It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for, the start of the summer movie season and the Weekend Warrior has surveyed the months ahead, crunched some numbers, and produced some early predictions of how things might shape up.
There’s no question that this is going to be one crazy summer in terms of shockers and surprises as it tries to compete with last year’s record-breaking summer. At this time last year, we were looking at the possibility of three $300 million blockbusters, but instead the summer delivered four thanks to Michael Bay’s Transformers with Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix bubbling just under. This year, we’re likely to have at least one definite $300 million movie with two others coming very close, and while this summer isn’t nearly as inundated with sequels as last year, the three biggest movies are most likely to be sequels, while the fourth movie is likely to be a breakout amongst the original movies.
The real battle this summer will be between three of the most anticipated blockbuster sequels with the reunion of Harrison Ford and Steven Spielberg in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Paramount/DreamWorks – May 22) leading the way. It’s been 19 years since the previous installation, and the franchise has built a lot of new fans in that time thanks to DVD and television, and this one has secured the same plum Memorial Day weekend as the previous installment. The last movie grossed $200 million but that was in 1989 terms and when you add 19 years of nostalgia and inflation, you have the chance for a huge blockbuster hit that might try to break some new records, but probably will settle for being the summer’s #1 movie. Opening on a Thursday, much like Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith, it might fall just short of last year’s Memorial Day weekend record set by Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, but it should still do very well and has two weeks free and clear to amass a lot of money. It’s the one movie this summer that’s likely to bring people to the theaters who don’t often go to movies or haven’t for a long time.
Vying for second place and also hoping to enter the $300 million club are Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (Warner Bros. – July 18) and Disney’s The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (Disney – May 16), the latter being a sequel to an enormously popular holiday hit a few years back.
The Batman Begins sequel is opening well after the other big movies which should help it greatly its opening weekend and if it’s even half as good as the first movie, it should find a lot of repeat business over the weeks that follow. Currently, the first “Batman” movie by Tim Burton has grossed the most money ($251 million) and ironically, that’s the same year that the last “Indiana Jones” movie was released to gross $200 million. It’s been a lot less time since the last “Batman” movie and it’s not likely to bring in moviegoers who’ve been absent from theaters for years like “Indiana Jones” will. On the other hand, “Prince Caspian” has a major disadvantage in not having the normal holiday bump after opening, not to mention “Indiana Jones” hot on its tail, but it will have the strongest draw for younger audiences and women of the May blockbusters (at least until Sex and the City comes out) and it will have the same draw for religious Christians as the first movie.
The other three big movies that are almost guaranteed to make over $200 million include Marvel Studios’ Iron Man (Paramount – May 2), Pixar’s WALLE (Disney – June 27) and Will Smith’s Hancock (Sony – July 2), all of which you can read about below.
War of the Summer Comedies:
Last summer was all about the sequel, but this summer is all about the comedies with no less than seven strong comedies including the return of Mike Myers to live action comedy with a new character in The Love Guru (Paramount – June 20), Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly reteaming for Step Brothers (Sony – July 25) following the success of “Talladega Nights” two years ago. Ben Stiller and Jack Black also reunite for the R-rated war comedy Tropic Thunder (DreamWorks – Aug. 15). Summer regular Adam Sandler is back with another bizarre character in You Don’t Mess with the Zohan (Sony) while Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway take on the television classic Get Smart (Warner Bros.) helmed by Sandler collaborator Peter Segal. Eddie Murphy and Brian Robbins follow-up their 2007 hit Norbit with the eclectic sci-fi comedy Meet Dave (20th Century Fox – July 11), which might remind too many people of The Adventures of Pluto Nash. Either way, all eyes will be upon Pineapple Express (Sony – August 8), the latest teaming of Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen after the duo produced two of last summer’s biggest sleeper hits Knocked Up and Superbad. The battle of the summer comedies should spawn at least two or three that make over $100 million, maybe more, although like with everything else, movie audiences can only take so much of one genre, and there’s likely to be more than a few disappointments in the batch, if not a backlash to all comedy by summer’s end.
