ERC's ULTIMATE 2023 SUMMER PREVIEW "Don't Believe the Hype, it's a Sequel!"
In the late 80s, hip hop pioneers Public Enemy belted out stinging lyrics about hype and sequels, and were not only front and center in the music scene, but fighting the power on the big screen, contributing tracks to Spike Lee’s pulsating DO THE RIGHT THING, which exploded onto the scene in the summer of ’89.
While their lyrics were politically poignant at the time, “Don’t Believe the Hype”—from the album “It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back”—dropped this dime and it’s still worth its weight in gold chains:
“Don’t believe the hype, it’s a sequel.”
See, unlike today, sequels weren’t the biggest frame in the blockbuster game. In fact, many of these continuing sagas were widely regarded as jokes—THE FLY II, POLICE ACADEMY 6: CITY UNDER SIEGE, COCOON: THE RETURN, KARATE KID PART III, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET: DREAM CHILD, HALLOWEEN 5, FRIDAY THE 13TH: JASON TAKES MANHATTAN.
All hype. No buzz. And yes, those really were all released in 1989. And while nostalgia has been kind to some of these flicks, they were mostly regarded as “like, totally lame” back in the day. In fact, a sequel by its very nature had a very negative connotation. It was a diss. Lacking authenticity. Devoid of credit. A redo. A rip-off. Oh, how times have changed.
Now to be fair, not all sequels back in the day were box office bottom-feeders—in fact INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE, LETHAL WEAPON 2, GHOSTBUSTERS II & BACK TO THE FUTURE II were all in the Top 10 at the end of ‘89—but nothing like 2022, which saw sequels, and their intimidating swagger, supernova in cinemas:
EVERY SINGLE FILM IN THE TOP 10 WAS A SEQUEL LAST YEAR!!!
Believe it or deny it, that’s where we’re at.
Keep this in mind as we cruise into summer 2023, riding the afterburners of sequel power and reboot hype, a trend that’s powering up the fight to preserve movie-going as we now know it.
It’s big—think PLF, IMAX.
Which can only mean one thing: sequels are looming.
Yep. Hollywood’s new mantra:
"Believe the hype, it’s a sequel!"
15 of them to be exact. 15 filmic follow-ups—whether direct sequels, reboots, spinoffs or spiritual sequels these all fall under the continuing saga umbrella—drop between the first weekend of May through Labor Day weekend this year, and we scoop them all as ERC breaks down the box office...slicing through the studio slates.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (5/5)
THE BOOK CLUB: THE NEXT CHAPTER (5/12)
FAST X (5/19)
THE LITTLE MERMAID (5/26)
SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE (6/2)
TRANSFORMERS: RISE OF THE BEASTS (6/9)
THE FLASH (6/16)
INDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINY (6/30)
INSIDIOUS: THE RED DOOR (7/7)
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – DEAD RECKONING PT 1 (7/14)
HAUNTED MANSION (7/28)
THE MEG 2: THE TRENCH (8/4)
TMNT: MUTANT MAYHEM (8/4)
WHITE BIRD (8/25)
THE EQUALIZER 3 aka THE THREEQUELIZER (9/1)
STUDIO BREAKDOWN: SUMMER '23
WARNER BROS (4)
THE FLASH (6/16), BARBIE (7/21), MEG 2 (8/4), BLUE BEETLE (8/18)
THE PROS: WB is running a pretty tight ship this summer—a quartet of cinematic schooners sail into popcorn port with only VIP IP on board—DC, Barbie and, of course, prehistoric sharks. I’m here to tell you THE FLASH is the real deal. And no, I’m not currently accepting gifts nor crypto from WB, or their affiliates. Despite the negative press star Ezra Miller received earlier, his performance(s) is truly lightning in a bottle, and Michael Keaton proves he’s still got the codpiece cojones, and is in fact, the retro Batman we all need and deserve right now. So many Easter eggs…and sure they may be fan service…but isn’t that what these movies are mostly about? DC likely has a big hit—yes, much bigger than BLACK ADAM ($391M). Now I’m not saying it’ll do SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME ($1.9B) biz, but have a feeling lightning will strike twice in the multiverse. DC-level. Not Marvel-level. But upper-tier DC for sure. Keep in mind, only 4 DC superhero flicks have ever scored a Billy worldwide—AUQAMAN, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, JOKER and THE DARK KNIGHT. Their biggest post-pandemic pic, THE BATMAN, grossed $770M worldwide—that’s a good compare here.
