Hollywood maintains that a movie is only as good as the amount of money it makes, but the summer movie season is the only time of year when that really feels true. Gawking at the year’s blockbuster box-office results is the closest thing we moviegoers have to a spectator sport of our own, and so—with Age of Ultron already packing in the multiplexes—it’s time to get ahead of the game and predict the moneymakers to come in the next four months. Just remember that, to quote the immortal tagline of summer-movie graduate Alien vs. Predator (class of 2004), “Whoever wins…we lose.”
Important note: The predictions below only reflect each film’s domestic haul at the American box office, even though that number is less relevant with every passing year.
The Fault in Our Stars did $124 million. Gone Girl did $167 million. Combining them into one movie should guarantee a haul of $291 million. That’s just simple math. Realistically, however, a sweet tween mystery without the blunt emotional pull of a cancer drama or the magnetic allure of Ben Affleck’s penis isn’t going to light the world on fire. Still, John Green (who wrote the YA novel on which the film is based) has a rabid fan base, and rising stars Cara Delevigne and Nat Wolff will make Paper Towns one of the summer’s biggest sleeper hits.
The bros of Queens Blvd. are back in action, as your former college roommate’s favorite TV show finally makes the transition to the big screen. If this adaptation of the HBO series is anything like the Sex and the City movie, expect profits, nausea and a sequel in which Johnny Drama screams “Lawrence of my labia!” The financial success of the Entourage film will boil down to advertising and residual affection for the show. As far as reviews are concerned, the ones calling it “diverting” should be considered raves. Brace for a modest hit.
Sure, the title of this completely unnecessary sequel reads like it could be the name of a '90s R&B group. But it's got more serious problems, no? The trailer looks like molten garbage, and director McG did so much damage to the franchise with 2009's Terminator Salvation that no amount of time-traveling could make things right. On the bright side, reuniting Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke with director Alan Taylor, responsible for several of that show’s best episodes, is reason enough to maintain a flicker of hope. A glorified Schwarzenegger cameo should be enough to put some butts in the seats, but nothing on the level of his T2 heyday. “I’ll be back” has never sounded so threatening.
Adam Sandler isn’t exactly on top of his game at the moment, with Blended only grossing $46 million and his forthcoming Netflix Western offending Native Americans in advance. Pixels’ glitzy premise—aliens attack the Earth via classic videogame characters—should bump up some business (your tween cousins wouldn’t miss this one for the world), as should the Avengers-like reunion of Sandler and Paul Blart himself, Kevin James. Alas, given that even Grown Ups 2 pulled in $133 million, ranking Pixels this low is most likely wishful thinking.
Superhero movie fatigue, meet your juiciest victim. Everything about Fantastic Four, from the reports of a troubled set to the series of atrociously bad trailers, suggests that this could be the first spandex-and-special-effects spectacle to fall afoul of the zeitgeist in a long time. Still, between brand recognition and marketing juice alone, this reboot could come close to the $131 million earned by Rise of the Silver Surfer way back when. Then again, that film had Galactus, and everybody knows that Galactus equals box-office gold.
Straight men love it too (short of wearing rocket shoes and elf ears, there’s nothing that Channing Tatum can do to be less charming). The first film was a smart and endearingly goofy Recession-era fable, and—if that incredible teaser is any indication—the sequel will be just as easy to love. In terms of sheer profitability, Magic Mike XXL will likely be impossible to top this summer (the budget must be fairly close to the original’s $7 million). And whatever the final tally, isn’t it great to live in a world where a movie about male strippers can easily earn nine figures? That’s a rhetorical question, but the answer is “yes.”
Disaster movies are back! Roland Emmerich’s 2012 raised the stakes as high as they could possibly go, but now that the dust has settled and the waters have receded, audiences should be primed for another dose of environmental-horror porn. Besides, no matter how many times it’s been done, it will always be fun to watch Los Angeles sink into a giant molten hell mouth—that’s just Film Studies 101. Alas, in an era where franchises are more valuable than movie stars, it’s still not a sure thing that Dwayne Johnson can open a blockbuster like this. 2012 hit $166 million, and if San Andreas falls short of that, it won’t be the Rock’s fault.
Pitch Perfect did a cool $65 million, and that was before it really found its audience on home video. (Movies don’t really do that any more, but the surprise Billboard success of Anna Kendrick’s “Cups” went a long way). Audiences are amped for this movie, and it’s different enough from May behemoths like Mad Max: Fury Road and San Andreas to compete on its own terms. There’s a good chance that this sequel will more than double the gross of the original, but I’m shorting it a bit because the music is still the main attraction here.
We’re only a few weeks out from director Brad Bird’s latest potential blockbuster, and it’s still a total mystery. It’s hard to think of a Disney movie starring George Clooney as a wild card, particularly when Bird’s films tend to make more money than Floyd Mayweather on a Saturday night, but such is the risk and rarity of bowing an original property in the middle of the summer-movie season. Bird (The Incredibles) has too sharp a command of story for this to be a complete dud, and it would be inspiring to see audiences take a chance on a question mark.
