Iron Man 3.
Last Summer was very top-heavy with comic book blockbusters The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises; this year's slate is much more diverse, which should be beneficial to the overall health of the box office. Guaranteed blockbusters include Iron Man 3, Star Trek Into Darkness, Fast & Furious 6, Man of Steel, Monsters University and Despicable Me 2, while more original fare like White House Down, The Heat and Pacific Rim should do strong business as well.
Summer 2011 holds the current record with $4.4 billion—with around 20 movies likely to earn over $100 million, it's almost a foregone conclusion that Summer 2013 will wind up exceeding that figure.
Ahead of the beginning of the season, here are predictions for the Top 20 domestic titles (with foreign forecast included as well), along with some thoughts on other major titles coming up in the next four months.
1. Iron Man 3 (May 3): When the second entry in a franchise is poorly received—as was the case with Iron Man 2—that typically indicates that the third movie will see a decline in domestic box office. Iron Man 3 should be able to buck this trend, though, since it's technically a follow-up to last May's universally loved (and incredibly successful) superhero team-up The Avengers. While Iron Man 3 won't match The Avengers's $623.4 million, it should be the highest-grossing entry in the Iron Man franchise thanks to its great release date, strong early word-of-mouth, and goodwill from The Avengers. (Domestic: $400 million, Foreign: $600 million)
2. Despicable Me 2 (July 3): The first Despicable Me surprised many and put Illumination Entertainment on the map when it earned $261.5 million in Summer 2010. The movie was also very well-liked—the Minions in particular are already iconic—and the sequel ups the ante story-wise with supervillain Gru recruited by a government agency to stop another supervillain. Still, with the exception of Shrek 2, most animated sequels tend to wind up at about the same level as their predecessor. Despicable Me 2 will be one of the highest-grossing movies of the Summer—just don't expect it to join the ranks of $400 million animated movies Toy Story 3 and Shrek 2. (Domestic: $300 million; Foreign: $410 million)
3. Man of Steel (June 14): With his superhuman strength and somewhat bland personality, it's been tough to get Superman to stand out against Batman, Spider-Man and the like in the past few decades: 2006's Superman Returns did decent business ($200 million domestic) but was widely considered a creative disappointment. With Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan providing guidance to director Zack Snyder, though, it appears Man of Steel has found a way to make the invincible superhero seem accessible to general audiences. The movie's previews have received tons of praise so far, and if it's as good as rumors suggest, then Warner Bros. should have a pretty big hit on their hands. (Domestic: $290 million, Foreign: $360 million)
4. Monsters University (June 21): Almost 12 years after Monsters, Inc. grossed $255.9 million (at the time, an all-time high for Pixar), prequel Monsters University reaches theaters. Pixar has had mixed success with franchise fare: Toy Story 3 became their highest-grossing movie ever in 2010 with $415 million, though Cars 2 wound up noticeably lower than its predecessor ($191.5 million vs. $244.1 million). Monsters, Inc. is more popular than Cars was, and there's more ticket price inflation kicking in here. Still, prequels are inherently unnecessary—we already know Mike and Sully become best friends and elite scarers—so a Toy Story 3 bump appears out of the question as well. (Domestic: $280 million; Foreign: $470 million)
5. Star Trek Into Darkness (May 17): The 2009 Star Trek reboot was a surprise hit with $257.7 million, and maintains a very strong reputation four years later (it has a spot in IMDb's Top 250). Usually this would mean that the sequel would noticeably outperform its predecessor: unfortunately, the movie seems to be having a tough time standing out amidst the crowded May schedule, and early word indicates that it isn't a leap forward in quality. Even if it does wind up around the same level domestically as the first movie, though, four years of strong word-of-mouth and the addition of 3D will at least translate in to significantly higher foreign grosses. (Domestic: $250 million, Foreign: $400 million)
6. Fast & Furious 6 (May 24): Most franchises hit their peak around the second or third outing: for the Fast and Furious series, though, its highest-grossing entry is the fifth one, which earned $209.8 million in 2011. With the return of all major cast members, an interesting new location (London) and previews that feature some fantastic vehicular action, all signs point to the sixth movie being at least equally successful. Still, it's competing with the second weekend of Star Trek Into Darkness and the opening of The Hangover Part III, and that should keep it from improving drastically on Fast Five. (Domestic Forecast: $215 million, Foreign Forecast: $500 million)
7. The Heat (June 28): Hollywood often neglects women, though rarely has it been as obvious as it is in Summer 2013: it will be nearly two months in to the season before the first live-action nationwide release with a female lead arrives. That movie is The Heat, which finds two funny and likeable ladies—Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy—teaming up as mismatched cops. If The Heat turns out to be really funny—and with Bridesmaids director Paul Feig at the helm, there's a good chance it is—it will easily be a major mid-Summer comedy hit. (Domestic: $155 million, Foreign: $125 million)
