Showbiz Stock Watch: Warner Bros Is the Favorite in the 2008 Market Share

The certain $500M+ domestic box office take of The Dark Knight has moved Warner Bros past Paramount/Dreamworks in the 2008 market share race, and, with Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince set for November, the studio seemed a lock to sail past Sony’s 2006 domestic box office record of $1.71 billion. The 2008 release schedule got a major shake-up on Thursday, however, as Warner Bros shifted Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to next July ’09.

Warner Bros still seems likely to be Hollywood’s No. 1 studio for this year, edging Paramount/Dreamworks, and they seem destined to post at least the second-best all-time annual domestic haul with something over $1.6 billion. And, as the studio continues to juggle its release schedule, it is not inconceivable that WB could still top the Sony record, even without Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince .

Star Wars: The Clone Wars, opening this week, seems unlikely to break out in a big way for Warner Bros, so the studio will ride a few key titles the rest of the year (although nobody is writing the release schedule in ink). There is the film adaptation of the Nicholas Sparks novel Nights in Rodanthe (9/26), starring Richard Gere and Diane Lane, Ridley Scott’s Body of Lies (10/10), based on the excellent David Ignatius CIA thriller, Pride & Glory (10/24), starring Edward Norton and Colin Farrell, and Four Christmases (11/26), inherited from New Line, featuring Reese WitherspoonVince Vaughn and an all-star cast. Warner Bros will also get a few big weeks from Jim Carrey’s sure-fire Yes Man in this calendar year, and Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino could arrive in December as well.

Paramount, which enjoyed back-to-back-to-back $200M grossing films this year, an industry first, has fallen about $175M behind Warner Bros. Tropic Thunder, from the Dreamworks pipeline seems likely to top $100M, then the Melrose gang wraps the year with Shia LaBeouf in Eagle Eye (9/26), a possible $200M gross from Madagascar 2 (11/7) and a couple of weeks of David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (12/25), starring Brad Pitt. There is also an unset wild card title in The Soloist from Atonement director Joe Wright and starring Robert Downey Jr., Catherine Keener and Jamie Foxx. My hunch is that Paramount/Dreamworks manages to push past $1.5 billion giving it one of the top 5 annual studio performances in history.

The smart money is on Sony to finish #3 in the market share race, riding its R-rated late summer hits Step Brothers and Pineapple Express, a possible October sleeper like Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist and the sure-fire James Bond picture Quantum of Solace to something in the $1.2 billion range. The other 3 of the big 6, Fox, Disney and Universal, should finish the year at right around $1 billion in domestic sales.