2014 is just flying by and it’s almost shocking that we’re just a few days away from the start of what’s normally the busiest movie season, the time when the studios roll out their biggest movies in hopes of making enough money to make even bigger movies in the following years. This is a particularly interesting summer since we do have a couple of potentially big movies but nothing quite like a “Dark Knight” or “Avengers” or a “Star Wars” movie looking to completely overpower the box office for weeks.
It’s actually kind of nice, because it gives other movies being released later in the summer the time and space to breathe, possibly overcoming the importance of opening weekend so that we might see movies sticking around a little longer than we’ve seen in recent summers. It also creates great opportunities for smaller-budgeted movies, particularly comedies, to break out.
I’m not sure why, but every summer it seems to get harder and harder to look into the crystal ball and try to figure out which movies will hit big and which ones will fall hard. Although I’ve seen trailers and marketing for many of the movies and maybe a little more than most thanks to this year’s CinemaCon, there are still a lot of unknowns.
Just to make it clear, this is meant as a preview of the movies coming out this summer, but like my weekly Weekend Warrior column, we’re going to focus more on how various movies might fare at the domestic box office. Let’s not forget, movies can be art, movies can be entertainment, but when it comes down to it, this is the movie BUSINESS and no business thrives without making money.
Those who follow me on Twitter may know that I’ve already put out a couple of thoughts on the summer box office as part of my semi-frequent appearances on the Movie Moan podcast. It was that show’s co-host Jamie Williams who has suggested this will be the first summer in a long time where we won’t see any movies grossing over $300 million, and frankly I don’t see that happening, especially when The LEGO Movie already grossed $250 million after opening in February and Captain America: The Winter Soldier is well on its way to at least that amount.
The Ones to Beat
Whenever summer comes along, it’s usually the sequels and franchise movies, often referred to as “tentpoles,” that get the most immediate attention (with a few exceptions) and that’s probably going to be the case this summer as well with most of the movies that have the best chance at grossing over $200 million being sequels or remakes or both.
Sony Pictures had a huge blockbuster hit in 2002 when they opened Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man on the first weekend of May to set a new opening record of $114 million, and five years later, they did the same when Spider-Man 3 opened with $151 million. Having rebooted that franchise two years ago, they’re hoping that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is the first movie of summer will help get moviegoers excited for what’s to come.
I don’t want to spend too much time talking about the pros and cons of this decision, because it’s the main movie released this week and I’ll be covering it quite thoroughly in this week’s Weekend Warrior, but we’re looking at the sequel to a superhero movie reboot that grossed $262 million domestically and $752 million worldwide, which is less than the previous three movies directed by Sam Raimi. It’s also being released differently, having already opened in most of the world by the time it opens in North America, which means it could seriously be hurt by piracy. While it’s kicking off the summer, which has its benefits, it’s also being released just weeks after Marvel Studios’ hugely popular Captain America: The Winter Soldier, so comparisons will be hard to avoid. Although it should have a solid opening, I’m not sure it will hold up that well and might make even less domestically than the previous movie, not that it will stop Sony’s plans for making more movies and spin-offs.
The return of Bryan Singer to Fox’s X-Men franchise with X-Men: Days of Future Past (20th Century Fox – May 23) at the same time brings back many old favorites from the original three movies, making it one of the more exciting franchise movies this summer. Getting a Memorial Day weekend release, much like X-Men: The Last Stand, it combines what Matthew Vaughn and his cast brought to the 2011 prequel X-Men: First Class while also telling a version of one of the most popular time-spanning X-Men stories from the ’80s. While many fans will be thrilled to see the likes of Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry and others back on screen and Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine playing a large part in this sequel, there’s no ignoring that both Jennifer Lawrence and Mike Fassbender are much bigger stars now than they were three years ago which will also help get their fans into theaters. The previous two X-installments, “First Class” and last year’s The Wolverine, opened under $60 million, making one think the franchise may have stalled out, but the sum will definitely be greater than the parts when you combine all the above into one movie.
Of course, the elephant in the room for this summer blockbuster is the recent allegations against director Bryan Singer and whether that might have an effect on whether people go see the movie. We certainly don’t think it will have much of an effect on whether the many fans of the original movie go see it, since X-Men fans in general are fairly open-minded, although it does put a crimp on Fox’s plans to have Singer at the forefront of promoting the movie, which is a shame, since he’s a good spokesman for the franchise.
