June 2021 Forecast
By Michael Lynderey
June 6, 2021
The cinemas are repopulating. Sequels to olden tales of action and horror glory will dominate this June, as well they should, with younger audiences set to drive the box office over the new months, hungry for entertainment and a night out where they finally have somewhere to go.
1. F9 (June 25th)
I regard the Fast and Furious films as Harvey Dent might a bank with a freshly-arrived two billion dollar vault: excited and eager to dig in, but one half of my face is screaming, "please don't do this again. OK, at least don't do it again next time."
On the one hand, the Fast and Furious films have been fast-paced, entertaining, dramatic, memorable, and, best of all, not inspired by a single solitary comic book superhero.
On the other hand, the Fast and the Furious franchise has sadistically evolved from an ultra-macho collision of testosterone, adrenaline, and tasty dirt road vomit to a self-replicating and nightmarish soap opera plot; wherein Dominic Toretto, the most masculine man on earth, wakes up each morning to discover that yet another of his hitherto unmentioned relatives and/or old friends previously believed deceased is, in fact, miraculously and unconvincingly still alive, and will now be requiring a feature-length multi-million dollar film - and a whole lot of highly-coordinated, emotional teamwork - to extricate themselves from whatever holy mess they managed to get into. See the sad characters arcs of: Letty; Elena; The Baby; and, now, dead Han and Vin Diesel's long-lost, lookalike (?!?), brother, played by John Cena, who is shaped somewhere in the vicinity of a human tank where the wheels just all flew off. Hasn't poor Mr. Toretto been gaslit enough?
The Cena brother is advertised in the trailers as a very bad man who blows s--t up on account of Cypher (Charlize Theron) and holds a grudge against poor blameless Don, which means we can safely assume that by the film's end the new Toretto will have gotten over the beef, renounced his evil mistress, and been completely legally deprived of responsibility for any death or destruction he happened to have caused in the course of this motion picture. His hand, too, will be holding all the others' when "salud, mi familia" is entoned before the next night of bacchanalia.
And what to make of dead Han? Here is a likable character who was killed in the third film, Tokyo Drift, in 2006, and whose death was then retconned in a legitimately clever manner as the handiwork of Jason Statham's uber-macho bad man in 2013. Looking at the relevant scene in both films, that works! It was a good death. Earned, tragic, impactful. Fast. And sad. So why, pray tell, saints preserve us, and begorrah, why, oh why, and why, does the latest Fast and Furious film reveal Han to still be alive? Emperor Palpatine is rolling
in his grave. As that chick said at the end of Friday the 13th Part 3D when she woke up on the canoe in the morning and saw Jason Voorhees staring back at her from the second story window of the house by the lake. "Can't be alive!"
I'm sure the movie has a super-good, super-logical explanation for this - maybe even as believable as Vin Diesel grabbing onto a furry, magical wishing stone and demanding him back - but the infinality of even Han's death means that, what, is poor Gal Gadot the only good guy to really be deceased in all these films? Or, in namechecking Gadot's status, have I just spoiled the plot of F10?
It was better in the old days. The Fast and Furious series first came into my consciousness as a 15 year-old on one fine summer night in 2001, agape at the uber-masculine sight of Paul Walker and one of Diesel's more combustive friends angrily punching it out next to a dusty California burger joint, as a hard-beat song with the lyrics "watch yo back, watch yo back" played over the loudspeekers. Wow, I said, this is what being an adult is all about.
I was right. It was the most manly thing I had ever seen. The turn to diaper-changing secret babies and hugging it out with newly discovered family is distressing to me. This is not manly. (I write this all as satire, but of course I mean everything I say, completely).
Another reason to admire Fast + Furious has been that they are practically the only remaining films in the blockbuster echelon to focus on normal humans participating in at least lightly realistic action scenes, a contrast to just about every other current mega-franchise, which grants its focus to tedious superheroes or science fictional CGI nightmares. I've always appreciated that. But with every subsequent film, given the near-supernatural skills the heroes have at engineering and surviving car crashes while going somewhere north of 250 miles per hour, the distinction between them and the marvel-men has become so narrow as to be a technicality. I'm not sure even Iron Man could have made it alive through some of this stuff (and, as it turns out, he didn't).
