The Weekend Warrior

The Weekend Warrior's Summer Box Office Preview

Source: Edward Douglas
May 3, 2010

It's that time of year again, when the Weekend Warrior looks further ahead than he normally does on a weekly basis to look at the entire summer movie season ahead, from May through Labor Day, to try to analyze and extrapolate which of the movies coming out this summer will fare better than others. Sometimes, that's an easy task; other times, we're way off base. (The best example of the latter was when we thought Disney's The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian would be one of the summer's biggest movies. Oops.)

This year is a little different as we're also going to hold a Summer Box Office Contest, so if nothing else, make sure you scroll down to the bottom and read the rules on how to enter. By summer's end, we'll have a lot of cool prizes to give away and we want to make sure lots of people have a chance to enter and win them.

This summer, we're expecting roughly 17 or 18 movies to gross over $100 million, compared to 16 last year. There are a few movies that are going into the summer with a built-in fanbase due to the popularity of original source material or earlier installments, while others will probably have to work a little harder. From our calculations, there are ten sequels (including one spin-off) this summer, as well as between 22 and 25 movies that are based on previous material, whether it be books, television shows or earlier movies. There are very few entirely original movies written for the screen, though there seems to be more this summer than usual - three in June, and two in July but then a bunch in late August when the box office is at its weakest, something which is fairly telling. Mind you, we're not counting the limited releases in there, which would up that number quite substantially.

We're basically going to focus on roughly twenty movies, and anything we leave out will generally be the middle-of-the-road movies that won't be getting much attention anyway. We also have to remember there will always be surprises, because it's doubtful anyone knew at this time last year that both Star Trek and The Hangover would gross over $250 million and that Sandra Bullock would have two huge hits and then win the Oscar. Last year was a great example of how anything can happen when it comes to the movies.

An important caveat: We generally don't like making predictions this far out since so much can change between now and their opening weekends, everything from good or bad reviews to better marketing, etc, so one should be aware that our predictions in the weekly Weekend Warrior will be our final thoughts on the movies. All of our predictions are for North America i.e. the United States and Canada only.

The Bonafide Blockbusters

There are five or six movies this summer so obvious to be blockbuster hits that it's almost a waste of time to discuss them too much. These are mostly the anticipated sequels to big movies that already have a built-in fanbase but also should bring in other people as the summer's bonafide event movies.

At least one of this summer's releases will cross $400 million, maybe even two, but the biggest winner will likely be the movie that kicks things off and that's Jon Favreau's Iron Man 2 (Marvel/Paramount – May 7). Right now, it's looking very likely to break the opening weekend record set two years ago by Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, as long as Paramount doesn't decide to open the movie early on Thursday evening, something they've done quite regularly in the past. The key is that everyone--man, woman and child--wants to see Robert Downey Jr. back in this role of Tony Stark, and if the first movie could open with nearly $100 million sight unseen, the sequel's going to be even bigger because everyone who waited to see the movie on DVD or cable will not do that this time. On top of that, the sequel is going out on IMAX screens, which will certainly be a big draw for the fans with higher ticket prices, giving the movie an additional bump. Even though reviews have been somewhat mixed, the expectations should allow the sequel to break that opening weekend record and then coast across the $400 million mark; without a ton of strong May releases, it's definitely going to be the top movie of the summer and possibly the year. (We'll talk quite a bit more about the movie's box office prospects in this week's column later this week.)

It's been over ten years since Pixar's third movie and first sequel Toy Story 2 grossed almost $500 million worldwide ($245 million domestically) and all the original cast is back for Lee Unkrich's Toy Story 3 (Disney•Pixar - June 18), including Tom Hanks and Tim Allen. The anticipation for this movie among kids, their families and older Pixar fans should allow it to set a new opening record for a Pixar movie. Like many other movies this summer, it will be helped greatly by its release into IMAX and 3D theaters, which will put it in a good place to beat the opening of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland earlier this year, but it will be a close call. With schools closing for the summer after it opens, expect huge legs that will bring it close to the $400 million mark by summer's end.