A broad late-summer comedy that has reportedly been testing through the roof, there’s no reason to think that this reboot of the National Lampoon series won’t match the $150 million earned by We’re the Millers in 2013 (the success of which likely greenlit this new Ed Helms vehicle). Not for nothing, this movie is co-directed by John Francis Daley, also known as the kid from Freaks and Geeks, and that has to count for something, right?
Go ahead and circle July 17 on your calendar as the day that Amy Schumer goes from being a very funny person on Comedy Central to Queen of the Earth. I, for one, welcome our new hilarious overlord, and have a feeling that I’m not alone. Written by and starring Schumer, Trainwreck would be destined for glory regardless of who was behind the camera (the film slayed SXSW audiences earlier this year), but with Judd Apatow in the directing chair, the sky’s the limit. In fact, all signs point towards this being his biggest hit since Knocked Up, and there’s a good chance that Trainwreck could top that film’s $161 million.
Fury Road is a tricky one. Mad Max has its diehards, but it’s been thirty years since the last installment, and that one starred Tina Turner as a postapocalyptic badass, so perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised that the movie isn’t tracking particularly well in the lead-up to its release. It won’t help that this new installment is R-rated and that a timid embargo is preventing a lot of very excitable critics from singing the film’s praises until two days before it opens. We have a feeling that Fury Road’s rumored sequel stands to reap the biggest reward, but solid word of mouth should keep this action extravaganza kicking well into the summer.
Woe to the fool who doubts the power of Melissa McCarthy. Remember Tammy? Of course you don’t. But you know who does? Melissa McCarthy’s accountant, because that bizarre anticomedy grossed nearly $100 million last summer on the strength of an ad campaign that consisted of McCarthy not being good at waterskiing. Spy, which finds the former Gilmore Girls star reteaming with the director of buddy comedy The Heat, has a lot more going for it—there’s not a single waterskiing scene. But there is Jason Statham, and, judging by the reaction out of SXSW, a heaping pile of laughs.
A Marvel movie in summer—what a novel idea. Another cult title is absorbed into the MCU in this superhero extravaganza about a man who has the power to be very small (and you thought Hawkeye got a raw deal). Ant-Man will likely take a small hit from the sour aftertaste Age of Ultron has left in its wake. Meanwhile, the film’s turbulent production rumors—Hot Fuzz director Edgar Wright was fired for being exactly the person they hired—suggests that this film will take zero chances. For audiences, that’s not great news. For investors, it should be fine. Ant-Man won’t be another Guardians of the Galaxy, but it should be able to match match Captain America’s $170 million.
Yes, the trailers are atrocious, but don’t underestimate the Jurassic Park faithful. These spectacles are synonymous with summer, and even the lowly Jurassic Park III managed to pull in $181 million all the way back in 2001. (And that was when The Lost World was still relatively fresh in our minds.) Chris Pratt and velociraptors are both proven box-office draws, and people will buy tickets to this movie without thinking twice. That’s the American way.
Ghost Protocol was a massive international hit, but it only grossed $209 million domestically, which is barely more than Age of Ultron earned in its opening weekend. Still, anywhere near $200 million is good enough to be toward the top of the summer-movie pile, and not even a leaked video of Tom Cruise sacrificing kittens to Xenu could stop people from seeing his movies (he hangs on to a plane in this one). We’ve got a sneaking suspicion that reviews won’t be quite as strong as they were for the last two Mission installments. Still, people will go.
The first Ted (wow, that’s a depressing phrase) pulled in a rather astonishing $218 million, because moviegoers just want to watch the world burn. The second chapter in Seth MacFarlane’s ongoing saga about the adventures of Mark Wahlberg and his obnoxious teddy bear will make just as much money as the original did. Have fun out there, America, and just keep those fingers crossed that you won’t have to answer for your ticket-buying decisions in hell.
Prediction: $290,000,000Brave, Pixar’s last summer outing, wound up with a relatively modest $237 million because it was secretly about grizzly bears the whole time. Not about a strong young princess with the kingdom on her shoulders, but bears. Inside Out is poised to trounce that number and overcome its high-concept plot on the strength of stellar reviews (early word out of last month’s CineCon has been sensational) and a marketing campaign that won’t quit until it’s canvassed literally every inch of your existence.
A caveat: Predictions do not equal endorsements. Despicable Me 2 raked in an insane $368 million in 2013, and those ubiquitous yellow Minions were largely responsible for its success. A spin-off dedicated to those unintelligible (and unexpectedly violent) little bastards is money in the bank, and might just become the most successful animated film of all time. Add $5 million to the box-office total for every high-pitched song the Minions sing.
Well, it’s definitely not going to make less than $217 million domestically, that’s for sure. Already a massive international hit (or a cataclysmic failure, if you’re asking a box-office pundit), Age of Ultron has almost no chance of matching the $623 million earned by 2012’s The Avengers, especially now that a consensus seems to be forming that this sequel just isn’t as good. So it seems like a safe bet that this flaming box-office disaster, the Hindenburg of the 2015 summer-movie season, will “only” earn $210 million more than any other blockbuster between now and December’s Star Wars: Episode VII—The Force Awakens.