8. The Hangover Part III (May 24): The first two Hangover movies are two of the most successful comedies ever with $277.3 million and $254.5 million, respectively. Unfortunately, the second one is largely reviled, and the third movie's previews are surprisingly low on laughs. A good comparison for The Hangover Part III is Little Fockers, which was the follow-up to a disappointing sequel. It dropped 47 percent from its predecessor; with tough competition in late May, a similar fall wouldn't be surprising for The Hangover Part III. (Domestic: $150 million, Foreign: $300 million)
9. Pacific Rim (July 12): Previews for director Guillermo Del Toro's monsters vs. robots movie have received overwhelmingly positive reactions from the geek community, and the movie has a great spot on the July release schedule (distributor Warner Bros. has scored in mid-July in each of the past four Summers). Unfortunately, this is a case where the online buzz is likely to outweigh the movie's actual box office haul—it's going to score with younger males, but it probably won't break out beyond that group too much. It does, at least, have huge overseas potential, which should make this a worldwide hit. (Domestic: $145 million, Foreign: $330 million)
10. White House Down (June 28): The year's first White House invasion movie, Olympus Has Fallen, was a major hit for indie distributor FilmDistrict, and is on its way to a final total around $95 million. While that might sound like it would be a problem for White House Down, history suggests two closely-timed, nearly-identical movies can actually both succeed. In this case, the best example is the Deep Impact vs. Armageddon battle in 1998: Deep Impact earned $140.5 million in May, but two months later Armageddon outgrossed it with $201.6 million. With a noticeably bigger budget and big-time stars Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx, it wouldn't be surprising if White House Down takes a similar leap over Olympus Has Fallen. (Domestic: $140 million, Foreign: $190 million)
11. Lone Ranger (July 3): A decade ago, star Johnny Depp, director Gore Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer bucked the trend of unsuccessful pirates movies with Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, which spawned one of the most successful franchises ever. That crew is looking to do the same thing for Westerns with The Lone Ranger, though that's easier said than done. Depp's schtick is struggling a bit lately—the fourth Pirates movie was the lowest-grossing one yet, and last Summer's Dark Shadows couldn't even get to $80 million. Additionally, previews for The Lone Ranger still aren't really gelling, despite what seems like a valiant effort from Disney. Expect slightly higher grosses than other big-budget Westerns like Cowboys & Aliens ($100.2 million) and Wild Wild West ($113.8 million), but not by much. (Domestic: $135 million, Foreign: $270 million)
12. World War Z (June 21): With the success of AMC's The Walking Dead and February's Warm Bodies ($66.2 million), it's safe to say that zombies are very popular right now. World War Z is the first big-budget aspiring blockbuster featuring the creatures, though casual audiences may have a tough time associating the movie's fast-moving swarms of CGI zombies with the slow-moving ones they are used to. With star Brad Pitt and what's sure to be a hefty marketing effort from Paramount, World War Z will likely do fine, but opening right after Man of Steel is going to keep this down. (Domestic: $135 million, Foreign: $285 million)
13. Epic (May 24): Action-oriented animated movies (as opposed to comedic ones) aren't historically all that successful, and Epic's story calls to mind notorious animated bomb The Ant Bully ($28.1 million). Still, from a scheduling perspective, Epic is in great shape: Memorial Day weekend is typically a good time to release an animated movie, and its closest competition (Monsters University) comes out four weeks later. (Domestic: $130 million, Foreign: $245 million)
14. The Wolverine (July 26): The most popular character from the X-Men franchise makes his second solo appearance this Summer; the first outing, X-Men Origin: Wolverine earned a very good $179.9 million in 2009 but was for the most part met with tepid reactions. In an effort to win back some people, The Wolverine takes him to Japan in the big-screen adaptation of one of the character's most-popular comic book arcs. While that's going to go a long way with intense fanboys, general audiences aren't likely to care much, and lower domestic grosses seem inevitable. (Domestic: $125 million, Foreign: $250 million)
15. Elysium (Aug. 9): In 2009, District 9 was a surprise hit both commercially and critically: the low-budget sci-fi flick earned $115.6 million at the domestic box office and snagged a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars. Director Neil Blomkamp's follow-up Elysium looks like a similarly strong outing, and has the added benefit of Matt Damon in his tough-guy wheelhouse. There is some risk that following Oblivion, After Earth and Pacific Rim, audiences will be burnt out on futuristic sci-fi by August, but Elysium should be able to do solid business regardless. (Domestic: $120 million, Foreign: $155 million)
