1. Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Release date: June 29
Plot summary: The Autobots are back in action after discovering a Cybertronian spacecraft hidden on the Moon. They find themselves racing with the Decepticons to reach it and learn its secrets in order to ultimately save the human race in some form.
Why it will rule: The first Transformers movie was a $320 million hit and the second skyrocketed to a $410 million hit. Both of those movies were without the third dimension however, which is likely to add somewhere near an additional 25% to box office receipts. Dark of the Moon will enjoy a few of the finer luxuries summer has to offer: an IMAX slot and the Fourth of July weekend it usually dons. Director Michael Bay promises to not necessarily make the third film bigger than Revenge of the Fallen, but darker and more emotional, getting into the mythos and character development, something Nolan has faired well from at the box office.
Why it will fail: Michael Bay has never made a dark, emotional movie with character development in his career. Audiences saw what a car wreck Revenge of the Fallen was and it was panned by every known critic. Given what information is known about the plot and teaser, we have no reason to believe Dark of the Moon will be any different from the first two, except that it will be sans Megan Fox, the eye candy that seemed to bring in salivating young males by the droves. Another critical disaster and story-less film may not be a box office pounding for Bay, but it also isn’t going to be the same out of the world hit unless the trailer is another Linkin Park jammed visual trip.
Estimated box office: $120 million OW / $385 million domestic
2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II
Release date: July 15
Plot summary: Harry and the gang pick up where they left off in the first part of the final adventure that hit theaters last fall. With Lord Voldermort now possessing the Elder wand and Harry still running after the last of the horcruxes, the seven-book, eight-movie saga comes to the final climax and ends.
Why it will rule: It’s Harry Potter. Forget the millions of books it’s sold or countless other statistics, the past four Harry Potter films have earned between $290 and $300 million domestically. Factor in that this one will be presented in 3D, sure to boost numbers up 20% or so. Also note that this is the last Potter film, so fair-weather fans probably won’t want to miss it and hardcore fans may be more willing to attend repeat viewings to soak up their final chance to see Potter in theatres before the 2020 re-releases or directors’ cuts. Anytime something monumental like this ends, all the press coverage and media hype will push it to be an event, which casual moviegoers and cultured folks won’t want to miss.
Why it will fail: Not even government shutdowns, Earthquakes or 2012 coming a year early is going to stop this from prevailing. At its very worst, it will just make similar numbers to previous films, which will still be enough to make it in the top three films of the summer.
Estimated box office: $145 million OW / $340 million domestic
3. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Release date: May 20
Plot summary: Captain Jack is back for his fourth swashbuckling adventure. Now complete with mermaids, zombies and Blackbeard, Sparrow squares off with villains in a race to find the fountain of youth.
Why it will rule: The Mickey Mouse marketing machine rarely rusts. The past three Pirates of the Caribbean films earned $305 million, $423 million and $309 million, respectively. Those numbers were without 3D boosts. Johnny Depp is a beloved star on the top of his game and his beloved Jack Sparrow character will always have an audience. The redirection of the series could add a little life back into the series. Rob Marshall, Penelope Cruz and a showing at Cannes Film Festival could bring in the film snobs who probably would have written off this offer otherwise. If the film gets good reviews, it should have good sea legs to carry it through the lush Memorial Day weekend.
Why it will fail: Fatigue. The third movie in the franchise was awful. It was long, it was dreary and it was everything the first and second were not. Box office results for the third film proved the audiences were already jumping overboard from the franchise. The trailer appears mediocre.
Estimated box office: $100 million OW / $275 million domestic
4. Cars 2
Release date: June 24
Plot summary: In an overseas adventure, Lightening McQueen and tow truck Mater are back to compete in the World Grand Prix. Their adventure isn’t without roadblocks though. International espionage and spy games take them on the ride of their lives.