But hey, numerous petty complaints aside, the Fast and the Furious is a remarkable and inspirational American success story. The breakout first film in 2001 was followed by two subsequent lesser entries where many of the original actors did not reprise their roles, but it wasn't the end: the 2009 fourth film, Fast & Furious, found them all looking sad in different corners of the land, just waiting for each other all this time - and brought them all back together, then launched them back on the road to blockbuster domination that culminated with Furious 7's $353m total in April 2015. And what a comeback it's been for those twelve years: six more films, several billion more box office dollars, unprecedented and remarkable stunt work and special effects, and a tragic demise of one very likable action star. But, spin-off films and animated TV shows (yes, they exist!) aside, the main Furious films are winding down, and in Vin Diesel, we have a man who is slowly creeping up on father time's clock (you'll just have to google his age; I won't spoil it).
F9 opens in theatres with no same-day streaming on Hulu or Instagram or wherever these things are covertly screened on cell phones these days. Justin Lin, who directed films 3, 4, 5, and 6, directs again. The cast largely returns - Ludacris, Michelle Rordiguez, Jordana Brewster, Theron - although Jason Statham, The Rock, and of course Paul Walker are all absent.
Last year, on their original release date, F9 might have played as just another sequel, a modest success, and perhaps a send-off for some. Now, in 2021, the F9 team arrive as weary travelers itching for their big moment, a chance at greatness, unasked for but ready, with a film that could perhaps breakout in a staggering way for the 2020s, opening to near $100m or more and then snagging the crown for the single biggest motion picture of summer 2021. It would be the first time a Fast and Furious film has won a summer season. And it's the right time. We've been waiting for this a long while. Let's get ready to roll.
Opening weekend: $110m / Total gross: $234 million
2. The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (June 4th)
Made me write this snarky forecast, too.
Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson return as Lorraine (1927-2019) and Ed Warren (1926-2006), at once the definitive and most unexpected horror film heroes of our era, lulled from their Sunday morning sleep on one fine Connecticut day and forced to defend or condemn a young man whose murderous proclinations he claimed are strictly the fault of the Devil himself. I think they'll go with the kid's story here.
And while I'm sure it's up for debate, now that it's all over but the screaming we can also declare The Conjuring films as perhaps the horror franchise of the 2010s, much as Saw was, gruesomely enough, for the 2000s or Scream for the wittier 1990s (the decade previous to that will always be torn between Jason, Freddy, and Michael. An embararssment of riches for me).
But in the twenty tens, this franchise wins on two strokes. Aside from containing what I would say are more successful entries at the box office, The Conjurings went where no other major horror series of its time really has been able to follow, successfully co-opting the "cinematic universe" concept from all those evil/hellish/racist/etc. superhero movies and branching out into spin-off films and then sequels to the spin-offs, sometimes coming from the clever conceit that the demon-busting Warrens have a dark little room at their house full of supernatural artifacts, defeated and tamed for now, but ready to be discovered and released upon the screen, profitably.
As such, The Conjuring has gone not only through films 1 through 3 but also unleashed three Annabelles (totaling at a respective $84m, then $102m, tragically, and finally $74m) and also a solo film for The Conjuring 2's main bad guy, The Nun, which at $118m became the highest-grossing entry since the original 2013 The Conjuring finished with its epic $143m (what can I say? religious modesty aside, The Nun had gotten bigger than her source material). Elsewhere, The Curse of La Llorona ($54m total) revealed itself as a Conjuring spin-off upon its opening weekend in 2019 and even Shazam! featured a little Annabelle cameo for those on the lookout for her tiny evil presence (such as myself). The Conjuring's world had become master of all its surveys, so much so that even as the lights were coming down in the theatre for Slender Man in 2018, my friend had thought that we were about to see the starring debut of the second Conjuring film's little slender ghost toy and not what it actually was, some evil internet pasta.
The most recent Conjuring joint, Annabelle Comes Home, opened two Junes ago, whereupon it received, curiously, good reviews, though it surprised me in how much it played like a quite extended Goosebumps episode - single location, young-looking leads, reasonably low stakes - and that was rated R mostly for dark scary stuff devoid of the customary bloodshed (no one died!). Still, Annabelle was a success, given the kind of budget not required to make a film such as this, and another Conjuring film was still guaranteed.
This time, having inexplicably skipped over the Amityville hauntings, perhaps the biggest potential event in this series (yes, they were covered in the opening scenes of Conjuring 2, but why take them out of the game?), the film covers the Warrens' involvement in a real-life 1981 murder case (Ruairi O'Connor plays the defendant). That trial ended in a conviction, though the film will presumably reveal all the wonderfully supernatural little details that escaped public notice. In a sense, there's no question they're right; I suppose every murder requires a bit of the demonic.
