Long Distance Box Office: Summer’s $100 Million Club


We’re going to do something a little different this time. Oh, who are we kidding? We’re doing something completely different every time, but honestly that’s sometimes the only way to keep things interesting for all of us. As promised, we’re going to delve into the summer movie season with these Long Distance Box Offices, although I also want to save something for our annual Summer Box Office Preview.

This summer on paper may not look as strong as last year’s triumvirate of The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Rises and the box office has generally been down. Even so, we still think that the summer has a good chance at a number of huge hits that should definitely make enough money to make up for the weak spring/winter season. Part of the reason for that is that this summer sees the release of roughly 16 sequels to other hits and Hollywood obviously feels that moviegoers aren’t looking for something different, but would rather get more of the same. We’ll see how that goes considering how poorly the last couple of sequels have done in the past month.

The summer starts off officially on May 3 with Iron Man 3 (Disney, Marvel Studios), which finally pits Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark against Iron Man’s greatest villain, the Mandarin, played by Sir Ben Kingsley. Two weeks later, J.J. Abrams’ sequel Star Trek Into Darkness (Paramount – May 15) reunites the cast of the 2009 blockbuster that helped reinvigorate the age-old sci-fi franchise. A week after that we have two more sequels over Memorial Day, which probably will be the most interesting weekend of the summer as the street racing action sequel Fast & Furious 6 faces The Hangover Part III, the conclusion to Todd Phillips’ epic trilogy about three guys who just haven’t learned how to moderate their drinking even after losing their good friend… twice!

In June and July, we get sequels to two big animated movies, Monsters University (Disney•Pixar – June 21) and Despicable Me 2 (Universal), which should do at least as well as their predecessors. Then in July, we have two superhero movies, one a reboot and one a sequel (of sorts) with Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel (Warner Bros. – June 14) introducing the new Superman in Henry Cavill while Hugh Jackman returns as The Wolverine (20th Century Fox – July 26), an attempt to keep the mutant love going 13 years after the introduction of Jackman as the character.

We know all of these will do well but with the benchmarks for a blockbuster opening increasing on a yearly basis and movies opening over $40 million being more and more frequent, the real question is which of these movies will open over $100 million?

We can probably assume that Iron Man 3 is a definite. The previous movie opened with $128 million in 2010, and the threequel is following just a year after Marvel’s The Avengers set a new opening record with a $207.4 million opening. Even though reactions to Iron Man 2 were muted, the year-long wait between Marvel movies and kicking off the summer movie season should help Iron Man 3 open with somewhere closer to $150 million, which should be a great way to recover from the slower spring/winter seasons. Depending on how good the movie is, we can see it being one of this year’s movies to come close to $400 million.

The “Star Trek” sequel opens a couple days early on Wednesday but that’s only for IMAX showings, which should do huge business, but it should still have enough business for the weekend, particularly in areas that doesn’t have IMAX. The previous movie opened with $79.2 million in 2009, which was almost as much as the original Star Trek: The Movie made in its entire theatrical run. Even if you figure that the IMAX screenings could make $10 to 12 million on Wednesday and Thursday, the weekend should explode with upwards of $31 million or more on Friday and it should hold up well enough to make somewhere between $90 and 100 million over the weekend. Who knows? Maybe it will even push those numbers and be the second movie to open with $100 million this summer?

It almost feels as if we should address the conflict between Fast & Furious 6 and The Hangover Part III in its own separate column (and maybe we will), but both of them have the potential to open over $100 million when you weigh in the Monday holiday and the fact it’s one of the busiest moviegoing weekends of the year. Except that has never happened before and probably never will. The “Hangover” threequel is the follow-up to a movie that’s already made over $100 million on Memorial Day–one of four movies–but it’s also following a disappointing sequel that was considered “more of the same” and it’s going to be hard to win back the fans, especially having yet to release a trailer.

On the other hand, Fast & Furious 6 is the sequel to the blockbuster Fast Five, which opened with $86.2 million at the end of April 2011. That movie may have been one of the best received of the franchise going back to the very first movie, having added Dwayne Johnson to the mix, and the recent Super Bowl commercial has really pumped up expectations so that we would be shocked if it made LESS than the previous movie, even opening against The Hangover. In fact, we think it could make $100 million just over the three-day weekend, which would be a first for Universal Pictures, and then it has Monday to make it official and try to break into the Top 3 Memorial Day openings.

Fast & Furious 6 isn’t Universal’s only chance to have a blockbuster summer, because they follow it roughly five weeks later with Despicable Me 2, the sequel to the $250 million grossing animated comedy which opened with $56.4 million in July 2010. With the kind of legs the movie had plus three years of building an audience through DVD, cable and network viewings, we can see this being an equally huge hit. It’s opening over the 4th of July against Johnny Depp’s The Lone Ranger, but it’s also opening on a Wednesday with school out for the summer, so we think it will do huge business those first two days keeping it from doing another $100 million of business over the actual weekend. It should definitely be able to bring in $100 million over its first five days though and probably $65 million over the three-day weekend.

Disney•Pixar’s Monsters University is the animation studio’s third sequel since Disney bought the animation studio in 2006 and this is a prequel to their 2001 hit Monsters, Inc., Pixar’s fourth feature film featuring the voices of Billy Crystal and John Goodman, which opened with $62.6 million in an early November release and grossed $288 million theatrically. Seeing how well Toy Story 3 opened compared to the previous movies 11 years earlier, taking in $110 million, it’s likely that Monsters University could also open well even though the characters of Monsters, Inc. aren’t as well-loved or resonant with kids and families. Because of that we think it will probably fall just short with $93 to 95 million opening but should enjoy two weeks at #1.

And then there’s Man of Steel, a new attempt to reboot and revive DC Comics’ very first superhero after the huge success Warner Bros. had with Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight Trilogy.” Nolan is on board as a producer, something that’s been prominently advertised in the trailers, but it’s directed by Zack Snyder, whose second movie 300 opened over $70 million, while his follow-up adaptation of Watchmen earned significantly less. Going by how Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns fared in 2006, grossing $84.6 million in its first five days after opening on a Wednesday, one might think that the best Man of Steel could do in three days is around the same. Times have changed though, as have ticket prices, but the fact Superman is quite an iconic character and the mid-June release should allow for a strong opening, possibly even to $100 million with the added bump from 3D and IMAX, but a lot of it will rely on reviews. Right now, we’re going to take a wait and see on this one, but the fact it opens a week before Monsters University and Brad Pitt’s World War Z might limit its legs and keep it under the $300 million mark for total gross.

Lastly, the return of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine fills out the triptych of summer blockbuster superhero movies–I’m not including other comic movies like Kick-Ass 2 or R.I.P.D.X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which still opened with $85 million. We think opening so late in the summer with little buzz so far might hurt it and we think it probably will open more in the same $80 million range, so the “X-Men” franchise will have to wait for next year’s prequel-sequel-whatever-you-want-to-call-it to return to the $100 million opening club.

So which of the above will end up doing the best and grossing the most this summer? Well, for that, you’re just going to have to wait for our Box Office Preview in late April, because that’s all for “Long Distance Box Office” right now. Hopefully we’ll be able to fit one more of these into the mix before our actual Summer Box Office Preview in late April.