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* but were afraid to unmask

Just don't call it a comeback--it's a rebuild

If 2020’s summer box office was a ruinous, MAD MAX-level apocalyptic wasteland and last year was a GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE-type surgical reboot, then it makes sense that 2022 is the real rebuild, right? Pretty much. While Hollywood doesn’t possess nearly as much reel estate in theaters as say, 2019—a summer in which 48 films were dropped in wide release grossing $4.3B—there are a lot of comfy, cinematic similarities for audiences. Get cozy.

Let’s start with sequels. Reboots. Spinoffs. Anything IP is still VIP in cinemas and studios have potential blockbusters sectioned off in the very best seats possible. Summer originates with a familiar backstory: the Marvel logo with Sam Raimi's DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS front and center. In fact, since 2007’s SPIDER-MAN 3—excluding the pandemic years—Marvel characters, be it Fox, Sony or Disney, have rang the opening bell of the summer box office feeding frenzy.

While May is light on content—just five wide studio releases compared to sixteen in 2019—it’s heavy on movie mythology. Intellectual property is key here, as DOCTOR STRANGE 2 (5/6), FIRESTARTER (5/13), DOWNTON ABBEY: A NEW ERA (5/20), BOB’S BURGERS and TOP GUN: MAVERICK (5/27) pack a recognizable punch. Remember, this is about audiences feeling comfortable going back to theaters, and May is nothing if not comfort food for every demo. Also, let’s be honest, Hollywood doesn’t typically like to enter the danger zone of big-budget original films in the summertime. The need for speed starts and stops with summer sequels, that will one day transform into thermometer-surging threequels.

And speaking of trilogies, that’s the path June takes us down with Universal wrapping up the latest dinosaur adventure with JURASSIC WORLD: DOMINION (6/10)—the sixth film in the franchise—bringing back a number of characters from the original park, and letting the wave of nostalgia run wild. Set those old dinosaurs free! We’ve seen this work before, finding that delicate, sentimental balance that unites new fans and old ones, all the while punching up grosses significantly. In fact, I'd bet my last box office bottom dollar on the dinosaurs being the #1 flick worldwide this summer, as the last two installments ran amok in multiplexes munching up mad money: JURRASIC WORLD ($1.6B), JW: FALLEN KINGDOM ($1.3B).

June also sees Pixar finally release a film in theaters, and to no one’s surprise, they’re furthering the TOY STORY mythology with LIGHTYEAR (6/17). You know, the real, fake story of the Buzz Lightyear toy. C’mon, we’re used to multiverses converging—this is child’s play.

The final week of June (6/24) belatedly sees the emergence of original content from the major studios in the form of Blumhouse’s THE BLACK PHONE and Baz Luhrmann’s ELVIS. Hey, if you’re gonna sequelize, you gotta shake it up sometimes and be original. Both these should do top tier biz in regards to their genres, and bridge the gap before we get really bananas again at the box office.

Yep. I’m talking about the MINIONS: THE RISE OF GRU (7/1). And yes, this is a flick that was supposed to touchdown in theaters summer of 2020, just like TOP GUN: MAVERICK and BOB'S BURGERS. In fact, there were even Minions toys on the shelves two years ago. No matter, the dim-witted dudes haven’t seen their star-power dim one iota, as 2015’s original was the highest Gru-ssing film of the DMU (Despicable Me Universe), cooking up $1.1B. We’ve seen family films score big-time in recent months. Expect this one to ratchet it up a few notches.

And then, like clockwork, one last familiar face: THOR: LOVE & THUNDER (7/8). May be Marvel’s second billy of the summer. And with that hammer dropping, the book of summer sequels closes, and yet…we still have nearly two months of sizzle reel left. What will we do without our sequel safety net?

Well, I’m glad you asked, cuz that’s when things get interesting, as Sony hopes it has a worldwide phenomenon on its hands with the adaptation of the best-selling novel, WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING (7/15). That’s a tough sell, no doubt, as most dramas have gone the way of the streamer these days. Not to worry though, Sony should see some serious business with the Brad Pitt starrer, BULLET TRAIN (7/29) a couple weeks later. Remember, in 2019 that very same weekend produced a massive hit with Quentin Tarantino’s ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD scoring $142M domestic, $377M worldwide.