At one point, The Conjuring 3 shared a "who'll move first" release date, September 4, 2020, with A Quiet Place II. Neither made it, and now both are opening back-to-back and launching the summer season in full, the way Marvel superhero movies normally would. Quiet Place essentially matched its original's open in the high 40s, and is making its way to about $130m, while Conjuring overshot some expert predictions (and my own, non-expert) and will likely hit $24m for the weekend, though these HBO Max co-releases often have little room for strong legs. Will a Conjuring 4 continue the series' run well into the 2020s? Maybe, maybe not, but I can assure you that as we reach the centennial of their births, the Warrens are not gone from that big screen in the sky just yet.
Total gross: $48m
3. Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway (June 11th)
Beatrix Potter strikes back. And she's really p--sed this time.
Peter Rabbit 2 has become both notorious and quite legendary as the film that has even through no fault of its own accumulated perhaps the most planned North American release dates of all time (by the time I sat down to write this
angry screed "forecast," even I didn't know it had been moved again, from the 18th to the 11th, and I know everything).
In any case, it's here, it's ready, and this date'll keep. Now, for the plot. I had assumed that in the first Peter Rabbit film, the good guys won as they usually do and so the title rabbit ended up safely and warmly cooked, and then placed on someone's dinner table, where he was consumed and digested forthwith, thus ending the reign of terror he had been unjustly enacting on the vegetable farm of poor old Mr. McGregor. But, alas, he and his paramour have survived, and a further film necessitated itself into being made.
The rabbit is again voiced by James Corden (and speaking of everything, why is James Corden in it? Melissa McCarthy had a particular knack for his mellifluous voice in the film Superintelligence, and it's perhaps the only thing she's gotten simply wrong). Director Will Gluck mans the torpedoes again as he did in the first film, while the live action leads are Domhnall Gleeson and Rose Byrne, taking a break from their many lower-grossing, artistically/intellectually-fulfilling films to partake in another misadventure acting opposite a Corden-voiced green screen. As before, the collection of supporting rabbits has called on many a thespian to make it to that always-physically distanced voice recording studio: Sam Neill is on board, and Margot Robbie (!) and Elizabeth Debicki provide the vocals for two rabbitesses, two actresses who are better heard and not seen, according to the film's makers.
I can't speak much for the plot this time around - human + rabbit + vegetable = drama - but there's no question that the sequel had considerable financial justification for being made: Peter Rabbit was a silent predator whose triumphant story in February 2018 - a $25m opening and $115m total, for an almost 5.0 multiple, was perhaps overshadowed by Black Panther's opening a week later; and gave box office analysts little time to voice their dissent at such a gratuitous success.
Children's films have perhaps fared best in the very current era, with The Croods: A New Age taking in $58m upon its November opening just as Wonder Woman 1984 finished with $46m a month later (though many more theaters began closing again at that time). Meanwhile, Trolls World Tour and Scoob! ratcheted up on VOD, and Raya and the Last Dragon and Tom & Jerry have been among this year's highest grossers. The message: children need entertainment, and lots of it, perhaps given the free time they already enjoy and especially now that that time has expanded. It's just not right for them to go around playing outside all day, glued to fresh air and sunshine.
The last real children's film was Raya and her dragon on March 5th, and though I'm sure some kids also liked big mean old Godzilla, pent-up demand surely exists. And while I don't think Rabbit II will make it to 100 quite yet, it should have itself a fine run over the next few weeks of solid summer, even as other contenders for its little eyes (the shockingly Sandler-less Hotel Transylvania 4, the unexpected late comer The Boss Baby 2) make their play in July and beyond. And yes, we must assume Rabbit part 3 will be here forthwith. The "mellifluous"ness of James Corden is going nowhere.
Opening weekend: $18 million / Total gross: $74 million
4. Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard (June 16th)
In which American national treasure Samuel L. Jackson is re-teamed with Canadian national treasure* Ryan Reynolds (*eh, we'll see).
With Peter Rabbit decamping for earlier pastures and Luca and Fatherhood leaving the American theatrical realm entirely in support of their respective streaming services, The Hitman and his growing list of relations have found themselves the only big film on their June weekend, a chance for legitimate breakout numbers on the back of a first feature that went from perhaps a throwaway late-August release to one that almost through no fault of its own has amassed some critical and public respect.
The original Hitman's Bodyguard's quality was probably up for debate, but the setup was pleasingly retro: as advertised, Jackson played the imprisoned hitman, Reynolds the man who must protect him en route to testify against some Eastern European warlord who went and committed a few too many war crimes to pass over. As a desperate surge of assassins and amateurs flung themselves at this pair to collect the bounty on Jackson, so many bullets rained down on screen you'd think they were inexpensive, but our leads survived, with I believe, nary an injury, save for whatever Jackson's very angry and screaming wife (Salma Hayek) inflicted on their psyche.
