July 2018 Box Office Forecast

By Michael Lynderey

July 7, 2018

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Some of the biggest movie stars of the modern era each carry a new release into this July, but there's a superhero movie coming out, so, uh, that's the end of the horse race. This month, nine films immediately enter wide release: seven are sequels, the eighth is a superhero spinoff parody, and the remaining title stars Dwayne Johnson. He's the ultimate rescuer of truant franchises, of course, but this month, he's on our side.

1. Ant-Man and the Wasp (July 6th)
The (soon to be reversed, in an incredibly easily manner) closing scene horrors of Avengers: Infinity War are not a factor in this new Marvel Cinematic Universe film or its events. If you know how Infinity War ended, though, wouldn't it be humorous if, an hour into Ant-Man 2, half of its characters simply disappeared into thin air, mid-car chase?

The biggest movies of the summer (oh, and the year) are now safely behind us, and so July is left to fend for itself with a series of mid-tier blockbusters, the kind of films that would be thrilled to finish around the ballpark of a $140m domestic box office total. Ant-Man and the Wasp is one of the two exceptions.

Paul Rudd is our star, as the man who shrinks and grows with errant ease, with Evangeline Lilly his partner in righteous battle against the forces of darkness, and Michael Douglas returning as Ant-Man, model one. Michelle Pfeiffer joins the ever/forever-all-consuming Cinematic Universe as the prototype for Lilly's hero, who was established in the original film as having vanished in 1987; as foreshadowing dictates, her return to the land of the living was thus completely inevitable (has Michelle Pfeiffer even seen Ant-Man? I hope not). Amiable and droll supporting players like Michael Peña and David Dastmalchian return from the first film, Walton Goggins and Hannah John-Kamen make stabs at villainy, and as I understand it from the advertising, the film is a light, un menacing affair through special effects and action, without high or pretentious stakes.

In a surprise and completely unexpected turn out of events, Ant-Man and the Wasp has become the first of twenty Marvel Cinematic Universe films to have received a "Rotten" mark on Rotten Tomatoes (... obviously, not. Bad joke. It's Fresh, 88%, and so on and so forth, with the MCU therefore beating the consecutive "Fresh" records of Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Alfred Hitchcock, Michael Bay, etc.).

Barring untoward agitation by the new July films of 1990s Baby Boomer movie stars Tom Cruise, Denzel Washington, and Meryl Streep, Ant-Man should easily be as #1 for the month as it is on this forecast list. The original Ant-Man was more of a sleeper hit ($57 million open, $180m total), but Ant-Man and the Wasp seems set to follow in the footsteps of Thor 3 and Captain America 2 as a Marvel sequel that out-reviews and out-grosses its predecessors. Its genre is in high demand, as we know, because a superhero film has been the biggest movie of its month four times so far this year (Insidious 4 in January and Ready Player One in March are the inexplicable exceptions), and Ant-Man should with relative ease make it a round five months out of seven. It arrives at the tail end of an unprecedented wave of seemingly inexhaustive good-will toward superhero films by the public, after Black Panther ($699m total), Avengers: Infinity War ($673m), and Incredibles 2 ($468m. Wait... r.... really?), and, as stated, carries with it unimpeachable reviews that promise a viewer all they could possibly wish to demand from such an enterprise.

Opening weekend: $111 million / Total gross: $300 million

2. Mission: Impossible – Fallout (July 27th)

The sixth Mission: Impossible film is the one reasonable challenger to the Marvel Cinematic Universe for domination of this month. So the title, "Mission: Impossible", is probably accurate at last.

As with his July compatriot, Denzel Washington, Tom Cruise soldiers on from the 1990s through the 2010s as a traditional movie star, headlining thrillers and action films with aplomb like nothing has changed. And maybe nothing should have. Though many of his 2010s adventures have been successful from the irrelevant point of view of quality, only three have reached Cruise's traditional benchmark of $100m, Edge of Tomorrow (which finished with $100.2m on the dot), and the last two Mission: Impossibles. And so part six is on the way.

Mission 6 takes on a "The gang's all here" persona, with trailers highlighting the presence of series regulars Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg (who is more funny?), as well as resident femme fatale Rebecca Ferguson, the increasingly masterful Alec Baldwin, and Michelle Monaghan, as Ethan Hunt's paramour from the third film (kudos to the series for maintaining Hunt's love interest for a surprising length, at least since 2006). The nefarious all-knowing bad guy from Mission 6 (Sean Harris) has returned, having fled whatever incarceratory facility was fruitlessly trying to hold him, while added to the roster are Henry Cavill, as a foe who may well turn friend, and Vanessa Kirby, who's just been cast in that Johnson-Statham Fast and Furious spin-off, so she must do action well.

