It’s that time of year again when ComingSoon.net’s The Weekend Warrior thinks farther in advance than usual to give an overview of how the upcoming summer movie season might play out. Possibly the most interesting aspect of the summer is that there are a number of sequels to franchises that seemed to have sputtered out and died after weak third outings that still managed to make some decent coin. It’s also a summer of superheroes and movies based on comic books as well as a couple of animated sequels that will be competing against each other. There is at least one weekend where the competition is so fierce, who knows how things might end up, as well as an interesting competition between two visionary filmmakers (working under the guidance of other visionary filmmakers) exploring the alien invasion genre in new and distinctive ways.
The summer approaches after one of the worst spring/winter seasons possibly in ten years with only one movie grossing more than $40 million in a single weekend and that was Fast Five just this past weekend. Every year, the summer movie season generally does big business because so many young people are out of school and looking for things to keep them busy, so that’s where the studios pull out all the big guns. That doesn’t mean everything will work, and certainly some things which look good on paper or in trailers could end up tanking. (Anyone remember how bullish we were about The Sorcerer’s Apprentice this time last year?) Considering how poorly some of the spring releases have fared, at least compared to expectations, we might see generally lower openings than normal overall and possibly fewer mega-blockbusters grossing $300 million or more.
Just a reminder, that this early box office column doesn’t take into account a couple things we can’t possibly know right now, like movies changing dates, theater counts being higher or lower than expected and movies we’re anticipating just plain sucking.
Let’s start with the three movies that have the type of box office track record that makes them the most likely to make a play for the $300 million mark this summer, putting them in the same realm as Iron Man 2 and Toy Story 3 last year. Three movies released this summer are follow-ups to previous movies that have grossed $300 million and even $400 million domestically, though we’re not quite sure any of them can surpass the latter mark.
With seven chapters before it, the grand finale of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 (Warner Bros. – July 15) is something that’s been building up to for nearly 10 years, and the fans will be out in droves to see how it all ends. We think the last installment will win the summer, not only by opening bigger than the first part, but also because the “Harry Potter” mega-fans will probably do their best to avoid going through withdrawal by seeing the movie over and over again through the last weeks of summer. So far, only two of the previous seven movies have surpassed the $300 million mark, the first movie and “Half-Blood Prince,” which opened on the same date two years ago (although it opened on a Wednesday). We think this one will join them and probably end up being the highest grossing movie as well, largely helmed by it being the only one full in 3D.
With “Harry Potter” set to take the lead would mean that second place will be a rematch between two former colleagues as Jerry Bruckheimer’s most successful franchise takes on that of his protégé Michael Bay. For the first time since 2007, it’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” vs. “Transformers,” as both try to regain their former glory following weak sequels. Last time, both movies grossed over $300 million domestically, but Transformers ended up with $319 million vs. “At World’s End” and its gross of $309 million, though they still were the third and fourth biggest movies that year after Spider-Man 3 and Shrek the Third. (Ironically, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix ended up in fifth place that year with just under $300 million gross.)
Michael Bay returns with Transformers: Dark of the Moon (Paramount July 1), a follow-up to the 2009 sequel that did reach the $400 million mark and has most of the returning cast except one person noticeably absent and that’s Megan Fox, whose choice in skimpy clothing probably helped bring in just as many horny young males as the chance to see giant robots fighting each other. She’s replaced by British supermodel Rosie Huntington-Whitely. A lot of fans were angered by parts of the previous installment Revenge of the Fallen, which mostly filmed during the writers strike, so the third movie (and supposedly Bay’s last) will have to do a lot to convince fans and non-fans to return, but the impressive recent trailer is a good start. Bay’s latest is opening over 4th of July weekend which should make it the optimum holiday viewing for the fans and we could see it doing a huge amount of business, though ultimately, it will end up below “Potter.”