The film opened on a quiet weekend in late summer 2017, August 18th, and did well, beginning with $21m and totaling at $75m, a number that draws too closely to a 4.0 multiple for comfort. Its, uh, comedic charms, were one reason, I'm certain of it, but it also had a lot of lazy latesummer room to breathe - unusually, Annabelle: Creation was the only film released between July 22 and September to cross $100m, and in fact I still haven't forgiven her for doing that.
In any case, the dust settled, the fall came, and a good time was had by enough paying audience members that a sequel was certain, the gap between films extended from three years to four through world events, perhaps testing audience's recollection of the material.
Reynolds and Jackson do not betray their duties and return as requested. Hayek, whom casting directors have seemingly remembered can play a scene-stealing livewire, has her role expanded to place her in the title and smack on all of the posters. The plot avoids untraditional detours like space aliens or suburban drama and is more as before: some malfeasant individual wishes to end the lives of the lead characters in the service of the allmighty dollar (or because of some silly idealogical motivation, perhaps), and the crew must avoid this week's hailstorm of bullets while working to end his life instead.
Antonio Banderas and Morgan Freeman (!) had their numbers drawn on the Loom of Fate, and answered the call for this film's cast, one of them presumably as the film's chief villain, the other a memorable red herring. (the presence in the credits of both actor Frank Grillo and a character named "Vlad" gives a hint of who other bad guys might be). Patrick Hughes, who did the original film and also Expendables 3, directs again, and I can also report that Gary Oldman, who was the first film's villain and chiefly responsible for its overlong and presumably very expensive final action scene, is still dead (he played the evil President of Belarus, in a joke that somehow seems a lot less funny in 2021).
So, where are we? Here is a film that may do better in our June 2021 than it would have had the past year and a half never happened. As an action comedy of its type, it is broad and inoffensive enough; does not require years of the meticulous franchise knowledge and research that comes with certain cinematic universes; stars easily recognizable names with pre-established if morally exhausted personas; and has appeal to both younger audiences, and the older individuals who may be cautiously re-entering the cinematic marketplace. Even with the encroaching carapocalypse in F9, The Hitman, His Wife, and Their Bodyguard should do pretty well over more than just one week. National treasures don't let us down.
Opening weekend: $25 million / Total gross: $100m
5. Spirit Untamed (June 4th)
What sounds like a rallying cry for the current moment is also a CGI horse movie that immediately pushed me to ask the question: is this a sequel?
It is! Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, directed by Kelly Asbury (RIP) and Lorna Cook, was released by Dreamworks in May 2002, covering the life of a young and sturdy mustang colt in the 19th century American West with traditional animation (yes!) and seemingly little of the comedic trappings and slapstickian misadventures common to 1990s films about animals. Perhaps that was its error.
Now, the summer of 2002 is a time from which I'd viewed almost every major release, whether contemporaneously or since. And yet... and yet... Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron has remained unwatched by me despite all the years that offered a chance, perhaps because its rusted VHS copy had fallen underneath all those Friday the 13th and Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street titles on my bedroom floor that necessitated much more urgent and repeated re-watching than a first viewing of Spirit.
So ignorant was I that I could have sworn Spirit was in CGI, though the new film certainly wastes no time in changing the stallion over to that medium. Most of what I remembered about Spirit's existence is that Matt Damon was in it (though not, thankfully, on screen) and that it grossed a decent $73m (on an $80m budget, as it turns out) even as Spider-Man (part 1) and Attack of the Clones were brutalizing theatres nearby.
In the years since, Spirit's memory among its makers and audiences was such that it inspired several television series of the late 2010s, most particularly Spirit Riding Free (2017-2019), the show that directly sets up the movie, although you probably don't need to watch all 78 episodes to pick up relevant plot points. As is customary, movie stars take over the show's characters for the big screen, with Isabella Merced (Isabella Moner of Transformers 5 - you know, that was the... good one) as Fortuna Prescott, the southwest teen girl who gets on Spirit's graces, and Jake Gyllenhaal as her crusty father, with the unlikely Julianne Moore and Andre Braugher somehow also having contrived their entry into the cast list.
As I think we've established, children's films have a hold on the box office right now, and I expect that the $7m open attributed to Spirit Untamed will turnover into a $30m or so sum just by the next turn of seasons, right about when temperatures recede and leaves start blowing like wild mustang colts in the wind.
