent lower across major markets).
With Zack Snyder's stylish direction, guidance from Christopher Nolan, and the addition of 3D pricing, June's Man of Steel has a lot going for it. Still, the movie would need to earn nearly three times as much as 2006's Superman Returns, which is a near impossibility.
Johnny Depp has starred in three $1 billion movies (a record), and Lone Ranger's marketing has been pushing the Pirates of the Caribbean connection. Unfortunately, its previews have been met with a lukewarm reception so far, and Westerns are a notoriously tough sell overseas.
Finally, with its skyscraper-sized robots going up against giant monsters, July's Pacific Rim is sure to do great business in Asia at least. The rest of the world, though, is another story, and coming anywhere close to $1 billion is a stretch.
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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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