Why it will rule: Pixar is on a hot streak after Up grossed $293 million in 2009 and Toy Story 3 grossed $415 million last summer. Cars was a box office success of its own back in 2006, grossing a more modest $244 million. The only other Pixar series to produce sequels is the Toy Story franchise, which kept improving its numbers over great gaps of time. Given the target market for Cars, finding an audience shouldn’t be hard. Add in the 3D boost and prime pre-Fourth of July weekend spot, and Cars 2 should ride along just fine.
Why it will fail: The first film wasn’t that great. In fact, it may be one of the weakest Pixar installments ever. The summer will be overly-full of other animated and 3D kids’ movies to pick from. Kids may be the film’s only market here. Older fans of Pixar who show up to enjoy the high-quality original story-driven classics may not buckle up if reviews are bumpy. This isn’t the same franchise as Toy Story. There is not the same “I grew up with it” emotional attachment.
Estimated box office: $75 million OW / $260 million domestic
5. Kung Fu Panda 2
Release date: May 26
Plot summary: Po is back for an even deadlier adventure. Joining with a new group of kung-fu masters, he takes on an old villain with new, deadly weapons.
Why it will rule: The first film was a hit with $215 million at the box office. DVD viewings at home could bring the numbers up some. The film also enjoys a post-Memorial Day weekend release with a 3D ticket price boost. DreamWorks has always done well at marketing its animated films and animated movies are always sure-fire hits lately. There also seems to be a Panda phenomenon lately thanks in part to a string of pillow pet like fads.
Why it will fail: The movie faces against another 3D tent-pole on its second weekend with a lot stronger fan loyalty base- Pirates of the Caribbean. The post-Memorial Day weekend may actually have too much competition. If reviews aren’t strong, it could easily get passed over and earn slightly less than the first.
Estimated box office: $60 million OW / $220 million domestic
6. The Hangover 2
Release date: June 5
Plot summary: This time the gang is in Bangkok for Stu’s wedding. Much like, or exactly like, their Las Vegas post-blackout, they go through a series of missing people, randomly appearing animals, damaged body parts and countless racist and homosexual jokes while recovering their bachelor party hangover.
Why it will rule: Like the five films on the list before this, the first one was a huge hit. Like, a huge hit, at least for a comedy. Grossing $270 million and enjoying endless DVD viewings, this film was loved by many. Plenty of fans will be sure to show up to the opening weekend of this film. The trailer doesn’t seem to show signs of deviation from the humor that made the first so great. Add in a cute monkey and the growing stardom of Zach Galifianakis and Bradley Cooper, it’s going to be huge.
Why it will fail: Sequels with comedies never tend to do better than the original. There are a few exceptions, like Meet the Fockers, but Meet the Parents didn’t really make it big until home video. Most comedies that break out the first time will also max out the first time. Though fans will show up in droves for the opening weekend, it will not enjoy the same repeat viewings and word of mouth marketing that made the first film so big. A fatigue in the humor and hangover story may be a bit sobering for the film.
Estimated box office: $80 million OW / $190 million domestic
7. Captain America: The First Avenger
Release date: July 22
Plot summary: When Steve Rogers is deemed unfit for military service, he volunteers for top-secret military mission project that turns him into the pro-America idea defender, Captain America.
Why it will rule: The trailer has a lot of potential. It appears to be one superhero movie that really pushes more into the drama, realism realm that made Nolan’s Batman so successful. It is also one of the few non-sequel, franchise or remake films of the summer. Though it’s far from “original” it still may be a bit refreshing. The movie’s G.I. Joe similar plot can attract non-comic fans that just love a good “Go America!” military actioner.
Why it will fail: Nobody but comic book nerds really care too much about Captain America and his story. As good as the trailer may look, its still a smaller market and superhero movies outside Spiderman, Batman and Superman have had a hard time pushing above the $150 million marker to be big blockbusters. Given this comes out only a week after Potter, geeks may have their investments settled elsewhere.
Estimated box office: $50 million OW / $165 million domestic