The Weekend Warrior’s 2012 Summer Box Office Preview


It’s that time of year again, that crazy moment when the Weekend Warrior and others think they can predict the unpredictable summer box office and determine the winners and losers, something that rarely goes as planned.

Since the actual Weekend Warrior has transformed into a more condensed version of the weekly box office preview, we’re going to try to do the same with this annual tradition, especially because we’ve already been doing summer analyses for a few months now.

Summer Overview

This is once again a summer full of sequels and reboots, which makes one wonder whether movies based on original ideas like Ridley Scott’s Prometheus (20th Century Fox – June 8) and Pixar Animation’s Brave (Disney•Pixar – June 22) have a chance at making a mark and whether audiences’ desire for things that are new and different will allow one or both to compete with the big boys.

As mentioned in the Long Distance Box Office a few months back, the three biggest movies for the summer are all likely to be based on superheroes. While Marvel’s The Avengers (Disney – May 4) has the advantage of being the first movie out of the gate this summer, something that often helps a movie do more business by summer’s end, it does seem to have a limit on business based on previous Marvel movies, even if early reviews and word-of-mouth are overwhelmingly positive.

Then again, it’s hard to deny the anticipation for Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises (Warner Bros. – July 20), the follow-up to his $533 million grossing hit, which returns Christian Bale to the role of Batman for the third time. While this one doesn’t have the morbid curiosity factor that went along with Heath Ledger’s death–he won an Oscar post-humously for the role of the Joker–it has Anne Hathaway as Catwoman, which could be a genius way of bringing women into see the movie. The previous movie delivered on so many levels that we expect a lot of people to rush out and see the sequel, allowing it to take the opening weekend record that it previously held but lost to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 last year.

Some of the more interesting summer releases include two big franchise reboots with Sony’s The Amazing Spider-Man and Universal’s The Bourne Legacy, both which introduce new actors to the roles made famous by others in hopes that the namebrand value of the previous franchises will be enough to get people into theaters. We think in both cases, this will prove to be successful, even if Andrew Garfield isn’t as known a commodity as Tobey Maguire when he played Spider-Man in Sam Raimi’s three movies. Jeremy Renner is going to benefit from coming off the one-two blockbuster punch of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and Marvel’s The Avengers, as “Bourne” firmly moves him into a new class of box office star.

Then there’s the matter of two sequels that few people have asked for, G.I. Joe: Retaliation (Paramount – June 29), which brings on a new director in Step Up‘s Jon Chu as well as a mostly new cast with Dwayne Johnson and Bruce Willis being the biggest names. There’s also the return of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones for Men in Black 3 (Sony – May 25), the movie that’s presumably going to dominate Memorial Day weekend. It’s been ten years since the previous movie and one might wonder whether there’s still an audience for the pairing, but fortunately, the Memorial Day weekend offers a lot of casual moviegoing audiences and this will be an easy sell.

The animated field is also an interesting one with two animated sequels, one the third installment and another the fourth, while Pixar Animation is once again offering something based on an original idea as well as their first movie with a female lead, which should have interesting results to see how it’s received. We think the originality of Brave should make it a solid summer sleeper, while Madagascar 3 and Ice Age: Continental Drift, the fourth movie in Blue Sky Studios’ animated franchise, should benefit from kids out of school looking for movies to see.

Possible Sleepers

This is where it always gets interesting because honestly, who could have predicted that Bridesmaids and The Help would be as big as they ended up being as the summer began?

The lack of movies for older women may work to the benefit of Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike (Warner Bros. – June 29), which stars super-hot Channing Tatum, who has already appeared in two $100 million movies this year, playing a male stripper. The recently-released trailer should do the trick at getting women interested and putting it in front of the chick flick The Lucky One will help, so we think this will also open to $25 million or more and potentially bring in repeat business of women looking to have fun together.

Adam Shankman has had a number of huge hits that grossed over $100 million but his musical Hairspray is certainly the one that has had the most long-standing impact, so his new movie musical Rock of Ages (Warner Bros. – June 15) could offer something few other movies offer this summer, in that it combines popular hair metal songs of yesterday along with an all-star cast including Tom Cruise. The songs of Journey and Def Leppard and others have gotten a lot of traction in recent years thanks to shows like “Glee,” and there should be a similar audience of younger women looking for some alternatives to movies like Adam Sandler’s That’s My Boy (which opens the same weekend). (Then again, it also has a good chance at being one of the summer’s big flops, because it may be a tough sell to those not familiar with the hit Broadway musical.)

Both Ridley Scott’s return to horror sci-fi with Prometheus and the reinvented Snow White and the Huntsman (Universal – June 1) have the potential of strong legs if they’re even half as good as their marketing has made them look, although opening so close to each other may mean that they cannibalize a lot of each other’s business in the weeks after opening.

The Great Comedy Unknowns

It certainly seems that every year the comedies tend to offer the biggest surprises, whether it’s positive or negative. Last summer was a banner one for R-rated comedy with both Bridesmaids and Horrible Bosses grossing over $100 million, and we expect that we should have at least one or two comedies that break out this summer as well, putting them into the sleeper category as well.