Bruckheimer’s Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (Disney May 20) is the fourth movie in the series and the first directed by Chicago helmer Rob Marshall. Johnny Depp is back as Captain Jack Sparrow as is Geoffrey Rush, but otherwise, it’s mostly a new cast including Penelope Cruz and Ian McShane as new pirates. It doesn’t feel like that many people absolutely loved the third installment At World’s End as much as the previous two and one wonders if as many will rush out to see a fourth movie. Depp is still as big a star as ever as seen by the huge opening of Alice in Wonderland last year, his third movie to open over $100 million, but one wonders if this installment might follow the path of last year’s Shrek Forever After. We think this one might open lighter than the previous movie but still in the $90 to 100 million range, though it’s going to be hurt by the release of two big sequels the following Thursday, so we say this one ends up under $300 million and third place for the summer, at least domestically. It should do very well overseas and has a good chance at doing better there than the other two movies.
Just as there’s been a lot of talk about the number of sequels this summer, there are a surprising amount of superhero movies, three of the four of them featuring characters that are (for the most part) making their big screen live action feature film debuts.
In some ways, X-Men: First Class (20th Century Fox – June 3) is the most interesting of the summer’s superhero offerings, only because it does have historical precedence as well as baggage. It’s meant as a prequel to the three hit “X-Men” movies released between 2000 and 2007, and it’s following the $180 million made by X-Men Origins: Wolverine two years ago. It’s also the only superhero movie of the summer that’s part of an existing franchise, though one has to wonder whether enough people liked Brett Ratner’s X-Men: Last Stand–it grossed $234 million after a $100 million opening weekend–to rush out to see a movie with an all-new cast. It’s helmed by Matthew Vaughn, whose previous two genre flicks Stardust and Kick-Ass barely made a dent at American box office, but we do think it should do decently based on the namebrand and the cool recent trailer.
Marvel Studios had an enormous hit with Iron Man back in 2008, grossing $300 million in North America, and last year’s Iron Man 2 ended up doing roughly the same, so they’re hoping their 2011 summer offerings, Thor (Marvel Studios/Paramount – May 6) and Captain America: The First Avenger (Marvel Studios/Paramount), will fare just as well. We’re going to save what we think about Thor for this week’s “Weekend Warrior” column, but we do think that Captain America has a lot more potential, at least for opening weekend. As with the comics, Thor is a hard sell but it’s a good movie and word-of-mouth should help it do decently in its second weekend and through the early months of summer. Captain America really should be the break-out though, not just because North America will get it before the rest of the world (as it should be) but also because Cap’s a much more popular character who has appeared in more places than Thor. Even though the WWII setting might put some people off, guys should eat it up and women should be into Chris Evans’ portrayal of the character. We don’t think either will open as big as the “Iron Man” movies or reach the $300 million, but Cap should end up grossing the most of the summer superhero movies.
Last but not least is Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment’s attempt to branch out from their Superman and Batman movies with the first live action movie based on their second tier hero Green Lantern (Warner Bros. June 17) starring Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan. Green Lantern is more popular than ever thanks to the resurgence of the comics, and it’s being released in a great weekend just as schools are letting out. Like Thor, it should also skew towards younger kids, which will certainly help counterbalance any of the skeptical 20 to 30 somethings. The presence of “Gossip Girl” Blake Lively as Jordan’s love interest Carol Ferris (and Reynolds’ own appeal among women) should help bring in more women than some of the other superhero offerings, which should help this end up in 2nd place for the summer superhero movies after Captain America and will probably be making a play for $200 million similar to Batman Begins.
What’s likely to be one of the more heated battles of the summer is the one between two animated sequels from the Big Two animation houses.
Jack Black returns as the voice of Po in Kung Fu Panda 2 (DreamWorks Animation/Paramount – May 26), which is opening on the Thursday before Memorial Day with some tough competition for grown-ups in Todd Phillips The Hangover Part II (see below). On the other hand, Memorial Day is the perfect weekend for a big family sequel like this, following in the footsteps of other DWA movies like Shrek 2 and Madagascar, but the sequel factor should help push this one to a $88 to 90 million opening weekend over the four days after making $15 to 17 million on Thursday. With few family movies following in the next few weeks, it should be the type of movie that its young fans will want to see over and over again.