The third big sequel of the summer is The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (Summit - June 30) following up New Moon, the second installment in the film adaptation of Stephenie Meyer's vampire romance novels, which grossed $700 million, nearly $300 million of that in North America, last fall. Reactions to the sequel were mixed at best, but the third movie has a new director in David Slade (30 Days of Night) and new additions to the cast including Bryce Dallas Howard, and there's very little to keep the fans from seeing the third movie. Of biggest significance is that this is the first installment opening during the summer movie season and the first to open on IMAX screens simultaneously, but this one's also opening on the Wednesday before the 4th of July, which will lower its weekend take. Still, we can easily see the movie make nearly $100 million before Friday, putting it well on its way to be the first installment to cross the $300 million mark by summer's end.

Opening over Memorial Day weekend--actually one day earlier on Thursday--is arguably the second most anticipated sequel for women this summer, Sex and the City 2 (New Line/WB), which reunites the original quartet from the hit HBO show two years after the first movie became a surprise hit. It should have a huge opening day of roughly $33 to 35 million then the four-day holiday weekend should continue to bring business, possibly as much as $75 million. Like the previous movie, it's likely to tail off after that but the sequel should come closer to the $200 million mark aided by the extra day and opening over the holiday.

Of the mega-blockbuster sequels, the fourth (and final) installment of the DreamWorks Animation family comedy franchise Shrek Forever After (DreamWorks/Paramount) has the biggest question mark on its potential success, even with the return of Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz and Eddie Murphy. The last two movies opened with more than $100 million, showing there's a lot of demand for the animated series among a wide variety of audiences. Even so, the last movie Shrek the Third was poorly received by critics and moviegoers, and one wonders how many are still willing to give a fourth "Shrek" movie a chance. DreamWorks Animation has modified the movie's title, at least in the advertising, to emphasize "The Final Chapter" aspect in hopes of creating some urgency in seeing it. That should help it do well opening weekend even if it opens slightly lower than the previous two movies, probably closer to the $85 or 90 million mark, but it then should pick up steam over Memorial Day weekend and in early June, being the only IMAX 3D movie until Toy Story 3, which should help it end up somewhere in the $300 million range again.

Welcome Returns

Although sequels are likely to be the big winners this summer, what would the season be without a number of remakes and relaunches of popular characters from yesteryear?

One of the first of these will be Ridley Scott's Robin Hood (Universal – May 14), reteaming the director with Russell Crowe, a union that first produced the Oscar-winning summer blockbuster Gladiator. The duo have had their share of hits (American Gangster) and misses (A Good Year, Body of Lies) since then, and Scott is hoping to make up for the disappointing showing for his last summer release, the similar historic epic Kingdom of Heaven, a few years back. What they have going for them this time is the brandname value of the main character, something that greatly helped Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes last December. This is the first big summer movie release based on the archer from Sherwood Forest since Kevin Costner's Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves back in 1991, which should help moviegoers get over any trepidations about Crowe in the role. Opening against the second week of Iron Man 2 is fairly daunting--it will probably never be #1--but after younger guys go see the movie for the action, what will carry it through the next few weeks is the quality filmmaking that will make it the first choice for older moviegoers.

20th Century Fox is bringing back two popular favorites from the '80s, the first one being Joe Carnahan's take on the hit television show The A-Team (June 11) with a cast that includes Bradley Cooper (The Hangover), Liam Neeson and Sharlto Copley (District 9). It's hard to determine whether the pairing of Carnahan with this cast might help the TV-to-screen transition do any business outside the burgeoning fanbase for the show or whether they'll even give it a chance - the long-term success of movies based on television shows has been touch and go as seen by movies like the "Charlie's Angels" films, S.W.A.T., The Dukes of Hazzard and Starsky & Hutch. Either way, we expect this to do most of its business opening weekend unless it ends up being a better movie than it looks from the trailer.

