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"Summer Movie Preview: 2024 - Can the Box Office Survive Without Marvel's Guiding Light?"

"Let’s just get this out of the way now—there is no BARBENHEIMER sequel arriving in theaters to 'save' cinemas this summer."

Yes, the movie-mashup for the ages, you know the one that propelled the box office to $2.4B worldwide last year and popped the pop culture bubble, will NOT sequelize between the beginning of May and Labor Day weekend this year. But don’t be glum, chum; it’s still gonna be a cinematic scorcher of sorts, so slap on your Sun Bum and slide into this ultimate summer preview party. 

"So, what you’re really saying is: Hollywood is done with sequels then, right?"

C’mon, let’s dabble in reality here for a bit, shall we? In fact, the films expected to be the biggest hits this summer--DEADPOOL & WOLVERINE, DESPICABLE ME 4, TWISTERS, INSIDE OUT 2, FURIOSA: A MAD MAX SAGA, A QUIET PLACE: DAY ONE, KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES--are all continuing sagas.

The beat goes on. Of the 35 wide releases this summer (down 24% from 2019) there are 14 sequels or reboots set to joggle your core memories. That’s 40% of all major releases to you and me…and peddlers of popcorn. Yes, 40% of movies this summer will be studio safety nets. Now that doesn’t guarantee anything, mind you. This is the post-pandemic world, and as we saw in 2023, FAST X, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, TRANSFORMERS and INDIANA JONES all had difficulty offsetting their massive budgets and big-time promotional spends. Once the dreamhouse dust (and radioactive residue) settled, BARBIE and OPPENHEIMER were the prom king and queen of the box office at the end of the summer and beyond. And both were original films leading the charge–one was a big-budget comedy, based on top tier IP, and the other a 3-hour adult drama by one of the current masters of cinema. It almost seemed like there was a changing of the guard, but let’s remember, Hollywood can’t turn on a dime, despite what Dom Toretto tells you. Trends take time. And careful maneuvering of curves. 

"Ah, gotcha, so what you’re really saying is we’ll see a majority of sequels slump again this season?"

Eh, Probably not. Certainly not at the level we saw last summer. And maybe, just maybe, there’ll be a surprise or two in store with original releases. That’s what churns the popcorn butter; that’s what makes going to the movies exciting—the unknown. Not unknown commodities, mind you, but what happens next. 

In fact, similar to the movie kicking off the summer—Universal’s THE FALL GUY (May 3)—the industry is doing something extremely daring this summer: opening the season without a Marvel movie! Excelsior! Stan Lee is rolling over in his grave. Hey, nobody got rich in Hollywood playing it safe. But seriously, how long has it been since that’s happened? For those keeping track, it’s been 17 years (minus COVID cinema of 2020 and 2021) since spandex nation didn’t lead the box office brigade. Yes, there are teenagers that have never lived and breathed in a world without a Marvel movie opening the summer floodgates. So this is bold new territory for Hollywood. The question is, will it work? That’s the $4B question, multiplex marauders. 

Universal does have Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt–two of the BARBENHEIMER leads–with chemistry and charisma that is off the charts. Is that enough for a film that is heavy on Hollywood hardball? Will it be too insider-y for middle America? The stunt performer industry takes center stage in this action/comedy with director David Leitch (a former stunt stud and director of DEADPOOL 2) calling the shots. 

"The average opening of a Marvel flick kicking off the summer session is a whopping $162M, so it’s no surprise other studios don’t typically counterprogram against them."

Not so this year. In fact, this summer will see a trio of films open May 3 including Sony’s horror flick, TAROT and Disney 25th anniversary reissue of STAR WARS: THE PHANTOM MENACE.  Hey, no way THE FALL GUY is jumping off that cliff with $162M on opening weekend, probably more like $35M-$40M, but a sustained run through May would certainly be promising for cinemas and the comedy genre. This cost $125M, so no doubt Universal is hoping laughs translate overseas too, where it will be debuting a week earlier than stateside.  

Sony’s TAROT is similar to ESCAPE ROOM, featuring teens dabbling in taboo terror. That $9M flick opened with $18M on its way to $57M domestic and $155M worldwide, and also spawned a sequel. Low-budget horror is hot, so this could provide some cheap thrills and even cheaper sequels in the future. Hope you like horror–the industry is lining up 8 major chill pills this summer. Totally killer, dude, if that’s your body bag.

