5 Summer Blockbusters That Raked In Sponsors

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- We're still weeks away from the official start of summer and summer movies are already raking in the GDP of small island nations.

Paying for all those stunts, explosions, marquee-worthy stars and CGI requires some financing just as impressive as anything that appears on screen. In recent years, that's meant turning summer blockbusters into the equivalent of NASCAR vehicles and slapping as many sponsor names on the finished product as possible.

Remember when Burger King ( BKW) could crank out a few Star Wars glasses and call that a sponsorship? Now a movie's big fast-food partner joins its auto sponsor, credit-card sponsor, wireless sponsor and retail sponsor just to give a film a chance of being the biggest feature of any given weekend. Does your movie center around something extremely specific, such as animated cars or a race scene of any kind? Better change that to an auto sponsor, an oil sponsor, a gasoline sponsor, etc.

The are some studios and production companies that have this down to a science. Marvel, Paramount ( VIA) and, later, Disney ( DIS), used last year's The Avengers as a cookie to wave in front of sponsors they wanted to lock in for a package of prequels including Thor, Captain America, The Incredible Hulk and the Iron Man series. As a result, they locked companies such as Dr. Pepper/Snapple Group ( DPS) and 7-Eleven into multi-picture deals and kept the cash rolling in. Not to be outdone, Time Warner ( TWX) took a similar approach to not only its Batman series, but its Green Lantern and Superman films as well.

With the costs of such films now exceeding $200 million and their box office take multiplying that several times over ( The Avengers pulled in more than $600 million in the U.S. alone), those lists of gracious corporate donors won't be shrinking anytime soon. If anything, they and the logos that accompany them may elbow their way into the credits. Just to show you where all of this is headed, we've come up with five examples of films blatantly brought to you by a host of well-heeled sponsors. Let's see who sold out the most:

Iron Man 3
Release date: Now playing
Sponsors: Alcatel ( ALU), Audi, Verizon ( VZ) FiOS, Harley-Davidson ( HOG), Oracle ( ORCL), Red Baron Pizza, Skype ( MSFT), Subway, TCL, Visa ( V)

As we said earlier, Marvel, Paramount and Disney just flat out makes this look easy. Since the first Iron Man film released in 2008, those companies have ridden the simple nucleus of a wealthy superhero surrounded by all the tech toys he can buy into a boilerplate pitch to sponsors.

It's just a matter of filling in the categories. What kind of car is billionaire industrialist Tony Stark going to drive? Why, an Audi, of course. What's going to be his motorcycle of choice? Harley-Davidson. What company is going to run the servers that power not only his suits and automated assistant, but his mansion/headquarters? Oracle, as always.

Regardless of silly little things like plot, this plug-and-play approach works perfectly. Iron Man 3 cost roughly $200 million to make and has made nearly $1.2 billion to date worldwide. The approach to sponsorship seems cynical on its surface, but when it stops working, they'll stop using it.

Release date: Now playing
Sponsors: McDonald's ( MCD), Visa, Macy's ( M), Ecos, Rite Aid ( RAD), Scholastic ( SCHL), Kroger ( KR), Langers, Vallarta Supermarkets, Aaron Brothers Art and Framing, MovieTickets.com, The Children's Miracle Network, Team EnergyStar

Cute things in the forest need protection from bad things that want to kill them. How does 20th Century Fox ( NWS) work its way around this well-tread ground -- think FernGully, Avatar, Secret Of Nimh, Bambi, etc. -- while getting sponsors to go along for the ride?

By basing it loosely on on a book kids may have actually read -- The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs by William Joyce -- getting Ice Age studio Blue Sky to animate it and voicing it with a whole lot of celebrities their parents' carefully chosen demographic will recognize: Amanda Seyfried, Colin Farrell, Beyonce, Pitbull, Steven Tyler, Aziz Anzari, Judah Friedlander, Jason Sudeikis ... is the deck stacked enough yet?

Apparently so, as McDonald's, Macy's, Rite Aid and Kroger signed on to get those kids' parents to buy them stuff, while The Children's Miracle Network and Team EnergyStar are also on board to make those same parents feel just a bit less guilty about giving into the multiplatform marketing. As for the $93 million films, the $150 it's made worldwide so far may not blow minds, but it could be worth a sequel.

The Internship
Release date: June 7
Sponsors: Google ( GOOG), Miller Lite ( TAP), ESPN, Rockstar

Welcome to that Google movie brought to you by Google, bros.

Because apparently all 20th Century Fox does before its summer vacation is court sponsors, it decided to expend a whole lot of energy going after the 18-to-35 male demographic by basing a whole film around two older, functionally obsolete dudes' experience as interns at Google. Since the Vince Vaughn + A Wilson Brother = Comedy formula worked so well in Old School Starsky and Hutch and Wedding Crashers, why not do it again?

Granted, it hasn't been attempted since Internship stars Vaughn and Owen Wilson tried it in Wedding Crashers back in 2005, but that didn't stop sponsors from smelling Old Spice and revenue right from the pitch meeting. Google was a given, but a Vaughn/Wilson movie needs a beer sponsor, a sports tie-in and an energy drink at the very least. Throw in a copy of Maxim with Isla Fisher on the cover, a case of Axe body spray and a 50 Cent song used ironically in the soundtrack and it's the halcyon of the pre-recession aughts all over again.

Man of Steel
Release date: June 14
Sponsors: Carl's Jr., Ram, Gillette ( PNG), Twizzlers ( HSY), Sears ( SHLD), Kellogg's ( K), Nokia ( NOK), Norton by Symantec ( SYMC), Warby Parker

Now that Batman's taken a bow and Warner Brothers can't rely on Christian Bale to bring home the bacon every other summer anymore, Warner and D.C. comics have to find another moneymaker.

Ryan Reynolds bombed as Green Lantern two summers ago and, for reasons still unknown, Warner refused to embrace 2006's Superman Returns and its $391 million global take as an unquestioned success. OK, so maybe it was a bit too closely tied to the Superman movies of the 1970s and 1980s and maybe even the critics praising it had a bit of trouble with the symbolism, but it seemed like a pretty flimsy reason to reboot the entire franchise.

Still, it's tough to blame Carl's Jr., Sears, Nokia and the rest for jumping at the chance to hitch themselves to a project that not only features Dawn Of The Dead, 300 and Watchmen director Zach Snyder, but is produced by Batman trilogy mastermind Christopher Nolan. Oh, and it features supervillain General Zod, who gave comic book film fans perhaps the most badass, if most delightfully misquoted, single line in the genre.

Release date: July 17
Sponsors: AAA, Chevrolet ( GM), Firestone, Hewlett-Packard ( HPQ), Sunoco ( ETP), Verizon, Indycar, Airheads, Kellogg's, L'Oreal Kids, Post Cereals ( POST)

A high-speed snail seems like a funny thing to have your fortunes riding on, but it's tough to blame all these autosponsors for joining the pit crew of a 20th Century Fox/DreamWorks Animation production.

As was the case with Disney and Pixar's Cars franchise, Turbo and its tale of a speedy snail and his race team have huge potential for building new generations of gearheads. Having the whole thing produced by the same animation group that birthed Shrek, Kung Fu Panda and Madagascar isn't bad, either, nor is the already greenlit Turbo F.A.S.T animated series based on the film that's headed to Netflix later this year as part of its content deal with DreamWorks.

So just how big are expectations for this little snail? Big enough to put Kellogg's and Post Cereals at the same table.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.

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