Box Office Guy: Summer Preview

Patrick Reardon

The summer movie season kicked off in earnest with "Avengers: Infinity War" in April. April? In my box office crystal ball I see a future where summer movie season starts in February. It's coming. And the summer season of Fantasy Movie League doesn't officially start until next week. But screw it I'm a traditionalist. The summer movie season for me will always be the period from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend.

Without further ado here is the Fantasy Movie League summer movie preview. These are all films that are being released between now and Labor Day weekend which will likely factor into your Fantasy Movie League lineups over the coming months. Since there are almost one hundred films being released in this period I couldn't get to them all, so I focused on the big dogs and a few smaller flicks that could stand out from the crowd.

The Sure Things

Solo: A Star Wars Story - May 25th

Lots of thoughts with this one. In no particular order:

  1. The film is not going to flop. Despite all the (excessively covered) behind the scenes troubles and (just plain excessive) fan boy whining the film is going to make a lot of money. It won't make "The Force Awakens" money ($936.7m). It won't even make "The Last Jedi" money ($620.2m). Hell, it might not even make "Rogue One" money ($532.2m). At worst I think it ends up in the $350m-$400m range domestically.

  1. If "Solo" ends up being as good as "The Godfather" the "Star Wars" cult would still find things to complain about. And let me clarify the difference between Star Wars "fans" and the Star Wars "cult." Fans are the people who enjoy the Star Wars films to varying degrees. The Star Wars "cult" are the people with an extremely rigid notion of what a Star Wars movie should be and then act stupidly/irrationally when a Star Wars movie dares to stray from this notion. The cult was out in full force for "The Last Jedi" and they're hard at work trying to sabotage "Solo" on rotten tomatoes (and other websites). I plan to see "Solo" this weekend with an open mind and am actually looking forward to it. The cult's distaste for it only fuels my interest that the film might take some chances and do something different with the material.

  1. Give Alden Ehrenreich a chance. He's not trying to replace anybody's memory of Harrison Ford; he's merely playing a role. He was good is "Hail, Caesar!," he was decent in "Rule Don't Apply" (a movie that even young Brando couldn't salvage) and he was good enough for plenty of A-list directors to cast him (Francis Ford Coppola, Woody Allen, Coen Brothers, Warren Beatty).

  1. For my Fantasy Movie League lineup this weekend I think "Solo" is a safe anchor. Since it's split into daily pricing I want to maximize as much of it as I can which is why I'm leaning towards the 2x Sunday, 1x Monday strategy with filler. I'm not confident "Deadpool 2" or "Avengers" can hold up well enough to construct a viable non-"Solo" lineup so I'm going to play it safe this weekend.

The Incredibles 2 - June 15th

It's hard to find fault with Pixar but I have a nit to pick. Since the debut of the original "Incredibles" in 2004 you've given us not one, not two, but THREE "Cars" movies and not a single "Incredibles" sequel? I've met a lot of people over the years who consider "The Incredibles" to be their favorite Pixar movie and I have no doubt they'll be lining up for this long awaited sequel. The original grossed $261.4m. Adjust that number for inflation and it's roughly $389m, which seems like a very makeable benchmark for this sequel.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom - June 22nd

This sequel is going to make significantly less that its predecessor. Considering the predecessor grossed $652.3m there's really nowhere to go but down. And that's okay. "Fallen Kingdom" will still gross a boatload and set up another sequel that will open in June 2021. Life (and money) finds a way.

The Safe Bets

Ocean's 8 - June 8th

I'm not a big fan of the recent ‘gender swap' method of storytelling (i.e. "Ghostbusters," "Overboard," "Life of the Party") but I think this female heist film has enough star power (Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, etc.) and style on display to succeed.

Ant-Man and the Wasp - July 6th

When adjusted for inflation the original "Ant-Man" is the second lowest grossing film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But don't feel bad for the little guy. His $180.2m domestic gross for the original is nothing to be ashamed of. I expect steady business once again from "Ant-Man" and it should be a light/fun reprieve from some of the more serious Marvel fare that we've gotten lately. As I was typing that last sentence my body began to dissolve into as…..

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation - July 13th

The original "Hotel Transylvania" grossed $148.3m and the sequel improved on that number with a gross of $169.7m. With the exception of "The Incredibles 2" this summer is surprisingly light on family friendly animated fare so this threequel should have a nice run. This will be the go-to method for getting kids to shut up for 90+ minutes throughout the month of July.

Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again! - July 20th

Ten years ago the original "Mamma Mia" grossed a solid $144.1m domestically (impressive considering it opened up against "The Dark Knight") and another $465.7m internationally. The original cast returns (along with Cher and Andy Garcia) and the film looks like more of the same (sun, sea, ABBA songs galore, etc.). Which is how fans of the original probably want it (but maybe without as much Pierce Brosnan singing?). I don't expect it to reach the heights of the original but it should still do respectable business.

Mission: Impossible - Fallout - July 27th

This is the sixth film in 22 years for the resilient Tom Cruise franchise. The box office high for this franchise is $215.4m while the low is $134m which makes these films a safe bet. They're now the cinematic equivalent of comfort food. I don't really care about the plot or Ethan Hunt's inner angst at this point. I just want Tom Cruise in amazing over-the-top stunts in exotic locales. Based on the films trailer that's exactly what it will deliver. Sometimes it refreshing when a film franchise knows exactly what it's supposed to be.

The Risky, But with High Upsides

Sicario: Day of the Soldado - June 29th

The original "Sicario" did good (but not great) business in 2015 ($46.9m domestically). Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro reprise their roles (no Emily Blunt this time around) in this gritty look at the drug war. The original was a solid but bleak piece of filmmaking, so releasing a sequel right before the Fourth of July holiday is a curious decision. I think the film may have been better off with an autumn release (like the original) and I'd be weary of the commercial prospects here.

Skyscraper - July 13th

Dwayne Johnson's Agent: "It's like "Die Hard" but in an even bigger building. And get this, instead of not having shoes Dwayne is going to have….an artificial leg!"

Head of Universal Pictures: "Love it! Here's a check for $150 million dollars. Have it ready by July.

That's probably not EXACTLY how the deal for "Skyscraper" came together but it's not that far off either. The fact that this film stars Dwayne Johnson means it has blockbuster potential. But based on the recent lukewarm response to "Rampage" Johnson's presence doesn't guarantee blockbuster status. The film will need to have great action and something at least resembling a story in order to reach its commercial potential.

The Equalizer 2 - July 20th

Our most reliable movie star (Denzel Washington) is back with the first sequel of his legendary career. It's true; they never actually made a sequel to "Virtuosity." The first "Equalizer" grossed a steady $101.5m. I think it would have been better off with a fall or winter release but the film should still do pretty well. Yet another stand-up double for Denzel (which he could leg into a triple if the film exceeds the original in terms of quality).

Disney's Christopher Robin - August 3rd

The film tells the story of an adult Christopher Robin (who is burning the candles at both ends) who gets reacquainted with his childhood pal Winnie the Pooh. The concept and the first trailer haven't moved the needle for me. But the fact that the "Disney" brand name is front and center means it would be foolish to dismiss the films chances. Disney is on such a roll right now it wouldn't surprise me if they used their marketing power to turn this film into an event. And could somebody out there on the interweb please re-cut this films trailer to make it look like a horror movie? Thank you in advance.

Mile 22 - August 3rd

Director Peter Berg has made three consecutive films starring Mark Wahlberg that depicted real-life incidents: "Lone Survivor" ($125.1m), "Deepwater Horizon" ($61.4m) and "Patriot's Day" ($31.9m). With "Mile 22" they're ditching reality and the heavy drama to deliver nothing more than a kick-ass action film. I think the film will do okay here but much better overseas (thanks largely to co-star Iko Uwais of "The Raid" fame).

The Meg - August 10th

Jason Statham. Giant shark. Do I really need to say anything else? Should I have put this movie in "The Sure Things" section at the top of the column?

The Happytime Murders - August 17th

If "Team America: World Police" taught us anything it's that puppet sex is ALWAYS funny. Unfortunately it's taken fourteen years for moviegoers to get a new movie that features pieces of felt copulating. The film's red-band trailer got a great response playing in front of "Deadpool 2" last weekend and social media has been buzzing about this R-rated puppet detective story. With Melissa McCarthy anchoring this movie could own mid-late August if audiences buy into the concept.

The Potential Surprises

Won't You Be My Neighbor? - June 8th (Limited)

This documentary of Fred Rogers of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" fame premiered at Sundance earlier this year to rave reviews. In these divisive times I think Fred Rogers is one of the few people past or present that has a 100% approval rating. If he can't bring us together, who the hell can? I don't expect crossover blockbuster business, but I expect it to do very well by documentary standards.