A movie that's likely to bring in an even larger audience is the new Predators (July 7), produced by Robert Rodriguez and directed by Nimrod Antal, essentially relaunching the franchise for an even bigger fanbase who are hoping for a better take on the extraterrestrial hunters than the "Alien vs. Predators" movies provided. Opening the weekend after the 4th of July with an R rating should allow it to fill in the gap among 17 to 30 year old guys between The A-Team and Nolan's Inception, although we expect it to tail off after a big opening weekend.

Breakouts and Sleepers

Every summer there are movies that end up doing far better than anyone could possibly expect from how they look on paper, thanks to a combination of marketing and word-of-mouth, and they end up faring far better in the long term rather than doing all their business opening weekend, something which maybe the case with so many of the movies above.

While Sony's remake of The Karate Kid (Sony - June 11) starring Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan probably should have been included above, it's not as much of a sure thing out of the gate. Instead, it's the type of crowd-pleasing fare that should have strong enough word-of-mouth among a wide variety of audiences, rather than just bringing in audiences due to the nostalgia or curiosity factor. The biggest obstacle it will be facing is Pixar's Toy Story 3 opening the following week, which will take away its family audience at first, but being the summer and with school being out through July, both movies should be able to share that family audience over the months that follow.

The biggest mystery going into the summer was what the hell Christopher Nolan's Inception (Warner Bros. - July 16) was actually about? With an amazing ensemble cast including Leonardo DiCaprio, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and others, it's looking to be another intelligent thought-provoking movie on par with Memento, but with action closer to the likes of the Bourne and James Bond movies. The key to its success is that the "Dark Knight" director has created a huge fanbase of followers after that record-setting movie, and this is being sold as another innovative science fiction premise, not unlike the Wachowskis' "Matrix" trilogy. Also, being one of the few original movies this summer that is neither a remake nor a sequel, this should be a refreshing change by the time we're twelve weeks into the summer.

Two magic-based adventure movies, both presumably rated PG, will open in July with hope of bringing in the younger moviegoing audiences that are now out of school for the next few months. The first of them is M. Night Shyamalan's adaptation of the popular Nickelodeon show The Last Airbender (Paramount - July 2), the type of action and FX movie that plays well over the 4th of July weekend. It's a bit short on starpower, the only known name and face besides Shyamalan being Dev Patel, appearing in his first movie since the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire. Opening against the third "Twilight" movie might have hindered it, if it wasn't targeting a completely different demographic of younger males, but it seems like the type of movie that can bring in the fans and the kids over the 4th of July weekend. The recent announcement that it will be going out in 3D can only help matters, especially in the weeks that follow having four weeks in the format, though it will be sharing those screens with Toy Story 3.

Opening the same weekend as Inception, Jerry Bruckheimer's second movie of the summer The Sorcerer's Apprentice (Disney - July 16) reunites "National Treasure" star Nicolas Cage with director Jon Turteltaub, adding hot star-of-the-moment Jay Baruchel to the mix. Opening against Inception might keep it from an enormous opening, but from everything we've seen, we have a feeling the premise and the sense of humor should allow it to find more of an audience as the summer progresses with moviegoers looking for some variety. Although it's based on a famous segment from the animated Fantasia, the movie should benefit from its originality in a movie full of remakes and sequels, so even if it opens in the high 30s or low 30s, we can probably expect it to have significant legs among families looking for appropriate kids' fare towards summer's end.

The comedy supergroup that joins Adam Sandler for his latest comedy Grown Ups (Sony - June 25) includes the likes of Kevin James, Chris Rock, Rob Schneider and David Spade, making the movie almost like the comedy version of The Expendables (see below), which should help the comic star return to his previous status as a reliable box office draw. It's been four years since Sandler has had a movie open with $40 million, and while his last pairing with Kevin James, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, had a disappointing performance, James himself has become an even bigger movie star since his hit Paul Blart: Mall Cop, and having Chris Rock's African-American fanbase on board won't hurt either. (Sandler and Rock last teamed for The Longest Yard, Sandler's second-highest grossing movie to date.)