Christopher McQuarrie, who had the reigns on part 5, returns to direct, which is probably a good thing, though a friend of mine has accurately bemoaned the fact that this franchise had finally dropped its tradition of hiring a different director for every film (something it had in common with the Friday the 13th series, for example, so it's a healthy idea).

The first two Missions were released to reviews that were mainly positive (Tomatoes: 62%, 57%), although the franchise has since gone way beyond, and positioned itself as existing at only the peak of blockbuster respectability (70% for part 3, and scores in the 90s for the next two). The last two films totaled $209m and $195m, and part seven will probably follow suit somewhere along the line. And you know, these films' box office grosses are almost the highest you can achieve these days if you're both 1) not based on a comic book or young adult series, and 2) are all out of giant robot explosions.

Whether or not this is the last Mission: Impossible is uncertain. As soon as you complete the mission, there's always one more.

Opening weekend: $62 million / Total gross: $213 million

3. Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation (July 13th)
Since "movie stardom" seems a repetitive and exhausted theme in this forecast, I must mention that Adam Sandler had a remarkable run as a consistent delivery man of $100m-grossing live action film comedies, roughly from The Waterboy in 1998 to Grown Ups 2 in 2013, with a spare year or two of breathers in between (including two Hotel Transylvanias, he's got 15 $100m roles to his name as a lead, up there with anyone). A little time has passed, however, and, as may also be true of his fellow world-dominator of the early 21st century, Will Smith, Sandler now makes a rather lot of films that play only on Netflix, where the attendance price per film is likely around 13 cents.

But he still has his Count Dracula. The new Hotel Transylvania changes both its franchise-typical release date and setting to match it, as Sandler's haggard count and his old-time friends and enthusiastic frequent co-stars (David Spade's invisible man, Kevin James's frankenstein, Steve Buscemi's werewolf) leave their darkened woodland sanctuary for a pleasurable cruise ride in the Caribbean sea, which will, given a rapid-fire and convincing explanation, not pose rigid danger to any nocturnal creatures who loathe the sunlight. The threat to these creatures of the night is actually a friendly boat hostess who is secretly named Van Helsing, although since 21st century movies love plot twists so much, her allegiance may well change to genuine Dracula love interest.

As always, the monsters look kind of cute and kind of cool, and these films are generally harmless and fitfully entertaining. They had acquitted themselves nicely to the fall release configuration, opening in late September ($42m the first time, $48m the second) for a few good pre-Halloween Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons, as children shifted into the mood of one of the greatest holidays (the first film finished with $148m; the second with what is likely a franchise high, $169m). Though the fall is more visually appropriate, the summer strategy of matinee-filled days and bursting weekends should be no less fruitful, and I wouldn't rule out a re-release in time for All Hallow's.

Opening weekend: $58 million / Total gross: $165 million

4. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (July 20th)
Ten years after the original (with an extra day or two to gin up the suspense), here is a sequel taking upon itself the most obvious and unavoidable subtitle imaginable. The first Mamma Mia!, a rampant musical conjugated from the ABBA catalogue, opened on July 18, the same day as The Dark Knight (and Space Chimps) and rather definitively won that battle (at least against Space Chimps. Whether Dark Knight emerged triumphant is debatable). Mamma Mia! was counterprogramming at its most eager, as the film successfully located all Batman dissenters and conduced them to visit the theatre.

Much of the story in part 2 seems to go into hazily-timed prequel territory, with wild child free traveler Lily James filling in as a young Meryl Streep, and encountering the three future movie stars (Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan, and Stellan Skarsgård in current continuity) who may or may not have fathered her daughter (Amanda Seyfried). The supremely interesting paternity question was teased, teased, and ultimately unanswered in the first film, and will likely remain as such, if you're as still super-curious as I am after all these years.

In the present day setting, additions to the cast consist of Cher, who is roughly two decades too young to play Meryl Streep's mother, and who has been cast as exactly that, and Andy Garcia, possibly playing his standard walk-on of love interest to starlets of a certain age. Streep's two busybody friends (Christine Baranski, Julie Walters) are around in both timelines, as are her three aforementioned paramours. The younger cast are mostly more unknown than not, with the exception of James, who caught Baby Driver's eye last summer and Winston Churchill's stream of obscenities last fall, and Jeremy Irvine, who was nice in the War Horse movie, and has been deprived of an equally weighty American film role since (I'm not sure if this qualifies, but it's a start).