It’s All About the Competition
There’s a lot of competitive weekends this summer, but there are a few movies no one is going near: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has Memorial Day all to itself, as does The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian the week before. Studios are also expecting enough of an influx of estrogen for Sex and the City that it stands alone, while Hancock, Will Smith’s follow-up to his biggest hit I Am Legend, won’t have too many contenders when he returns to the 4th of July spot that’s given him so many blockbuster hits. (Kit Kittredge: An American Girl will expand wider that weekend after two weeks in limited release.)
Weekends with just one new movie aren’t the norm as there are a number of tough weekend battles for moviegoers’ dollars this summer. M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening (20th Century Fox) takes on The Incredible Hulk (Universal) on June 13, both of them bringing a lot of baggage from their previous movies to the table. Adam Sandler’s latest has to take on DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda, much like The Longest Yard took on Madagascar (and lost) over Memorial Day a few years back. Universal’s Wanted might have a similar problem taking on Disney/Pixar’s WALLE a few weeks later. Anticipated comic book movies The Dark Knight and Iron Man have female-oriented counter-programming that shouldn’t have much of an effect on their performance, but the fiercest competition might come between Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway’s update of Get Smart taking on the return of Mike Myers to live action with his new character The Love Guru. It’s going to be a frickin’ mess for sure.
The Weekend Warrior’s Summer Box Office Predictions
Here’s how the Weekend Warrior sees this summer’s Top 10 movies shaping up in terms of box office, but we’ll preface this by reminding everyone how hard it is to predict box office this far out since there are a number of facts that come into play that aren’t even known at this point. For instance, the advertising and marketing of some of the movies from July and August and more importantly, if any of these movies will be any good. If some of the highly-touted comedies aren’t as good as the early trailers and commercials suggest, they won’t sustain any legs and the same can be said for some of the bigger blockbusters.
1. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (DreamWorks/Paramount – May 22)
The Gist of It: Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones is back, this time with a young partner played by Shia Labeouf, as they face a Soviet army led by Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett in a race to acquire the legendary crystal skulls hidden in South Africa.
What It’s Got Goin’ On: Indiana Jones is one of the most popular movie characters of the ’80s and Harrison Ford’s most famous character, right up there with Han Solo from the “Star Wars” movies. This is the first Indiana Jones movie in 19 years, as well as the first movie collaboration between Spielberg and Lucas in just as long. It’s getting the plum Memorial Day weekend all to itself after opening early on a Thursday. LucasFilms has been keeping the movie a mystery as much as possible, which means that people won’t think they know everything by the time it opens. It has very little direct competition in the two weeks following, only Sex and the City and then Adam Sandler’s new comedy, neither which would necessarily sway those waiting to see the movie until crowds die down.
What It’s Facin’: Opening on Thursday might keep it from setting a new Memorial Day record, although it’s almost guaranteed to be Top 3 with X-Men: The Last Stand and last year’s Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. Considering how long it’s been, older moviegoers might be somewhat skeptical of Ford returning to the character at his age, but they’ll still be there opening weekend. There’s also some nervousness about the script approved by George Lucas (he’s been playing down the movie to lower expectations) especially after the “Star Wars” prequels which were disappointing but big moneymakers.
Opening Thursday: $42 to 45 million, Memorial Day 4-Day: $110 to 120 million; Total: $315 to 330 million
2. The Dark Knight (Warner Bros. – July 18)
The Gist of It: Most of the cast of Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins returns for the sequel which introduces the new Joker, played by Heath Ledger, and Harvey Dent AKA Two-Face (Aaron Eckhart).
What It’s Got Goin’ On: It’s the sequel to arguably one of the best DC Comics movies since the original Richard Donner Superman and the very popular Christian Bale is back under the cowl, as is Christopher Nolan behind the camera. The first movie grossed about $200 million but probably found even more fans on DVD and cable. The movie reintroduces two popular Batman villains into the darker and more serious Gotham City, which should get fans even more excited. Bizarrely, the tragic death of Heath Ledger has created more interest and a morbid curiosity in the movie among those who might not have seen it normally, and that’s going to put it over the top for sure. Not to bash Katie Holmes but she was the worst part of the original movie and she’s replaced by the much hotter Maggie Gyllenhaal.