DisneyPixar’s summer 2011 offering Cars 2 (June 24) is the sequel to a movie that wasn’t one of the animation studio’s bigger hits or more popular movies, but the amount of money made from tie-in products and toys made it worth making another movie, this one with even more car characters. The original opened roughly in the same general area as Kung Fu Panda on the same weekend two years earlier, but went on to gross quite a bit more, probably because it was released just as school was letting out in the country. While we don’t think Cars 2 will open as big as Kung Fu Panda 2, the fact it’s once again opening later in the month just before schools let out will allow it to sustain better legs, which ultimately will help it make more money than the original movie. Even so, the sequel seems more like kid’s stuff than Pixar’s other movies and it won’t have nearly as much repeat business. With that in mind, we think the popularity of the DreamWorks Animation characters will win the summer.
Not fully animated but still a movie that’s going to be of interest to family audiences is The Smurfs (Sony July 29), the first big screen feature film based on the characters since 1983. This one is the type of live action mixed with CG we’ve seen so much in recent years, and with serious nostalgia factor among adults and the guaranteed kids’ market, this could be hoping to replicate the success of Scooby-Doo, which was also directed by Raja Gosnell. The only problem is that it’s opening against Jon Favreau’s Cowboys vs. Aliens (see below), which will grab most of the older guys.
It’s already been noted how much science fiction is thriving in 2011, especially alien invasion movies. and that continues into the summer with three potentially big science fiction movies, two from visionary filmmakers and one reviving a popular franchise.
J.J. Abrams’ career as film director isn’t that old but with the hit Star Trek under his belt, he decided to bring his own original idea to the screen with Super 8 (Paramount June 10). The movie is produced by Steven Spielberg and it harks back to Spielberg classics like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. the Extraterrestrial, something that’s really stirring nostalgic feelings in those who have seen the trailer. If the movie is even half as good as it looks, it should be able to build on a strong opening weekend to be one of the summer’s breakout sleeper hits.
Jon Favreau’s first post-”Iron Man” movie is a sci-fi Western called Cowboys & Aliens (Universal/DreamWorks – July 29), based on the barely-known Platinum Studios comic, another idea from Scott Rosenberg, former head of Malibu Comics which spawned the “Men in Black” movies with Will Smith. Starring Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford (in a rare non-”Indiana Jones” action role), the movie looks like a combination of Smith’s earlier films Independence Day and Wild Wild West, which makes it hard to determine how it might translate to mass audiences. The star power and premise will certainly get them in there opening weekend and if it delivers in the same way as the “Iron Man” movies, it could be another sleeper as audiences get sick of superhero movies and sequels, though we still think it will top out at $200 million.
The last big science fiction movie of the summer is Rise of the Planet of the Apes (20th Century Fox Aug. 5), a prequel to the popular franchise of the late ’60s and early ’70s, this one starring James Franco, Freida Pinto and Andy “Gollum” Serkis. The last attempt at reviving the franchise was Tim Burton’s “reimagining” which opened with $68 million and grossed $180 million domestically (and double that worldwide). This prequel doesn’t have the added pull of Burton at the helm and hitting theaters so late in the summer (and a week after Cowboys vs. Aliens), it probably will open lighter and end up grossing less than its predecessor as well.
This could very well be the summer where comedies thrive with lots of breakouts, since so many people need reasons to laugh especially after the fairly dismal last few months.
Two summers ago was a banner summer for comedy in large part thanks to the success of Todd Phillips’ The Hangover, which grossed $250 million as it became the highest grossing R-rated comedy of all time. Now Phillips is back with the same cast for The Hangover Part II (Warner Bros. – May 26), which takes them to Bangkok, and there should be enough guys and women 17 and up dying to see the return of the Wolf Pack. The anticipation should help the movie do incredibly well over Memorial Day weekend although it’s likely to be more frontloaded than the original movie and might end up grossing less.
The craziest thing is how many R-rated comedies are coming out now that hope to do as well as The Hangover… or Wedding Crashers or even some of Apatow’s bigger hits like Knocked Up and Superbad. All four of those movies got studios thinking that maybe comedies don’t have to be PG-13, and this summer, we’re seeing how that change in attitude has exploded.
