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Analyst Predicts Disney's New 'Star Wars' Film Will Gross $1.2 Billion, and That Looks Conservative


Despite "The Lone Ranger" flopping hard, prospects for Disney's film division look very bright with "Star Wars" coming in 2015.

Disney (NYSE:DIS) had a rough weekend, with its newest blockbuster and hopeful franchise-starter The Lone Ranger taking in a severely disappointing weekend gross of $29.3 million (it made $48.94 million if you include its early premiere on Wednesday). Winning the weekend handily was the Illumination-produced and Universal (NASDAQ:CMCSA)-distributed animated film Despicable Me 2, which took in $82.5 million over three days and $142.1 million over five (that marks Universal's largest five-day gross ever).

It is likely that Disney will lose somewhere between $150 million and $190 million on The Lone Ranger, which cost between $215 million and $250 million to produce. This rubs salt in the $200 million wound that the massive flop John Carter left at the studio last summer.

However, since Friday, Disney's stock is not down, but rather is 2.39% up, perhaps thanks to an analyst from Credit Suisse named Michael Senno. Two days ago, Senno wrote that he expects Star Wars: Episode VII, tentatively set for release in 2015, to generate $733 in profit for Disney. That level of profit will equate approximately to a staggering global gross of $1.2 billion. Because of this, Senno's new price target for Disney is $74.

Explaining this seemingly bold prediction in simple terms, Senno said, "The Star Wars franchise should drive strong profit growth and mitigate risk at the studio with fewer risky high-budget films." In this way, the Star Wars franchise sounds a lot like the Marvel franchise which has been so lucrative for Disney. After all, last summer's superhero extravaganza The Avengers took in $1.5 billion globally and is the third highest grossing film of all time (not adjusted for inflation).

Of course, $1.2 billion seems like a lot to predict, particularly as we're at least two years away from the film's release. However, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that Senno may not be too far off the money. In fact, he may be predicting conservatively: Star Wars Episode I was the first Star Wars reboot to hit theaters, in 1999. With a great deal of anticipation, marketing, and good-enough reviews, it grossed $1.03 billion. Star Wars Episode III, the latest Star Wars film, released in 2005, grossed $848,754,768. The second of the new trilogy, Star Wars Episode II, grossed $649,398,328 worldwide (it must be said, Episode II is generally accepted to be the worst of the Star Wars films). And going back to the beginning, the original Star Wars -- the movie that created the phenomena of lines around corners and kids going to see it five times -- grossed $775,398,007 in 1977. Adjusted for inflation, that's $1.4 billion, second only to Gone With the Wind as highest grossing film of all time.

Additionally, it's likely that Episode VII will be played on IMAX (NYSE:IMAX) and in 3D, which increases the price of tickets and accounts largely for the huge global grosses of the latest blockbusters.

Regardless, the next Star Wars film will have a high box office gross simply because J.J. Abrams, the film's director, and Disney are continuing one of the greatest film sagas of all time, and expanding it to a new audience. We can count on the marketing to be massive and ubiquitous. We can count on insane levels of hype and anticipation. What remains a mystery, however, is the quality of the film. If Abrams and his crew can create a Star Wars film on par with the story quality of the original trilogy, it is likely the next film will gross over $1.5 billion. If the new film proves to be uninspired, it may struggle to reach a billion, but that's still a ton of money.

Star Wars will play a pivotal role in Disney's attempt at global media domination in the next few years, but it is certainly not the studio's only star. For more on Disney's coming media assault, check out Disney Will Rule the World in 2015 by Sterling Wong.

Follow me on Twitter: @JoshWolonick and @Minyanville
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