The first film opened with $27 million and finished with $144m, and, spitting in the face of adjusting the numbers, there is really no particular reason to think history won't repeat itself, if not necessarily as tragedy or farce (depending on your point of view on this music; I kind of like it). One look at this summer's box office returns sees a field of superhero and superhero-adjacent cinema dominating, while films aimed at - I don't know - older women? - such as Book Club, sneak nascently up the charts, though still invisible entirely to franchise-eager fanboy eyes. I know there is a crowd out there, and they're coming.

Opening weekend: $41 million / Total gross: $143 million

5. Skyscraper (July 13th)
Having sweated and toiled in physically carrying over franchises from the brink of doom and despair, the best ever President Johnson takes a break in 2018, starring in two original films, each with just one word for a title, released exactly three months apart. Skyscraper has the title and setting of a 1970s disaster film, but adds the one man-against-the-odds of formula of Die Hard and Under Siege for some flavor.

The hunger for genres is appropriate. In his quest for action movie supremacy (long ago successful completed), Skyscraper star Dwayne Johnson has sampled just about every formula, with hearty appetite- the buddy film (The Rundown), the television remake (Baywatch), the historical epic (Hercules), the natural disaster movie (San Andreas), and even the Rob Schneider-humiliating transmutation horror show (Tooth Fairy, a script I can only imagine Schneider had passed on in roughly 2001, and then only after considerable deliberation). In Skyscraper, Johnson acquits himself into a latter day Bruce Willis, as a hard-working dad whose family has been trapped in a towering Hong Kong building besot with horrors of every conceivable kind previously depicted in these films (blazing fire, gun-toting evildoers, maybe even that creepy man from the high-rise in Poltergeist III).

Among the supporting players - not getting their face on the poster but still in our hearts - is Neve Campbell, a legend of my teenage years, in her first wide release role since Scream 4 in 2011, and Scream 3 in 2000 before that (Oh. That's... a while). For the film's direction, Johnson reunites with Rawson Marshall Thurber (of Johnson's Central Intelligence and someone else's We're the Millers).

Johnson's Rampage was reasonable in April (opening at $35m and currently being dragged against a chalkboard to $100m), and Skyscraper should play as escapist movie star entertainment in the same range, with summer legs propping it up so as no dragging to 100 is necessary. Maybe.

Opening weekend: $40 million / Total gross: $115 million

6. The Equalizer 2 (July 20th)
What the 2014 television adaptation The Equalizer began as is a Statham-esque thriller, with a former employee in a very violent profession dropped into suburbia and forced to protect its helpless/hapless residents from well-armed meanies. In no time at all, it all descended into Friday the 13th, with Denzel Washington playing an unstoppable killer in the Jason Voorhees tradition, and playing it well. The film's big ending set piece featured Jason/Denzel in a closed-off location, using cutlery and other improvised household tools to kill off Russian gangsters one-by-one, with the soon-to-be-violently destroyed villains functioning as the film's stand-in for screaming teenagers. Washington's Equalizer was so good at his job, in fact, that by the very last scene of the film he had single-handedly eliminated essentially the entire Russian mob, all the way up to its emperor up in his cozy foreign estate. It seemed so easy.

As with Tom Cruise, Denzel Washington remains one of the few genuine movie stars, the kind who headlines an average of a film a year and refuses to join existing cinematic universe, franchises, or buddy films with another big name (teaming with Chris Pratt in The Magnificent Seven remake was a minor exception, and almost forgivable). In fact, the man's Equalizers are starting to bear more than a passing resemblance to Cruise's Jack Reacher escapades, and indeed, just as Jack Reacher 2 set up a daughter figure for Cruise's hero, so does Equalizer 2 present Denzel with a youthful mentoree (Ashton Sanders, Chiron of Moonlight) who may or may not be his offspring. Supporting roles are filled by Pedro Pascal, Bill Pullman, and Melissa Leo, all as former professionals in spycraft, and the trailer is casually topical, peppering itself with scenes of Washington on the hunt for very bad people who indulge in sexual crimes.

And so, if you want to see an impervious killing machine serially eliminate the dredges of humanity, you're probably in luck; the moviegoing public seems to like The Equalizer, they do, so I see an opening somewhere within Washington's regular wheelhouse, with a $100 million gross essentially guaranteed given the pre-occupation studios have with dragging films to that still-important total. And who knows? Depending on the run time, that body count may be another number that tops 100.

Opening weekend: $35 million / Total gross: $100 million

7. The First Purge (July 4th)
In The Purge: Election Year (2016), a female U.S. Senator was running for the presidency on an anti-Purge platform in some fuzzily-determined future year, and in an election that seemed to be, for the first time since 1789, taking place in a month other than November.

