We’ve already looked at the massive blockbusters Disney (DIS) is releasing in 2019 with hopes of dominating the box office. We’ve also explored how Universal Pictures has kept pace with the Mouse House’s cinematic onslaught without the aid of any superheroes. Now, it’s time to check out another major movie studio that consistently finds itself among the top box-office winners: Warner Bros.
WB is a storied 96-year-old studio known for its filmmaker-friendly approach, and this year we can pinpoint eight movies that could potentially make or break its bottom line. Let’s run through them.
Shazam! (April 5)
Zachary Levi (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) stars as Billy Batson, a troubled 14-year-old orphan who is suddenly imbued with the powers of an ancient wizard that enable him to transform into the caped crusader Shazam. It’s basically Tom Hanks’ Big with superheroes, which is a fantastic elevator pitch.
The movie’s trailers and promotional materials have been met with widespread enthusiasm from fans, and social media buzz has been overwhelmingly positive from the get-go. More important, Shazam! is the least expensive film in WB’s shared DC Universe, with a budget of between $80 million and $90 million. That means it doesn’t need to be a $1 billion behemoth to be a big winner for the studio. Given that Shazam! and Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame are just three weeks apart, that’s especially crucial.
Expect Shazam! to perpetuate Aquaman‘s populist momentum and generate a tidy profit.
POKÉMON Detective Pikachu (May 10)
Speaking of blockbuster business, Detective Pikachu is WB’s best bet to cross the vaunted $1 billion mark this year. Fans have been lavishing praise on the film’s photo-realistic rendering of Pokémon, the star of one of the most popular media franchises in history. To say there’s a significant built-in fan base is like saying chocolate chip cookies are a moderately popular snack option.
WB seems to feel the same way, as it’s showing a ton of confidence in the property—a sequel is already in the works. Word of mouth will be essential for Detective Pikachu‘s legs since it’s sandwiched in between Avengers: Endgame (April 26) and John Wick: Chapter 3 (May 17) and Aladdin (May 24). If the finished product generates strong reviews, the family-friendly and cross-generational title will draw a ton of repeat customers while selling an ungodly number of toys. Ideally, the Dream Factory wants Detective Pikachu to birth its next franchise, especially as the future of the Fantastic Beasts series remains clouded.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters (May 31)
Don’t look now, but WB and Legendary Entertainment’s MonsterVerse have been chugging along quite impressively, and in a decidedly un-Marvel-like fashion. Over two films, the MonsterVerse has grossed more than $1 billion, and its momentum only seems to be growing.
There was a strong outpouring of love for this film’s trailers last year, and the abundance of both familiar and new god-sized creatures promises sheer buttery-popcorn splendor. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Godzilla: King of the Monsters—which stars Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown and more marquee names—outgrosses its two predecessors. However, the studios have a lot riding on this one, as 2020’s Godzilla vs. Kong is already filming. It would be a monumental setback for it to underperform at the box office or fail to connect with audiences directly ahead of the MonsterVerse’s culminating crossover. Any stumbles along the way spell trouble in the long term.
It: Chapter Two (September 6)
First off, can we all please agree that WB and New Line Cinema missed a golden opportunity to title this film It: You’ll Float II?
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the away, 2017’s It was the studio’s most surprising breakout hit. Made on a midsize budget of $35 million, the adaptation of Stephen King’s seminal horror novel defied all expectations with a record-setting $123 million opening and a worldwide final total of more than $700 million to become the highest-grossing horror movie ever.
Outside of Marvel, sequels don’t consistently outgross their predecessors, so it would be irresponsible to expect the same kind of blockbuster results from It: Chapter Two. That said, the horror genre has consistently provided Hollywood with its best bang-for-your-buck formula, and this flick sports some notable names including Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy and Bill Hader.
The Kitchen (September 20)
We previously highlighted The Kitchen as one of 2019’s potential sleeper hits, and it’s easy to see why. The movie is led by the stellar cast of Elisabeth Moss, Tiffany Haddish and Melissa McCarthy, playing the wives of Irish mobsters who each take over organized crime operations after the FBI arrests their husbands. From a marketing perspective, it doesn’t get much cooler than that.
The Kitchen will either be a low-budget breakout that does surprisingly good business or an inexpensive film that won’t really alter WB’s bottom line should it miss. On paper, it has significant potential in a Widows-meets-Ocean’s 8 kind of way. It’s a badass female-fronted story based on the popular Vertigo comics series of the same name. Though adult-skewing dramas have a streaky track record these days, it’s easy to envision a scenario in which moviegoers champion something small and serious like this ahead of late 2019’s blockbuster stretch (Frozen II, Jumanji 3, Star Wars: Episode IX).
Joker (October 4)
At $55 million, Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker is hardly a gamble for the WB-owned DC Films. Worst-case scenario: The divisive idea of an origin story for Batman’s greatest foe frustrates comic book fans and fizzles out at the box office. Best-case scenario: The experimental crime-thriller creates a need for more adventurous superhero material that blends different genres and noncommercial flourishes.
If Joker—which stars Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro and Zazie Beetz in the tale of a failed stand-up comedian who is driven insane—is a hit, expect DC Films to unveil a new banner solely dedicated to these out-there standalones. We’re big believers in that overarching strategy and are fully on board with the vibe of this unsettling take. The great thing about standalone efforts is that they give you free rein to take risks, which is what the superhero genre needs to stay fresh. Joker will be an important benchmark for the genre as it attempts to evolve.
The Goldfinch (October 11)
Based on Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize–winning 2013 novel of the same name, The Goldfinch revolves around a boy in New York who is taken in by a wealthy Upper East Side family after his mother is killed in a bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
This is Warner Bros.’ big Oscars bet, a prestige drama directed by John Crowley, who helmed 2015’s Academy Award–nominated Brooklyn. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a major financial success—no domestic box-office leader has won Best Picture since 2003’s Return of the King, and the last $100 million-plus Best Picture winner was 2012’s Argo—but the studio is at least hoping the film keeps it in the Academy’s conversation. WB must be feeling the sting after A Star Is Born was prematurely anointed an Oscars juggernaut upon its release only to flame out in the last stretch of awards season.
Doctor Sleep (November 8)
Stephen King adaptations are clearly in demand right now, and Doctor Sleep has the benefit of coasting off of name-brand power. It follows an adult Danny Torrence, the little boy from The Shining, so WB could play up the “decades-in-the-making sequel” element for added value if it wants.
As a book, Doctor Sleep is perfectly serviceable—an all-grown-up Dan meets a young girl with similar powers and tries to protect her from a cult known as The True Knots, which preys on children with powers so that its members can remain immortal. And with Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson and Jacob Tremblay in the fold, its film adaptation is extremely well cast. Could WB weaponize our nostalgia enough to catapult a standard King story to borderline blockbuster levels?