Lastly, in early August, Julia Roberts returns following up her small part in the rom-com smash Valentine's Day by starring in an adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert's bestselling novel Eat, Pray, Love (Sony), a movie that should benefit similarly to last year's Julie & Julia being a female-targeted movie coming out in late summer well after the "Twilight" and "Sex and the City" madness has died down. While few if any men will have any interest in the material, it's the type of role that combines Roberts' romantic comedy days with more serious roles ala Erin Brockovich, which should allow it should join many of Roberts' '90s movies in the $100 million club.

These Can Go Either Way

Of course, the same can be said about any of the movies above, but there are a few movies that are somewhat daring in the fact that they aren't sequels or remakes of popular movies or television shows. Some of them might have once popular stars returning to what they did best, but not nearly as much buzz as the movies above, and on paper, they don't seem to be the easiest sells for one reason or another.

For instance, James Mangold's espionage action-comedy Knight and Day (20th Century Fox - June 25), reunites Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz for the first time since Cameron Crowe's Vanilla Sky. That may not be particularly appealing in itself but bringing Cruise back into the action-espionage realm of the hugely successful "Mission: Impossible" movies certainly is. Cruise certainly has not had it easy in recent years, his last big hit being Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds. While Fox may be hoping for another hit on the lines of the Brad Pitt-Angelina Jolie action romance Mr. & Mrs. Smith, this will probably take a backseat to Adam Sandler's movie that weekend, although the combination of action, romance and comedy should allow it to bring in a mix of older audiences, including women who are clearly left out of the loop by Sandler and his gang.

Speaking of Ms. Jolie and Mr. & Mrs. Smith, her most avid fans tend to like seeing her in intelligent action flicks like that and Wanted, so pairing her with Phillip Noyce, director of Clear and Present Danger and Patriot Games, should help her new political action-thriller Salt (Sony – July 23) perform decently among both men and women even as it faces the second weekend of Christopher Nolan's Inception. Maybe it won't open with the $50 million plus of her previous movies but if it's any good, we can certainly see it grossing over $100 million with weaker films opening in the weeks that follow.

It's been over three years since Edgar Wright's last comedy Hot Fuzz, and pairing him with Superbad star Michael Cera for the graphic novel-based Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Universal - August 13) should bring in a lot of young women and comic fans even if it's likely to lose older males and women to some of the other offerings that weekend. While it might not have a huge opening, probably more in the $25 to $30 million range, we expect this one to end up making roughly $80 to 90 million as it brings in repeat business over the slower months of August and September.

Like Adam Sandler and Tom Cruise for that matter, comedian Will Ferrell has had ups and downs in his career in recent years. Last year's Land of the Lost was one of the summer's biggest bombs, but his police action-comedy The Other Guys (Sony - August 6) reteams him with Adam McKay, the two of them having had a lot of success together since their days on "Saturday Night Live." Their concurrent comedy hits includes Anchorman, Talladega Nights and Step Brothers, and the only thing that might keep The Other Guys from following suit is the fact that it's an overused genre, the buddy cop comedy. Still, it pairs Ferrell with Wahlberg, continuing his comedy roll after the recent Date Night, and has the likes of The Rock and Samuel L. Jackson playing smaller roles. Opening in early August ala "Talladega" should allow it to perform well, maybe even in the $35 to 40 million range of Ferrell's bigger hits.