The first R-rated comedy of the summer is the Kristen Wiig comedy vehicle Bridesmaids (Universal – May 13) produced by Judd Apatow, which has been generating a lot of buzz and great reviews since its debut at the SXSW Film Festival. Women love wedding-related movies, and even opening a week after two others, this one looks like the wedding comedy they’ll all want to see as a group. However well or poorly it opens, we can see it having huge legs as it offers more for female audiences than the usual dumb romantic comedy, especially leading up to wedding season in June. We think $130 million is the low-end and it could possibly get up to $150 million.
Two other star-studded R-rated comedies that looked cool to us from what we saw at CinemaCon were Seth (Four Christmas) Gordon’s Horrible Bosses (New Line/WB – July 8), starring Jasons Bateman and Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Jamie Foxx, Charlie Day and Colin Farrell, and Bad Teacher (Sony June 24), starring Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel and Justin Timberlake. Both of them are strong high concept comedies that should make them easy choices for audiences. There’s something about Horrible Bosses that makes us think it will appeal to a huge audience of hard-working people who are annoyed with their own bosses, and its post 4th of July release date seems absolutely perfect for it to have a solid opening weekend as well as bring in word-of-mouth business through the rest of the month. Bad Teacher also has a great premise and solid cast with Cameron Diaz returning to R-rated comedy for the first time since her bomb The Sweetest Thing. As it gets closer to June, people will constantly be reminded of Diaz’s breakout title role in the Farrellys’ There’s Something About Mary, which was an enormous summer comedy hit, and it won’t hurt that the movie is being released in Adam Sandler’s late June territory.
The last two comedies of note opening later in the season are The Change-Up (Universal – Aug. 5), the new R-rated comedy from Wedding Crashers director David Dobkin, a body-changing comedy starring Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds, both of whom have their share of fans. It’s opening late enough in the summer it shouldn’t be hindered by any of the above, but we wonder if people might be “comedied out” by August. (It is opening in the same weekend where Rush Hour 2 and American Pie 2 were huge hits, but without having the sequel factor.) Opening a week later is Ruben (Zombieland) Fleischer’s R-rated action-comedy 30 Minutes or Less starring Jesse Eisenberg, Aziz Ansari, Danny McBride and others, which based on the first trailer, doesn’t seem as strong as some of the other offerings, so it’s likely to top out around $50 million or so. (Sony may be better off focusing on the action part of the equation in order to try and do closer to last year’s late summer hit The Other Guys.)
Late Summer Sleepers:
With so many blockbusters coming out in May through July, one wonders whether moviegoers will be burnt out by August, which is why studios are using the last month of summer to experiment a bit. While movies released during the later weekends in August are in danger of bombing as so many people go on vacation, there seems to be enough variety and potential quality that some of them should endure.
First of all, there’s a trio of horror movies opening in August we’re quite excited about, particularly Final Destination 5 (New Line/WB – Aug. 12), which will try to continue the tradition of death’s design not putting up with any bull. This one takes a different approach, because rather than following high school/college age kids, it follows a bunch of office workers on a teambuilding trip who get caught up in what should be one of the more impressive opening set pieces for the franchise, a suspended bridge collapse. It also brings on James Cameron’s right hand man Steve Quale to make sure the 3D is better than the fourth and “final” (ha ha) installment. That one made $66 million and we think this one could do even better by being released earlier in the month. (Former “Final Destination” director David Ellis will also be back this summer with his own 3D movie, Shark Night 3D, which will come out on Labor Day.)
Guillermo del Toro produced the remake of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (FilmDistrict – Aug. 26), starring Guy Pearce and Katie Holmes, but it has been delayed for years as it dealt with distribution issues, being one of the leftovers from Miramax. It was picked up by FilmDistrict who just had great success with James Wan and Leigh Whannell’s Insidious and we think this should also end up in the $40 million range.
Opening between the two of those is the 3D remake of Fright Night (DreamWorks) starring Anton Yelchin and Colin Farrell, which may be a tougher sell even with the namebrand recognition of the cult film from the early ’80s. It’s opening in a weird weekend against two other 3D movies, including Conan the Barbarian, but from what we’ve seen, it has potential similar to DreamWorks’ Disturbia, so they’d be wise to market it in a similar manner or maybe moving this to later in the year.
