2015 was supposed to be the year that Disney crushed everyone in their path, when things aligned just right and they clobbered everyone else like they were Ivan Drago.
They has a live-action offering of one of their most beloved, popular and enduring tales, "Cinderella", set for March.
They had two Marvel Studios films including their gold standard franchise returning with "Avengers: Age of Ultron" in May and then a fresh franchise ready to begin with "Ant-Man" in July.
They had an original film from Brad Bird, the guy who was responsible for "The Incredibles", with "Tomorrowland".
They had perhaps the biggest franchise returning with an all-new installments, with "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" ready to possibly set records this December.
To top it off, thanks to postponing "The Good Dinosaur" in 2014, they had two Pixar films coming out in 2015 - the aforementioned, which will open around Thanksgiving and "Inside Out" , which was slated for June.
Oh, and if all that weren't enough, they had a little film called "Bridge of Spies" coming out in October, which merely is directed by Steven Spielberg, stars Tom Hanks and is written by the Coen Brothers.
With a lineup like that, Disney was supposed to bludgeon the other studios into submission.
To paraphrase what someone said about Drago in "Rocky IV": "Whatever they hit, they destroy".
However, like Rocky Balboa, Universal Studios didn't get the message.
Bolstered by 3 films originally supposed to hit cineplexes in 2014 - "Fifty Shades of Grey", "Furious 7" and "Minions" - it is Universal that has had what seems like a Dream Team lineup, with a record0-breaker seemingly every other week.
Shrugging off early disasters "Blackhat", which grossed a pathetic $7.8 million domestically and "Seventh Son", which took in a paltry $17 million (Note: All box-office from here on will be domestic grosses only. I will do a Worldwide comparison at another time) Universal has done so well to this point, some analysts have already ceded the 2015 domestic box-office crown to them.
When you look at the rankings by studio, it is easy to see why.
Universal is leading Disney by a whopping 7.2 percentage points! 26.8 to 19.6! Warner Brothers is the only other studio withing shouting distance, but their lineup isn't nearly as loaded as those for Universal and Disney the rest of the way.
With 10 2015 films so far, Universal has generated a whopping 1.625 BILLION domestically in 2015 already. This is mainly due to "Fifty Shades of Grey" generating $166.1 million; "Furious 7" exceeding all expectations with $351 million so far; "Pitch Perfect 2" crushing expectations with $183 million so far; the might of "Minions", with a record-breaking 115.7 million so far and of course, the monstrous success of "Jurassic World", with $590 million so far and a lock to hit $600 million.
Even "Ted 2", though a disappointment, has been far from a disaster with $71.6 million so far.
Meanwhile, Disney has generated $1.1 billion so far (as of July 12). This is mainly due to "Avengers: Age of Ultron" ($455.2 million so far); "Inside Out" ($284 million so far) and "Cinderella" ($200.7 million so far). Even the "bomb" "Tomorrowland" generated $91.4 million.
After that, you have to go to "Into The Woods", a 2014 film that generated $63.9 million in 2015 and then small-budget "McFarland USA", which generated a modest $44 million.
Those are followed by the fumes of 2014 hit "Big Hero 6" ($17.9 million in 2015) and the bombs "Monkey Kingdom" ($16.4 million) and "Strange Magic" ($12.4 million).
Disney has had two problems in regard to Universal.
One, even with Disney's biggest hits, Universal's have been bigger so far That "Jurassic World" will outgross "Avengers: Age of Ultron" by $150 million domestically is one example of that. So is the fact that "Minions" opened bigger than "Inside Out".
All in all three Universal films have opened to over $100 million in 2015: "Jurassic World" ($208.8 million), "Furious 7" ($147.1 million) and "Minions" ($115.7 million).
For Disney, only "Avengers: Age of Ultron" has crashed that barrier so far.
But there is still a chance Disney can catch up.
That's where the importance of "Ant-Man comes in.
Because tracking shows the film will open at $55-60 million opening weekend. This would pace it at or near the bottom of openings for the Marvel Cinematic Universe films.
Even with good word of mouth, that would translate to a good-but-not great final gross of about $175-$200 million domestically.
If "Ant-Man" finds itself losing kids to "Minions" and adults to Amy Schumer's "Trainwreck" this weekend, it could perform BELOW expectations, which would not only blow any shot of Disney being close to #1 this year, but likely cause a lot of ripples at Marvel Studios:
1.) A perceived failure by "Ant-Man" could cause Marvel Studios to take less chances.Kevin Feige said during Marvel's big slate announcement last October that it was the success of "Guardians of the Galaxy" last year that gave the studio confidence to take chances with new properties like "Doctor Strange", "Captain Marvel", "Black Panther" and "Inhumans".
While a flaccid showing by "Ant-Man" likely will not cause any of those to be canceled, it could cause fewer new characters being planned for the future - and we definitely will wind up seeing an "Iron Man 4" before an "Ant-Man 2".
2.) A perceived failure by "Ant-Man" will pierce Marvel Studios' aura of invincibility - just as DC/Warner is ready to start their cinematic universe and Fox has 3 X-films coming in 2016.
This would be far from ideal.
3.) The narrative that Marvel's disagreement with Edgar Wright doomed the film and damaged Marvel Studios' reputation as being not friendly to directors will take hold.
However, "Ant-Man" has a really great shot of exceeding expectations.
1.) For one thing, "Minions" is already slowing down.Seriously, after opening weekend, "Minions had grossed a whopping $32 million more than "Despicable Me 2" . But only 2 days later, it was only $4 million ahead of the pace set by "Despicable Me 2". If this is due to the bad reviews and bad word-of-mouth, many families could change their plans to "Ant-Man".
2.) A 76% Rotten Tomatoes rating is not bad (it' 15th best on the list of all 39 films based on Marvel characters) and those who love it, LOVE IT!!
3.) "Guardians of the Galaxy" was tracking for a $60 million opening weekend as well and wound up with a $94.3 million opening weekend. While the competition is a bit fiercer this year, a $75 million opening weekend is certainly possible.
Which would mean all bets are off! The film is geared toward families, so it should have strong legs if it opens well.
Which means Marvel Studios will be flying high and the Battle for 2015 will still be alive!