16 (tie). The Smurfs 2 (July 31): The first Smurfs movie earned a very good $142.6 million at the domestic box office in 2011—the sequel was greenlit mainly because of the foreign grosses, though, which wound up a staggering $421 million. Domestically, at least, the movie benefited from incredibly weak competition for family audiences that Summer: Kung Fu Panda 2 and Cars 2 both underperformed a bit, and were basically gone from theaters by the time The Smurfs opened at the end of July. The competition is much more intense this year, though, and as a result The Smurfs 2 is likely in line for a noticeabledecline. (Domestic: $115 million, Foreign: $460 million)
16 (tie). Turbo (July 19): Even though Rise of the Guardians barely made it, DreamWorks Animation has now had 13-straight movies earn over $100 million at the domestic box office. Turbo won't reverse that trend, though coming on the heels of three other major animated movies this Summer, it's likely that family audiences are going to be exhausted by this point. It also doesn't help that the movie feels a bit derivative of Pixar's Cars; all in, this is likely going to be a lesser outing from DreamWorks Animation. (Domestic: $115 million, Foreign: $205 million)
18. Grown Ups 2 (July 12): The first Grown Ups is one of Adam Sandler's biggest hits ever with $162 million. Since then, though, Sandler's brand appears to have taken a bit of a hit: Jack and Jill underwhelmed with $74.2 million, while That's My Boy flopped last Summer with $36.9 million. Also, as is inherent with many sequels, Grown Ups 2 just doesn't look as fresh or original as the first movie, and a lower gross should follow. (Domestic: $110 million, Foreign: $125 million)
19. After Earth (May 31): Based on star power alone, After Earth ought to be a hit: Will and Jaden Smith's first movie together, The Pursuit of Happyness, earned $163.6 million, and their last two individual movies (MIB 3 and The Karate Kid) each grossed over $175 million. Unfortunately, it's opening in the shadow of what should be the biggest Memorial Day weekend ever, and it looks like it could be too intense for children and too cartoonish for adults. The big money for this one is overseas, where the elder Smith's movies consistently gross over $300 million. (Domestic: $105 million, Foreign: $310 million)
20 (tie). The Great Gatsby (May 10): Opening in between Iron Man 3 and Star Trek Into Darkness, it could be tough for The Great Gatsby to get much attention. However, its eye-catching previews and fantastic cast—including Leonardo DiCaprio in a role that he seems born to play—do appear to be drawing some buzz recently, and it's likely that this is a modest early Summer hit with adults. (Domestic Forecast: $100 million, Foreign: $150 million)
20 (tie). 2 Guns (August 2): Late Summer is a good time to release an adult-oriented action movie, and Universal seems to have a great option in 2 Guns. The movie finds Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg as undercover federal agents forced to team up, and the previews suggest the two have an easy, appealing chemistry. It won't be a huge hit, but a $100 million finish wouldn't be surprising at all, especially considering Washington's recent track record. (Domestic: $100 million, Foreign: $95 million)
Other Noteworthy Titles
There are a handful of major releases that didn't make this list. Here's a breakdown of those titles, with a quick explanation for why they were left off.
The Internship (June 6): A reteaming of Wedding Crashers duo Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson should be a slam-dunk, but The Internship's odd trailers give off the impression this movie should have come out in 2007, not 2013.
This is the End (June 13): Previews for This is the End deliver a lot of laughs, but the notion of stars playing themselves is something that probably won't connect outside of major cities.
R.I.P.D. (July 19): If there's one Summer 2013 movie that's likely to take the Jonah Hex awards (ill-advised, low-grossing comic book adaptation), it has to be R.I.P.D.
Red 2 (July 19): 2010's Red was a surprise hit with $90.4 million; while the sequel does add a few interesting cast members (Catherine Zeta-Jones, Anthony Hopkins), it feels like the premise itself has already worn out its welcome.
300: Rise of An Empire (Aug. 2): The original 300 earned an incredible $210.6 million in 2007, which made a follow-up seem very logical. However, that movie had a very definitive ending, and without director Zack Snyder or star Gerard Butler, audiences are likely going to treat this as nothing but a knock-off.
Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (Aug. 7): The first Percy movie was a solid performer with $88.8 million at the domestic box office—the sequel, though, appears designed specifically to build on the $138 million foreign haul, and the best-case scenario is that domestic winds up about even.
Planes (Aug. 9): This Cars spin-off was originally supposed to be direct-to-video, but early this year Disney decided on a theatrical release. Unfortunately, August is historically a dead zone for animated movies, and it doesn't help that so many major animated releases are coming before it this Summer.
We're the Millers (Aug. 9): Without a ton of comedy competition and with Horrible Bosses stars Jennifer Aniston and Jason Sudeikis, this could wind up a surprise hit—unfortunately, there's almost no material available for this title right now, so it's going to stay off the main list.
Kick-Ass 2 (Aug. 16): Riding a wave of hype, the first movie only wound up with $48.1 million; even coming off strong home video business, it's unlikely that this sequel drastically outgrosses its predecessor.
One Direction: This is Us (Aug. 30): The One Direction 3D concert movie could be a minor late Summer hit, but it's unlikely it matches Justin Bieber: Never Say Never ($73 million).