What It’s Facin’: Being an anticipated fanboy film, it might be way more frontloaded than the previous movie, but if it’s as good as everyone hopes, it will get still get repeat business. It may be even darker and scarier than the first movie, which means parents probably won’t want to bring their younger kids. Some people might already be sick of the movie because of all the viral marketing.
Opening Weekend: $90 to 95 million; Total: $275 to $295 million
3. The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (Disney – May 16)
The Gist of It: The four Pevensie kids from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe have returned to Narnia over a thousand years since they left, and it’s become a much darker place as invading Telmarines have pushed the native Narnians back into the forest, and the Pevensies must work with Prince Caspian to take back the land for the Narnian creatures.
What It’s Got Goin’ On: It’s a sequel to a $290 million blockbuster based on a popular series of novels that have found millions of fans worldwide since C. S. Lewis wrote them in the early ’50s. It’s a PG movie from Disney who have been the first name in family and children’s entertainment for even longer than that. It has religious undercurrents that have made it a favorite among heavily religious Christians, who helped make the first movie such a hit. Having cut his teeth on live action with the first movie, Andrew Adamson should up his game by adding more action, better FX and a stronger adaptation of the second movie.
What It’s Facin’: Steven Spielberg and Lucasfilm’s “Indiana Jones” (see above) opens six days after “Prince Caspian,” followed by a string of anticipated animated family films that might keep this from sustaining the kind of legs we saw with the first “Narnia” movie. Not everyone loved the first movie and guys within a certain age range (15 – 25) are not a excited about seeing this movie as others, although they’ll probably check it out over the course of its run.
Opening Weekend: $82 to 86 million; Total: $275 to 290 million
4. WALLE (Disney/Pixar – June 27)
The Gist of It: Pixar Animation Studios’ ninth movie is a futuristic sci-fi story of a maintenance robot known as WALLE left alone on the earth after everyone else has left who goes on an adventure when he falls for the high-tech robot Eve.
What It’s Got Goin’ On: Pixar has a huge fanbase that crosses all ages, genders and demographics, and this one has a science fiction premise that can bring in older guys ala The Incredibles. It’s opening later in the summer where school is out of session, getting it out of the way of the early summer blockbusters, and it’s directed by Andrew Stanton, who was responsible for Pixar’s biggest hit to date, Finding Nemo. The sci-fi outer space nature of the movie could bring in a lot more older guys much like Brad Bird’s The Incredibles did a few years ago, and this will probably continue the tradition of Pixar movies getting exemplary reviews.
What It’s Facin’: Computer animation has not performed as strongly in recent years with Pixar’s last movie Ratatouille being its softest opener and grosser to date. This is a very crowded summer movie season and with Will Smith’s Hancock and a bunch of comic book movies on its tail, it won’t have many guys seeing it after its opening weekend, although it should still be the top family movie for many weeks.
Opening Weekend: $54 to 58 million; Total: $240 to $260 million
5. Iron Man (Marvel Studios/Paramount – May 2)
The Gist of It: Marvel Studios brings the armored Avenger Iron Man to the big screen with Jon (Elf) Favreau at the helm and Robert Downey Jr. playing Tony Stark, telling his origin story and having him face Obadiah Stane AKA War-Monger (Jeff Bridges).
What It’s Got Goin’ On: It’s the first new Marvel comic book property since last year’s Ghost Rider but with a lot more buzz going into it, since it’s being made by Marvel Studios, rather than by a third party studio. The casting might be the strongest of any of the superhero movies so far, not just Downey Jr., but also Terrence Howard and Gwyneth Paltrow, and there’s little to no negative buzz or backlash from anything that’s been seen so far. In fact, it has some of the best tracking for a summer non-sequel opener maybe ever , and it will probably garner universally positive reviews, which will just drive up the interest and desire to see it.
