Studio Report Card: Paramount is No. 1, but Who Will Finish 2nd?

July 1 marks the halfway point of the movie year, and there is a clear winner among the major Hollywood studios. With the top 3 grossing movies of 2008, Paramount is riding high with both Marvel’s Iron Man and Lucasfilm’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull topping $300M and DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda at $181M now and a cinch for $200M+. The Melrose gang will be the first studio in history with back-to-back-to-back $200M+ grossing movies.

With an estimated $1.054 billion in domestic box office, it will be impossible for anyone to catch Paramount in the market share race for 2008, especially when the studio has 2 sure bets for $100M+ due in the next 6 months. First comes the much buzzed-about DreamWorks comedy Tropic Thunder in August, featuring another standout Robert Downey Jr. performance and a scene-stealing turn by Tom Cruise. Then comes Madagascar 2, also from DreamWorks, in November, which I am hearing very positive reports about.

Paramount is likely to exceed the $1.49 billion in domestic box office it generated last year, and they have an outside shot at surpassing the all-time record $1.71 billion generated by Sony in 2006. To do it, the studio would need Madagascar 2 to be huge and to get help from DreamWorks’ DJ Caruso/Shia LaBeouf re-teaming for Eagle Eye in September, David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button in December and perhaps Joe Wright’s follow-up to Atonement, The Soloist, starring Robert Downey Jr. (again), Jamie Foxx and Catherine Keener, which is expected sometime this fall with plenty of Oscar buzz.

The battle is on for the year’s #2 spot, which Fox now holds with almost $650M domestic. Horton Hears a Who ($154M domestic) has led the way for Fox, and the rest of the studio’s year has been comprised of good solid hits like 27 Dresses, starring Katherine Heigl ($76.8M), Doug Liman’s Jumper ($80.15M) and the Ashton KutcherCameron Diaz vehicle What Happens in Vegas ($79M). The always smartly run Fox even managed to wring about $60M out of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening so far.

Meet Dave, starring Eddie Murphy, is Fox’s next release with director Brian Robbins trying to recapture the box office glory of Norbit ($95.6M domestic). If Murphy scores, Fox will have a leg-up on the competition for the year-end 2nd-best market share, although they follow with the animated Space Chimps on July 18 and the long-awaited X-Files sequel on July 25, both of which are viewed as less-than-sure things. The studio’s late year breakout hit candidates include Bill Murray and Tim Robbins in the futuristic City of Ember in October, Baz Luhrman’s highly anticipated Australia at Thanksgiving, a remake of 1951’s The Day the Earth Stood Still (featuring Keanu Reeves as Klaatu) in December and Marley & Me, based on John Grogan’s bestselling memoir and starring Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson, at Christmas.

The surest blockbuster in the second half of 2008 is, without question, The Dark Knight. With $200M all-but-assured for the Christopher Nolan sequel and Get Smart a safe bet to exceed $100M, Warner Bros will have three $100M grossing films (Sex and the City is the 3rd) and one near-miss with Roland Emmerich’s 10,000 B.C., which topped out at $95M domestic. The studio is currently #3 in market share with an estimated $505M in U.S. theaters.

When you consider that Warner Bros still has Star Wars: The Clone Wars due in August, the re-teaming of Diane Lane and Richard Gere in Nights in Rodanthe in September, Ridley Scott’s House of Lies, based on the excellent David Ignatius CIA thriller Body of Lies and starring Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio, in October, and the next Harry Potter installment set for Thanksgiving, Warner Bros is probably the betting favorite to be 2008’s #2 studio.

With $472M banked so far in 2008, you cannot count Sony out of the battle for 2nd place. Although Hancock will be the studio’s first $100M+ hit of 2008, it certainly will not be their last. The year has featured 3 good, solid box office successes with You Don’t Mess with the Zohan ($91.67M so far), 21 ($81.15M) and Vantage Point ($72.26M), and the Will Smith superhero film, which opened last night, is a can’t-miss.

Four major blockbusters loom for Sony starting with Step Brothers, starring Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, on July 25, followed by Judd Apatow’s The Pineapple Express, which will compete with Tropic Thunder for the biggest late-summer hit. (James Franco, who plays a hilarious stoner, could be one of the breakout stars of the year.) The studio will finish the year with the newest James Bond film Quantum of Solace and Will Smith in the Oscar-friendly-but-still-commercial 7 Pounds.

Universal is currently #6 with $447M domestic, but the year is heating up for them. Although the Marvel-financed and -produced Incredible Hulk appears to have stalled out and will finish its domestic run with less than Ang Lee’s version 5 years ago, it still should reach about $130M. Wanted, starring Angelina Jolie and James McAvoy, is just beginning what should be a healthy run well above $100M. The studio follows next Friday with Hellboy II, a Guillermo Del Toro sequel to his wildly original 2004 movie Hellboy. The franchise-starter generated a domestic gross of only $59.62M, but the movie found new fans on DVD and cable and Del Toro had a few more dollars to play with this time. If Universal connects with Hellboy II, a streak of five $100M+ grossing films is not out of the question because both Mamma Mia! and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor are good bets to pass that magical threshold.

The end of the year for Universal features a few Oscar contenders, including Flash of Genius and Frost/Nixon, an important prestige film with both Oscar pedigree and some box office upside, Clint Eastwood’s Changeling, starring Angelina Jolie, and the animated Tale of Despereaux.

Disney’s biggest 2008 hit to-date is The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian with an underwhelming $138M, but Wall-E, after a $60M+ opening weekend, is a game-changer with $250M domestic not out of the question. Disney has generated a total of $475M domestic so far, but its only remaining titles that show blockbuster potential are High School Musical 3 in October, the animated Bolt in November and Adam Sandler‘s Christmas comedy Bedtime Stories. Because of its strictly limited number of releases, Disney is unlikely to compete for the #2 market share in ’08.

Among the 5 studios above, I consider Warner Bros to be the favorite to finish the year with the 2nd-best market share with odds of 5/2. Sony is the next best bet at 7/2 followed by Fox at 6/1, Universal a live underdog at 8/1 and Disney 15/1.