The Weekend Warrior’s Summer Box Office Preview


Who knows if there ever has been a summer as exciting as this one in terms of the number of highly anticipated blockbuster movies and sequels? There’s little question that the summer of ’07 is already set to become known as the biggest summer ever with the big story that has had tongues wagging for a year being the battle between Spider-Man 3 (Sony – May 4), Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (Disney – May 25) and Shrek the Third (DreamWorks – May 18).

Battle of the 3-Quels

I’m not sure if there’s ever been a summer that has so many sure things so early in the season, with May delivering threequels from three major blockbuster franchises, two of them following sequels that grossed over $420 million domestically. By Labor Day, it’s likely that three movies will have crossed the $300 million mark, but it’s also very possible that two movies might make over $400 million domestically by then, the closest we’ve ever come to that happening being in 2004 with the release of Spider-Man 2 and Shrek 2, the latter winning that battle $440 million to $373 million.

The big difference is that Spider-Man 2 opened nearly six week after Shrek 2 and the previous two “Pirates of the Caribbean” films haven’t had to contend with either franchise. This time, they’re all opening within a month of each other with Spider-Man 3 opening earlier by kicking off May in the same way that the original movie did five years earlier, when it set an opening weekend record that took four years for another movie to beat. (The fact that the record was recently broken by Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest makes it more obvious why everyone’s expecting such a tough battle between the two movies this summer.)

Spider-Man 2 was an extremely popular sequel that has left fans waiting patiently for three years for its follow-up, and this weekend, the threequel should easily surpass the opening weekend record set by the original movie. The first movie also had amazing staying power, dropping less than 40% for three consecutive weekends, even when facing the equally anticipated Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones in its second weekend. Two years later, Spider-Man 2 made over $150 million in its first five days when it opened over the 4th of July weekend. With a longer time between movies, the anticipation and demand for Spider-Man 3 is huge, compounded by the addition of Venom to the rogues’ gallery, as well as its same day opening in IMAX theatres. With school still in session on Friday and Monday, it’s going to be hard to pass the new three-day opening record set by “Dead Man’s Chest” before facing Shrek the Third and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End in its third and fourth weekends. The former probably won’t do too much damage and that fourth weekend will be boosted slightly by the Memorial Day holiday, but it still has two full weeks to get an advantage over the other two blockbuster 3-quels, which also gives it the advantage to win the summer, even if it’s not so obvious, based on how much Spider-Man 2 made compared to the other two franchise sequels.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl opened just a couple days after the 4th of July in 2003 and became a surprise sleeper hit, bringing in tons of repeat business until it crossed the $300 million mark. Pirate fans then had to wait three years for its sequel Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, which broke Spider-Man‘s three-day opening weekend record and set many other new records. “Dead Man’s Chest” went on to make an extra $100 million over its predecessor, benefitting from its mid-July release with very little competition for the rest of the summer. “At World’s End” won’t be so lucky, and it only has a few weeks before it starts facing competition across the board from movies like Ocean’s 13, Surf’s Up, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer and more. Last year, X-Men: The Last Stand made $122 million over the Memorial Day weekend, setting a new record for the holiday, but it went onto make less than twice that total.

“At World’s End” should kick that holiday record in the ass with a four-day opening in the $150 to 160 million range and should have slightly better legs than “The Last Stand,” but it’s doubtful that it will make more than the previous movie. The “Pirates” 3-quel might suffer a bit from the same thing that happened with The Matrix Revolutions, which was made concurrently with the anticipated sequel The Matrix Reloaded then released six months apart to a much weaker showing. Few people loved “Dead Man’s Chest” more than the original movie and that’s likely to keep some of those people away, especially with the reported running time of 2 hours and 40 minutes. If it’s any consolation to Disney, “At World’s End” will probably beat the other two summer movies by a significant amount when it comes to international box office.

