July 2016 Box Office Forecast
By Michael Lynderey
June 30, 2016

Yeah, I saw what you said about The Martian. And me.

With the biggest movies of the summer (all two of them) now behind us, the more modest July seems to aim for only mid-level blockbusters, divided about evenly between the CGI-infested kids' table and slightly more adult-oriented sequels. So far this year, July is also the month where it's hardest to guess which film will end up as the highest grossing (sorry, Spielberg fans, although you never know).

1. The Secret Life of Pets (July 8th)
2016 box office has been solidly divided into the haves and the have-nots, with the haves being those six films that just about everybody has seen (the $300 million+ grossers Deadpool, Zootopia, B V S, Jungle Book, Civil War, and Finding Dory), and then all the rest coming in at a much lower bracket (the seventh highest grossing film of the year is X-Men: Apocalypse, at a mere $151 million, far removed from biggest film #6). CGI films can sometimes surprise, but I'm not sure The Secret Life of Pets has the gait to make its way past $200 million. The film's story, about what domestic animals are up to when unobserved by human eyes, remind me of Zootopia for whatever weird reason, even though I know that the plots are actually very different.

Secret Life has some real fundamentals in its favor: the animals are of course adorable, and the trailers bask in the kind of cuteness and low-key humor that seem to engineer a good audience reaction. The voice cast is knee deep in talent (Louis C.K., Steve Coogan, Kevin Hart, and the resurgent Dana Carvey, among others), although that isn't likely to matter all that much (do C.K. and Coogan resonate among the pre-pubescent?). The Secret Life of Pets has already been released here and there overseas, including in the U.K., where it has been decently reviewed, although that's no longer a guarantee of lasting quality (Independence Day: Resurgence went from a 51% Tomatoes score carried mostly on the backs of overseas critics, all the way down to a more accurate 32% once U.S. critics had their say, proving that it's not Europeans who have the more refined taste). In any case, Pets should do at least pretty well; it does follow on the heels of another CGI film that's been a massive success, although Minions came in three weeks after Inside Out last year and that didn't seem to tame it all that much.

Opening weekend: $53 million / Total gross: $162 million

2. Jason Bourne (July 29th)
One of this month's four-time sequels to a 2002 release (with Ice Age 5 being the other), Jason Bourne is a film that could easily outgross every other July title (a battle that's probably limited to the top three movies on this list). Matt Damon's Bourne has turned from a possible one off summer hit from long ago to one of the more iconic spies in pop culture, with box office that peaked at $227 million for 2007's third film (the lowest-grossing Bourne is still the Damon-less spin-off). So the will of the people says they love this stuff, but the Bourne films are a franchise that I always had a curious detachment from - as best as I understand it, after four films and fourteen years, all the characters are still talking about the events of a single botched CIA operation from 2002? Can't they just get over it? Damon is still riding high from his recent celestial overstay in The Martian, and the addition of Supporting Actress Oscar winner Alicia Vikander is intriguing, as are the return of Julia Stiles and a new CIA director played by Tommy Lee Jones, who seems to be popping up behind the desk as a shady operative in a lot of thrillers lately.

I assume Jason Bourne has been missed, and here he's once again in the safe hands of director Paul Greengrass, who helmed every Damon-starring Bourne but the first. Jason Bourne also has a smart release date: a time, late July, by which time entertainment for the over 35 set may be in scarce supply. In short, this part five should play as another solid series entry, even if I do believe that the Bourne films’ biggest days are roughly a decade behind them (and am potentially very, very wrong about that, as always).

Opening weekend: $62 million / Total gross: $155 million

3. Ghostbusters (July 15th)
From the viewpoint of those who follow cinema, this Ghostbusters reboot is the most "controversial" film of the month (we filmgoers are easily shaken), and the one perhaps most difficult to predict. The original Ghostbusters has grown into an iconic symbol of the 1980s. A June release, it was arguably the highest grossing film of 1984, initially coming in second, but after a re-release or two, finally overtaking Eddie Murphy's ginormous Beverly Hills Cop, itself a likely reboot target, with a total of $242 million to BH Cop's $234 million (this was in that long gone-by time when, even given five guesses, few could have correctly predicted the biggest film of each year). Ghostbusters II was big enough ($112 million) five years later, but then the franchise was sentenced to lay dormant for two and a half decades of internet chatter, speculation, adulation, and wild rumors of a third film. And here it is.

