NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
Hollywood will start placing a series of $100-plus million bets this Friday, as the summer's big-budget blockbusters begin their assault on the nation's multiplexes.
It's expected to be a record year in terms of the number of movies costing more than $100 million. But those who remember "The Alamo," Disney's $100 million bomb just last month, know that the size of a movie's budget is no guarantee of success.
Some of the season's big-dollar movies, including the third Harry Potter movie from Warner Bros. and a sequel to 2002's biggest-box office movie "Spider-Man" from Sony, are almost sure to be hits.
Still, the estimated $210 million cost of "Spider-Man 2," and that's before marketing expenses, will make its financial success harder.
"Anytime you do a movie with a cost of $200 million, you have a risk," said independent stock analyst Dennis McAlpine.
McAlpine said the studio with the riskiest bets is the one going first -- Universal Pictures, which has monster-fighting movie "Van Helsing" opening May 6. Box Office Mojo.com, a box office and movie cost tracker, estimates that it cost $170 million.
The position of being the first summer blockbuster traditionally helps build box office.
But with Warner Bros.' "Troy" only a week away, and with Universal about to be sold to General Electric Co. (GE: Research, Estimates) by Vivendi Universal (V: Research, Estimates), this has got to be a nervous time for Universal studio executives said McAlpine.
"I think I'd keep my resume warm if I was working at Universal," he said.
Universal's other big budget film this summer is "Chronicles of Riddick," starring Vin Diesel. It is a $120 million sequel to the 2000 movie "Pitch Black" which made only $39 million in domestic box office.
Sure hits seen in sequels
Warner Bros., which like CNN/Money is a unit of Time Warner (TWX: Research, Estimates), is generally expected to have a sure hit with "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," the $130 million movie due at theaters June 4. The first two films had U.S. box office of $317.6 million and $261.9 million, and the best-selling books have a built in audience of millions of fans.
The studio's $175 million "Troy" is seen as riskier. The May 14 release, staring Brad Pitt and Orlando Bloom, is 2-hours, 45-minutes long and is rated R. Both these facts could limit its audience.
"The problem you have in "Troy" is they don't seem to know what they're selling," said box office analyst David Mumpower, president of Box Office Prophet.com. "Are they trying to sell "Gladiator" or trying to sell "Braveheart?" I'm not sure this film lives up to either of those."
Sony's "Spider-Man 2," due in theaters June 30 just before the long Independence Day holiday weekend, is also seen as a safe bet. The original did $403 million in U.S. box office. Animated family film "Shrek 2" from Dreamworks is also seen as close to a sure hit. The original did U.S. box office of $268 million, and the sequel cost only $70 million to make. It hits theaters May 21.
Among the non-sequels, analysts believe Fox will see strong box office for its global warming disaster movie "The Day After Tomorrow," the $125 film due in theaters May 28, before the Memorial Day weekend.
Fox's other big-budget film, science fiction epic "I, Robot" is seen as a bit riskier, despite starring box office favorite Will Smith. The $105 million movie is set for a July 16 release.
Paramount, Disney play it safe
Viacom unit Paramount doesn't have any movies on the list of confirmed $100 million summer blockbusters, although it does have two big-dollar remakes whose budgets have yet to be confirmed -- "The Stepford Wives" with Nicole Kidman and "The Manchurian Candidate" with Denzel Washington.
"They've cut back their risk profile significantly -- they're making movies not to lose money, rather than to make money," said McAlpine. "They got a little carried away and they have no upside either."
Disney is also keeping a relatively low profile this summer, with no animated movie set for release and with only a distribution deal for one of its $100 million movies -- a remake of "Around the World in 80 Days."
Its in house big-budget movie is "King Arthur," due in theaters July 7. It's produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, who produced the studio's 2003 hit "Pirates of the Caribbean." And it includes Pirates' star Keira Knightley as Guinevere.
"He took a dead genre notorious for flops turned it into one of the biggest hits," said Brandon Gray, president of Box Office Mojo, about Bruckheimer's track record. "It'll be interesting to see if he can do it again."