Russell Brand's Aldous Snow often stole the show in Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller's comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and in Stoller's follow-up Get Him to the Greek (Universal - June 4), Brand's character takes front and center for a road comedy once again teaming him with Jonah Hill. Produced by Judd Apatow, it will try to bring in the same college-age crowd has made the filmmaker the King of Comedy, though Apatow's own 2009 movie Funny People didn't do so well last summer. There's still room for strong R-rated comedy to do decently among the college crowd, and this movie's early June release should help because classes will be winding down by then. Whether it's able to build on what should be a $25 million opening weekend will depend on word-of-mouth, but it's certainly another one of Universal's more daring options this summer.

We're a little more dubious of Sylvester Stallone's The Expendables (Lionsgate - August 13), which has the venerable action star teamed with the likes of Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rourke, Terry Crews, Randy Couture and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, with appearances by Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger (the Governor's first movie in years!) Opening against Scott Pilgrim probably won't help, but there's enough older guys with nostalgia for the action movies of the '80s and '90s that the movie should give it competition in the $25 to $30 million range even if it's not exactly the type of movie that sustains any sort of long-term business after that.

I Smell a Bomb

This is the part of the job I hate, but one may as well be realistic that there are some movies that--however much they cost, however many good intentions there are behind making the movie and however good the marketing may be--they're destined for failure in the busy summer full of sure-fire hits that people want to see. As always, there's a chance I could be wrong but I decided to pick five movies that seem problematic for one reason or another, and for the sake of the studios, filmmakers and everyone else involved, let's hope I'm wrong:

MacGruber (Universal – May 21) - Sure, there's a slim chance this extended SNL skit starring Will Forte and Kristen Wiig might break out among older teen audiences who like that schtick, but since being moved from a fairly open April weekend where it had a chance of doing well to the weekend before Memorial Day, where it's up against much stronger movies, we think this will be lucky to make $50 million total.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (Disney - May 28) - One would think that a big Arabian epic based on a video game produced by Jerry Bruckheimer opening over Memorial Day weekend is sure to explode at the box office, especially with Jake Gyllenhaal in the lead. (Gyllenhaal starred in Roland Emmerich's The Day After Tomorrow, which was a big Memorial Day release.) The problem is that it's opening against Sex and the City 2 and the second weekend of Shrek Forever After, which doesn't leave a lot of audience left for it. Even so, it probably will open fine due to the holiday weekend with guys looking for new things to see, but it's not going to have the legs it needs to succeed, leaving it somewhere in the $120 million range domestically. That might not sound so bad, although we think the movie cost significantly more than that, so it's best hopes are to make up for it internationally, which is also very likely.

Jonah Hex (Warner Bros. - June 18) - What seemed like one of the cooler ideas for a movie--a Western based on the DC Comics character starring Josh Brolin and super-hot Megan Fox--has turned out to be a movie that very few people have any confidence in, especially with how long it took to get a trailer up for it. Even though that trailer did finally come out and it certainly looks cool, we have a feeling that the combination of the dying genre with a little-known character won't do much to get people excited, even comic book fans, so we'll probably see this one tank with less than $50 million.

Dinner for Schmucks (Paramount - July 23) - As much as I'm looking for the reunion of Paul Rudd and Steve Carell for the first time since The 40-Year-Old Virgin, especially with director Jay Roach, who has killed with his comedy hits Meet the Parents and the "Austin Powers" trilogy, at the helm, this idea seems insanely dumb, the commercials look incredibly dumb and it's being released by a studio who hasn't done well at marketing comedies, their biggest recent one being I Love You, Man. While this probably won't be a disaster on the scale of The Love Guru, it's certainly not going to match the success of Roach's previous summer hits.

Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore (Warner Bros. – July 30) - Seriously, who the F*CK asked for a sequel to the 2001 family comedy that ended up grossing $93 million? This is likely to suffer the same fate as many family sequels like the follow-ups to Garfield and Stuart Little, not helped by the nine years between installments. (The five-year-olds who loved the original will now be over it at age 14 and the increasingly discerning kiddie crowd probably won't think much of this after the likes of "Shrek" and Toy Story 3.)