What It’s Facin’: It has Speed Racer, “Prince Caspian” and “Indiana Jones” coming one week after the other, and while the former might not have much of an effect, by its third week, many of its theaters and screens will be needed by the other big movies. Some might be skeptical of another comic book movie, especially based on a lesser-known character like Iron Man.
Opening Weekend: $78 to 83 million; Total: $245 to 255 million
6. Hancock (Sony – July 2)
The Gist of It: In this Peter (The Kingdom) Berg directed action-comedy, Will Smith plays an alcoholic bum with superpowers who gets a new P.R. guy (Jason Bateman) to try to turn his career around and allow him to be the hero he’s meant to be.
What It’s Got Goin’ On: Will Smith is one of the biggest box office stars coming off one of his biggest hits (I Am Legend, which grossed $256 million) and he’s back on his normal 4th of July weekend for the first time in six years after having successive hits over the holiday in years past. The thought of Will Smith playing a superhero is a premise that pretty much sells itself and this should be another great action-packed movie.
What It’s Facin’: Not a hell of a lot, at least opening week, but it’s going to have “Hellboy II” and The Dark Knight hot on its tail after the first week. Also, opening on Wednesday might soften its opening weekend, as will the 4th of July holiday following on Friday (a lot of people will go away). This isn’t a known character or property (like “Legend” or I, Robot) so it’s really selling itself mainly on Smith, and the movie might be quirkier than his fans might expect.
Opening Weds-Thursday: $45 million; 4th of July 3-Day: $53 to 58 million; Total: $210 to 225 million
7. The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (Universal – August)
The Gist of It: Brendan Fraser’s explorer Rick O’Connell is back, as is his son Alex (Luke Ford), facing the return of a Chinese mummy emperor (Jet Li) and a sorceress (Michelle Yeoh) in Asia, this time with Rob (XXX, The Fast and the Furious) at the helm.
What It’s Got Goin’ On: It’s the long-awaited sequel to the blockbuster sequel that grossed $200 million after setting a new holiday record in the summer of 2001. Opening in August might help it get away from the other summer blockbusters plus it gives Universal time to build up to its launch. Its Chinese setting not only will give it lots of new mythology to play with, as well as some cool martial arts from Jet Li, but it’s also being tied into the 2008 Summer Olympics which will be airing on NBC, allowing a lot of crossover marketing potential. The movie will probably get a lot of the young guys and kids with its PG-13 rating.
What It’s Facin’: It’s been a long time since the last movie and the franchise may have dried-up somewhat, especially since the last movie kind of sucked. It’s also opening much later in the season giving it a lot less time to gross as much as the second movie before school starts, and it has some strong R-rated comedies for guys opening in the weeks that follow The current backlash against China could possibly spillover onto the movie.
Opening Weekend: $55 to 60 million; Total: $170 to 185 million
8. Kung Fu Panda (DreamWorks – June 6)
The Gist of It: In this summer’s DreamWorks animated film, Jack Black plays Po, a Chinese panda obsessed with martial arts and has the chance to get trained by a master when it’s thought that he’s the only one who could stop the dreaded snow leopard (voiced by Ian McShane).
What It’s Got Goin’ On: It’s the first computer-animated movie of the summer, and the first of the year from DreamWorks, who generally have good luck during the summer, and this has a strong talking animals premise that will appeal greatly to kids. The martial arts aspect of the film could help it bring in an older male audience than these things usually do.
What It’s Facin’: Computer animation has generally not been as strong in the past few years, and except for the “Shrek” movies, DreamWorks Animation’s films have topped out $193 million which is lower than most of Pixar’s summer offerings, plus it has Pixar’s WALLE opening three weeks later which might limit its legs. It’ll probably lose many teens and older guys to Adam Sandler’s comedy opening the same weekend, and Jack Black might not be strong enough a star to open the movie huge.
Opening Weekend: $42 to 45 million; Total: $165 to 180 million
9. The Incredible Hulk (Universal/Marvel Studios – June 13)
The Gist of It: Marvel Studios attempts to revive the Hulk with a relaunch starring Edward Norton with Tim Roth showing up as Emil Blonsky/The Abomination with promises of more action than the previous movie.
