The Weekend Warrior’s Summer Box Office Preview

It’s hard to believe that it’s already May and the summer has snuck up on us once again. With that in mind, we’ll be doing this year’s Box Office Preview in two parts, this one being our annual predictions for the Top 10 summer movies.

Last year was a banner summer with three movies grossing more than $300 million and Warner Bros.’ The Dark Knight grossing over $500 million. The latter is a rarity, and it’s doubtful anything this year might reach that amount, but there are at least two movies that should gross over $300 million and another four to six that gross over $200 million. (Last year, six summer movies grossed over $200 million, so any number more than that is a good thing.)

The killer is that so many of this summer’s movies will be opening on Wednesday or Thursday, which may prevent any of them from doing the $100 million weekends that we saw three times last summer. Regardless, there are two blockbuster powerhouses that will be competing as the top movie of the summer and possibly the year as they hope to surpass the previous installment in their respective franchises. On top of that that, two high profile relaunches will hope to revitalize once successful franchises, as both J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek and McG’s Terminator Salvation will hope to do for the popular sci-fi classics what Batman Begins did for the Dark Knight detective and what Casino Royale did for James Bond. Each of those will probably be very happy grossing $200 million this summer; the question is whether both might.

Then there’s Pixar Animation Studios, who are still looking for a summer hit on par with 2003′s Finding Nemo and might have a tough time getting it with a movie starring an old codger and a mouthy Asian kid in a flying house.

The biggest factor this summer will be the presence of these movies in IMAX and 3D-capable theatres, both which are still very limited when you have a big movie coming out every weekend. The movies hoping to grab IMAX screens include Star Trek, the Night at the Museum and Transformers sequels, and the 6th “Harry Potter” movie. The third “Ice Age” movie and “Harry Potter” will be in 3D, as will be Final Destination: Death Trip, which closes out the summer.

Either way, we expect this to be a big summer that hopefully isn’t hindered by the fact that many of the movies finally being released were filmed during the writers strike of ’07.

1. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (DreamWorks – June 24)

It’s not just that the sequel to Michael Bay’s $300 million blockbuster is one that a lot of that movie’s fans are looking forward to, but the fact that they managed to get this sequel out just two years after the original is huge. That alone makes Bay’s sequel this summer’s equivalent of The Matrix Reloaded, Spider-Man 2 or Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, the sequel to a hugely popular debut that is on everyone’s must-see list, whether they’re fans of the giant talking robots or not. It’s opening on Wednesday, which may prevent a record-setting weekend ala “Dead Man’s Chest,” but one can still see it be one of the few $100 million openers this summer. Opening day should be in the $40 million range of Spider-Man 2 or Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix–that is assuming that DreamWorks doesn’t do the day-before preview thing–then the rest of the weekend should remain strong. The previous movie averaged roughly $24 million a day in its first week, but we expect the sequel to come closer to $28 to 30 million per day after the initial opening, helped greatly by opening after schools are out across the country. If the movie is even remotely as exciting as the most recent trailer, we’ll see it making a play for the top 10 grossing domestic movies of all time but probably will end up just below Jurassic Park.

$69 million (Weds/Thurs) + $103 (weekend) / $350 million total

2. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Warner Bros. – July 15)

Originally planned for release last November, this was moved by Warner Bros. to beef up their summer line-up, an unpopular decision by all the franchise’s impatient fans for sure. It’s been two years, the longest gap between the “Potter” movies and Scholastic has wisely held the paperback of the final chapter of Rowling’s book until right before the opening, which will help generate even more buzz and excitement than the movie had last year. Opening on Wednesday, the previous movie (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) made $139 million in its first five days and became the second highest grossing “Potter” movie since the first, but it just missed the $300 million mark. With seeing a movie in IMAX being even more popular now than it was even two years ago, one can expect that it will play a big part in the movie opening bigger than the last and the fact that the only big summer movie that follows this is G.I. Joe allows this installment the potential for far more legs than previous summer “Potter” releases.

$66 million (Weds/Thurs) + 83 million (weekend) / $310 million total

3. Terminator Salvation (Warner Bros. – May 21)

While Transformers will probably be this year’s “Matrix Reloaded,” this relaunch of James Cameron’s popular future shock action franchise is hoping to be Batman Begins and it certainly doesn’t hurt that they got that film’s star, Christian Bale, to play John Conner. Sure, Arnold Schwarzenegger is too busy governing California to play a larger part in this prequel (of sorts–it takes place decades after the original movie), but a lot of the ideas of man vs. robot remain. The choice of director McG to helm this might have seemed like an odd one for those who only know his work on the “Charlie’s Angels” movies but footage shown at various comic-conventions and roadshow events, as well as the dark dystopian trailers have lessened those concerns. The previous sequels opened over 4th of July weekend, and while T2: Judgment Day grossed just over $200 million, that was 18 years ago when ticket prices were significantly cheaper. The Cameron-free threequel grossed roughly $150 million 12 years later. A couple big differences, besides the lack of Arnold, is that this will be the first in the franchise that is PG-13 rather than R and that will be huge, especially with the movie opening over Memorial Day weekend, which is always the busiest moviegoing weekend of the year. It’s also opening on Thursday, which should be the day where most of the diehard franchise fans go see it, potentially taking away from its opening weekend. It also has to worry about competition for family audiences from the “Night at the Museum” sequel (see below), but should still be the first choice for most guys over 13.