A week earlier, DreamWorks releases the adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s bestselling novel The Help (Aug. 12), which takes the Eat Pray Love slot from last year (and the Julie & Julia slot from the year before) with a diverse cast that includes Emma Stone, Sissy Spacek, Bryce Dallas Howard, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Allison Janney. It should be just what women will need that late in the summer, and it could be a movie that crosses the race barrier that so many romantic comedies have to face. From what we’ve seen, this could be a real sleeper that opens well and then makes its way to $100 million by the time it leaves theaters.
A couple of movies we dug at Sundance are also coming out in August, hoping to bring in enough business over the slower weeks to create word-of-mouth for the fall.
Vera Farmiga’s directorial debut Higher Ground (Sony Pictures Classics – Aug. 12) seems like the type of movie that could really find an audience of women due to word-of-mouth with her playing a woman who spends her life as part of a Christian community. God only knows who thought it was a good idea opening it against The Help though.
The Paul Rudd ensemble comedyOur Idiot Brother (The Weinstein Co. – Aug 26) is a funny and quirky comedy from Jesse Peretz, which has the type of situations many people can relate to, though we’re already wondering whether Harvey Weinstein will homogenize it down to a PG-13 given his proclivity for the rating. (We also wonder if its original title “My Idiot Brother” may have been better since it gives audiences a more personal connection to the material.)
We’re not sure if it’s coming out during the summer just yet, but Alex Gregory and Paul Huyck’s A Good Old Fashioned Orgy (Samuel Goldwyn – Aug. 26) was one of our highlights of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, with an amazing ensemble cast including Jason Sudeikis, Leslie Bibb, Lake Bell, Lucy Punch, Will Forte and breakout roles from Tyler Labine and others. We think it fits in well with some of the other R-rated comedies mentioned above, and if its distributor can get a good trailer in front of one of Sony’s other high-profile comedies, it has a good chance at finding a strong young audience with its high concept premise of long-time friends who decide to throw an orgy.
While we hate to shine the spotlight on movies that may have problems making a mark during this busy summer season, we can’t ignore the fact that with so many movies coming out over the summer, they can’t all do well. In fact, some of the ones below we think will fail miserably for one reason or another.
The first movie whose success we’re questioning is the long-delayed Priest (Sony/Screen Gems – May 13), an action thriller starring Paul Bettany by the director of Legion. It looks like a perfectly fine action movie in the vein of the “Underworld” and “Resident Evil” movies, but it’s been delayed repeatedly, once in order to convert the movie to 3D, and we think that a lot of the early promotion to try to generate excitement has not worked.
Maybe it’s just wishful thinking that we think Kevin James’ Zookeeper (Sony – July 8) and Jim Carrey’s Mr. Popper’s Penguins (20th Century Fox – June 17) will bomb among family audiences ’cause we’re already sick of the idea of remotely funny comedians together with animals to try to amuse the little kiddies. Both James and Jim probably are too popular for the movies to completely bomb, but you also have to wonder how many parents are willing to endure these types of films in a summer with anticipated animated sequels.
The fourth installment of Robert Rodriguez’s hit franchise Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World (Dimension – Aug. 19) may be coming out way too long after the last movie to take advantage of its popularity, though hopefully, it can do better than the director’s last two family films, The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl and Shorts. We’re afraid to say that most of the fans of the original “Spy Kids” movies are probably now too old to care, and this is opening way too late in the summer to do well. We’ll take the under $40 million on this one, too.
We don’t know a lot about Lee Tamahori’s first movie since the long-delayed action movie Next, but The Devil’s Double (Lionsgate – July 29) stars Dominic Cooper as an Iraqi soldier who doubles for Saddam Hussein’s son Uday in the late ’80s, and we’ve heard from a number of sources who saw it at Sundance that it’s an unintentionally funny trainwreck. We think Lionsgate is already doing a lot to make it look better, but we don’t think this will get much attention, at least not the good kind.