What It’s Got Goin’ On: The Hulk is one of Marvel’s most popular characters offering such a great visual and easy premise, and with Marvel Studios taking over production, comic book fans might be more forgiving, plus it should get some strong spillover business from the success of Iron Man earlier in the season thanks to a cameo by Robert Downey Jr. (see above). The movie will also have a far superior teaser in front of Iron Man that will target the comic book fans that will see the movie as well as others.
What It’s Facin’: The biggest stopping block is that this will have to contend with the negative buzz towards the previous movie by Ang Lee a mere five years ago, as well as a similar negativity towards the first teaser which didn’t look so great, not to mention negative press who are ready to trounce this sight unseen. It’s also opening against M. Night Shyamalan’s global disaster movie The Happening which shouldn’t do too much damage since it will skew older and is facing similar negative advance buzz.
Opening Weekend: $48 to 53 million; Total: $145 to 155 million
At this point, 10th place is somewhat of a crapshoot that will either be taken up by Adam Sandler’s You Don’t Mess with the Zohan (Sony) or Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway’s action-comedy Get Smart (Warner Bros.), both which should be in the $125 to 140 million zone. They both may have contend with movies based on popular long-absent television series, Sex and the City (New Line – May 3) and The X-Files: I Want To Believe (20th Century Fox – Juiy 27). Anyone who thinks that either of the latter might suffer by being based on a television show is obviously forgetting last year’s The Simpsons Movie (opening: $74 mil.; total gross: $183 mil.) based on a popular television show still on the air.
The $100 Million Club
There’s a lot of comedies this summer and while Adam Sandler is guaranteed a place with his new comedy You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, there are a couple late August R-rated comedies that will try to follow the success of their precursors. The two things that might keep Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen’s action-comedy Pineapple Express (Sony – August 8) from hitting the mark is the fact that it’s a stoner comedy, limiting its audience, but it also Ben Stiller’s war comedy Tropic Thunder (DreamWorks – August 15) nipping at its tail when it opens on week later. Both benefit from what they’ll offer to the summer’s male-dominated audience, Pineapple Express looking like a classic summer action-comedy ala Will Smith and Martin Lawrence’s Bad Boys while Tropic Thunder has a great comedy ensemble that should guarantee back-to- back $25 to 30 million openings.
Chris Carter’s The X-Files: I Want To Believe probably will do most of its business its opening weekend, but there should be enough demand among the original fans to make that a really big opening weekend, so $100 million is almost guaranteed even if it’s grossly frontloaded. Same can be said for Sex and the City, which could have more longevity without as much competition for female audiences in the weeks that follow. It’s this year’s The Devil Wears Prada and Hairspray for sure.
The last strong contender for this summer’s $100 million club is the action flick Wanted (Universal), based on a lesser-known graphic novel by Mark Millar and J. G. Jones, though there’s something to be said about new and original ideas vs. sequels and those based on previous properties released during the summer and action fans have been itching for an original action movie ala The Matrix for a long time. The presence of sexy Angelina Jolie and the popular Morgan Freeman won’t hurt, and this should do decent business in its opening weekend against Pixar’s WALLE.
The three that might come close to joining the $100 million but might just miss out include Warner Bros’ Speed Racer and Star Wars: The Clone Wars, a live-action movie based on a television cartoon and a computer-animated television cartoon based on a blockbuster franchise. Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army (Universal) should do decently its opening weekend but with Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight opening one week later, it might be hard for it to maintain the traction needed to hit the $100 million.
The Great Unknown and the “What Happened?”:
Five fairly big budget summer movies will struggle for every penny they make, including Mike Myers’ The Love Guru (Paramount), which doesn’t look very good and has to open against Warner Bros.’ Get Smart. Mike Myers has been driving DreamWorks’ “Shrek” franchise along with Eddie Murphy and he does have diehard fans that helped his “Austin Powers” become the first true comedy blockbuster trilogy, but there’s something about the Indian character that is more annoying than funny.