In the film, one of her constituents, and fellow Purge refugee, told her that the key to electoral college victory was winning the state of Florida. As it so happens, she did, and so the film implied that with her rise to the presidency the Purge would henceforth be abolished (oh, uh, "Spoiler alert"?).

As we know, things didn't quite work out that way in life (no female U.S. Senator has ever won Florida in a presidential election, for one thing), but the film has to stick to its own truth, and so future purges were presumably off the table for now. On the other hand, The Purge 3 made a lot of money, and therefore a fourth Purge film was still in urgent need of having itself made. As such, we find ourselves this time in the prequel position.

The first Purge, about one suburban family fighting back a night when all crime is legal, took over a sleepy weekend in June 2013, opening to $34m and stealing #1 heartily from the underrated Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn comedy The Internship. Subsequent purges placed themselves on or around the Fourth of July weekend, in the interest of irony, or perhaps because that release slate hasn't carried many huge movies to draw away audiences lately, so The Purges may as well have a shot. Part 1 had the biggest opening and mildest total, $64m, while The Purge: Anarchy (2014) finished with $71m and the third chapter totaled $79m. The steps are small, but it's the right direction.

That Purge: Election Year was also notable for using "Keep America Great" as its advertising tagline, playing off of a popular slogan ("Make America Great Again") that was apparently making the rounds in the 2016 election season (and evidently has now been retired; mission rather quickly and definitively accomplished).

"Keep America Great" was such on-the-nose satire, indeed, that, as was totally predictable, the candidate it was meant to make fun of has already registered its use as his official re-election slogan for the 2020 U.S. election (do you really think anyone cares that they're using a slogan that was originally meant to mock them? Be serious.).

This new Purge doesn't have a catchy tagline, though its first, teaser poster featured the words "The First Purge" vibrantly emblazoned on a big red baseball cap, so its allusions and political references aren't a secret. And, given that this new Purge film opened on Wednesday and took in 9 million dollars, there's also not as much mystery and suspense as to its fate. How "Keep America Great" will work out for its other user is another question.

Opening weekend: $41 million (5-day) / Total gross: $86 million

8. Unfriended: Dark Web (July 20th)
The first Unfriended's plot was a Thirteen Reasons Why with a more pro-active bent, as a teenage girl who had committed suicide rose digitally from the grave and embarked on a campaign of murderous vengeance (although in the interest of maintaining a modest body count, the aggressors numbered at less than thirteen). Unfriended used a kind of clever bit of gimmickry, a film consisting of a computer screen that contained several online views of teenagers engaged in a long conversation about the plot. Each was eventually killed off and taken off line and out of sight (this is spreading; the upcoming film Searching is also set entirely on a computer screen).

The sequel title casually and pulpilly burrows a popular piece of terminology that already sounds like a horror film subtitle; dark web is internet that you need special permission to access, presumably for some nasty reason. Given... events... in the last film, I assume Unfriended 2 will not carry over very many characters to reprise their presence, but the basic promise of helpless teenagers/teenage adjacents driven to death by social media remains (this time, a haunted laptop is the intstigator of this madness).

Unfriended: Dark Web has already premiered at a film festival, and been reviewed by 10 critics, six of whom approve, roughly on pace with the first film. The original grossed $32 million in the U.S. and cost one thirty second of that total, a profit margin not unknown to makers of horror cinema. Dark Web's topicality will help it. A co-producer credit by horror impresario Jason Blum will as well.
Opening weekend: $10 million / Total gross: $25 million

9. Teen Titans Go! To the Movies (July 27th)
Based on Cartoon Network's Teen Titans Go!, the film is another of the omnipresent world of superhero pastiche + parody, with traditional animation, young thing superheroes like Robin, Beast Boy, Cyborg, and Starfire, and posters posturing their little lead characters next to the roster of the live action Justice League film (the lesser-known Cyborg appears in both, though at this rate may never get his own promised film).

Teen Titans (Go!) arrives in a month already rapt with children's entertainment (Hotel Transylvania is landing, and, Ant-Man is already making its own designs for this audience). In terms of recent comparisons, I assume the film wishes to emulate The Lego Batman Movie, of course (and that was clearly successful), but it also has the air and feel of The Powerpuff Girls Movie (2002), another jokey animated television adaptation, and a title in the spirit of the R-rated Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters (2007), which was also based on a show, and which produced a famous actual bomb scare with its advertising without much box office to show it was worth it (sorry). Powerpuff grossed $11m and the Aqua teens $5m, and if for no particular reason we add the two together and don't consider logic or inflation, my forecast for this film's box office is what we will get. Minus one.

Opening weekend: $7 million / Total gross: $15 million



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