After roughly three to four weeks of somewhat low-key box office returns, the summer turns to its would-be saviors: two first-time sequels to blockbusters released over a decade ago, both retaining the originals’ directors and much of the same casts. Pixar and ‘90s nostalgia rescued summer last time around. Can they do it again?
June 2016 Box Office Forecast
By Michael Lynderey
June 2, 2016
1. Finding Dory (June 17th)
Everybody loves Dory, but first, a bit of relevant history: summer 2015 launched with a big Marvel film, Age of Ultron, which was simultaneously massive and underwhelming, relative to inflated and demanding expectations. It was followed by several weeks of respectable hits (Pitch Perfect 2 and Mad Max: Fury Road) and noted disappointments (Tomorrowland and Poltergeist among them), with an average of results so unexceptional that the summer box office appeared to have stalled into a glacial pace. Then, coming to the rescue, two June films put May in the dustbin: first, Jurassic World, which set the opening weekend record (and then just kept going, and going, way past all reason and common sense and well beyond $600 million), and then Pixar’s Inside Out, which held down the fort with Pixar's second biggest gross ($356 million).
So far, the blueprint for summer 2016 is remarkably (eerily!) similar to last year: we've endured a big Marvel film to start off the proceedings (Captain America 3 will finish roughly $50 million under Ultron), and then the last several weeks have given us a slate of films whose box office numbers have ranged from middling to disappointing. So will June save the day again? The two contenders for Jurassic World and Inside Out’s mantle are remarkably similar to their predecessors, in both ancestry and potential. Independence Day: Resurgence takes the '90s nostalgia slot previously occupied by the Jurassics, and of course Finding Dory is the big Pixar legacy project. Can they save this summer?
The two leads are back - Albert Brooks again voicing Marlin and Ellen DeGeneres reprising her Dory (though the now very old Alexander Gould as Nemo has been replaced), and there's a smorgasbord of new actors to fill the supporting cast, some who were unknowns when the first film was released (Ty Burrell, Idris Elba), and some who certainly were not (the incomparable Diane Keaton and Ed O'Neill, who are nice to see working in a big film again). The focus is of course on DeGeneres' title character, Dory of the Paracanthurus species, a breed of fish that, to my eye, looks cuter in live action than it does with CGI. Beyond these formalities, there's really little I can say here about the current standing of Pixar and its films that is not already self-apparent – the studio’s history is storied and august (and Nemo was a definite high point), they still command sturdy respect among both critics and family audiences, and, more recently, a handful of their films have been the subject of vaguely less enthusiastic reception (of course, those are the ones I liked better).
The film's opening weekend will surely be the summer's second-highest to that point. If Dory is great, it can probably beat Civil War and win the season. And even if it's just pretty good, it will likely still sail past at least, say, $250 million, and easily. Is there really any other possible outcome? Can the film score a 20% on the TomatoMeter, open at #2, and inspire a deep and long-lasting animosity on the part of its audience? The total implausibility of such outcomes is why Pixar never really appealed to me.
Opening weekend: $133 million / Total gross: $399 million
2. Independence Day: Resurgence (June 24th)
The original Independence Day was sort of the first big entry in the modern-day alien invasion wave, released in a more innocent time when foreigners from outer space were not haranguing Earth on a weekly basis. Indeed, our little planet and its landmarks have been violated so often since 1996 that alien invasions are now relegated to merely the brief opening scenes of many films, as the background for another story (like The Host or The 5th Wave).
The planetary violation is helmed again by Roland Emmerich, and the film seems to follow the format of the original pretty closely: major cities are destroyed for the second time by the same set of malfeasant extraterrestrials (I hate to be cynical, but will humanity rebuild them again?), and the villains' new pet trick is launching buildings into the sky before depositing them back to earth in an unruly manner (resembling a few scenes in Transformers 4). Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman are back (though Sela Ward is now the president), and many of the smaller characters also return (even Judd Hirsch!), though there is one glaring absence: Will Smith, who is not reprising the role that took him to his first major summer blockbuster, and whose character thus presumably died a horrible death in the intervening 20 years. The children of the original are now old enough to arm themselves and participate in the combat: Jesse Usher takes over as Smith's stepson, and Maika Monroe is now the ex-president's daughter (Liam Hemsworth, most recently of The Hunger Games, is a new male lead).
