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June 2016 Box Office Forecast

By Michael Lynderey

June 2, 2016

Fish always seem to be getting lost.

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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?

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




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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


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