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This story first appeared in the May 2 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
At the Cinemacon convention in March, theater owners whooped and hollered when a chatty Mark Wahlberg took the stage at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. The star of Paramount’s Transformers: Age of Extinction proclaimed the June tentpole will be the biggest film of 2014. He’s probably right: The previous installment in Michael Bay‘s robot action series, 2011’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon, took in $1.12 billion globally — and that was without Wahlberg. Beyond Transformers, though, the summer prospects are far less clear for several studios. The 2014 lineup includes big risks and the potential for major misfires.
For years, Warner Bros. has been the supreme summer leader on the strength of the Dark Knight trilogy, the Hangover and Harry Potter movies and 2013’s Man of Steel. This summer, that could change. Exhibitors are high on Legendary’s Godzilla reboot but say the big-budget sci-fi epics Edge of Tomorrow, starring Tom Cruise, and Jupiter Ascending, directed by the Wachowski siblings, are huge question marks. (Warners protected its risk by taking financing partners Jupiter and Edge of Tomorrow; Godzilla came to the studio via Legendary and is almost all Legendary’s.) Fox is poised to make a strong comeback, with many theater owners saying the studio has the strongest slate, led by X-Men: Days of Future Past. Sony hopes to make up for its dismal summer 2013, which inspired the wrath of shareholder activist Daniel Loeb and resulted in sweeping financial reform.
Even with all of the unknowns, some exhibitors and studio executives say summer 2014 has a solid shot at beating last year’s record domestic take of $4.76 billion. Predicts Warners distribution chief Dan Fellman, “It is going to be a monster.”
Summer 2013 releases: 6; Summer 2014 releases: 7
Summer 2013 total: $2.12B
The buzz: No Fast 7, but lots of comedy, horror and Scarlett Johansson
The death of Paul Walker resulted in Universal pushing back the release of Fast & Furious 7 from July 11 to April 2015, leaving the studio without a traditional summer tentpole (Fast 6 grossed a massive $788.7 million worldwide in 2013). Instead, it will rely on comedy and genre fare, starting with the debauched Seth Rogen–Zac Efron comedy Neighbors (May 9). Three weeks later, Seth MacFarlane‘s raunchy, R-rated A Million Ways to Die in the West (pictured) comes out, hoping to repeat the wild success of his 2012 release Ted ($549.4 million). Footage of the anachronistic Western, also starring Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried and Liam Neeson, shocked (and awed) theater owners. “Summer is the best time for comedy. Young people, who are readily available seven days a week, will gravitate to both these films,” says Universal distribution chief Nikki Rocco.
Genre offerings include The Purge: Anarchy (July 18). Otherwise, the studio is sticking to August to release its films, including the biopic Get on Up (Aug. 1), starring Chadwick Boseman as the legendary James Brown, Scarlett Johansson action pic Lucy (Aug. 8), thriller As Above, So Below (Aug. 15) and a remake of the 2008 Belgian film The Loft (Aug. 29).
Summer 2013 releases: 8; Summer 2014 releases: 7
Summer 2013 total: $2.39B
The buzz: The studio that invented franchises has no sure thing
Red flag Alert! The home of DC Comics and Harry Potter faces a summer without a prebranded hero franchise. And its most anticipated film, Godzilla (pictured, May 16), faces a huge challenge: Redeem the monster lizard 16 years after Roland Emmerich‘s update was laughed off the big screen. Bryan Cranston stars in the $160 million-plus production. Insiders say Edge of Tomorrow (June 6) and the Channing Tatum–Mila Kunis epic Jupiter Ascending (July 18) might do better overseas, akin to 2013’s Pacific Rim. Both were pricey: Edge cost $175 million to $200 million, and Jupiter cost as much as $150 million.
Exhibitors, treated to footage of Clint Eastwood’s Jersey Boys (June 20), say it is an odd choice for the 83-year-old filmmaker but believe it will play to older patrons and fans of the musical.
Warners also is banking on comedy, with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore‘s Blended (May 23) and Melissa McCarthy’s Tammy (July 2). “[Blended] is one of the best-testing comedies we’ve seen,” says Fellman of the film, in which the stars play single parents trapped on an African safari.
A secret weapon could be New Line’s modestly budgeted tornado pic Into the Storm (Aug. 8).