Margo Robbie’s BARBIE may just be the best-kept 60+ year secret in Hollywood. But what it is? It’s really a cover for THE MATRIX 5 if ya wanna know the truth. No, it’s actually a big, broad Hollywood comedy that studios don’t tend to produce anymore. Think A VERY BRADY MOVIE…but with supercharged IP. Writer/director Greta Gerwig’s contributions could transform this into a dream house of dollars for the studio, spawning multiple developments, or, it could totally miss the mark like Skipper’s fashion sense. I’m betting on the former: Hot Girl Corvette Summer.
Meanwhile, THE MEG 2: THE TRENCH is a clear signal Warner Bros. would 100% love to turn this chummy chomp-fest into the next FAST & FURIOUS franchise—as evident by the latest bat-shit crazy trailer (in the best possible sense). Let’s not forget the first one bit off over a half billion worldwide. Is it any wonder they took another dip? The big question: how will it play in China? For those keeping track, the Middle Kingdom was the highest grossing global territory with $153M, compared to $145M domestic.
THE CONS: Torpedoes away! There’s no such thing as a sure-fire summer hit anymore, and if one or two of their films don’t strike their intended target, the drop off could be as extreme as Mariana Trench. DC’s BLUE BEETLE is the biggest unknown, but it could also be the studio’s greatest reward if the late-August superhero flick plays box office ball deep into the fall. I’m still not sold after seeing the extended trailer. Looks a little bit too kiddie and a lotta bit too HBO Max. Er. max. And you know how August audiences usually treat their films…like dumpster fires.
File this move under Leg Lift: Universal relocated their R-rated comedy, STRAYS, to the very same date earlier this week. Tough gig for the boy in blue. Doggonit!
TAGLINE: “We haaaaaave the movie meats.”
ALTERNATE TAG: “HBO Max? Day & Date? Never heard of it. The name’s max.”
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL 3 (5/5), THE LITTLE MERMAID (5/26), THE BOGEYMAN (6/2), ELEMENTAL (6/16), INDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINY (6/30), HAUNTED MANSION (7/28)
PROS: Should be the highest grossing studio of the summer season. Classic Disney lineup. A superhero flick, a live-action animated adaptation, a Disneyland ride adaptation/reboot, a Pixar cartoon, and serial nostalgia courtesy of Harrison Ford. Oh, and a horror flick that was supposed to go straight to streaming. Working all the trends is what the Mouse House does so well. Get that easy cheesy! And it doesn’t go down much easier than that for audiences. Disney will easily have four films in the Top 10 this summer. The real question is—do any of these films rack up a Billy worldwide? They had four films hit that mark in 2019—AVENGERS: ENDGAME, ALADDIN, TOY STORY 4 and THE LION KING. If I had to pick one, I’d place my pile of pearls on THE LITTLE MERMAID, as BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, THE LION KING and ALADDIN all accomplished that phenomenal feat.
We’ve already seen what GotGV3 will do, blasting off with $118M this past weekend and firmly in control of the box office, where it shall stay and slay all through May. Marvel is still the mightiest game in town. Don’t let the dip fool ya, fools.
And then there’s INDIANA JONES…returning for a 5th adventure. Could this be the TOP GUN MAVERICK of the summer? Probably not, but let’s remember the nostalgia factor pushed CRYSTAL SKULL to $780M+ in the summer of 2008—which adjusted for inflation is $1.1 billion dollars. Might Disney have two flicks in the Billy Club? It’s a possibility depending on how it rolls over international audiences. Could go 1-2 with THE LITTLE MERMAID.
PRO/CON: Will ELEMENTAL help Disney steal back the animation crown from Illumination? Is this a return to artistic—and economic—form? Let’s not forget Pixar’s last slew of films landed at Disney+. Will audiences warm up to original animation again? Also, this comes from director Peter Sohn…who hasn’t helmed a Pixar toon since…THE GOOD DINOSAUR. Not exactly Dino-mite. At the time, that was Pixar’s only real box office misstep. Purification? Will the box office be baptized, or will this flame out?