Tag - June 15th

Based on true story of a group of childhood friends who engage in an ongoing game of tag well into their forties. I like the cast (Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, etc.) and concept. Something original has to break through the sequel/reboot/franchise clutter this summer and I think this R-rated comedy has a chance. However, I hate the films release date. It opens against "The Incredibles 2" and then has to deal with "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom" the following weekend. I have a feeling the film may get lost in the shuffle.

Sorry to Bother You - July 6th (Limited)

In this difficult to pigeonhole comedy a black telemarketer begins using his "white" voice and sees his fortunes begin to change in increasingly surreal ways. The film made a splash at both Sundance and SXSW. It feels like the right movie at the right time with everything going on in the country. It won't be for everyone but I can see it finding an audience who is tiring of the typical summer movie fare.

Searching - August 3rd

A thriller told entirely from the point of view of smart-phones and computer screens? Sounds gimmicky on paper but the trailer is surprisingly engaging:

BlacKkKlansman - August 10th

Based on a true story of a black FBI agent who used his "white" telephone voice (there's a lot of that going around this summer) and ended up infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan. The recent buzz out of Cannes is that this is Spike Lee's most entertaining/accessible work since "Inside Man." The ceiling for Lee's movies is typically low (his career high is $88.5m) but this film may be able to drum up enough controversy and curiosity to find a modest commercial audience.

Crazy Rich Asians - August 15th

As far as I can tell the last major American studio film to feature a primarily Asian cast was "The Joy Luck Club." That was twenty-five years ago!?! Talk about under-representation. I think this comedy will definitely play well with Asian Americans and its universal themes of family could help it crossover with mainstream audiences. No yakuza, no karate, no Long Duck Dong; just Asian actors doing their thing in a studio rom-com. The late-summer frame isn't super-competitive and I expect this film to take full advantage and have a nice run.

The Horror

Hereditary - June 8th

This horror film starring Toni Colette (who is allegedly awards worthy here) has been generating amazing buzz since premiering at Sundance. Every summer there is usually one non-sequel horror movie that breaks through. If I had to bet on which new horror movie will break through this summer my money would be on "Hereditary."

The First Purge - July 4th

This is the fourth "Purge" movie to come out in the summertime since 2013. The low budget Blumhouse films have had an average gross of $71.9m and each one has made more than the previous one. If it ain't broke…

Slender Man - August 24th

I had honestly never heard of the legend of Slender Man until I saw the HBO documentary last year. It struck me as a good idea for a scripted horror movie and here it is. I don't foresee huge business but in the no-mans land of late August/early September I think it can take advantage and find its way to profitability.

The Bomb Squad

Uncle Drew - June 29th

I'm a basketball fan and have been watching quite a bit of the NBA playoffs so it's been hard to avoid the marketing for "Uncle Drew." What I wouldn't give for a device on my TV that blocks out all "Uncle Drew" marketing. In this "film" (I'm using the term very generously) Kyrie Irving reprises his Uncle Drew character, which originated in a series of Pepsi commercials. A 30-second Pepsi commercial stretched to feature length? And it co-stars Shaq, Chris Webber and Reggie Miller? What could go wrong? The only positive that will come out of this is that it will give the Inside the NBA studio crew another reason to make fun of Shaq for the next decade.

Alpha - August 17th

A big-budget survival epic set during the ice age chronicling the relationship between a boy and a wolf? Even though there are talented people behind the camera I don't know whom this film is for. The fact that the films release date has changed three times and it ended up in the dead-zone of late summer aren't good signs. I see this film losing a lot of money.

Weekend Picks

My picks for this weekend's top 5 in total box office (this week's cost in FML Bux in parentheses):

  1. Deadpool (FB$680)
  2. Solo: A Star Wars Story - Friday (FB$587)
  3. Solo: A Star Wars Story - Saturday (FB$371)
  4. Solo: A Star Wars Story - Sunday (FB$334)
  5. Solo: A Star Wars Story - Monday (FB$271)

Bonus Pick of the Week: "RBG" (FB$16) With "Solo" taking up nearly a third of the eligible movie choices, "Deadpool" and "Avengers" likely taking a big hit and the market correction for "Book Club," I don't see an obvious bonus pick this week. Which means I'll double down on "RBG" which is adding about 40 theaters and continues to generate positive word of mouth.

Coming Attractions

Next weekend Johnny Knoxville risks life and limb for his craft ("Action Point"), Shailene Woodley floats for her life ("Adrift") and Logan Marshall-Green receives an "Upgrade."

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