Total gross: $29.9m
6. In the Heights (June 11th)
This is it, the origin, the first musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose filmed stageplay Hamilton proved so extremely popular on Disney+ around last July 4th despite or because of its numerous pesky detours into American constitutional history and the amorous misadventures of the Continental Congress. With the film version of that more or less out of the way, here is the adaptation of his first big work, pushed back from 2020, as it had to be, and receiving the HBO Max treatment but still very much alive on the big screen as well. If you happen to like musical stylings amended to sound like fast-paced rap, here, you shall receive them, in abundance.
In the Heights is one that Miranda penned at about 25 years old, not that any youthful grating appears to have hampered this one's style, judging by what the critics said. It opened in 2005 and eventually made its way to Broadway in 2008, where it won the Tony for Best Musical for its troubles. Then, in the years between Heights and really hitting it out of the park with Hamilton's premiere in 2015, Miranda also had his hand in the unfortunately-titled 21 Chump Street, and Bring It On: The Musical, a fact that astonished me because who knew in 2000 that a simple sexy-cheerleader film could have inspired such a multi-media empire? But Hamilton bought him the Hollywood golden ticket he's been playing ever since, having co-composed the music for Moana and appeared as that frighteningly Liverpoodlian-accented street cleaner in Mary Poppins Returns (he also had cameos in two Star Wars films, but, as I must stress, there's just not always accounting for taste). His upcoming credits? Too numerous to recite even in something that's 4500 words long, like this column.
In the Heights follows the largely Hispanic community in Washington Heights, Queens, and unlike Miranda's signature musical, the story concentrates not on the kind of high-stakes that may come with forming a constitutionally-impenetrable North American republic but more on the day-to-day; with the official Warner Bros. plot description not unpredictably including terms like "vibrant" and "tight-knight," and, inevitably, the phrase "sings about a better life." If you can sing it, you can be it.
The cast includes some veterans like Jimmy Smits, Marc Anthony, and Daphne Rubin-Vega, but is led mostly by younger actors, some of whom may be familiar to those among us who've made it through the last round of film musicals - Anthony Ramos of Hamilton itself (not to mention King Trollex in Trolls 2), who's now also been tapped to headline the next Transformers film, a role that I hope will require no musical skills; Gregory Diaz IV from Vampires vs. the Bronx (missed the bout, who won?); singer and songwriter Leslie Grace; and Mexican actress Melissa Barrera, whose role in the upcoming Scream 5 is one I've been anticipating quite a bit more, I have to say. Corey Hawkins, definitely more of an established film actor (Dr. Dre in Straight Outta Compton), is billed pretty high for a dude I didn't know had much experience singing impassionately at the sky.
The script was written by playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes and direction is by Jon M. Chu of Crazy Rich Asians (and, more importantly, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, which I found slightly a superior film). Step Ups 2 and 3 and the two Justin Bieber concert films, the second of which seemed particularly inessential, are also in Chu's past, and must have been the absolute deal-sealer for his involvement.
The film has a run time of 143 minutes, fitting for a Broadway musical if quite demanding of something without an intermission for easy escape. Thoughts of box office prospects jump up and down, uncertainly, in my mind: the musical's hold on the national consciousness is shaky, but reviews are quite positive, Miranda's music has some currency, and it's another title that could be a consensus option, cutting across age and gender barriers for a few weeks as cinemas slowly repopulate. Especially because singing about a better life seems like a good idea right now.
Opening weekend: $18m / Total gross: $50m
7. Luca (June 18th)
The Italian Riviera on a 1950s summer day - hot boiling sun, sandy beaches, sparkling blue water, and two little boys transforming into gruesome/wholesome sea monsters and wandering about, meaningful life lessons awaiting them. Blame Pixar.
Jack Dylan Grazer and Jacob Tremblay have starred in Stephen King's It and Doctor Sleep, respectively, and unite here under less stressful circumstances, or they do in some recording booth somewhere. These sea monsters are nice kids, I think, and have no plans on making the friendly Italian girl who's showing them around into their main course at next dinnertime. They also speak with accents that carry nary a whiff of Italian, perhaps because they say sea monsters pick up English quickly. For context, Maya Rudolph and Jim Gaffigan voice monster parents, though other supporting actors sound pretty Italian-accented.
Luca may well have ended up one of the season's biggest earners - with apologies to Peter Rabbit, Boss Baby, and the rest of the aspiring class - until Disney somewhat unexpectedly pulled it out of the theatrical realm. It has set it for premiere on Disney+ on June 18th, and unlike Cruella, Black Widow, and Raya and her dragon, though just like that other recent Pixar film Soul, no added charge to the subscription fee is required, meaning that the film will be viewed early and often by the vast swath of children who must have access to this streaming service by now. You're welcome, America.