So you wanna talk about sequels? Week #2 sees Disney drop the first of the summer in KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (May 10). Are audiences still going ape-shit for this series? Well, this 50-year-old franchise that spans nine films (soon to be ten) has made $2.1B since the original landed in 1968. 2014’s DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is the high-water mark debuting with $72M and grossing $710M worldwide. APES has been a remarkably consistent saga with the latest trilogy opening stateside with an average of $60M.  

Director Wes Ball (THE MAZE RUNNER) has mentioned that this installment, which is set 300 years after the last film, is the beginning of a new trilogy, so hitting those previous numbers will be key, as these movies typically cost around $150M+ to produce. In other words, this will need to be on like Kong. That’s GODZILLA x KONG to you and me which is heading towards $200M domestic. 

May 17 sees four films in cinemas–IF, THE STRANGERS: CHAPTER 1, BACK TO BLACK and BABES–offering something for everyone, but the reality of the situation is, John Krasinski’s original flick is hardly a sure thing even though Ryan Reynolds takes center stage. In fact, at CinemaCon (the annual trade show gathering of cinemas and studios) in early April, the film received one of the quietest rounds of applause of the year. That’s not good news for Paramount, which has only two films set for release this entire summer. The problem is, this looks to play to very young audiences and even younger families. A live-action MONSTERS, INC this is not. I mean, do kids even have imaginary friends these days? They have phones. And real friends with them 24/7/365. Could be the first misfire of the summer, or maybe the right genre of film at the right time will be enough. 

Focus Features’ BACK TO BLACK is an Amy Winehouse biopic, in which headliner Marisa Abela has been getting rave reviews. Could do some strong arthouse numbers. 

Meanwhile, the second horror flick of the summer sees Renny Harlin (CLIFFHANGER) at the helm of a horror reboot, THE STRANGERS: CHAPTER 1, which is–you guessed it–the beginning of a new horror trilogy from Lionsgate. If you don't have a trilogy these days, do you even make movies, bro?

And finally we’ll see Neon’s BABES drop. While it seems to want to be the next BRIDESMAIDS, in reality the indie R-rated comedy will likely struggle to engage general audiences or secure many theaters in this crowded marketplace. Looks very much like a Netflix film. It ain’t easy being an indie looking on the outside-in these days. Neon, Bleecker Street, A24, Focus Features and other distributors competing against big-time P/A budgets will likely find this out the hard way this summer, as arthouse breakouts over these hot months are akin to winning the Powerball.

Memorial Day weekend–at one time the official beginning of summer films–sees another three films enter the marketplace, but none bigger than George Miller’s FURIOSA: A MAD MAX SAGA, which is the prequel to his 2015 entry, FURY ROAD. Anya Taylor-Joy stars, and looks to make her mark at the box office after starring in several critically acclaimed films and riding loads of accolades. Chris Hemsworth is along for the ride too, sporting a manly beard and bulking physique. Can these two box office busters finally break through? Hey, who cares, this is the George Miller show…and of this there is no doubt…FURIOSA will be the most visually compelling film of the summer. Just like its predecessor. For WB though, the hope is that it actually makes serious cashola. FURY ROAD tripped out at $369M worldwide after debuting with $45M domestic and hitting $153M in the US/CAN. Remember, that film cost upwards of $185M and this looks like another bank banger…so it will need much more $upport this go-round if we’re getting that threequel. 

Sony taps into a reboot over the holiday weekend with GARFIELD: THE MOVIE. We haven’t seen Jim Davis’ frisky feline since Bill Murray was the voice in 2004 and its 2006 the sequel, TAIL OF TWO KITTIES. Those films did a respectable $350M globally, so with Chris Pratt taking over for Murray in the title role, fat cash is expected. For those keeping track, Pratt is also the voice of Mario in SUPER MARIO BROS and Emmet Brickowski in THE LEGO MOVIE. What’s next? Bazooka Joe? Beetle Bailey? This guy’s got vocal range, baby. If IF falters…this kid-friendly flick may pick up the slack. Oh, and lasagna Fridays might make a comeback too! 

Angel Studios is back after their breakout summer last year where SOUND OF FREEDOM ($184M) ended up grossing more than INDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINY ($174M) domestically. That was the shocker of the summer. No dice this year, as their latest film, SIGHT, with Greg Kinnear, looks to play a bit better than this spring’s CABRINI ($20M) but not by much. They also have a drama called POSSUM TROT dropping over the 4th of July. Gonna be another tough sell. Not to worry, SOUND OF FREEDOM II will likely drop summer 2025. You wanna pay your investors forward? Make a sequel. Sequels–still the hottest ticket in the marketplace, sorry OGs. 