Independence Day 2 carries a somewhat opaque subtitle ("Revenant" was taken), but after the box office wonders performed by last year's dinosaurs and Star Wars, I would not cast doubt on the drawing power of nostalgia. The logical hope here, I think, is a somewhat more restrained and less offensive version of what Jurassic World pulled off last summer, and many of the same fundamentals are all here: as was true of Jurassic Park, the original Independence Day is a classic of 1990s blockbuster filmmaking (winning both its summer and year with $306 million), it is a film that’s been thoroughly watched and re-watched by what must be several generations of audience in its 20 years of existence, and it was the type of summer-defining mega-hit not often found these days – one based on an original idea (relatively speaking) and inflated into pop culture by the force of spectacular marketing, instead of a pre-existing property (or, in Jurassic's case, based on a novel for adults). It’s hard to say how far Resurgence will go, but as with Finding Dory, history and memory will give Independence Day a respectable opening weekend.
Opening weekend: $100 million / Total gross: $255 million
3. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (June 3rd)
Out of the Shadows will be the sixth entry in the Ninja Turtles film series, a franchise that once walked with giants, or above them: the very first Turtle film, coming at the height of their popularity, grossed a shocking $135 million in the spring of 1990 (roughly $275 million in today's dollars), before its sequels took in less and less, in mostly chronological order. As the turtles' hold on the children of America decreased, it was logical to assume that the franchise had retreated into the rearview mirror. The 2014 Michael Bay-produced reboot shockingly changed that equation, and followed Guardians of the Galaxy in August 2014 into becoming one of the summer's most unexpected box office successes, opening with $65 million and finishing with $191 million. Like it or not, kids still love those turtles.
That new film, by the way, was particularly interesting for one little-known element: in a reprise of the twist ending to Iron Man 3, the Turtle reboot's plotline was originally set to take the Turtles' iconic villain, Japanese-born Oroku Saki (the Shredder), and westernize him into Eric Sacks (William Fichtner), who had adapted the Shredder name - but at some point between production and release, quiet changes added a few scenes and unmerged Saki and Sacks into two separate characters, though the tell-tale surnames remained. And so Shredder's back this time, along with his never-ending collection of ninjas, The Foot, originally intended as a parody of Marvel Comics' The Hand, though by now there's scarcely a difference.
Comic book adaptations these days are all about pleasing the fans, and there's no shortage of appeal to that base here: after roughly three decades of waiting, they'll get to see mutated rhino/warhog-spinoffs Bebop and Rocksteady on the live-action big screen (though the original Turtles II presented similar characters but changed their names and species); and the film adds two plot lines that even I think are pretty cool: the Technodrome, a sphere-shaped traveling fortress that now looks bigger than ever and looms over New York City (shades of, yes, Independence Day), and Krang, an offensive-sounding and very conversational pink brain with tentacles for hands that co-habits inside the chest of a giant brute. Critically, no Turtles film has ever passed into the side of tomato freshness, but the 2014 reboot had almost a 3.0 box office multiplier, so someone must have liked it. Its sequel should dominate the box office well enough, possibly even holding #1 all the way up until Dory hits us up on the 17th.
Trivia: this is one of the only blockbuster-esque films this summer ‘’not’’ to open overseas well over a week before its North American date. The turtles are patriotic!
Opening weekend: $73 million / Total gross: $200 million
4. Central Intelligence (June 17th)
The two biggest films of June are set mostly in stone, but there'll be a real battle for #3. This very legitimate contender for that spot is another entry in the genre that will live forever, the buddy film, teaming this time Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart, two stars who physically complement each other somewhat perfectly, if you think about it. Between the Ride Alongs, The Wedding Ringer, and Get Hard, Hart has more or less mastered the art of this subgenre, while The Rock is on a real roll right now, even by his standards. Helmed by Rawson Marshall Thunder, previously of Dodgeball and We’re the Millers, this teaming seems like solid, perfectly inoffensive summer entertainment, and is also one of the few original properties among the season’s would-be blockbusters, although Mr. Johnson has by now morphed into something of a humanoid franchise.
