May 2016 Box Office Forecast
By Michael Lynderey
May 5, 2016

What did he say about Marvel movies?

May is here, and in recent years it's easily been the least-populated month of the year: there are just seven new wide releases this time out, falling short of even the eight released in May 2015. The month has traditionally been known for launching the biggest films of the summer, from the original Star Wars to Spider-Man '02, but since we've just (more or less) lived through Deadpool, Zootopia, B v S, and the Jungle Book, a shocking off-season quartet of $300 million+ grossers, can a May really even impress us anymore?

1. Captain America: Civil War (May 6th)

Trying to ignore this year's four $300 million earners (we'll pretend they never happened), the real summer blockbuster season starts here, with the somewhat unnecessary sequel to Captain America 2 (really, I thought all plot lines were satisfactorily resolved last time around). And while the film's title might facetiously claim otherwise, as everybody knows, this is for all intents and purposes another Avengers film, with every single member of earth's mightiest stepping back onto the stage for an encore from last year's sequel - except for that one guy who died horribly, as well as Thor and the Hulk, both of whom are stuck in cinematic time-out in their respective subplots (as far as I can remember, Loki is still on the throne of Asgard, while the Hulk is meticulously blending into the greenery on a remote Caribbean island). Fans will finally see Chadwick Boseman's Black Panther and Tom Holland's Spider-Man, and the villain part, while apparently insignificant enough not to earn his own poster, will be enacted by Baron Zemo (Daniel Brühl), another pseudo-Nazi functionary with a name that could plausibly inspire either laughter or fear. Civil War is unmistakably Robert Downey Jr.'s picture, too, in a major way: he and star Chris Evans glare angrily at each other across many a bus station poster, and Downey will also materialize in next year's neo-reboot of Spider-Man (a seething headline from two weeks ago: "Spider-Man 2017: Michael Keaton out, Downey in").

A trivia fact to amaze your friends with: the last blockbuster to open on the first weekend of May that was 'not' based on a Marvel comic book property was poor, underperforming, Mission: Impossible III, all the way back in 2006. It remains a quality film that, in its undergrossing ways, seems to have forever doomed this prime and iconic release slot for any would-be hit that isn't based on a Stan Lee creation. Marvel has the weekend booked up for the foreseeable future, too, all the way through the inevitable Guardians of the Galaxy 2 next year, then 2018's unpreventable Avengers: Infinity War (I still hope that, in a brilliant twist, Thanos is killed by what turns out to be the real villain in the very first scene), followed by Avengers 4 the year after that, and finally, 2020's "Untitled Marvel film", whose existence is vague, but believe me, it is coming.

So, anyway, leaving aside all the useless carping, Civil War will probably be the biggest movie of the summer (then again, that's what Ultron said last year, and look how that turned out). And to my great surprise, despite the vaguely lukewarm reception to last May's Avengers 2 (which finished with $459 million), Civil War is now inspiring the kind of ecstatic reviews usually reserved for Pixar films or Oscar winners about the sexual abuse of minors. All this despite the fact that Civil War seems to consist primarily of the plot element I always hated the most when reading comic books: when superheroes met up and fought each other, a situation as uninteresting to me as one could think of, because in fights between two generally well-meaning do-gooders, everybody held their punches, no one could ever die or even get seriously injured, and nothing was at stake. I would have predicted less, but Civil War was tracking at $170 million when I checked very recently (three weeks ago), and we should all know now that when headlines announce ominous developments like "Deadpool tracking for $50 million opening!" or "Jungle Book slated for upwards of $70 million!", they somehow end up only underpegging the final number. Big time.

Opening weekend: $199 million / Total gross: $458 million

2. X-Men: Apocalypse (May 27th)

From the other side of the Marvel universe (albeit not from the "official" Marvel Studios, as ardent fans know) comes what will most likely be the second biggest film of May, an entry in a franchise whose history is one of the odder of recent major film series, even by modern, reboot-happy, standards: Blade (1998) aside, the first X-Men (2000) was pretty much the first superhero film of the current era. A solid hit given the expectations of the time, it was followed by a successful sequel (X2, 2003), a somewhat underrated but widely critically-derided third film (The Last Stand, 2006), a spin-off, Wolverine, that remains the consensus pick for easily least liked entry in the series (2009), a prequel seen as having righted the ship (First Class, 2011), another Wolverine spin-off, real quality this time (2013), a time-travel film carefully merging and submerging realms of continuity (Days of Future Past, 2014), and finally, whatever you make of Deadpool (2016), which technically exists in the X-Men universe (although as far as I'm concerned, so does Legally Blonde).

