Studios at a Crossroads

Jan Thilj/Snow White Productions

Companies don't have time to reflect on 2011 as they amp up for a 2012 calendar jam-packed with potential blockbusters -- and big risks.

Paramount
2011 releases: 15
Domestic: $1.96 billion | Intl: $3.21 billion | Worldwide: $5.17 billion

Where it Stands: Brad Grey's Paramount was the success story of 2011, stealing the domestic market-share crown from Warner Bros., as well as becoming the first studio in history to cross the $3 billion mark at the international box office. Paramount restored shine to both its Transformers and Mission: Impossible franchises, and started its own animation division after the success of Rango.

Biggest Challenges: Having enough product to fill its pipeline now that the Marvel distribution deal is done, coupled with the possible (if not likely) departure of Jeffrey Katzenberg's DreamWorks Animation at the end of 2012. Paramount's big tentpole gamble is Brad Pitt zombie pic World War Z, which opens Dec. 21.

Warner Bros.
2011 releases: 26
Domestic: $1.82 billion | Intl: $2.86 billion | Worldwide: $4.68 billion

Where it Stands: Warner Bros. had dramatic highs and lows in 2011, but remains one of the most admired, if not most prolific, Hollywood studios. The final Harry Potter pic was the top-grossing film of 2011, earning a franchise-best $1.328 billion. The bad news: Green Lantern, Happy Feet Two and New Year's Eve all fizzled.

Biggest Challenges: The Dark Knight Rises, set to open July 20, could be the biggest movie of 2012, but it also means the end of another key franchise for Warners. This ups the pressure on the studio to move on other DC heroes and turn them into film franchises. One easy out would be the successful relaunch of the Super-man franchise. Prequel Man of Steel, starring Henry Cavill, is set to open in mid-2013. Warners isn't without firepower in 2012: Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey opens in December. Other event pics with potential include Rock of Ages, Dark Shadows, Gravity and sequel Wrath of the Titans.

Sony
2011 releases: 23
Domestic: $1.27 billion | Intl: $1.83 billion | Worldwide: $3.1 billion

Where it Stands: Steady-as-you-go defined Sony's consistently solid performance in 2011, from The Smurfs to Just Go With It to Moneyball, while David Fincher's awards contender The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is headed for $100 million-plus in the U.S.

Biggest Challenges: Sony's worry isn't over relaunching its marquee franchise with The Amazing Spider-Man, opening July 3 (a more conservative budget this time around lessens the risk) but whether there is life in the Men in Black film series. MIB 3, set for release May 25, not only has a high budget but a big backend to the players. And for Will Smith, who hasn't been on the big screen since 2008 in Seven Pounds, it will test his star power and relatability to younger movie-goers. One of its Oscar bets is sure to be Kathryn Bigelow's untitled Navy SEALs project, which opens in December.

Disney
2011 releases: 14
Domestic: $1.24 billion | Intl: $2.17 billion | Worldwide: $3.41 billion

Where it Stands: After a tough start -- think Mars Needs Moms -- Disney had its third-best year in history, aided by Cars 2, The Help, The Lion King 3D and The Muppets.

Biggest Challenges: Disney's March release John Carter, directed by Pixar veteran Andrew Stanton and costing at least $175 million to produce, is one of the biggest gambles of 2012. Disney is also gearing up to release its first Marvel title The Avengers, which kicks off summer May 4 . So far, DreamWorks has only two movies set for 2012 after turning out six in 2011. One of those is Steven Spielberg's Lincoln, which is expected to open in December. There's the usual mix of animated pics, including Pixar's first female-led tentpole Brave, plus the 3D rereleases of Beauty and the Beast and Finding Nemo.

Universal
2011 releases: 15
Domestic: $1.04 billion | Intl: $1.3 billion | Worldwide: $2.34 billion

Where it Stands: Universal scored two notable wins in 2011: Fast Five and Bridesmaids. It also took several on the nose, including Cowboys & Aliens, which it co-financed with DreamWorks and Relativity.