$23 million (Thursday) + $83 million (4-day opening) / $235 million total

4. Up (Disney/Pixar – May 29)

This is Disney/Pixar’s fifth summer release following WALL•E, Ratatouille and Cars, all of which grossed over $200 million. While it’s not the most accessible premise for a family/kid film, a South American adventure featuring an old man and a talkative kid, it’s also the first Pixar 3D animated movie to actually be screened in 3D, which will be a huge draw for the studio’s millions of fans. It might open just south of Cars and WALL•E, but the 3D should offer a lot of replay value and as has been the case with previous Pixar movies, it will find its audience from word-of-mouth legs and should end up doing slightly better than the previous two movies, possibly giving “Terminator” a run for third place.

$58 million opening / $225 million total

5. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (20th Century Fox – May 2) – There’s certainly an advantage to kicking off the summer in that you don’t have to worry about “blockbuster burnout,” “sequilitis” and all the other things that take effect by mid-June. This one is facing a bunch of obstacles, including a leaked workprint and early reviews that haven’t been good, but it also will get slaughtered over the next few weeks with Star Trek next week, followed by Angels & Demons and then Terminator Salvation. On the other hand, it should stick around at least through Memorial Day, and that should be enough time to help it amass over $200 million, just like the previous two “X-Men” movies.

$92 million / $205 million total

6. Star Trek (Paramount – May 9)

Opening in just over a week, this is one of the summer’s real headscratchers, not because we don’t think it will do well, but we’re wondering how well. Essentially, television producer J.J. Abrams is relaunching Gene Roddenberry’s franchise with a complete reboot that acts as a prequel to the original “Star Trek” series. There’s a lot of general excitement about the movie from the Trek and geek community, enhanced by early word-of-mouth from those who’ve seen it (both Trekkers and non-Trekkers), which has been overwhelmingly positive. None of the ensemble cast on their own is particularly a draw, but the thought of a big budget sci-fi FX epic, one that will open in IMAX theaters as well, will make this the type of must-see event movie that the previous ten films never quite achieved. One would assume this would be frontloaded, being the epitome of geek fandom fodder, but opening early in the summer will be helpful for it to build on word-of-mouth from the opening weekend, and this could end up doing better in the long-term despite having a lot of big movies opening afterwards, and the fact it will likely lose many of its IMAX theaters over Memorial Day weekend. We’re going to be a bit modest with our lifelong gross prediction just because the legs of the film are the big unknown. It’s possible that it could make as much as $200 million but if it opens even bigger than we think, then it could be another surprise hit like last year’s Iron Man.

$64 million opening / $190 million total

7. Angels & Demons (Sony – May 16)

Ron Howard and Tom Hanks have reunited to adapt Dan Brown’s best-selling novel which preceded the record-setting The Da Vinci Code and while it looks great, one has to ponder whether there’s any negative backlash from the slow, plodding base of their previous movie. That film brought in a big audience due to the same controversy that drove sales of the book and one has to wonder whether this could end up being this summer’s “Prince Caspian,” a sequel to a hugely successful Christian-targetted film that couldn’t generate similar advance buzz. The book is way too popular, as is Hanks, for avid moviegoers to completely ignore it, and one should never underestimate the power of adapting a huge bestseller (see “Harry Potter”) using marquee stars and filmmakers as this one does. Figure on older audiences giving this a look on opening weekend and the weekend following Memorial Day, though it’s likely to fall just short of duplicating the original movie’s success (at least in the United States – it should still do huge international business).

$71 million opening / $180 million total

The next two movies are the two big non-Pixar family films of the summer, both from Fox, both sequels to huge movies and we think they’ll both end up somewhere in the under-$200 million range.

8. Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (20th Century Fox – July 1)

The third in the series of successful computer animated movies from Fox has very little buzz going into the summer so far, especially opening shortly after Night at the Museum. Both previous movies (Ice Age and Ice Age: The Meltdown) grossed over $175 million, and one might think that this one would continue the trend set by the “Shrek” movies of each installment opening bigger than the previous one. This is the first installment to be released in the summer as well the first one to be screened in 3D, which should be an additional draw for families. The 4th of July is a weird place to open a family movie because despite school being out for the summer, it’s not a place where family movies have done that well. Most families with kids tend to go away for the holiday weekend and a three-quel like this one is pushing it if it thinks they’ll stay home to see it. (Then again, the summer might be hot enough that an “ICE Age” movie might be just what everyone needs.)

