"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" Could Lead Disney to $3 Billion In Studio Profits

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens should push Disney's film and TV profits to new highs, but not as fast as some might like. Image credit: StarWars.com.

May the fourth be with you! That's the rallying cry for what's become Star Wars Day, an annual rite among longtime fans of theStar Warsuniverse of films, cartoons, comics, toys, books, games, and everything else either licensed or made byDisney's Lucasfilm division. In honor of the day, we're taking a closer look at the likely financial impact ofStar Wars: The Force Awakens, due in theaters this December. It's probably not what you think.

Get ready for another record
Not that it'll lack impact. Huge fan interest in the newest trailer for The Force Awakens suggests a record-breaking performance at the box office:

Movie (trailer version) YouTube Views Approval %
Star Wars: The Force Awakens(teaser 2) 47,670,978 97.8%
Avengers: Age of Ultron (trailer 3)
33,026,635 97.6%
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice(teaser 1) 32,876,131 95.1%
Ant-Man(trailer 1) 11,005,195 97%
Fantastic Four(trailer 1) 8,126,051 87.1%

Data as of April 30, 2015. Source: YouTube.

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Look at that table again before you move on.The Force Awakens not only earns higher approvals but also 44% more views than the final trailer forAge of Ultron, screening at what should be the apex of interest in the film. An analysis by Networked Insights points a record $240 million domestic opening this weekend. Other data point to Age of Ultron netting$2 billion at the global box office. ThatStar Wars:The Force Awakensis more grabbing at this point should be telling.

How this mouse gets his cheese
So 2015 is going to be the biggest year in the history of Walt Disney Studios, right? Wrong; 2016 is going to bemuch bigger. Here's why:

Fiscal Year* Studio Revenue Operating Income Operating Margin % Key Theatrical Releases
2015 $1,858 million $544 million 29.3% Big Hero 6,Cinderella,Avengers: Age of Ultron,Inside Out,Ant-Man
2014 $7,278 million $1,549 million 21.3% Frozen, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Maleficent,Guardians of the Galaxy
2013 $5,979 million $661 million 11.1% Iron Man 3,Monsters University
2012 $5,825 million $722 million 12.4% The Avengers, Brave
2011 $6,351 million $618 million 9.7% Tangled,Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,Cars 2
2010 $6,701 million $693 million 10.3% Toy Story 3,Alice In Wonderland

Source: S&P Capital IQ.Box Office Mojo.
* Disney's fiscal year usually concludes at the end of September.

See the pattern? Disney ends its fiscal year on or around September 30, which means big-ticket November releases from Marvel and Disney Animation act as catalysts for the year to follow. In 2015, these kick-starters include Pixar'sThe Good Dinosaur (Nov. 25) and, of course,Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Dec. 18). Follow that withCaptain America: Civil War (May 6, 2016) andFinding Dory (June 17, 2016) and you've four potential blockbusters due in fiscal year 2016.

To put this in perspective, Disney Studios broke records in fiscal year 2014 on the strength ofFrozen ($1.27 billion worldwide),Captain America: The Winter Soldier ($714.8 million),Maleficent ($758.4 million), andGuardians of the Galaxy ($774.2 million). Considering what we already know about fan interest inThe Force Awakens, it wouldn't be surprising to see more records broken this fiscal year and next. Heck, we're only a quarter into fiscal year 2015 and already Disney Studios is on track to eclipse $2 billion in operating profit. Next year, Disney could earn close to that just on the strength ofThe Force Awakens andCaptain America:Civil War, which teams two box office favorites in Chris Evans' Cap and Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man.

Three more things should stand out as you look at the table above:

  1. Multiple Marvel movies makes a huge difference.Disney took over from Paramount for distribution of Marvel movies with 2012'sThe Avengers. Studio operating profit has been on a sharp uptick ever since, mostly because films such asIron Man 3 andGuardians of the Galaxy tend to generate strong home video sales. (Over $80 million and $111 million, respectively,at last count.)
  2. Animated tentpoles are key to the mix.Frozen is one of the great Disney success stories, but it's also hardly alone as a recent catalyst among the studio's animated properties. At $652 millionin worldwide ticket sales and $76.8 million in home video sales,Big Hero 6 is arguably responsible for a huge chunk of Disney Studios' massive first-quarter operating profit.
  3. Disney's franchise focus is producing progressively higher returns.The biggest winners in Disney Studios' lineup are movies that build on each other. Avengers leads to Iron Man 3, which leads to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which leads toGuardians of the Galaxy. Continuity is getting fans interested in seeing what comes next.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the next to come from Disney's franchise factory. Whether or not it helps the House of Mouse eclipse $3 billion in studio operating profit in fiscal year 2016 is anyone's guess. Regardless, one thing is certain: Thanks to a growing roster of bankable film projects, The Force is strong with this business.

The article "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" Could Lead Disney to $3 Billion In Studio Profits originally appeared on Fool.com.

Tim Beyersstill owns his share of Star Wars comics. He's also a member of theMotley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team and the Motley Fool Supernova Odyssey I mission and owned shares of Apple and Disney at the time of publication. Check out Tim'sweb homeandportfolio holdingsor connect with him onGoogle+,Tumblr, or Twitter, where he goes by@milehighfool.The Motley Fool recommends Apple and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.