May 31 sees Tinseltown sort of take the week off as the only legit studio drops will be Disney’s limited release of YOUNG WOMAN AND THE SEE (which will expand wider in weeks to come) and Crunchyroll’s HAIKYU!!! THE DUMPSTER BATTLE. You know, the volleyball-to-the-extremo anime film you’ve been waiting for all these years. So, yeah, the best thing FURIOSA and GARFIELD have going for themselves…is a two week window without additional blockbuster-level releases. That IMAX window is everything these days.

June sees Sony praying things heat up (or are they praying things have cooled off?) as Will Smith–the former Mr. Fourth of July and Mr. Box Office–takes the wheel of BAD BOYS: RIDE OR DIE (June 7). Remember, this is his first big studio drop since the infamous Oscar slap. Have audiences forgiven him? Or is he officially over like Kevin Spacey? We’re about to find out. 2020’s BAD BOYS FOR LIFE was a huge hit for Sony and a resurgence for Smith as it opened with $62M on its way to $424M worldwide. This will likely be lucky to do half those numbers. The one thing it does have going for it–no competition and drops a couple weeks after Memorial Day. Could still see a decent opening, but might also compete with IF as the bomb of the summer if things go sideways. And they definitely could go sideways fast. 

Did we mention there will be sequels this summer? Here’s a doozy. Pixar’s INSIDE OUT 2 (June 14) looks to build on the success of ELEMENTAL ($496M worldwide) last summer and INSIDE OUT ($858M) which premiered, believe it or not, almost a decade ago. Disney does sequels well. This we know. They also showed 30 minutes of their latest at CinemaCon and received huge laughs. This feels like vintage Pixar. No surprise they’re reviving the TOY STORY franchise soon, and I expect THE INCREDIBLES III, as well. Could this hit $1B worldwide? Well, adjusted for inflation, the OG did $1.1B. Very possible, and one of only four films this summer that probably has a chance. More on those later…and by later…I mean July.

Middle of June sounds like a great place for another horror flick, right? Presto magic: THE WATCHERS (June 14). This is Ishana Night Shyamalan’s (yes, his daughter) feature debut, and let me tell you, she looks like a chip off the old blockbuster. In fact, WB is double-dipping in Shyamalan Cinema as M. Night’s TRAP sets the stage in August. A pair of scares ripe for Ripley’s book of records.

The official first day of summer, June 21, marks an independent-palooza of sorts. With no traditional blockbusters from the studios set for this weekend, the indies have huddled together, hanging with a show of force. Force 4 to be exact–Focus Features’ THE BIKERIDERS, Apple’s FANCY DANCE, Searchlight’s KINDS OF KINDNESS and A24’s JANET PLANET. Yes, all on the same weekend. Face palm. 

"Even the indies can’t seem to work together. Such is the cruel, egotistical fate of Hollywood."

BIKERIDERS will likely get the widest release, as it stars Austin Butler, Jodie Comer and Tom Hardy. Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest, KIDS OF KINDNESS could surprise, although it’s an anthology film, which makes its earning potential a bit more murky, despite Emma Stone making an appearance. 

The only weekend that has a BARBENHEIMER feel this summer is the last Friday in June (the 28th to be exact) when Paramount’s A QUIET PLACE: DAY ONE and Kevin Costner’s HORIZON: AN AMERICAN SAGA: CHAPTER 1 debut. DAY ONE: CHAPTER 1, any1? Oh, there's also a Crunchyroll joint titled BLUELOCK THE MOVIE: EPISODE NAGI. Soccer films...still a tough sell domestically.

While John Krasinski doesn't return for the QUIET PLACE prequel as director (he does produce), New York City looms large as a character, and that setting and increased stakes could propel this third installment to higher heights. The first two did beaucoup bucks–over $630M worldwide combined, and both opened around $50M domestic. This one feels bigger than just a horror flick: it has event-level hype. Can it creep to $200M+ domestic? Shhhh. Keep it on the QT and very hush hush.