Shrek the Third will break up the sparring blockbuster duo, opening in the weekend before Memorial Day in the exact same slot as the previous two movies. Opening in 2004, Shrek 2 grossed more money than the other two franchise’s sequels, $440 million to the $423 million gross of “Dead Man’s Chest” and $370 million gross of Spider-Man 2. There’s a chance that the threequel won’t do that much business this time around, simply because it offers more of the same and faces more competition with its long-term box office potential challenged by Disney’s “Pirates” nipping at its heels, followed by two more animated movies in June. (See below) It should still do very well its opening weekend, with a good chance of being the second of three movies to open to more than $100 million this summer, but it’s likely to wind up with slightly less money than the other two movies.

Bubbling Under

Although it certainly looks like three movies will gross more than $300 million this summer, all three will have opened by Memorial Day, leaving the rest of summer for other movies to pick up the slack. A few releases later in the summer should be able to capitalize as the big three run their course, and we can expect three other movies to cross the $200 million mark by Labor Day.

Of course, the one with the most proven track record is the latest movie in Warner Bros.’ successful franchise based on J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” books, and this summer they release the movie based on the fifth book in her series Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. This is the first movie written by a different screenwriter than the previous four movies (Michael Goldenberg) as well as another new director (David Yates). It also introduces a new Defense of the Dark Arts teacher, Professor Dolores Umbridge, played by Imelda (Vera Drake) Staunton, who’ll be a big part of the remainder of the series. The previous movies have grossed over a billion dollars in the U.S. alone, the first movie having grossed over $300 million with Alfonso Cuaron’s third chapter Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban pulling in the least with $249.5 million. Ironically, that third chapter was also the only other one released during the summer months rather than over the winter holidays, although “Order of the Phoenix” has an advantage by coming out less than two years after the highest opening and second highest grossing movie Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire ($102.69 opening and $290 million total). One can expect the fifth chapter to open somewhere between the last two, since the fifth book isn’t nearly as popular as the previous one, giving it a shot to be the fourth highest grossing movie this summer.

The other highly anticipated movie of the summer, as well as one of the few that isn’t a sequel, is Michael Bay’s
Transformers (DreamWorks – July 4), which bring the popular Hasbro toys and comic/cartoon characters into the real world with all the explosions and car chases that has made Bay famous. Bay is coming off the 2005 bomb The Island but this one teams him with producer Steven Spielberg and hotter-than-lava young actor Shia LaBeouf. Throw in a couple giant transforming robots invading earth and you have the perfect formula for a 4th of July blockbuster similar to Bay’s Armageddon (1998) and Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day (1996). This one will probably wind up with over $100 in its first five days and over $200 million by the end of summer.

Animated Fare

2006 saw a slew of computer-animated movies released, nearly 12, with four of those over the summer, and while the summer of 2007 only has three major 3-D CG animated films—the big one being DreamWorks’ Shrek the Third mentioned above—that’s not going to keep other animation studios from trying to take advantage of school being out for summer. Both Pixar Studios and Sony Animation Studios are going to release new computer-animated films, neither being sequels, hoping that originality will pay off.

Pixar’s latest offering, their 8th animated feature, is Ratatouille (Disney/Pixar Studios – June 29) helmed by the The Incredibles‘ Brad Bird, and though it comes a bit too close to DreamWorks and Aardman Studio’s Flushed Away with its premise about rodents in a foreign country, it also looks like it will be a return to the level of storytelling of Finding Nemo with its tale of a rat who wants to be a gourmet French chef. Last year’s Pixar offering Cars was somewhat disappointing in that it was the lowest grossing Pixar film since 1999’s Toy Story 2. Pixar’s movies have made progressively more money with each film, making Cars seem like a step backwards. Rataouille opens a couple weeks before “Harry Potter” so it should do a good amount of business before July 13, and then it should still be the first choice for families with younger kids over the rest of July, which should help it gross somewhere between Cars and The Incredibles.

Sony Animation Studios’ second animated feature Surf’s Up features the voice of Shia LaBeouf (him again!?), and it has a great premise which combines surfing with penguins, the popular creatures who stole the show in the 2005 DreamWorks animated hit Madagascar, and two Oscar-winning movies, March of the Penguins and Happy Feet. Although Sony’s movie is opening in a busy weekend in early June, it should have enough time following Shrek the Third to be able to make some money before Ratatouille comes along and takes away its audience. Sony Animation’s last movie Open Season made $84.3 million last fall after a $23.6 million opening weekend, and Surf’s Up is likely to do even more business due to the summer release.