The film’s trailer has a few memorable money shots in there where The Rock cleverly embarrasses himself (like the high-school age simulcara of Johnson performing a musical number, a sight that once glimpsed, is not easily scrubbed from memory). So the opening could be strong, and if the film’s good (and there's at least a decent chance that it is), it could finish with a very respectable number among all those sequels and video game adaptations. Central Intelligence could even be the first summer blockbuster since all the way back to Captain America: Civil War to score a “Fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes! (anything is possible).
Opening weekend: $45 million / Total gross: $125 million
5. Warcraft (June 10th)
“Warcraft" is one of those words I’ve heard people use in casual conversation over and over for many years, smiling and nodding my head in agreement without ever really knowing what the word meant or what they were talking about – sort of the same experience I've had with other mysterious but ubiquitous words or phrases of the modern world, like "Angry Birds", "Facebook", "Hello Kitty", "Cell phone", and so on.
Some furious googling later, it looks like what the video game Warcraft amounts to on the big screen is a Lord of the Ringesque fantasyland, perhaps up in space this time, with orcs and humans engaged in consequential battles of the species. Aside from the more recognizable Paula Patton, the film’s leads, human and otherwise, are played by Travis Fimmel, Robert Kazinsky, Dominic Cooper, and Ben Schnetzer, some of whom look a little alike, and many of whom have bristled on the edges of stardom in indie films or television shows. Warcraft is helmed by sci-fi auteur Duncan Jones, who directed the indie Moon (2009), which got a lot of good notices, and Source Code (2011), one of many great recent Jake Gyllenhaal films. Those are respectable credentials, and there's bound to be a fanbase that's bursting at the seams to see a live-action Warcraft, but critics are already ramming this film vociferously; reviews that make it all the more likely that it’ll only be hard-core fans, and few civilians to their cause, who will attend on opening weekend.
Despite all this, Warcraft is still the film I expect, perhaps foolishly, to fight out a victory on June 10th, a weekend that right now carries the hopes of no less than three films on its shoulders - Warcraft will be competing with sequelitis' own Conjuring 2 and Now You See Me 2, a trifecta of films that has a semi-plausible chance of opening above $40 million (each, of course... I think).
Opening weekend: $45 million / Total gross: $101 million
6. Now You See Me 2 (June 10th)
Along with concurrent opener Conjuring 2, this is one of a pair of competing follow-ups to two of summer 2013’s biggest surprise hits. How they got there was a little bit different, and may give us a hint about how their sequels will play out: Now You See Me arrived with little buzz, started with a relatively soft $29 million, and finished with $117 mil, while The Conjuring broke out big, both opening and finishing with roughly $20 million more. The original film’s story – about betrayals and double-crosses among heist-prone magicians - was loopy, chaotic, and unmanageable, and the sequel’s promotional material promises much of the same for those already on board. Not to play the age card too hard, but the first film was an ensemble with a balanced mix of younger leads (Jesse Eisenberg, Dave Franco, Isla Fisher) and older, Oscar-winning thespians (Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine). The sequel brings most back, with Lizzy Caplan stepping in for Fisher, this time, and Jay Chou (Seth Rogen's assistant in The Green Hornet) and Daniel Radcliffe (who presumably needs no introduction) joining the proceedings.
I was a bit more bullish on the film's chances until I realized that this has been a summer, and, indeed, a year, that's given a beating to the expected success of several sure-thing sequels. Superhero films Batman v. Superman and Civil War are the only 2016 follow-ups to outgross their predecessors, and unless Now You See Me’s magicians plan to don even longer capes and fight crime, I’m not so sure they can beat part one.
Opening weekend: $43 million / Total gross: $100 million
7. The Conjuring 2 (June 10th)
Set in some of London’s finest haunted houses, The Conjuring 2 documents another case from the files of paranormal investigators and tai chi enthusiasts Ed and Lorraine Warren, retold here with what I presume is a detailed attention to historical and factual accuracy. The Warrens’ stories, whether real or imagined, appear ever more franchise-ready, and the first Conjuring had one of the better horror film performances of all time (really), opening to a strong $41 million and finishing up at $137 million (it's still that rare straightforward horror film that makes it to $100 million, much less opens that high). While this is called “2”, The Conjuring has in fact already inspired a spin-off, Annabelle (starring that ugly haunted doll), a film that was successful enough ($84 million!) to conjure its own sequel, slated for next summer. That brings us to another rule of horror box office: for whatever reason, first-time horror sequels pretty much never ever end up outgrossing their predecessor. That rule is usually broken once or twice per decade, but probably not here: the first film was exceedingly well-reviewed and buzzed about for months, and I think some of The Conjuring’s energy and good-will was expanded on Annabelle’s chances. We’re also roughly three years away from the first film, and that's an eternity for horror fans. Still, there's been enough money left on the table at the box office this summer to ably fund a decent opening weekend here, even with early-month competition running rampant.