Summer 2013 releases: 8; Summer 2014 releases: 7
Summer 2013 total: $1.61B
The buzz: Spidey rushes to the rescue, along with two bumbling cops
Returning Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill in the lead roles, 22 Jump Street is considered a sure bet. Theater owners were more mixed about Sex Tape (July 25), starring Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel as a couple who make a racy video of themselves, only to lose it. (Diaz also stars in Fox’s The Other Woman, out April 25.) But Sony knows how to market edgy R-rated fare (Bad Teacher, This Is the End).
The studio also is giving director Tim Story‘s Screen Gems comedy Think Like a Man Too (June 20) a high-profile release — not a surprise, considering Kevin Hart is arguably Hollywood’s hottest new star.
Summer 2013 releases: 6; Summer 2014 releases: 5
Summer 2013 total: $1.49B
The buzz: Fox, Bryan Singer and talking apes are on the rise
This summer will be a crucial test for Fox’s new marketing operation, led by global presidents Paul Hanneman and Tomas Jegeus and new domestic chief Marc Weinstock, formerly of Sony. The studio’s CinemaCon presentation dazzled, led by the Memorial Day entry X-Men: Days of Future Past (May 23) and the sequel Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (July 11); now it’s up to the new executives to sell them. Bryan Singer returned to Fox to direct Days of Future Past, which cost $205 million to make. Dawn cost $110 million.
“We have a great balance of tentpoles and two other films that will totally zero in on their audience and do a ton of business,” says Fox distribution chief Chris Aronson. One of those is the Shailene Woodley young-adult adaptation The Fault in Our Stars (pictured, June 6), expected to be a big draw among teenage girls and younger women. The film also should benefit from its star’s successful turn in Divergent. And watch out for Let’s Be Cops (Aug. 13), a buddy comedy starring New Girl‘s Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr.
The studio’s family tentpole is DreamWorks Animation’s highly anticipated How to Train Your Dragon 2 (June 13).
Summer 2013 releases: 4; Summer 2014 releases: 5
Summer 2013 total: $2.42B
The buzz: Angie and Marvel venture into new territory.
The studio’s Cinemacon presentation was low-key and devoid of Star Wars news, disappointing some exhibitors. Nor did Angelina Jolie show up to promote Maleficent (pictured, May 30), Disney’s highest-profile summer entry (she did turn up the day before to tout Unbroken, Universal’s Christmas offering). Insiders say the Joe Roth-produced Maleficent, which cost $175 million to make, should perform on par with 2013’s Oz the Great and Powerful ($493.3 million worldwide).
Disney’s other big summer entry is Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy (Aug. 1), starring Chris Pratt as the leader of a ragtag group of heroes. “Marvel has been doing incredible things with their trove of characters and material, and Guardians is no exception,” says Disney distribution chief Dave Hollis.
The sequel Planes: Fire & Rescue (July 18) should be a strong player and is one of only two studio animated films this summer — the first in nine years without a Pixar film and since Disney bought the animation company in 2006. Disney’s other summer films are the family-friendly sports drama Million Dollar Arm (May 16) and DreamWorks’ The Hundred-Foot Journey (Aug. 8).
Summer 2013 releases: 3; Summer 2014 releases: 3
Summer 2013 total: $1.09B
The buzz: A trifecta of turtles, robots and The Rock (in sandals)
Paramount’s small state, beginning with Transformers: Age of Extinction (June 27), is focused on rebooting the studio’s franchises and hopefully creating one. Bay’s fourth Transformers installment, which cost more than $200 million to make, could breathe new life into the series, based on the positive reaction from theater owners (none seemed upset by Shia LaBeouf‘s departure).
Director Brett Ratner‘s $100 million actioner Hercules (pictured, July 25), co-financed by MGM, drew rave responses at CinemaCon. Still, recent sword-and-sandals pics (Pompeii, The Legend of Hercules) have failed, and this one opens against the second weekend of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, creating fierce competition for fanboys.
Paramount is teaming with sister label Nickelodeon on its third summer release, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Aug. 8), produced by Bay’s Platinum Dunes. The PG-13 film will try to lure families and younger viewers, much like traditional superhero tentpoles. “People’s expectations were that it would play much younger,” says Paramount vice chairman Rob Moore. “What surprised theater owners was that it is much more of an action-adventure that will play to a broad audience.”
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