What all these films (and their box office tallies) have suggested is a franchise that, between the maligned The Last Stand ($234 million) and lionized Days of Future Past ($233 million), has more or less reached its box office peak - except for, of course, when a few X-Men are shipped-off into supporting roles in Deadpool, a film that is currently busily outgrossing any X-Men motion picture of your choice (In a landslide!). On the other hand, people so liked the last two main X-Men films that there should be an uptick, still, even if the alluring time travel and cast-merge toppings of the previous film have been taken off the menu this time around. In fact, careful viewers will note that the X-Men timeline has actually been quietly rebooted, but it's an internal reboot, within continuity: because of the enterprising on-screen time travelers in Days of Future Past, the events of most of the early films have actually been changed (just like in 2009's Star Trek, when the film executive played by Eric Bana traveled back and cleverly altered everything from before Kirk captained the Enterprise, allowing a whole series to be created from the remains of the previous).

Leaving aside all this brain-numbing skulduggery, though, the focus in this entry is on the one-named Apocalypse, an ancient mutant who carries that very same motivation of most summer film villains (his moniker is not meant to be ironic), and who is played here by Star Wars' Oscar Isaac, commandeering his second big franchise. Facing him this time are First Class luminaries like James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender (who does these films in between R-rated indies), and the indefatigable Jennifer Lawrence and Nicholas Hoult, among other now-familiar actors introduced to this iteration in 2011. Bryan Singer is back, here helming his fourth X-Men film, having directed the first two and the last one. This is all very good, and there's every reason to think X-Men: Apocalypse will be another solid, quality, sci-fi film, even if it's unlikely to break new ground in a month that already seems dominated by another superhero team.

Opening weekend: $115 million (4-day) / Total gross: $264 million

3. Alice Through the Looking Glass (May 27th)

Once more to the well of Alice we go (literally). Film fans may not have dug the 2010 original all that much, but for box office enthusiasts, the first Alice in Wonderland is notable as the absolute highest-grossing film to be directed by Tim Burton (unadjusted, of course), and as the first really massive recent live action adaptation of a Disney fairy tale (it has inspired the existence of Maleficent, the two Snow Whites, and all the rest since). After Avatar took full use of 3D, Alice, another film in the format, rode its coattails well enough, opening to $116 million and finishing with a solid $334 million.

When it comes to big genre films, three years is about the right time to release a sequel, if you must. Alice doubles that waiting period, so I'm uncertain of its chances in matching the original, although unlike many belated sequels, this one brings back pretty much anyone of consequence from the first film: Johnny Depp's Mad Hatter, of course, along with Mia Wasikowska (still Alice), Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, and Alan Rickman, in what will be his last screen credit. For a villain, it adds Sacha Baron Cohen, who's worked with Bonham Carter a lot to memorable results, not least because their unhyphenated two-word surnames seem to sound so well together. Burton, whose name is pointedly mentioned in advertising, returns only to produce, with directing duties having been assumed by James Bobin, who re-vamped the cinematic Muppets franchise and directed its two most recent entries. Going up against X-Men sets Alice up for a likely second place finish, but it might have respectable legs with weekend matinees.

Opening weekend: $68 million (four-day) / Total gross: $172 million

4. The Angry Birds Movie (May 20th)

A big-screen version of the Angry Birds is basically inevitability personified, or cinemafied. As everybody knows, the Finnish video game on which it is based has become a cultural touchstone and monument of normality in modern-day America (and it's about time Americans embraced the intricacies of Finnish culture!). And of course, given its immense popularity and ubiquitousness, it is also a game that has remained unplayed by me ("I'll wait for the movie", I always said, and will keep my promise). Without even checking, I imagine the game is wildly popular across all demographics and does not even particularly skew to children, and it's precisely for that reason that the film's box office prospects confuse me so: will the many grown fans of Angry Birds quite so willingly elect to attend a CGI cinematic interpretation of their beloved time-passing operatus? (A stage musical was obviously the better fit.)

The cast consists of a cheerful selection of current comedy character actors (Jason Sudeikis, Josh Gad, Danny McBride, and Bill Hader, among others, and if you took 10 guesses before reading their names, you'd have probably gotten at least two of those right). The film is also given an air of prestige by the inexplicable presence of Sean Penn (!?%?!), in the role he may or may not have been born to play. While I'd normally mention how this is the only real, no-holds-barred, children's film in town this month, I'll refrain from the thought because pre-teen audiences have already been ridiculously spoiled this year, giving $300 million first to Zootopia and then to The Jungle Book. So they've been served. And they'll be going into Cap and Alice, too, but if the Angry Birds game remains a rite of passage for the modern human, I assume it'll perform at least respectably at the cinemas, too.