The draws here are director Paul Feig and star Melissa McCarthy, who've teamed before for the spectacular Bridesmaids and The Heat, as well as the more fitfully funny Spy last summer, three films that operate on a downwards curve of box office ($169 million, $159 million, and $110 million, respectively), with that trend likely to be reversed here - I assume. McCarthy's non-Feig films (Tammy, The Boss) have been decent grossers even in the face of unkind reviews, and Ghostbusters goes back to the well of what worked in reuniting her with Bridesmaids co-star Kristen Wiig, who's spent much of the time before and since that film lending her talents to lower-budget indies (she was also memorable in the much-more viewed Anchorman 2 and The Martian). Their co-stars and fellow travelers in ghost-busting are two actresses who've not headlined films quite yet, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones, both current SNL employees (so that's three SNLers out of four in the cast, implying selection bias).

While American posters so far do not announce his presence, there's also a supporting role by Chris Hemsworth, presumably cuing endless and unfunny jokes about his physical appearance. Ghostbusters '16 should open among the highest of McCarthy grossers, I think, and what lies for it beyond that will be determined only by what's right now unknowable: if people like it. Not having seen the film, fans have already reacted with indignation (not to be confused with the Philip Roth adaptation, Indignation, opening July 29th), taking to the internet to ask the sort of moral and philosophical questions that plague such reboots: Will Ghostbusters do justice to the first film? Will it successfully both translate and update the tropes of the original to 2016? Will this film cruelly "rape" the childhood of many innocent viewers? Does it know that "No" means "No"? And so on. It will be good to finally get answers.

Opening weekend: $48 million / Total gross: $140 million

4. The BFG (July 1st)
The traditional Fourth of July slate, used to launch gargantuan blockbuster films since at least the time of the Mayflower landing, has stagnated in recent years, producing only the occasional blockbuster and sticking mostly to less ambitious grossers (Despicable Me 2 was the last July 4th release to cross $100 million). This year will likely follow in that milder way, with the most notable new film being Steven Spielberg's adaptation of Roald Dahl's 1982 book, a film that will probably etch out a win over at least the other new titles on the Fourth of July weekend, though the Purge is feeling mighty patriotic, too. In its story of a small young child's uncommonly benign meeting with a giant and potentially harmful being, The BFG seems oddly similar to another coming Disney film, the Pete's Dragon remake, which bows next month and also has posters contrasting the tiny child figure with a large mass of creature that barely fits in the frame.

Spielberg's name is gold, although not recently tied to very many family films (Tintin being a sort of exception), while Dahl's output (Willy Wonka, Matilda) has inspired much memorable children’s entertainment (indeed, The BFG itself was already made as a 1989 TV adaptation). As with the secret pet life film above, reviews are fairly solid, but I'm not sure there's enough of an appetite for this somewhat low-key, villain-less, material (and two weeks after the world-busting Finding Dory, at that) to guarantee the film much more than a solid, early hundred millions finish this summer.

Opening weekend: $32 million / Total gross: $125 million

5. Ice Age: Collision Course (July 22nd)
July's other four time sequel to a 2002 release successfully proves the centuries-old truism that all franchises, if given enough entries, end up taking the action to space (Star Trek: First Contact neatly reversed this by setting a film on earth). I've seen most of the Ice Ages but for the life of me I've long stopped following the plot, though I've noticed that as the Ice Age crew journeys toward the stars, the film's advertising has created posters beseeching "Bring Scrat home" (gladly, but only if they keep Matt Damon) and lots of other space paraphernalia. The franchise has been with us for so many years that many may have forgotten that the first Ice Age was among the first of the really big CGI hits, and that this series is thus just about the last of the old school CGI franchises still standing (Shrek is in cryogenic hibernation, while Madagascar seems on a time-out). The voice cast members from the original are all back once more, led by John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, and Ray Romano, whose famous sitcom was still on the air when the first film premiered. In the 14 years since their arrival, the critical acclamation of these Ice Ages has ventured downwards at an alarming rate, from 77% for the first film to 57%, to 45%, to 37%, and now to a score of 14% for Collision Course, admittedly so far culled mostly from ice-envious critics in Australia, where the film has been out for about two weeks (Australian exhibitors asked for it really politely). It's been four years since the last film, but even with Dory and the secretive pets competing for the same box office, I think there have to be enough kids (or extremely loyal now 20 somethings) out there to give this Ice Age a decent run, and a place somewhere in the month's upper bracket.