Later in the summer, 20th Century Fox will be going the 2D route when they release the first big screen movie based on Matt Groening’s popular FOX prime time animated show The Simpsons Movie, a movie that has literally been buzzed about in the grapevine for years. It will be interesting to see how it fares at the box office, since it’s based on one of the most popular and successful animated shows on television, having been on the air for over 18 seasons and 395 episodes, and the movie will be as much for teens and adults as kids. In this day and age where CG animated movies are all the rage, as are live action movies based on cartoons, it will be interesting to see if the Simpsons can be as successful on the big screen as they are on the little one.

The Rest of the Sequels

A big deal is being made about the number of sequels and threequels this summer, and though we’ve already covered the big ones, there are six more that can’t be ignored, simply due to the success of previous films in the franchises. In two cases, these are big returns, one of them twelve years after the previous installment and the other, six year after its predecessor. One of them reunites its all-star ensemble cast to try to make-up for a weak sequel, while another replaces its main star and will try to be more of a family film.

We’ll start with Live Free or Die Hard (20th Century Fox – June 29), which returns Bruce Willis to the role of police officer John McLane after twelve years with Underworld‘s Len Wiseman behind the camera. While it would seem like a great time to have McLane fighting terrorists (note the patriotic subtext of the title), the fourth installment might suffer from the amount of time since the last movie, much like Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines did in 2003. What’s odd is that while Willis is returning to his most famous role, the original movies weren’t that huge, the highest-grossing movie in the series being the sequel Die Hard 2: Die Harder in 1990, which grossed less than $120 million. Neither of the sequels opened with more than $22 million, not taking inflation into account, but it makes you wonder whether 12 years later, there’s anyone who truly cares enough about those movies, especially younger audiences, for a fourth installment. It will mostly be relying on the idea of bringing McLane into a post 9/11 world where terrorist threats are more of a reality than ever, but some factors working against it are its R-rating and having to contend with Transformers opening less than a week later, which might keep it from ranking high amongst the summer movies.

The same can be said for Rush Hour 3 (New Line – Aug. 10), the third pairing of Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan as helmed by Brett Ratner, this time taking the duo to Paris and New York. Although the last installment was a huge runaway success, grossing $226 in late summer ’01, too much time may have passed to find similar success. The threequel opens very late in the summer, a week later in August than the previous installment, and it might not be as interesting to younger audiences as Rush Hour 2 was when it opened. Also, by the end of this big summer, moviegoers may already be too exhausted to enjoy more of Tucker and Chan’s humor.

Then again, it could seriously cut into the legs of the third chapter of Matt Damon’s spy action series The Bourne Ultimatum, reteaming Damon with Paul Greengrass (United 93) for the third chapter in the series based on Robert Ludlum’s novels. The third movie comes out three years after the popular 2004 sequel The Bourne Supremacy, and it should slam into August making more money opening weekend than the previous movie’s $53 million opening, which nearly doubled the opening weekend of The Bourne Identity two years earlier. Expect “Ultimatum” to wind up near the top of the under-$200 million range of summer movies.

Damon will also be co-starring in another big sequel, once again appearing as part of the ensemble cast in Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s 13 (Warner Bros. – June 8), the third installment of what started as a remake of the Rat Pack heist movie. Most of the cast is back including superstars George Clooney and Brad Pitt, and this time they’re pitted against none other than Al Pacino. The third installment is supposed to be a return to basics approach after a sequel that generally disappointed. With the promise of a better third movie, it should make as much or more opening weekend as the previous two movies, even if it’ll be harder to maintain any legs over the busy summer.

As is the case with so many movies this summer, it has to face another sequel a week later, that being Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (20th Century Fox – June 15), which promises to be even bigger than the original with the introduction of the popular Kirby character that should add another level of visual effects excitement. The original movie opened well but wasn’t able to bring in repeat business, but with the excitement about the Surfer/Galactus storyline, one can expect the sequel to open even bigger and hopefully make up for some of the deficiencies in the first movie.