Another sequel that’s sure to get a lot of interest, especially among younger moviegoers who don’t have a ton of movies geared specifically towards them this summer, is DreamWorks Animation’s sequel How to Train Your Dragon 2 (June 13). Some may wonder if it’s been too long since the first movie or whether the lack of a Pixar Animation movie this summer is going to allow DreamWorks Animation to have their first major hit since 2013′s The Croods. The original movie opened with $43 million in late March 2010, but it went on to gross $217 million domestically and nearly $500 million globally. That’s not a huge amount but it also sold $122 million on DVD and between the audience who watched in in theaters and those who watched it in the post-market, not to mention the appeal the original movie had to teens and older males, should help this open big ($60 million and over) and do decent business throughout the second half of summer.
It’s been three years since director Michael Bay’s last foray into the world of Hasbro’s metamorphosizing machines and while the robots are back for Transformers: Age of Extinction (Paramount – June 27), the fourth movie in the series is essentially a reboot in terms of introducing new human characters. The big thing this one has going for it is that it has a genuine A-list star in Mark Wahlberg anchoring the new cast, and that will probably go a long way to bring out anyone who may have doubts about the franchise after the last installment. While Bay’s last few “Transformers” movies weren’t that well received by fans or critics, there’s a large fanbase for these giant movies and moviegoers who will come out of the woodwork who probably haven’t gone to see a movie since the last “Transformers.” Opening on a Friday (rather than a Tuesday or Wednesday as was the case with past movies) should make it one of the few movies this summer (after “X-Men”) to open over $100 million.
Lastly, as far as sequels go, you can’t get one that’s more anticipated among fans than Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (20th Century Fox – July 11), which follows on the heels of the successful reboot of the franchise with 2011′s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which grossed $177 million in the late summer after opening with $54.8 million. The movie was so well received that we expect a much bigger opening for the sequel directed by Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) and the fact it’s getting a release earlier in the summer means it can make even more money before schools start, two factors that should help it become one of the summer’s easy $200 million grossers.
Studios Taking Chances
Despite the above subtitle, at this point, Legendary Pictures’ decision to revive and revamp Toho Studios’ classic monster movie figure Godzilla (Legendary/WB – May 16) into something that can appeal to modern audiences is turning into one of the more anticipated movies of the summer, so it might not be as big a gamble as some may have thought when it was first announced. Of course, a lot of pause comes from the last time a studio tried to bring Godzilla to the screen at the hands of Roland Emmerich, but since that was 16 years ago, the statute of limitations has passed and few people under 30 will even remember it. Unlike last year’s Pacific Rim, which was also produced and released by Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros., this one takes a much more serious look at what might happen if a giant fire-breathing lizard attacked the United States, and the marketing for the movie has been almost note-perfect, which will certainly pay off both opening weekend and over the first half of summer.
On the other hand, Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy (Marvel Studios/Disney – August 1) is still being seen as a big gamble for the summer, being that it’s a movie based on characters few people besides current comic book readers will know much about. It’s a weird outer space odyssey with oddball characters, somewhat reminiscent of Joss Whedon’s Serenity, but played by a cool cast that includes the likes of Chris Pratt, who provided the main voice in the hit “LEGO Movie,” the always popular Zoe Saldana and the likes of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel providing the voices of a gun-toting raccoon named Rocket and a talking tree named Groot. There’s little doubt the movie will be a lot of fun thanks to the endeavors of writer/director James Gunn, who has been a genre fan favorite for many years but never directed anything this big. Marvel is coming off three hit sequels with Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, all which were helped by the “Avengers factor” which may not be in effect with the lesser-known “Guardians.” We expect an opening more in vein with the last few X-moviesmid-to-high $50 millionand it to gross somewhere in the range of the original Thor and Captain America movies domestically, though it should do decently overseas.
It’s been just as long a road for the Japanese novel “All You Need is Kill” to come to the big screen as the action thriller Edge of Tomorrow (Warner Bros. – June 6), starring Tom Cruise in his second sci-fi action movie in a row after last year’s Oblivion. Co-starring Emily Blunt and directed by Doug Liman (Jumper, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, The Bourne Identity), this one has an odd premise that’s reminiscent of the Bill Murray comedy Groundhog’s Day only put into a sci-fi action environment that can be sold on its big action set pieces. Sci fi movies can be hit or miss with audiences as seen both with Oblivion and Elysium. Neither of those movies grossed over $100 million and this is being released in a busier summer against stronger fare, which will likely keep it from doing as well as either.