CONS: Remember that Eddie Murphy HAUNTED MANSION flick that didn’t quite work. Looks like we’re getting more of the same with this latest incarnation. While the visuals are a treat—especially for those who adore the Disney ride—the humor/horror elements are often strange bedfellows. To be fair, it’s a tricky balancing act that Hollywood rarely gets right at the box office. And while Disney desperately wants this to their next PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN franchise, the bones of this seem awfully bare.
TAGLINE: “They don’t call us the Magic Kingdom for nothing.”
ALTERNATE TAG: “The Purveyors of Cinematic Pixie Dust.”
LOVE AGAIN (5/5) KNIGHTS OF THE ZODIAC (5/12) THE MACHINE (5/26) SPIDER-MAN ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE (6/2) NO HARD FEELINGS (6/23) HAROLD AND THE PURPLE CRAYON (6/30) INSIDIOUS: THE RED DOOR (7/7) GRAN TORISMO (8/11) THEY LISTEN (8/25) THE EQUALIZER 3 (9/1)
PROS: Spider-Man, Spider-Man, netting all the cash that a spider can. INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE ($375M) was the talk of the town when it was released in 2018 and the sequel will be the box office beneficiary of that spectacular, amazing and very leggy performance. Will be in the Top 10, fo sho.
Can Jennifer Lawrence bring the R-rated heat w/ NO HARD FEELINGS? Don’t sleep on this wannabe sleeper. And if you do, don’t blame studios for abandoning comedy altogether.
Another sure-fire hit is INDIDIOUS: THE RED DOOR—one of the very few studio horror flicks this summer, from a franchise that has grossed-out over a half billion worldwide with its previous four installment.
Denzel is back. And that’s money in the bank for Sony. The only thing missing from this third installment is the title. By all rights, THE EQUALIZER 3 should simply be called THE THREEQUELIZER. Box office believe it or not: the first two flicks grossed over $380M worldwide. Dropping over Labor Day weekend this will definitely bookend summer on a high note. Sequels, belt to belt.
CON: Going up against Marvel to kick off the summer with LOVE AGAIN? Is that brilliant counter-programming or complete and utter lunacy? Well, now we know. Ouch: a $2M debut.
KNIGHTS OF THE ZODIAC and THE MACHINE are two more box office throwaways, and HAROLD AND THE PURPLE CRAYON will likely be pushed as Sony didn’t even mention it at CinemaCon. That said, they confirmed it was still on their calendar a couple weeks ago. Uh-huh. Sure. I mean, Sony doesn't even have posters for a number of their films yet. C'mon slackers, you're not on summer break.
By far the most films in release this summer, but by far the lowest box office potential outside of what should be a mega-hit, SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE MULTI-VERSE.
TAGLINE: “We’re sorta making it up as we go along.”
ALTERNATE TAG: “Don’t forget—we’re the other Marvel Studio.”
TRANSFORMERS: RISE OF THE BEASTS (6/9), MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – DEAD RECKONING PART ONE (7/12), TMNT: MUTANT HAYHEM (8/4)
There’s IP and there’s Legacy IP and then there’s AARP IP. Think about this—the majestic mountain has just three films on their summer slate, all of which are sequels, but not just any old (old being the key word here) continuing sagas…these are well-worn paths…etched deep into the mythos of moviedom…for better or worse. Fandoms unite!
TRANSFORMERS: RISE OF THE BEASTS is the 7th film in the franchise Paramount booted up in 2007, 8th if you count the animated flick from the 80s. This is a direct sequel in the BUMBLEBEE timeline…a film that vastly underperformed for the studio with $467M worldwide. Remember, these used to roll up over $1B worldwide back in the halcyon days of Cybertron. Still, $400M+ is that magical sequel multiplier and since Paramount scaled BUMBLEBEE back with a $135M budget, they figured why not go back to a summer release with Michael Bay-style robots in disguise and retool it with another $200M+ budget. This will squarely rest on the international market to become a success, as domestically, BUMBLEBEE eked out just $127M back in the holiday season of 2018.
TMNT: MUTANT MAYHEM is also the 7th iteration of the pizza-loving sewer dwellers. Is Seth Rogan’s brand of humor enough of a pizza-party to keep this reboot from being booted out of theaters for another decade? They’re definitely making a play for that INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE crowd. Late summer release going up against MEG 2 is no drop in the box office chum bucket. PLF screens will be dominated by the later, not the former. CHOW-abunga dudes—these turtles may be snapped up by the jaws of an apex box office predator.
