May 2015 Box Office Forecast
By Michael Lynderey
April 30, 2015

Imagine eating Thanksgiving dinner with these people.

The first month of summer season 2015 is defined by the inevitable (Avengers), the possible (Tomorrowland), and the improbable (Mad Max: Fury Road?). There's a notably diverse slate of releases, offering two comedies and a musical along with the usual action spectacles. But there's no question that one film looms above all rest.

1. Avengers: Age of Ultron (May 1st)

The sequel no one was asking for (I'm reasonably sure) arrives at last, ready to assume its mantle as the biggest film of the year (or at least until December; can Star Wars 7 overtake it? Or if Clint Eastwood and Bradley Cooper make another movie?). I can't help but feel that Avengers 2's shine has been dimmed somewhat by the massive success of Furious 7, much like Thor (2011) had his thunder stolen by the breakout run of Fast Five (puns not intended. I would never!). Still, this franchise, these characters, and the whole doggone Marvel Cinematic Universe are all immensely popular, so much so that interconnecting-universe filmmaking has redefined big-budget tentpole movies across the board (funny, I always thought all movies were already set in the same place, even when that doesn't make any sense).

In so far as the film itself goes, the gang's all back together again, off to combat Ultron, an animated robot sourpuss who out of sheer tedium has decided to exterminate the whole human race (dogs, too). On the one hand, Ultron seems like he's just marking time until Josh Brolin's constipated-looking Thanos arrives in the next two Avengers movies (as I understand it, Thanos has concocted a dastardly plot to exterminate the whole human race! He's an American original).

On the other hand, Avengers 2 will still be huge, even though I do expect it to fall under the first film's James Cameron-like $623 million, even if not by much. The film will, however, break the opening weekend record to such a degree that it will be impossible to break it again, except by another Avengers film. Marvel fatigue will set in some day, one day. But that day is right now far from sight.

Opening weekend: $235 million / Total gross: $573 million

2. Tomorrowland (May 22nd)

In a month with many smaller-scale (relatively speaking) titles, Tomorrowland stands out clearly as the box office middle ground between the Avengers and the rest. Nothing else this month has much of a plausible path to $200 million. Tomorrowland is helmed by Brad Bird, a strong director with a track record worth advertising (in particular The Iron Giant and Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol). It is headlined by George Clooney, who's almost entirely avoided big-budget special effects films, and by Britt Robertson, an up-and-comer who carried the decent if unexceptional The Longest Ride just a few weeks back. Somewhat Tron-like, the film is still shrouded in a lot of mystery, and reviews, which will be important, could technically go either way. I wager they'll vote yes. The film is handled by Disney, which more than any other film studio has dominated 2010s popular culture, so to underestimate Tomorrowland's prospects is probably unwise.

Opening weekend: $74 million (4-day) / Total gross: $240 million

3. San Andreas (May 29th)

It's got a title that could mean anything, but San Andreas is a disaster film whose California setting and "Is that my daughter in there???"-rescue plotline vividly recall Volcano, the sainted Tommy Lee Jones's respectable 1997 disaster title. I'm tempted to call a relatively low number here, but somehow films in this invariably money shot-filled genre always pull themselves up by their bootstraps and into decent final grosses, no matter how generic they look (The Day After Tomorrow and 2012 certainly exceeded my expectations). The concept is almost foolproof, and the film's star, The Rock (sorry, "Dwayne Johnson"), rarely fails to deliver when given a large budget and effects that match his personal scale. A lengthy part in the trailer for Paul Giamatti, star of the greatest film of the 2000s (Sideways), is a large plus and will surely account for most of the box office below.

