Making movies is an enormous gamble. Studios spend hundreds of millions of dollars on an idea that, at the end of the day, people might not like.
That's why studios (almost all of which are owned by public companies, and therefore have to answer to shareholders) love sequels, remakes and adaptations. If a movie is based on a piece of material that has already been successful, audiences know what to expect, and there's likely already a built-in fan base.
So it makes sense that those movies dominate our list of the Most Anticipated Movies of 2011. These are the movies that could make or break studios and stars next year.
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As is typical in Hollywood, the big films are clumped around summer and Christmas. The only exception is the Justin Bieber concert film "Never Say Never." The movie only went into production last summer, but it's being rushed out to the theaters (in 3D, natch) on Feb. 11. Viacom studio Paramount Pictures likely wants to make sure it cashes in on Bieber before the high-flying star begins to curve back to Earth.Video: Watch the 'Cars 2' trailer (on this page)
Concert films have a mixed performance record. Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour earned $70 million at the box office worldwide in 2008. But a Jonas Brothers concert film a year later brought in only $23 million. The advantage of these kinds of films is that they tend to be relatively cheap to make, so "Never Say Never" doesn't have to be a blockbuster to turn a healthy profit for Viacom.
Disney has several highly anticipated movies set for next year, including "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" and "Cars 2." Both are scheduled to hit theaters in early summer.Slideshow: December movies (on this page)
The Pirates franchise has already earned $2.7 billion in ticket sales worldwide and hundreds of millions more from DVDs and merchandise like lunch boxes, bedding and Halloween costumes. The Pirate movies are about as review-proof as films can get, which means the next one is likely to earn close to the franchise average of $890 million. If the new Pirates film doesn't end the year as one of the 10 highest-grossing films, it will be counted as a disappointment for Disney.
A lot is also riding on "Cars 2," a sequel to the 2006 Pixar film. With $460 million in global box office earnings, "Cars" seemed to be one of the lesser Pixar films. (By contrast, "Toy Story 3" has earned over $1 billion in ticket sales.) But what the movie lacked in box office appeal it made up for in consumer product sales. Little boys love "Cars." Walk into any Disney Store and you'll see Lightning McQueen and Tow Mater merchandise prominently displayed.
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The film is so popular that Disney is dedicating a section of its California Adventure Park to "Cars." The new section will open in 2012, so it would help if the new film is a big hit. The "Cars" sequel takes the action out of tiny Radiator Springs as McQueen goes on a kind of James Bond-style spy adventure around the world, which should help attract a bigger international audience.
Next Christmas look for blockbusters from legendary directors Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese. Spielberg hasn't directed a film since 2005's "Munich." Now he's returning with two films: the smallish "War Horse" and "The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn." It's the latter that people will be looking out for: a 3D motion-capture film that could set the stage for a new franchise based on the Belgian comic books.
Scorsese is also stepping into the world of 3D with his film version of the popular book "The Invention of Hugo Cabret." Scorsese's last film, "Shutter Island," was a profitable crowd-pleaser that brought in $300 million on an $80 million budget. If these respected directors can meld quality filmmaking with 3D, it could help the new technology shed the gimmick label and make Hollywood take it more seriously.
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