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – DEAD RECKONING PART ONE is the 7th—see a pattern here?—film in the franchise and poised to be Paramount’s crown jewel of the summer. Amazingly, no M:I film has ever scored over $800M worldwide. However, with his legion of new fans, Tom Cruise may just propel the latest installment to the highest heights of the franchise. If not, there’s always next summer when Part 7, Part 2 drops on us.
Will it be lucky number 7s across the money line for Paramount? Or will only one 7 come up aces for the studio? That’s the price they may pay playing the IP game with a loaded deck of past-their-prime releases this summer.
TAGLINE: “The number 7 is the vibration of intellect, ideas, and higher wisdom. Something like that.”
ALTERNATE TAG: “The studio that used to release big blockbusters from Marvel, Indiana Jones and DreamWorks.”
TOWER BUZZ TAG: “Don’t you dare forget what TOP “FRICKIN” GUN: MAVERICK did for theatres last summer.”
FAST X (5/19), RUBY GILLMAN: TEENAGE KRAKEN (6/30), OPPENHEIMER (7/21), LAST VOYAGE OF THE DEMETER (8/11), STRAYS (8/18)
PRO: Universal has the most diverse slate of films this summer.
CON: Universal has the most diverse slate of films this summer.
FAST X and OPPENHEIMER are the only sure-fire hits here, although STRAYS could surprise as Universal has been one of the only studios consistently driving the R-rated comedy narrative for quite awhile now. You love to see that, and hope this succeeds in the way the Snark Universe—M3GAN, VIOLENT NIGHT, COCAINE BEAR—has done bonkers business for them this past year.
The studio is firmly going against the IP trend this summer, with only one sequel in the bunch. Well, two if you count BOOK CLUB: THE SECOND CHAPTER dropping from their indie shingle, Focus Features.
Still, that’s a lot riding on new material, which, I suppose is a bet on the future of moviegoing, right? Cuz…MORE SEQUELS. Let’s hope it pans out.
Christopher Nolan fans will certainly turn out for OPPENHEIMER, but can it have the success of DUNKIRK? I think so. With top tier reviews, this will burn the box office at both ends…and hopefully defy the logic that adult dramas are better served on the fall and winter menus. Tick. Tick. Tick
THE CONS: RUBY GILLMAN is a KO for DreamWorks--and that stands for Kids Only. Could do minor biz, but not going to compete with the big boys of animation this summer.
VOYAGE OF THE DEMETER has been given a coffin slot...opening the weekend before the studio's own STRAYS. Yep, Universal is burying this one. And that sucks.
TAGLINE: "A Universe of Divergent Delights."
ALTERNATE TAGLINE: "Ok, ok...we'll deliver more sequels next summer. 10 more F&F flicks. One every summer for the next decade. Pinky promise, fam.
THE BLACKENING (6/16), JOY RIDE (7/7), WHITE BIRD (8/25)
After taking the summer off last year, Lionsgate dips its toes in the water with a couple niche drops and a spiritual sequel.
Alternative programming is great, especially when diversity is highlighted, but the key component of summer box office is to actually make moola.
THE BLACKENING and JOY RIDE have great concepts, but will they connect with the Multiplex Marauders?
That's something Lionsgate will struggle to do going up against heavily marketed popcorn pics. Their films don’t move the multiplex needle much, so another summer struggle seems in store.
And yes, WHITE BIRD is that spiritual sequel we mentioned earlier. WONDER why? Oh yeah, Lionsgate's WONDER made $315M back in the fall of 2017. That's why.
But hey, enjoy watching the trailer for HUNGER GAMES: THE BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS AND SNAKES…ALL SUMMMER LOOOOOOONG.
TAGLINE: “Yes, we’re still here. For now.”
ALTERNATE TAGLINE: “Remember how cool JOHN WICK is? Yeah, we did that shit. We will resurrect a beaten down dead horse if we have to.”
So, will audiences believe the sequel hype? Studios are banking their blockbuster dollars on it. In fact, the success of the summer season rests upon these numbers. Roman numerals may be outdated, but when studios say "it's a numbers game" these days, they're talking about sequels.
That's where the popcorn power is, no need to fight it. Folks, believe the hype.
-Jeff Bock, May 12, 2023