What’s interesting is that the comedies are generally original ideas rather than sequels or remakes, Men in Black 3 excepted, so let’s look at four of the comedies hoping to hit it big this summer.

The question is whether bringing Adam Sandler together with his “SNL” prodigy Andy Samberg for That’s My Boy (Sony – June 15) might bring in a wide range of guys from teens to thirty-somethings. Sandler’s been very popular among guys for years but he’s also made a few true dogs that might have his fanbase souring on him. Then again, releasing it over Father’s Day weekend is genius and one can expect a big bump on Sunday as kids take their own fathers to see it. The question is whether it will have any sort of legs after that opening weekend or whether it will peter out at $100 million like so many of Sandler’s previous movies.

Then there’s Seth MacFarlane’s Ted (Universal – July 13), a movie starring Mark Wahlberg and a talking teddy bear (voiced by MacFarlane). It’s a very strange premise for a comedy, and Mike Judge can attest that having a hit prime time animated series doesn’t necessarily translate into people rushing to the box office to see your live action movie. We don’t see this opening big but it should be enough of a sleeper to end up with $50 to 60 million.

The big draw for Neighborhood Watch (20th Century Fox – July 27) will be the huge box office draw of its three main stars, Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill. Its opening against the second weekend of The Dark Knight Rises so it’s probably going to have to settle for second place, but it certainly offers something a little lighter for summer audiences, and despite the unfortunate timing of the title, we think this will be one of the breakouts of the summer and might even crack $100 million, though it should make $80 to 90 million for sure.

The last comedy of note is Jay Roach’s The Campaign (Warner Bros. – August 10), which pits comedy giants Will Ferrell and Zach Galafianakis against each other as political candidates. Roach has been doing some great political films for HBO but this isn’t something that necessarily translates to the big screen even in an election year. Ferrell and Galifianakis both have proven themselves as box office draws, although even the title doesn’t really work, and it will be all about that first trailer and whether it looks as funny as Roach’s previous movies. For now, we’re going with $50 to 60 million on this one, too.

We expect that one or two of the movies above will do much better than we expect while the others may not connect.

We Have a Bad Feeling…

It’s inevitable that every summer, some movie comes out that everyone (or at least the studio) hopes will be huge but fails to find a mark, and while there are a few obvious ones, the movie we think will fail to deliver in a big way, despite being marketed directly towards Michael Bay fans (whoever they may be) is Universal’s Battleship. It’s already opened overseas and done just fine, grossing $100 million even though it isn’t the summer yet, but it’s doubtful it can hold up against the return of Will Smith in Men in Black 3 (Sony – May 25) in its second weekend, and honestly, we’re rather dubious about that one having much in terms of legs or even matching the $200 million made by its predecessor.

That one’s opening by itself over Memorial Day weekend, the perfect time for a blockbuster like either one of those, except that then there’s stronger fare like Universal’s Snow White and the Huntsman, Ridley Scott’s Prometheus (20th Century Fox – June 8) and Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted all opening in subsequent weekends, which might keep them from any sort of long-term business.

Tim Burton and Johnny Depp have now had numerous hits together but one may wonder whether their comedic take on Dark Shadows (Warner Bros. – May 11) may be pushing it and whether Depp’s diehard fanbase may look at this one and scratch their heads. Opening alone against the second weekend of The Avengers will help, although we think this will open in second place then quickly tail off as stronger movies are released.

And that just leaves our actual predictions for the domestic summer box office…

Top 15 Summer Movie Box Office Predictions

1. The Dark Knight Rises (Warner Bros. – July 20)

$172 million opening; $445 million total

2. Marvel’s The Avengers (Disney – May 4)

$136 million opening; $340 million total

3. The Amazing Spider-Man (Sony – July 3)

$75 million (Tuesday through Thursday) $80 million (Friday to Sunday); $310 million total

4. Prometheus (20th Century Fox – June 8)

$62.5 million opening; $245 million total

5. Brave (Disney•Pixar – June 22)

$54 million opening; $210 million total

6. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted (DreamWorks Animation – June 8)

$56 million opening; $185 million total

6. Ice Age: Continental Drift (20th Century Fox – July 13)

$62 million opening; $180 million total

7. The Bourne Legacy (Universal – August 3)

$56 million opening; $175 million total

9. G.I. Joe: Retaliation (Paramount – June 29)

$57 million opening; $155 million total

10. Men in Black 3 (Sony – May 25)

$68 million (four-day opening); $155 million total

11. Snow White and the Huntsman (Universal – June 1)

$44 million opening; $145 million total

12. Battleship (Universal – May 18)

$52 million opening; $130 million total

13. Total Recall (Sony – August 3)

$34 million opening; $110 million total

14. That’s My Boy (Sony – June 15)

$36 million opening; $105 million total

15. Dark Shadows (Warner Bros. – May 11)

$34 million opening; $105 million total

Bubbling under, we can see the ensemble comedy Neighborhood Watch, Timur Bekmambetov’s vampire action movie Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (20th Century Fox – June 22) and The Expendables 2 (Lionsgate – August 17) having the potential to reach $100 million or fall just short.

That’s it for now, but check back every week as we have updated numbers in our Box Office Preview as new info is released on the movies. Feel free to post your own summer Top 10s in the comments below as well.