Opening weekend: $32 million / Total gross: $99 million

6. Star Trek Beyond (July 22nd)
One of the month's more unpredictable entries is this third entry in the Star Trek reboot universe, and technically the 13th Star Trek film of all, if we start counting at Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979 (let’s). With J. J. Abrams, helmer of the last two Treks, having moved on to directing what somehow ended up the highest-grossing movie ever made (and which shall remain unnamed here), part three duties are taken over by Justin Lin, maker of no fewer than four films in the Fast & Furious franchise (no scene where a car jumps from one spaceship on another?). The cast is mostly all back, and as much as I don't want to write it, Star Trek Beyond will most likely be the last major release starring Anton Yelchin. Here, the crew, stranded on an unknown planet, fights off another collection of hostile aliens, some of whom are said to be played by Idris Elba and Sofia Boutella, even though we kind of have to take the studio's word for it (they're encased under totally unidentifying makeup and it could just as easily be Paul Giamatti or Warren Beatty in there as Elba). Boutella, by the way, is having an interesting time in films where she can be seen more clearly - she was Samuel L. Jackson's enforcer in Kingsman, and will star in, and yes, as, The Mummy next year.

Anyway, the Star Trek series re-launch in 2009 was epic, delivering one of the bigger summer blockbuster surprises of recent years. In terms of the actual stats, the 2013 sequel didn't do all so bad at all ($228 million domestic gross, 86%-worthy Rotten Tomatoes reviews), but it seems to have lost the expectations game somewhat. More to my point, all 2016 sequels are kind of suspect now (as I write, there are still only three follow-ups this year to have outgrossed their predecessors, B V S, Civil War, and Ms. Dory), which also gives me a lot of pause in assessing Star Trek Beyond's chances. Few would doubt that it'll take in less than the last one, but even then, am I calling this one too low? Probably. Great reviews can double these numbers.

Opening weekend: $35 million / Total gross: $89 million

7. The Purge: Election Year (July 1st)
The Purge film's premise of a night where all crime is legal has, interestingly, become considerably more plausible since its initial release, which is either a testament to the foresight of these films or a disservice to North Americans ("A Purge? It hasn't been called for yet... just a suggestion"). The Purge series itself has turned its focus from a small-scale home invasion thriller to Warriors-esque journeys of survival through the unforgiving big city night, this time around upping its doses of political satire (I imagine that the specific wording of the Purgers' call to "Keep America great" was not selected coincidentally). Here, an unruly senator (a real Purge-hater, she) is targeted by higher-ups for purge night-extermination (certain government officials were typically off-limits for purging on, but I guess we now know that senators are fair game). The Purge 3 is headlined again by Frank Grillo, who looks like the Punisher and played a would-be vigilante in the second film, and a few minor players are back as well. The posters are in the tradition of great morbid humor, picturing revelers/purgers dressed as horror film mask versions of many characters from American folklore, including Uncle Sam, the Statue of Liberty, and Abraham Lincoln.

I think, like the Saw films before it, the Purge has developed a more-or-less consistent box office base: the first film finished with $64 million and the second topped it with a leggier $71 million (If you don't count them as horror films, then they don't even violate my golden, unimpeachable rule of how first-time horror sequels rarely outgross their predecessors). Reviews are thus far uncommonly strong for a Purge film, which should help it, and I assume a fourth Purge entry, a documentary, will be here forthwith.

Opening weekend: $35 million / Total gross: $78 million

8. The Legend of Tarzan (July 1st)
The Tarzan story reminds me in so many ways of The Jungle Book that I had to double-check if they weren't somehow related - aside from the setting (Congo here, India there), Tarzan, a child raised by surprisingly domestic-minded forest-dwelling beasts, could be Mowgli all grown up. This latest retelling is a very expensive (remember the new rule; big budget = bad!) iteration of the adventures of Tarzan, who was last depicted in theatrical live action by Casper van Dien in 1998 and before him by Miles O'Keefe in 1981's higher-grossing remake (of course, there was a big Disney animated version in 1999, but animation isn't real). The Legend of Tarzan's lead is played by Alexander Skarsgård, who was a memorably heartless villain in the Straw Dogs reboot, and whose first big-screen lead role this is. His supporting cast is filled-out by the increasingly prolific Margot Robbie (as Jane, of course), along with the still-villainous Christoph Waltz (the man is incorrigible) and Samuel L. Jackson, who is turning in the first of what look like two atypical roles in 2016 (his near-unrecognizable part in Tim Burton's upcoming Miss Peregrine is the other). Tarzan is helmed by David Yates, director of any number of Harry Potter films, including this year's. Reviewers aren't really all that happy with Tarzan '16, and audiences have rejected one genre film after the next this year, but maybe the massive breakout of The Jungle Book has ginned viewers up for a bit of more of the same.