Speaking of Eddie Murphy, he’ll be hoping that his summer movie Meet Dave (20th Century Fox – July 11) will have a similar success as his last movie Norbit, but it’s a much stranger premise about a spaceship that looks like a man with Murphy playing the ship’s diminutive captain. Let’s face it, it looks like another weird sci-fi comedy ala The Adventures of Pluto Nash, Murphy’s biggest bomb of his career, and at least the original title “Starship Dave” gave a better idea what to expect.
M. Night Shyamalan has licked off his wounds, switched studios and is back with another global disaster movie of sorts with The Happening (20th Century Fox – June 13), which hopes to repeat the success of Signs or at least The Village without having a star on par with Mel Gibson. Opening against Universal’s The Incredible Hulk might be its biggest stopping block, and it will be hard for critics or moviegoers to gives this the time of day after the universal hatred of Lady in the Water, but the premise is easier to sell, so we might see this make closer to $70 million.
The musical Mamma Mia! (Universal – July 18) starring Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan and Colin Firth hopes to replicate the success of New Line’s Hairspray musical last year, but there may not be as big a fanbase for an ABBA musical in movie form as the producers might think, and this looks like very weak counter-programming for The Dark Knight.
While I personally liked Walden Media’s update of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth (New Line – July 11) and I think the 3D could definitely help bring in big family audiences, opening in such a busy summer with so much stronger family fare, especially if Eddie Murphy’s Meet Dave which opens the same day gets a PG-rating, might keep this from making more than $60 to 70 million total.
The Studio Breakdown:
Looking at each studio’s line-up, Warner Bros. is spending their summer focusing on licensed properties and franchises, putting a lot of their hopes on a sure home run with The Dark Knight. It has a harder uphill climb with the likes of Speed Racer and George Lucas’ animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars (see above), so it might be down to Get Smart to help the studio continue its summer 2007 success.
Likewise, Paramount have sure-fire hits with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (May 22), the summer kick-off Iron Man (May 2) and DreamWorks’ animated Kung Fu Panda (June 6), but that’s a lot of movies being produced with DreamWorks and Marvel with only The Love Guru being produced in-house, which is somewhat worrying for a studio that’s becoming more of a marketing and distribution company than an actual production studio.
Disney is relying almost exclusively on its fantasy sequel The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (May 16) and the new Pixar movie WALLE (June 27) but that’s roughly $500 million between them. Incidentally, this year’s big Disney vs. DreamWorks animation battle between Pixar’s WALLE (June 27) and DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda (June 6), the latter helped by its IMAX showings but hurt by how quickly the former is chasing on its tail.
Universal Studios has the most to gain or lose this summer as they’re taking a lot of chances with two sequels to comic book movies that were not enormous hits (The Incredible Hulk and Hellboy II: The Golden Army) and another one based on an obscure comic book (Wanted) that has a lot of curious action fans hoping for it to launch a new wave of “Matrix” like films. Fortunately, they also have The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor batting clean-up in early August if any of their comic offerings fail. The four of them could accumulate roughly $500 million between them, but it’s doubtful any of them will make more than $200 million individually.
20th Century Fox is putting most of their money on The X-Files: I Want To Believe (20th Century Fox) and then they have a lot of original movies like The Happening and Meet Dave, the romantic comedy What Happens in Vegas and throwaways like Space Chimps and The Rocker.
Sony is taking a different approach, focusing more on their big name comedies than on big budget effects-driven blockbusters like their “Spider-Man” franchise, although bringing Will Smith back to his home on July 4th weekend with the superhero dramedy Hancock (July 2) should help them score another big summer hit even with two more superhero movies opening in the following two weeks.
It seems pretty clear that Paramount will come out on top this summer with their combination of Iron Man, “Indiana Jones” and DreamWorks animated movie with Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder playing clean-up at the end of summer, followed by Warner Bros. and Disney fighting for second place, Universal and then Sony with 20th Century Fox on the back-end of the summer.
That’s it for now. Stay tuned every Tuesday (give or take) for The Weekend Warrior‘s weekly box office predictions.