Opening weekend: $45 million / Total gross: $120 million

4. Poltergeist (May 22nd)

Horror films rarely open in May, but Poltergeist was moved up from a perhaps just slightly drearier July slot to the big Memorial Day weekend, where it might just come close to emulating The Conjuring's performance from July 2013. Looking at the bigger picture, the film's existence means that some very bad man's (or woman's) mission to remake every notable horror film of the 1970s and 1980s draws one step closer to completion (as I recall, when it does, the prophecy will be fulfilled and the armies of hell will be unleashed; so please don't remake Child's Play). This film brings closure, in a way, since it was the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake that started the redo wave in 2003, and both the original Chainsaw and Poltergeist were helmed by the same man, Tope Hooper. The original Poltergeist was huge in the summer of 1982, while the two sequels decreased consecutively in both quality and box office. It's tough to say how it'll do against Tomorrowland, but talented director Gil Kenan (Monster House) will likely help Poltergeist '15 stand out from the ever present glut of haunted house films.

Opening weekend: $42 million (4-day) / Total gross: $115 million

5. Pitch Perfect 2 (May 15th)

It's the month's other sequel to a shockingly popular 2012 film. The original Pitch Perfect was an only modestly amusing college musical (of sorts) that broke out of nowhere to net $65 million in the fall of 2012, inspiring a hit song in the process (yes, "Cups"). The sequel brings back Anna Kendrick, a modern musical luminary if there ever was one, and Rebel Wilson, whose star power has grown fitfully but steadily since. There's no question this follow-up carries with it a certain aura of anticipation, at least for a particular demographic, even if there aren't any visible gimmicks added in to distinguish it from the original. The first film's wide release opening came in at $14 million, and in theory, it's hard to see that number doubled here. But I think we live a long way past theory now. P.S., I genuinely believe Pitch Perfect 2 will open over Mad Max: Fury Road, which is out on the same weekend. You heard it here first.

Opening weekend: $37 million / Total gross: $95 million

6. Aloha (May 29th)

Two Best Supporting Oscar nominees finally get a lead film of their own! All jokes aside, Bradley Cooper can perhaps be called the biggest movie star of the decade, and Emma Stone's got a big share of credibility, too. The presence of Rachel McAdams, Alec Baldwin, Bill Murray, and more luminaries is but a testament to the remaining draw of director Cameron Crowe's name. Crowe's work has been hit-and-miss of late, but this romantic comedy with a vacation-ready setting could play well as counterprogramming for those who think Hot Pursuit is too extravagant. The plot and trailers may not be particularly distinguished, but the month is otherwise lacking in an old-fashioned dramedies without the presence of special effects. Yes, Aloha was pushed back from December, but a similar trajectory didn't doom Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby, and there's more of a natural all-around summer feel to the film's Hawaiian setting.

Opening weekend: $28 million / Total gross: $89 million

7. Mad Max: Fury Road (May 15th)

It may surprise some that this sci-fi action extravaganza is ranked so low on the forecast list, but I don't really see another Mad Max sequel as much of a box office success. The original films never became money-making phenomenae, at least on the domestic front (the third one, Beyond Thunderdome, is the highest grossing, at $36 million in 1985 dollars). And while Mad Max's release date gives it enough distance from that unkillable superhero team, I'm not sure it will make a difference.

Star Tom Hardy, a spectacular actor and memorable Bane, is still unestablished as a draw, while cohorts Charlize Theron and rising actors like Nicholas Hoult and Zoe Kravitz are difficult to recognize in post-apocalyptic palette. Mad Max: Fury Road probably looks chaotic and confusing to those unfamiliar with the material, and the trailers don't establish a clear plot or explanation for the visual assault on the senses that they guarantee. In short, the film is a big gamble. This time, I'm betting on the safe side.

Opening weekend: $28 million / Total gross: $60 million

8. Hot Pursuit (May 8th)

Hot Pursuit teams Reese Witherspoon, coming off critical acclaim as both actress (Wild) and producer (Gone Girl and Wild), and Sofia Vergara, who's cultivated an amusing persona, used particularly well in the trailers for the film. Director Anne Fletcher has a lot of experience helming successful romantic comedies like The Proposal, though she's not always critic-proof. The actresses are immensely likeable and seem particularly well-matched, and the movie looks like unpunishing entertainment and an old-school buddy comedy. In a cinematic universe where few will be talking of anything but this month's #1 film, Hot Pursuit, as its weekend's only opener, could provide a reasonable escape.

Opening weekend: $22 million / Total gross: $53 million