You can also expect that most of the movies opening in late August starting on August 20 are there for a reason so we don't expect much from Takers (Screen Gems), Nanny McPhee 2 (Universal), The Switch (Miramax) or Lottery Ticket (Warner Bros.) either.

The Weekend Warrior's Summer Top 10 Predictions

Note: These numbers may change by the time the movies open and we do our weekly column, only because we're likely to have more factors to work with by then, but here's our rough predictions at this time.

1. Iron Man 2 (Marvel/Paramount – May 7)
Opening Weekend: $162 million
Predicted Gross: $440 million

2. Toy Story 3 (Disney/Pixar - June 18)
Opening Weekend: $119 million
Predicted Gross: $388 million

3. The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (Summit - June 30)
Opening Weekend: $81 million* (plus $100 million on Wednesday and Thursday)
Predicted Gross: $312 million

4. Shrek Forever After (DreamWorks/Paramount - May 21)
Opening Weekend: $87 million
Predicted Gross: $290 million

5. Inception (Warner Bros. - July 16)
Opening Weekend: $63 million
Predicted Gross: $220 million

6. Sex and the City 2 (New Line/WB - May 27)
Opening Weekend: $76 million (4-day with an additional $35 million on Thursday)
Predicted Gross: $190 million

7. The Karate Kid (Sony - June 11)
Opening Weekend: $38 million
Predicted Gross: $180 million

8. The Sorcerer's Apprentice (Disney - July 16)
Opening Weekend: $45 million
Predicted Gross: $170 million

9. Predators (20th Century Fox - July 7)
Opening Weekend: $52 million
Predicted Gross: $160 million

10. The Last Airbender (Paramount - July 2)
Opening Weekend: $48 million*
Predicted Gross: $155 million

(*Note: Neither of these are accounting for the federal holiday on Monday and are three-day predictions.)

Bubbling just underneath the Top 10 should be Ridley Scott's Robin Hood (Universal – May 14) with roughly $145 million followed by the Adam Sandler Grown Ups (Sony - June 25) and Jerry Bruckheimer's Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (Disney - May 28), both in the $125 and 140 million range. Of course, the above may not account for those surprise breakout hits that no one can see coming, though we have a hunch that The Karate Kid and The Sorcerer's Apprentice are two that could very well fall into that category.



Now that we have that all out the way, we're proud to announce the FIRST (hopefully) ANNUAL WEEKEND WARRIOR SUMMER BOX OFFICE CONTEST!!

Over the last couple of months, I've collected a bunch of cool things for some of the movies coming out this summer, and I'm going to keep working on putting together a bunch of cool prize packages to share with the readers who have the best box office predicting skills this summer.

To enter either post in the comments below or (preferably) Email me at "warrior at comingsoon dot net" your predictions for the TOP 5 movies of the summer with how much you think they'll make in North America between May 7 and Labor Day Monday.

So for instance, if I entered this contest myself, I would send myself the following:

1. Iron Man 2 - 440
2. Toy Story 3 – 388
3. Eclipse – 312
4. Shrek Forever After – 290
5. Inception - 220

Also include your name, your posting name/alias (if you prefer) and your address so that if you win, we don't have to go chasing you down. Sorry, we have to again stipulate that the contest is only for U.S. and Canada.

Got it?

We're probably going to have a couple different levels of winners, which I haven't quite determined. So for instance, we might have one contest just for those who get the Top 5 movies in the right order, maybe one just for those whose accuracy of predictions comes closer than the Weekend Warrior's (which shouldn't be hard.)

The deadline for this contest is this coming FRIDAY MAY 7 at 11:59PM, but please take your time and figure things out, because these numbers are going to have to stick through Labor Day.

So that's the contest... good luck to everyone. I can't wait to see how everyone's numbers pan out at this time in September.

That's it for now, make sure to check back every Tuesday (give or take) for the weekly Weekend Warrior column where I'll go into more depth about the movies opening this summer.




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