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Hollywood’s hoping that last summer’s brutal box office — moviegoing hit a 25-year low in the U.S. — will be forgotten as this season kicks off with one of the most powerful collections of tentpole brands ever assembled.
The May-July corridor includes Lucasfilm’s Solo: A Star Wars Story (May 25), the first of the new cycle of Star Wars movies to debut in summer; two Marvel movies, Avengers: Infinity War (April 27) and Ant-Man and the Wasp (July 6); and Pixar’s long-awaited sequel Incredibles 2 (June 15).
All four films are from Disney, whose market-share lead over rival studios will grow even more pronounced. Says MKM Partners analyst Eric Handler, “Other studios need to come up with better franchises if they want to better compete with Disney.”
That’s not to say there aren’t other big guns. Fox is betting on Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool 2 (May 18) after the first film, released in February 2016, grossed $783 million globally to become the top-grossing R-rated film of all time, not adjusted for inflation. Even more formidable is Universal’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (June 22).
In 2015 — the second-biggest summer on record at the worldwide box office — its predecessor Jurassic World topped the season’s chart with $1.019 billion. That summer also boasted Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation, the last installment in Paramount and Skydance’s Tom Cruise action franchise, and the next chapter, Mission: Impossible — Fallout, hits theaters July 27. Infinity War and Jurassic World 2 are almost certain to cross $1 billion globally, and Solo and Deadpool 2 have a strong shot as well.
“If the tentpole films don’t crowd out the second-tier titles, then we have a good shot at a record summer,” says Handler. Female moviegoers could provide the swing factor with titles like Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, Ocean’s 8, Melissa McCarthy’s Life of the Party and Crazy Rich Asians.
Predicts Sony movie chief Tom Rothman: “It will be a very big summer overall. Each of these big films will inevitably eat some portion of the one before it’s lunch. But they are big lunches, so the number will be great nonetheless.”
The summer box office has been a chief topic of conversation at CinemaCon this week. In his state-of-the-union speech, National Association of Theater Owners John Fithian noted that some analysts are predicting an 18 to 20 percent uptick in domestic box-office revenue in the second quarter (April-June).
“Advanced ticket sales for Avengers: Infinity War…are beyond anything we have seen before. And the remainder of the summer slate looks just as impressive,” added Fithian.
Heading into summer, domestic box-office revenue ($3.343 billion) is trailing last year by 2.2 percent. Had it not been for Marvel and Disney’s Black Panther, the situation would be bleak. “This summer starts earlier than ever with Avengers on April 27, and it’s one big movie after another,” says Imax Entertainment CEO Greg Foster. “The biggest challenge is August. I wish there was something more there.”
Foster is referring to big event pics, as Imax trades in the tentpole business. There are a slew of midrange and smaller films in August, including Warner Bros. shark adventure The Meg (Aug 10). Focus Features opens Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman that same weekend. And both Crazy Rich Asians (Warners) and The Happytime Murders (STX) debut on Aug. 17 alongside Sony’s Alpha, a historical action-adventure about a hunter during the Ice Age.
“Traditional seasonality in the theatrical business is actually an antiquated notion and we don’t look at it that way anymore. It’s 52 weeks a year now. Look at It in September, or Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle in January, or Peter Rabbit in February and Black Panther in March. It’s the cultural impact of the movies that matter, not the time of year any more,” says Rothman.
“The overall summer slate looks really solid, but at the end of the day, it’s going to rely on how good the films are,” Disney distribution chief Cathleen Taff tells THR. “Quality matters, and we think our films are stories that people want to see on the big screen, so we’re looking forward to a great summer.”
5 KEY WEEKENDS TO WATCH
Avengers: Infinity War (Marvel/Disney)
Previously scheduled for May 4, in March it was bumped up a week, giving it an extra weekend to command before Deadpool 2. The only question is whether it can beat Star Wars: The Force Awakens‘ record $248 million opening weekend in December 2015.
Solo: A Star Wars Story (Lucasfilm/Disney)
It’s facing off against the second weekend of Deadpool 2 and is the first of the new cycle of Star Wars movies to occupy a summer date, which also happens to be the 45th anniversary of the opening of the original Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope.
Ant-Man and the Wasp (Marvel/Disney)
With July 4 on a Wednesday, Marvel’s second summer entry is looking to dominate the post-holiday week, although it will have to fend off competition from the new Blumhouse horror fest The First Purge, which opens on the 4th itself.
One of the summer’s biggest gender divides is likely to take place as the Denzel Washington action sequel faces off against the musical sequel full of ABBA tunes.
Mission: Impossible — Fallout (Paramount)
If the two movies opening the previous weekend are still going strong, Tom Cruise’s sixth movie in this series could find it a challenge to match the $56 million opening of 2015’s Mission Impossible — Rogue Nation.
This story first appeared in the April 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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