July also boasts a man who is his own IP, Jordan Peele, who arrives with his latest chill pill, NOPE (7/22). Peele’s first two movies combined for over $500M around the globe, so odds are this one will plow through August’s mostly anonymous slate. But before we go there, two more kiddie pics drop as the sun sets on July with Paramount’s PAWS OF FURY (7/22) and DC’S LEAGUE OF SUPER PETS (7/29). One of these is not like the other. Expect the IP-laden animal pic to lift its leg on the film loosely inspired by...BLAZING SADDLES. Like Peele says: Nope. Not kidding here, folks, PAWS OF FURY was previously titled BLAZING SAMURAI. What the hell is going on in this multiplex multiverse of ours!?!? It really is madness.

But, just to prove things are moving back towards normalcy, August is, once again, a veritable dumping ground. BODIES BODIES BODIES, EASTER SUNDAY, SECRET HEADQUARTERS, BEAST, THE BRIDE, SAMARITAN…heard of any of these, or should I just stop there? That’s what I thought. The final month is going to be a bloodbath at the box office, and not in the Jordan Peele kind of way. You hope a couple of these break out, but historically speaking, the odds are not in their favor.

So, let’s just pretend summer is May-July, after all, we’re talking about a rebuild, and Hollywood wasn’t built in one summer. Let’s just hope a handful of films break through that magic billion-dollar barrier like SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME was able to do, and start stacking up those success stories as we prepare for next year, when order is restored to the summer cinematic universe. Reboot. Rebuild. Restore. That’s how it’s done. Until then, enjoy the 30 feature films set for wide release this summer, and go scope out all the indies too, which will actually have a little more room to breathe considering there won’t be an onslaught of popcorn pics each and every week as per the usual.

So, what's the silver-screen lining? Well, with 37% less wide releases in theaters this summer, there’s really zero chance 2022’s four-month window will compare with what we’re used to seeing—upwards of $4B—however, on a worldwide scale there is the possibility of a handful of $1B hits including DOCTOR STRANGE 2, THOR 4, MINIONS 2 and JURASSIC 6. Heck, maybe even LIGHTYEAR. "To a billy, and beyoooooond!" That's how the one-liner goes, right? Again, billion-dollar brick by billion-dollar brick. That’s the blueprint. That’s the building code.

Why so few films? Well, a big part of that is the industry finally coming face-to-face with the full-scale shutdown caused by Covid-19 two years ago. The cycle of films has been disrupted and 2022 is very much feeling the impact of those crippling ripples. Again, these smaller films, the indies, could help ease that box office pain like we saw with this spring's EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE, and if that happens, they'll certainly expand from limited to wide.

Most of the highlights on the smaller, non-IMAX screens will be delivered by three distributors we all know well: Focus Features, A24 and Neon. Universal's indie shingle has five films set for cinephiles, including the aforementioned DOWNTON ABBEY sequel, as well as BRIAN AND CHARLES (6/17), MRS. HARRIS GOES TO PARIS (7/15), VENGEANCE (7/29) and HONK FOR JESUS, SAVE YOUR SOUL (9/2). Meanwhile, the current star of the indie scene, A24, has Alex Garland's MEN (5/20), perhaps the cutest thing ever MARCEL THE SHELL WITH SHOES ON (6/24) and the horror flick BODIES, BODIES, BODIES (8/5). Neon shines its light on PLEASURE (5/13), A CHIARA (5/27) and David Cronenberg's CRIMES OF THE FUTURE (6/3). Like Lionsgate, summer stalwart, Searchlight, is surprisingly on summer vacation this season. Dates, as always, are subject to change...or ghosting.

So, lather up on that sunscreen, huff some jet fuel exhaust and here’s hoping TOP GUN: MAVERICK plays all summer long like the original did back in 1986, opening #1 in mid-May and eventually retaking the top spot in June, and most impressively, for a third time in late September. That’s where cruise control comes from, folks. Those were the days. Trust me. I was there. And it was a glorious thing.

Jeff Bock, May 2022


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