Opening weekend: $35 million / Total gross: $140 million

5. Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (May 20th)

Was I alone in hoping that Neighbors 2 would indeed turn out to be a sequel to 1981's oddball and downright frightening comedy-semi horror film Neighbors, which found John Belushi terrorized by a bleach-blond and thoroughly satanic Dan Aykroyd? The answer to that rhetorical question is yes. The 'other' Neighbors struck gold two years ago and opened with a moderately shocking $49 million, before just barely edging out Knocked Up, $150 million to $148 million, to become the highest-grossing live-action film for star Seth Rogen (it's Zac Efron's biggest non-cartoon, too). And so a sequel was inevitable, as perhaps was its gender-switch to an even more untamed and destructive group of college students (it's supposed to be ironic that the girls are worse, I guess).

Rogen's career arc almost resembles that of the X-Men franchise, without the special effects - he had a strong start with consecutive hits, a cooling-off there somewhere for a couple of few years (2009 to 2012 or so), and now a massive return to box office respectability, beginning with This is the End (hint: the title lied) and leading to this, his first non-CGI franchise. Efron and Rose Byrne are back, too, with the roles of inexhaustible teenage villainesses being filled by Chloë Grace Moretz and a few other young actresses, like Selena Gomez and Kiersey Clemons (from last year's underseen Dope).

The trailer is fitfully amusing for those who gravitate to such material, and sequels to comedy blockbusters often open bigger than the original (see The Hangover), but I have a feeling the first one struck gold at what more or less was the ceiling for this franchise (it may have even opened above that ceiling, and yes, that does certainly make sense). There'll be a little competition across the multiplex for those seeking either comedy (The Nice Guys) or loopy humor for the intoxicated (Angry Birds, I assume), but the ingredients for this follow-up seem to have been assembled well enough to do the job.

Opening weekend: $41 million / Total gross: $100 million

6. The Nice Guys (May 20th)
Here's a title evidently meant not to be taken literally, following a 1970s private detective (Ryan Gosling) and the muscle (Russell Crowe) as they look for a missing teenage girl who wouldn't be out of place in a Neighbors sequel, judging by the trailer. It's good to see Crowe experiment with genres, and ditto for Gosling, adorned here with the kind of egregious and stylized mustache that should frighten off any potential teenage audiences. More to the point, The Nice Guys is sort of a retro buddy film from Shane Black, the man who crafted buddy films long before they approached retro; he wrote Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, and Last Action Hero, and directed Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and then the behemothic Iron Man 3.

Most of the aforementioned were excellent, and The Nice Guys may well be, too, which it will have to be: unless critics really love it, I can see this detective/comedy throwback getting lost among all the noisy ensemble sequels that seem to dominate this summer month in particular. Gosling previously anchored another L.A. period piece, Gangster Squad, which was marginally less humorous, and there are some neat supporting actors (Kim Basinger is always good to see), but the undeniable skill attached to the film may not be enough to oust neither Rogen's sorority sisters nor Finland's raging fowl from the top spot of the month's busiest weekend.

Opening weekend: $21 million / Total gross: $51 million

7. Money Monster (May 13th)

This May's increasingly token post-Avengers slot brings us Money Monster, about a televised financial wiz (George Clooney) and his producer (Julia Roberts) placed in a decidedly uncomfortable hostage situation by a righteously aggrieved victim of the financial system (Jack O'Connell). Money Monster is directed by Jodie Foster (it's her fourth film as helmer), and it carries a certain distinction it shouldn't be too ashamed of, frankly: it's the one film this month that I think just has no shot at all at making $100 million, but that's okay. Quality counts, even for a box office prognosticator.

The post-Marvel release slot was occupied last year by Hot Pursuit, a somewhat overpanned if unspectacular film with likable big stars. The stars are likable here, too, and O'Connell, most recently of the war film Unbroken, is destined for a strong Hollywood career. Money Monster (what a title) has an earnest trailer that may remind potential viewers of other Clooney entries into the worlds of politics and social issues, like Syriana, The Ides of March, and the Clooney-directed Good Night, and Good Luck. Name recognition and goodwill should give the film a little breathing room, but it looks more and more every day that Captain America is going to obliterate all who dare even glance at its general direction.

Opening weekend: $13 million / Total gross: $30 million