We love A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh (Walt Disney – July 15) as much as the next guy or gal, but we wonder whether Disney’s decision to resurrect the character in a 2D animated form may have been a wise decision, especially considering how poorly the movie has been doing opening in other countries in mid-April. Yeah, and opening it against the last “Harry Potter” is the equivalent of “Bambi vs. Godzilla.”
While we’re pretty sure Will Gluck’s follow-up to Easy A, Friends With Benefits (Sony/Screen Gems July 22), starring Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, will be better than the recent hit No Strings Attached, the fact they have the exact same premise but weaker star draws in Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake might make it a lost cause, especially following so many other R-rated comedies and opening against Marvel’s Captain America. Maybe the promise of a slight bit of Justin Timberlake nudity will turn this around, but we’re not too optimistic on this one.
We’re slightly less dubious of the revival of Conan the Barbarian (Lionsgate – Aug. 19), which features quite an eclectic cast and might benefit from star Jason Momoa’s recent turn on HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” German filmmaker Marcus Nispel (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) has earned a bit of a reputation for his violent yet disappointing remakes, though they tend to do decent business. As we saw with The A-Team and others, nostalgia doesn’t necessarily carry a movie, and we wonder how many people still care about the character previously played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. The early teaser doesn’t look good and if this somehow manages to defy its late August opening to make more than $20 million opening weekend–partially helped by 3D ticket prices but also opening against two other 3D movies–it’s probably going to tank after that.
The Summer Anomaly
We feel there’s one movie we need to address because it’s one that’s been talked about enthusiastically for years now by exuberant cinephiles, and Terrence Malick’s long-gestating film The Tree of Life (Fox Searchlight) is finally getting released over Memorial Day weekend. A lot of the excitement virtually sight unseen is due to the casting of Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, and the ambiguous trailers have just gotten more people intrigued, so we’re wondering if this could this be the movie that finally gets Malick the type of mainstream success (and the box office that comes with it) that many of his peers eventually received. The movie is premiering at Cannes and others should be seeing it soon, but without Malick, Pitt or Penn doing press for the movie, who knows how much attention it will get? (For a movie that opens in roughly four weeks, it seems to be maintaining a fairly low-key presence.)
And that brings us to the Grand Finale…
The Weekend Warrior’s Summer 2011 Predictions
1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (Warner Bros. – July 15)
$136 million opening weekend and $330 million total
2. Transformers: Dark of the Moon (Paramount July 1)
$121 million opening weekend (four-day) and $320 million total
3. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (Disney May 20)
$105 million opening weekend and $290 million total
4. Kung Fu Panda 2 (DreamWorks Animation/Paramount – May 26)
$15 million opening day, $88 million opening (4-day) and $260 million total.
5. Cars 2 (DisneyPixar – June 24)
$76 million opening and $255 million total
6. Captain America: The First Avenger (Marvel Studios/Paramount)
$85 million opening and $250 million total
7. X-Men: First Class (20th Century Fox – June 3)
$78 million opening and $220 million total
8. Super 8 (Paramount June 10)
$62 million opening and $215 million total
9. Green Lantern (Warner Bros. June 17)
$77 million opening and $200 million total
10. Thor (Marvel Studios/Paramount – May 6)
$65 million opening and $190 million total
11. The Hangover: Part II (Warner Bros. – May 26)
$18 million opening day Thursday, $74 million opening weekend (4-day) and $185 million total
12. Cowboys & Aliens (Universal/DreamWorks – July 29)
$68 million opening and $185 million total
13. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (20th Century Fox
$57 million opening and $155 million total
14. Bridesmaids (Universal – May 13)
$27 million and $130 million total
15. Horrible Bosses (New Line/WB – July 8)
$25 million opening and $120 million total
And bubbling under, three more movies with the potential to gross at least $100 million…
The Smurfs (Sony July 29)
The Help (DreamWorks – Aug. 12)
Bad Teacher (Sony June 24)
Looking at the above, we think it will be a fairly tight race between Warner Bros. and Paramount in terms of which studio will win the summer, but we’ll give a slight edge to the latter due to their partnerships with DreamWorks Animation and Marvel Studios.
That’s it for now, but check out The Weekend Warrior every week for updates on these predictions and further analysis of the movies.