One week later, Universal release their comedy sequel Evan Almighty, which shifts the focus from Jim Carey’s title character of the 2003 blockbuster Bruce Almighty to Steve Carell’s newsman Evan Baxter, who many people felt stole the movie. Bruce Almighty opened with $85 million over Memorial Day weekend 2003 and went onto gross over $240 million, becoming Carrey’s highest grossing hit with a little help from Jennifer Aniston. Neither of them are back for the sequel, but Universal is hoping that the success they’ve had with Carrell on his hit sitcom “The Office” and in 2005’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin will translate to a big budget comedy blockbuster based on the story of Noah’s Ark. Evan Almighty is likely to be going the PG route, trying to bring in the family audiences in the weekend before Pixar’s Ratatouille takes it all away from them, and though one can expect a decent amount of money to be made.

And a Couple More…

Three other movies are likely to show up in the Top 15 of summer, although they don’t really fit into any of the above categories. Two of them are opening on the same day, but the one more likely to win that weekend will be Adam Sandler’s new comedy I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (Universal – July 20), which teams Sandler with “King of Queens” and Hitch star Kevin James. Sandler almost always guarantees a $38 – 42 million on his own, but James nearly stole the movie Hitch from Will Smith, and the premise of two straight firefighters pretending they’re a gay couple looks to offer plenty of laughs, guaranteeing Sandler another hit on the level of Big Daddy or The Waterboy.

While New Line has a lot invested in the success of Rush Hour 3, they could wind up with a significant sleeper hit with their big screen musical Hairspray (New Line – July 20), directed by Adam Shankman (Bringing Down the House). If you combine the ‘50s music and fashion of the original John Waters movie with the songs from the Broadway musical and an all-star cast including John Travolta (in drag), Christopher Walken, Michelle Pfeiffer and Amanda Bynes, you have a movie that could have a very wide appeal among teen girls, older adults and other groups that tend to be ignored over the summer months. (It could also be the first time that Hollywood offers counter-programming for the gay men likely to avoid the Sandler comedy like the bubonic plague.)

The last movie that should come close to crossing the $100 million mark this summer is Judd Apatow’s follow-up to his 2005 hit The 40-Year-Old Virgin, this time examining pregnancy and relationships with Knocked Up (Universal – June 1). Starring Katherine Heigl from “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Virgin” co-stars Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd, it uses a similar raunchy R-rated comedy formula as “Virgin,” but also plays up on things that might appeal to a female audience. One can expect it to have a solid opening weekend and be a sleeper hit, as it picks up a lot of surplus business over the course of June. (If it does well with Rogen as the lead as opposed to “Virgin’s” Steve Carell, than look for Rogen’s own movie Superbad to do well later in the summer.)

The Top 15 Movies of the Summer

Here are the Weekend Warrior’s preliminary summer predictions with things likely to change for some of them as we get closer to release and start seeing the marketing campaigns

1. Spider-Man 3 (Sony – May 4) – $405 – 415 million

2. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (Disney – May 25) – $370 – $385 million

3. Shrek the Third (DreamWorks – May 18) – $350 – $370 million

4. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Warner Bros. – July 13) – $250 – 270 million

5. Ratatouille (Disney/Pixar – June 29) – $230 – 250 million

6. Transformers (DreamWorks – July 4) – $205 – 220 million

7. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (20th Century Fox – June 15) – $170 – 185 million

8. The Bourne Ultimatum (Universal – Aug. 3) – $160 – 175 million

9. I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (Universal – July 20) – $135 – 150 million

10. Rush Hour 3 (New Line – Aug. 10) – $130 – 145 million

11. Ocean’s 13 (Warner Bros. – June 8) – $120 – $130 million

12. Evan Almighty (Universal – June 22) – $120 – 130 million

13. The Simpsons Movie (20th Century Fox – July 27) – $110 – 120 million

14. Live Free or Die Hard (20th Century Fox – June 29) – $105 – $120 million

15. Surf’s Up (Sony – June 8) – $90 – 100 million
Knocked Up (Universal – June 1) – $90 – 100 million
Hairspray (New Line – July 20) – $90 – 100 million

If you want to read more about the summer movies and get up-to-date predictions as the summer progresses, check out The Weekend Warrior every Tuesday right here on!