Opening weekend: $41 million / Total gross: $90 million
8. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (June 3rd)
This mockumentary of a parody of a satire about the pop music industry is just the second film from the comedy trio The Lonely Island, after their little-seen Hot Rod from 2007. As required for mocking pop culture, Popstar includes the usual glut of celebrity cameos, and arrives at a release date that's about a year away from the Entourage film, which seems to have been a much less ironic treatment of some of the same material. Popstar is, strictly speaking, right now the only film on this list to be a sure thing: it’s getting good reviews, although neither of its recent brothers in comedy, Neighbors 2 or The Nice Guys, seems to have been helped all that much by critical approval. The film’s title, subtitle, and premise may be confusing to some (like me), and some others may not get the joke (I’m working on it), but a lack of discernible comedy competition until at least Central Intelligence ought to give this one a few decent weekends.
Opening weekend: $14 million / Total gross: $38 million
9. Me Before You (June 3rd)
Filling the apparently much-needed June romance slot is this English film, based on a U.K. novel that may or may not be more popular overseas than over here. As the poster somewhat hints but does not totally give away, the male lead is in a wheelchair, cared for by the woman with whom he eventually partners in romance. Stars Sam Claflin and Emilia Clarke are somewhat established names, although in Dwayne Johnsonesque fashion, Claflin has made his way into so many franchises (Pirates of the Caribbean, Snow White, The Hunger Games), that this is remarkably his first major film outside of one, while Clarke (famous for being on that show) makes this a nice change of pace from blowing errant machinery away as Sarah Connor in last summer's Terminator sequel. In a summer so far bereft of romantic dramas (so much so that indies like Love & Friendship and The Lobster are doing much better than expected in their limited bows), there may be a niche this one fills, although when it comes to these June romances, Me Before You will probably play out more in the ballpark of The Sisterhood of Pants Travel [sic] than The Notebook. That’s not so bad.
Opening weekend: $9 million / Total gross: $33 million
10. Free State of Jones (June 24th)
This is a true story of the 1860s American Civil War (that’s the one Captain America wasn’t involved in), about the pseudo-alliteratively named Newton Knight, a Mississippian farmer who led an anti-Confederate rebellion that occupied a good chunk of his home state. The $65 million budget is very ambitious, and star Matthew McConaughey, whose acting acumen is at its peak, seems like the right choice to headline a dark, meaningful film about race, betrayal, and violence, set in the American South. The time period is somewhat undercovered in American cinema these days, which may be a plus, and these quiet drama films often play long and sturdy during the summer months, especially when entertainment for adults is in scarce supply (as it now inevitably is).
Opening weekend: $8 million / Total gross: $32 million
11. The Shallows (June 29th)
For whatever confounding reason, there are less horror films released in June than in just about any other month of the year (even December, believe it or not), which means that 1) Someone should have told that to the Conjuring sequel, and, 2) The Shallows' release date is a mere two days away from profitability. All kidding aside, this thriller is headlined by Blake Lively, who sketched out a nice success for herself last year headlining the intriguing if frustrating The Age of Adaline, and whose name recognition will lift the film somewhat from anonymity. The director is Jaume Collet-Serra (who made lots of those Liam Neeson thrillers like Run All Night and Unknown), and the premise, about a surfer trapped by a particularly nasty and presumably rather starving shark, is a callback to another shark-baiting thriller, Open Water from 2004, and perhaps also to the more honestly-titled Shark Night 3D (2011). This more elegant-looking film could do reasonably well; the Wednesday opening doesn’t make that much sense, but I guess the film is just trying to get away from the Spielberg-led onslaught of its oncoming weekend, although there couldn’t be too many people who would otherwise be forced to choose between The Big Friendly Giant and a big hungry shark.
Opening weekend: $12 million (5-day) / Total gross: $29 million