Opening weekend: $24 million / Total gross: $59 million

9. Lights Out (July 22nd)
The month's only outright horror film is another entry from the James Wan-produced factory of movies about hateful, angry ghosts (say, on a totally unrelated note, can someone please revive my favorite subgenre, the traditional slasher film? Mr. Wan?). The offended party seeking vengeance on the human race here is a ghost with an aversion to appearing in the light, and its prey seem to be led by Teresa Palmer, who's bounded in and out of some interesting genre films in years past, including the zombie romance Warm Bodies, which I whole-heartedly recommend. As is true for characters appearing in horror films, forecasting horror film box office also often requires shooting blindly into the dark, but some questions have been graciously answered for us: Lights Out has already been screened (at June's LA Film Festival) and reviewed (100%, albeit from five critics), following both the buzz-building model and general release period of the first Conjuring film, also Wan's. I don't think we're looking at quite such a large breakout here, but the trailers are creepy, the rating is PG-13, and even with Ghostbusters around (not in this film, of course, where they're sorely needed), there should be enough room in the market for a decent horror film breakout.

Opening weekend: $23 million / Total gross: $55 million

10. Bad Moms (July 29th)
Bad Moms is the latest from the team of Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, who've been buzzing around film comedy for years, often in scripting duties on Hangover movies (here, they direct, too). The movie's tale of imperfect and overworked moms rebelling against presumably stepfordian perfect mothers is a premise with some comic promise, and its face is Mila Kunis; she’s been a fixture in hit summer comedies, having starred in Ted and Friends with Benefits, which unlike Ted was a film both underrated and underseen, and where her chemistry with Justin Timberlake was excelsior. Here, Kunis is the ringleader of a large ensemble of talented comic actresses: on her side are the ubiquitous Kathryn Hahn, and Kristen Bell, who earlier this year was a good foil in a bad movie, The Boss. On the other end, the evidently armed and dangerous perfect mothers are led by Christina Applegate and Jada Pinkett Smith, as well as Annie Mumolo, who co-wrote Bridesmaids with Kristen Wiig, and who’s playing her biggest role to date here. Bad Moms' title and advertising seem to recall other jovial summer hits about suburbanites who elect to go rogue from their chosen professions, like Bad Teacher and Horrible Bosses, and as a female-led ribald comedy, there's bound to be some crossover with Ghostbusters. If reviews are good, it could play well for a few weeks. If not, three days will have to be enough.

Opening weekend: $18 million / Total gross: $48 million

11. Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (July 8th)
Films about weddings are big in the summer (or maybe at any time of year, really), and it's probably no coincidence that Mike and Dave are slated to open one week before the exact 11th anniversary of the legendary Wedding Crashers (everybody commemorates that one... right?). The title’s Mike and Dave are brothers who end up saddled with a pair of vulgarian love interests, and the film has what in the late 1990s would have been called a hip young cast, headlined by Zac Efron and Anna Kendrick, who need no introduction and aren't getting one here. They are joined by Adam Devine, who had a couple of good moments in the Pitch Perfect films and gets a bigger role here, and Aubrey Plaza, very funny in The To Do List, and playing what looks like yet another ribald sexpot in this film (if it ain't broken...). Efron and Plaza are re-teamed here after January's Dirty Grandpa, which was a scattershot, crude, awful, but often quite very funny film that received too harsh an accreditation from critics. Mike and Dave are rated R (presumably for reasons other than a handful of mild profanities), and are set in Hawaii, which tends to help the box office of films almost as much as setting them in Vegas. For those keeping score, this is Efron's third 2016 comedy, after the aforementioned film about the old pervert and Neighbors 2, and barring reviews that either really hate them or really love them, Mike and Dave will probably come in somewhere smack dab in between the box office of those other two Efron titles ($35 million for the former, and $54 million, thus far, for the latter).

Opening weekend: $14 million / Total gross: $42 million