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Franchise-powered Disney can’t rest on laurels, studio president says

Zoe Saldana Chris Pratt Dave Bautista
A still from Disney’s summer hit “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
(Disney / AP)

Walt Disney Studios is riding its big tent-pole movies to box-office success, having put out the two biggest movies of the year so far: “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”

But even with new “Star Wars” efforts, animated sequels and, yes, more superhero movies coming in the next two years, the company isn’t “taking anything for granted,” said the studio’s president Alan Bergman, who oversees distribution.

The movies still have to be good.

“We can’t rest on our laurels, we have to make great movies,” Bergman said at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch 2014 Media, Communications & Entertainment Conference on Wednesday.

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Bergman, who has been the studio’s president since 2005, said the Burbank company’s focus on big brands such as Star Wars, Marvel and Pixar has reduced the risk of money-losing disappointments like 2013’s “The Lone Ranger” and the previous year’s “John Carter.”

Each year, Bergman said, audiences can expect two-to-three animated movies, two Marvel titles, one Star Wars film, two-to-three major live action offerings and some smaller movies.

The first Disney “Star Wars” film, the seventh in the saga, is coming next December, followed by the franchise’s first stand-alone film (directed by “Godzilla’s” Gareth Edwards) at the end of 2016. Bergman did not reveal details about the spin-off.

Talking about marketing the seventh installment of the venerable Lucasfilm series, Bergman said he’s “not really concerned about awareness on this one.”

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“‘Star Wars’ is a unique property,” he said. “I think this title is very well known out there. The single most important thing is to make sure the movie is great.”

Disney’s busy slate also includes the animated feature “Big Hero 6,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and Pixar’s “The Good Dinosaur." 

The tent poles have done well this year. “Guardians of the Galaxy” recently became the first film of the year to cross the $300-million mark in the U.S. and Canada, while the “Captain America” sequel grossed about $260 million. 

Industry-wide, the U.S. box office is down roughly 5% so far this year, following a summer that tanked 15% from 2013’s key season.

Despite successes, having popular brands does not make the Disney studio invincible, Bergman noted. 

“We’re not immune from flops,” he said. “We do believe, with our branded tent-pole strategy, we can reduce that risk to a certain degree.”

Follow Ryan Faughnder on Twitter for more entertainment business coverage: @rfaughnder


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