Biggest Challenges: It has a dearth of franchises coming up but is betting big with two 2012 titles: Battleship, based on the classic Hasbro game, and Snow White and the Huntsman. Battleship's budget issues have been well-documented, while Snow White poses an interesting marketing challenge in plugging a female-centric fantasy. The film focuses on the conflict between Snow White, played by Kristen Stewart, and the queen, played by Charlize Theron. The Huntsman, played by Liam Hemsworth, is third-billed, although he's getting plenty of airtime on early promos for the film. Universal also will try to revive the Bourne franchise in 2012 -- but without Matt Damon.  The Bourne Legacy opens Aug. 3.

Fox
2011 releases: 15
Domestic: $997.8 million | Intl: $2.15 billion | Worldwide: $3.14 billion

Where it Stands: Fox finished 2011 last in domestic market share, although its continued fiscal prudence made losses including The Big Year and The Sitter bearable (the jury is out on Cameron Crowe's We Bought a Zoo, a soft starter). Fox remained a behemoth overseas, as well as impressing critics and fanboys alike with X-Men: First Class and Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

Biggest Challenges: Can Ridley Scott's Alien prequel Prometheus (June 8) restart the classic franchise? That's followed two weeks later on June 22 by Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. The rerelease of George Lucas' Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace, as well as Titanic (Fox shares rights with Paramount) should be easy money. The studio's big Christmas 2012 gamble is Life of Pi, based on the best-selling book and directed by Ang Lee.

Summit
2011 releases: 8
Domestic: $411.7 million | Intl: $753.7 million | Worldwide: $1.16 billion

Where it Stands: The house that Patrick Wachsberger and Rob Friedman built remained a happy place in 2011 as the second-to-last Twilight film grossed $657.9 million worldwide. Summit's other films only did modest business, while The Three Musketeers was a big disappointment. 

Biggest Challenges: What happens to Summit's domestic distribution business post-Twilight. One rumor making the rounds: a potential merger with Lionsgate. Still, never underestimate Friedman, a veteran studio executive formerly with Paramount, or Wachsberger, an international sales agent who is considered the best in the business via Summit International. Summit's 2012 release slate outside of Twilight includes thriller Man on a Ledge, opening Jan. 27, and Step Up 4, opening July 27.  Summit also is developing a big-screen adapation of sci-fi novel Ender's Game, set for release in 2013.

Relativity
2011 releases: 7
Domestic: $227.7 million | Intl: $275 million | Worldwide: $502.7 million

Where it Stands: Relativity's Ryan Kavanaugh remains one of the most-speculated-about executives in Hollywood. His fledgling film-distribution studio had a mixed 2011, although both Limitless and Immortals did strong business worldwide, grossing $161.8 million and $196.2 million, respectively. (Relativity has output deals with individual distribution companies in various territories.)

Biggest Challenges: Mirror Mirror, a retelling of the Snow White fairy tale starring Julia Roberts and Lily Collins. The big-budget pic opens March 16 -- three months before Universal opens its own Snow White pic, Snow White and the Huntsman, though Relativity's film is much more family-friendly. Another Relativity title to watch: Act of Valor, a Navy SEAL film starring actual SEALs that opens Feb. 24.

Lionsgate
2011 releases: 12
Domestic: $184 million | Intl: n/a  | Worldwide: $184 million

Where it Stands: Lionsgate's fortune as a film studio is riding on The Hunger Games, the adapatation of the best-selling novel that hits theaters March 23. The movie has the potential to do for Lionsgate what the Twilight saga did for Summit.

Biggest Challenges: Lionsgate needs a hit after a tough 2011 and the high-profile miss of Conan the Barbarian. The studio's also counting on April's The Cabin in the Woods to re-energize its horror prowess, while The Expendables 2 has a built-in audience. Another title with potential is comedy What to Expect When You're Expecting.

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