Also set for June 28 is YELLOWSTONE: THE MEGA-MOVIE. Nope. Not quite. It’s Costner’s first installment of a two-part epic about western expansion, HORIZON: AN AMERICAN SAGA: CHAPTER 1. And, oh yeah, the second part lands mid-August. The last film series that launched in theaters the same calendar year? BREAKIN’ and BREAKIN’ 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO back in ‘84. So WB and Costner are in good company here. AMERICAN SAGA 2: BRONCO BOOGALOO anyone? You may be thinking BACK TO THE FUTURE II & III opened the same calendar year, but you’d be wrong; they debuted months apart–one was November, and the threequel the following summer. 

So, is this Costner’s second-coming of THE POSTMAN? For those keeping track, WB’s $80M 3-hour epic bombed back in 1997 delivering just $17M total, domestically speaking. How can this not resonate with the audience that has watched his every move on the hit TV series, YELLOWSTONE these past years. Also, Costner had decent success 20 years ago with OPEN RANGE, which, adjusted for inflation, made nearly $100M in North America. It’s a big gamble (reportedly $100M for Chapter 1 and 2) but worth the risk, as Costner hasn’t been this hot since the mid90s and the western genre is ripe for a reboot, partner.

Independence Day weekend sees what could very well be the #1 movie of the summer drop,  DESPICABLE ME 4, as Illumination brings back the minions for a 6th time. Between Minions 1 & 2 and the previous three DM toons, this franchise sits at $4.6B worldwide. Could reach $5.6B by the end of the summer as both MINIONS 2 and DESPICABLE ME 3 both hit $1B globally. 

On the other end of the spectrum, what will probably be the lowest grossing sequel of the summer, A24’s MAXXXINE, from director Ti West and starring Mia Goth. Like PEARL and X before it, this will likely top out at $10M-$12M, as hype has vastly outweighed the box office impact of this series. 

Sony, who has the most releases of any studio this summer with ten films, drops a romantic comedy set against the backdrop of the 1960s moon landing with Channing Tatum and Scarlett Johansson titled FLY ME TO THE MOON (July 12). One of the few original movies out there this summer with much promise, the Apple Films production will certainly cater to boomers and audiences looking for something outside the sequel landscape. Could be solid counterprogramming as the two big studio films, TWISTERS (July 19) and DEADPOOL AND WOLVERINE (July 26), are the only other wide releases through the end of July. 

Speaking of a hubba hubba hurricane, Glen Powell is already a household name thanks to TOP GUN: MAVERICK and ANYONE BUT YOU, but this summer he could ignite and burst into a megastar as he carries the ensemble action/thriller, TWISTERS. Let’s twist again like we did last summer? Er. A few summers ago, Chubby Checker. Yes, this is a sequel to the 1996 film that also became one of the big box office surprises of that summer, finishing second place to a little film called INDEPENDENCE DAY, starring, you guessed it, Will Smith aka Mr. Fourth of July. 

TWISTERS opened with $41M ($98M adjusted) and finished with $495M globally ($985M adjusted). So, as you can see, expectations for the Universal/WB film are sky high. Could this join The Billy Club? Hey, if the box office weather patterns hold, this could end up being the top film of the summer. Yeah, I said it. Everyone likes a good cinematic storm, and this should keep audiences from coast to coast and around the world twisting and shouting on the biggest and loudest screens possible. Sure, the cast isn't the same, but the leads here are the tornadoes and CGI. Glen Powell helps, too.

That brings us to the end of July, and what many are predicting to be summer’s #1 flick by a long shot: DEADPOOL AND WOLVERINE. It’s not the only superhero film of the summer (KRAVEN THE HUNTER, THE CROW are the others) but it sure seems that way. DC flamed out last summer with THE FLASH and BLUE BEETLE, but Marvel had a hit with GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 3, which topped out with $845M worldwide. Those are similar numbers for DEADPOOL 1 & 2 which both grossed over $780M+ around the globe. So, will the addition of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine and Disney/Fox bashing help get this joint smoke out the Billy Club? Could be. Remember, LOGAN himself clawed his way to over $600M worldwide with his 2017 installment. Superhero fatigue? Not likely for this Marvel Jesus. Sure it’s a superhero film, but it might also be the best comedy of the summer, too. If I was in Vegas, I’d double down on this deviant duo. 

"And then there’s August and everything after…as the Counting Crows once crooned."

There are a dozen films set for wide release in the last month of the summer, and possibly more on the horizon as smaller distributors shoot their shot. That means the most at the box office, right? Ah, if only the supply was equal to the demand. The problem is, August is usually a dumping ground, and as you will soon see by the randomness of the content, this will likely be true again in 2024. 