$32 million (Weds/Thurs.) + $58 million / $175 million

9. Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (20th Century Fox – May 22)

Ben Stiller’s first attempt at a PG family film grossed $250 million over the holiday movie season of 2006-7 after opening softly with $30 million, so there are a lot kids and families who’ll be chomping at the bit to see this sequel. It’s opening on the busy Memorial Day weekend against Terminator Salvation, which will probably be the first choice for most guys 13 or older, but there are the families with smaller kids and Ben Stiller’s many fans who’ll probably go for this. It’s opening in IMAX theaters which should greatly help, although of all the summer sequels, this one is the most likely to open well but quickly tail off, because it’s followed a week later by Pixar’s Up (See above) and then Land of the Lost (see below) which won’t help it sustain the legs of the original. Sequels to family movies rarely do as well as their predecessors, and the fact that this one won’t have the busy holiday week between Christmas and New Year’s to help maintain its business will be felt.

$68 million (4-day opening)/ $170 million total

10. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (Paramount – August 7)

Hoping to have similar success as they did with Michael Bay’s Transformers, Hasbro and Paramount have reteamed for this live action movie based on the “G.I. Joe” toy line. The action figures have been around for 45 years, but when they were relaunched in the ’80s, it spawned a new wave of comics, cartoons and video games. The movie is directed by Stephen Sommers, who helmed the first two “Mummy” movies, but also the dreadful Van Helsing, so he has something to prove, especially with so many diehard Joe fans eyeing the movie with some skepticism. Even though it will have little appeal to non-fans or women, this is much like Star Trek where it will get people curious especially with the interesting mix of actors like Dennis Quaid, Channing Tatum and Sienna Miller, and the fanbase (and younger boys) should help it get a decent opening, even if it has a hard time sustaining it.

$58 million / $145 million total

So that should be the Top 10, although we want to mention a couple of movies being released this summer by Universal Pictures that are just bubbling under, potentially grossing in the $100 million plus range, one or two which could end up breaking into the Top 10. They’re taking a very different and daring approach to the summer without a single sequel in the bunch, but they do have a number of big stars and filmmakers to help them create potential new tentpoles. In no particular order:

Funny People (July 31) –

For his third movie, comedy mogul Judd Apatow teams with perennial box office draw Adam Sandler for a movie about stand-up comics. It looks to use a similar formula as his previous two hits, combining comedy and pathos, and it should bring out the same mix of audiences, plus opening later in the summer means less competition for legs.

Public Enemies (July 1) –

Michael Mann’s first movie since his big screen version of Miami Vice should thrive from the combination of Johnny Depp and Christian Bale, stars of two of the biggest movies of all time, in this true crime period movie about the FBI taking down noted American gangsters like John Dillinger (Depp) and Pretty Boy Floyd (Channing Tatum). Opening over 4th of July weekend, this should be a similar draw as Ridley Scott’s American Gangster, which should allow Mann to have his highest-grossing movie ever this summer.

Brüno (July 10) –

Sacha Baron-Cohen’s gay Austrian fashion model is coming to the big screen in a comedy that’s hoping to be as outrageous as his previous movie Borat, which became a huge national phenomenon a few years back. It’s one thing when you play with xenophobia, but when you start poking fun at sexuality, you may start to make people uncomfortable, and that might make a big difference whether this pulls a repeat or whether it has the same hurdles to cross in finding an audience as Brokeback Mountain.

The two Universal movies less likely to hit the $100 million mark are:

Inglourious Basterds (August 21) –

This co-production with the Weinstein Company is Quentin Tarantino’s fifth movie and his first attempt to make a WWII flick, and the big thing going for it is that it stars Brad Pitt. One would expect that this pairing would help the movie open in the range of Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, but it’s also opening at the ass-end of the summer during a weekend known for its bombs, so one has to wonder if it can break the trend and open big despite the stigma of its late August release.

Land of the Lost (June 5) –

Essentially, this is a reinvention of the Sid and Marty Krofft television show as a comedy vehicle for Will Ferrell, and though it promises action, adventure, laughs and CG dinosaurs, there’s something about this one that seems off, maybe because it seems more geared towards kids than the older fans of the show. It’s likely to open decently like Universal’s Evan Almighty, but then have absolutely no legs after people see it. Even with Danny McBride in a key role, this looks like a bit of a dog, especially opening a week after Disney’s Up and against another comedy, Todd Phillips’ The Hangover.


Summer Top 10 Box Office Recap

1. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (DreamWorks – June 24) – $350 million total

2. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Warner Bros. – July 17) – $310 million

3. Terminator Salvation (Warner Bros. – May 21) – $235 million

4. Up (Disney/Pixar – May 29) – $225 million

5. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (20th Century Fox – May 2) – $205 million

6. Star Trek (Paramount – May 9) – $190 million

7. Angels & Demons (Sony – May 16) – $180 million

8. Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (20th Century Fox – July 1) – $175 million

9. Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (20th Century Fox – May 22) – $170 million

10. G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra (Paramount – August 7) – $145 million

Unfortunately, we’ve decided to scrap Part 2 of this preview for lack of time, but make sure to check out The Weekend Warrior, which posts every Tuesday (or Wednesday) right here on ComingSoon.net! Special thanks to The Numbers, one of the best sites out there for box office data.

Copyright 2009 Edward Douglas

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