Sony leads the way with the oft-delayed HAROLD AND THE PURPLE CRAYON (August 2). At least there’s a poster out there finally, which looks something like THE DARK CRYSTAL and while a kiddie flick could do some premium business in late summer, quality will be key here. Obviously the one thing it has going for it, is the fact it’s based on a very popular children’s book…and also drops nearly a month after DESPICABLE ME 4. 

The following week sees what could be the biggest surprise of the summer...or the biggest bomb. Yes, Eli Roth’s BORDERLANDS (August 9) goes for gonzo greatness in a place where Marvel’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY once had tremendous success years ago. It’s no surprise Lionsgate is attempting to market this like the video game version of that film–which happened to be the highest-grossing domestic drop of the summer a decade ago. 

Is this TANK GIRL? VALERIAN? THE FIFTH ELEMENT? Yes. All these things. But it also might just be weird enough to break through after a summer of seemingly infinite sequels. Lionsgate certainly has a dream cast–Cate Blanchett, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Jamie Lee Curtis and Ariana Greenblatt–and will be riding a wave of video game adaptation hits, so the question will be…can Roth tap into teen audiences? Well, the video game series has revenues of over $1B…so there’s already a plethora of fans plugged in.

Also set to provide some heat the same weekend is COLLEEN HOOVER’S IT ENDS WITH US. The romance novel was a massive bestseller and should provide some late-summer fireworks, although I still contend mid-June was a much stronger release date. Still, summer lovin’ cinema is far and few between so this may be just what female audiences have been craving.  

Wait? There’s more. Yep. Warner Bros. sets M. Night’s chill pill, TRAP this weekend too, and MGM has THE FIRE INSIDE, a boxing drama starring Brian Tyree Henry. Expect both to get waylaid by the competition–such is the case late in the summer of cinema when folks are camping and soaking in the last of the sunny adventures outside. 

August 16 sees another couple of sequels on marquees, as 20th Century’s ALIEN: ROMULUS and WB’s HORIZON: AN AMERICAN SAGA CHAPTER 2 attempt to rustle up the cinemagoers for one last cattle drive. 

The Alien franchise splashes onto the big screen after Disney failed to capitalize on the Predator series, pushing PREY directly to Hulu. They won’t make the same mistake twice as this long-gestating anthology of films has a fervent, face-sucking fanbase. Fede Alvarez (EVIL DEAD) leads a cast of unknowns into a familiar lair, and in an interesting timeline set between ALIEN and ALIENS.  The last installment, ALIEN: COVENANT rolled out with $36M domestic on its way to $74M and $240M worldwide. 

Kevin Costner will return for CHAPTER 2 less than two months after CHAPTER 1–that’s gotta be a record, right? Yep, sure is, partner. Depending on the success of the first installment this may play bigger than expected…or go straight to HBO max. 

The last two weeks of the month, including Labor Day weekend, is a variable crapshoot of cinema. Lionsgate has THE CROW reboot, while MGM tries to sneak in the thriller, BLINK TWICE, starring Channing Tatum and directed by Zoe Kravitz. Sony employs its bang-bang release strategy, firing off the faith-based THE FORGE (August 23) while another Spider-Man spinoff, KRAVEN THE HUNTER (August 30). 

KRAVEN THE HUNTER will likely finish off the troika of troublemakers for the studio, following MORBIUS and MADAME WEB into the red, as Sony hasn’t had any success outside VENOM and Spidey himself. 

"So, how do we compartmentalize this non-BARBENHEIMER summer?"

I say do what Barbie did–embrace this strange, new cinematic world. A world without Marvel leading the charge. As OPPENHEIMER taught us, a box office bomb can mean something entirely different than what Hollywood traditionally knows it as. And if the industry can steer clear of outright bomber missions, and see a few sequels overperform, there could be robust, late-season fireworks. On the flip tip, if these continuing sagas fail to satiate the cinematic masses, it could be a big ol’ box office dud of a summer. This we know–multiple strikes and pandemic issues have affected the output of the studios this season, but also tastes are rapidly evolving. Hollywood is playing catch up right now. And while summer 2024 will likely get a pass no matter what happens at the box office, 2025 will be a true test of the overall health of the theatrical landscape. 

So, kickback, slurp down a sequel or two or twelve…or fourteen if you’re nasty…and remember…they’ll probably make the BARBENHEIMER movie in the very near future. We already know Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt have the chemistry–just need Mattel and Christopher Nolan to sign off.

Jeff Bock

April 23, 2024


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