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'Iron Man 2' Leads Our Summer Box Office Predictions

This will probably not be a record year at the summer box office. In 2009, ten summer movies made more than $150 million, and they combined for just under $2.4 billion in the US. That's just the top ten from last summer. And while May is predictably loaded and late June through mid-July have some blockbusters, the real question is what happens in June and August.

Last year, June had two breakout comedy hits, The Hangover and The Proposal, which generated over $425 million between them. But can that repeat this year or will the hits come from those traditional revenue streams, like comic book movies and cartoons?

Keep in mind when looking at these predictions that Star Trek was the consensus All-American of the summer blockbuster crowd. It did well and got fantastic reviews. However, it still only made $257 million, so it's not as easy as just having a great film with a recognizable name; $300 million is still hard to do for most summer movies. That's why only two of them - Transformers and Harry Potter - did it a year ago.

And while 3-D is adding a lot of revenue, there's not that much 3-D this summer, oddly enough. The animated movies and The Last Airbender are the only ones with major potential playing in that sandbox over the next few months (at least, that's the case right now).

1 - Iron Man 2 ($385 million)

Aided by having summer's pole position and IMAX screens, America's new favorite superhero should positively wipe the floor with everything else this summer. Early reviews were a bit troubling, but now the film is being seen as a great companion to the 2008 film. The opening weekend will likely be over $130 million, the more sophisticated and plentiful IMAX release platform should account for at least $75 million over the life of the theatrical release, and even when facing stern competitors like Shrek and Robin Hood, Tony Stark ought to make very good money in the second and third weekends, more than enough to let this film coast on fumes to nearly $400 million.

2 - Shrek Forever After ($325 million)

Sure, Pixar makes better movies on the whole, but DreamWorks has the biggest franchise in animation, and with this being the final chapter in the Shrek saga, it stands to reason that it will hit $300 million again. Even if 30% fewer people show up to see it, the numbers will be about the same, since so many of the screens will be digital 3-D, accounting for 30% higher prices.

3 - Toy Story 3 ($320 million)

I suppose numbers two and three could swap places, but Toy Story does have more working against it. For starters, the top two Pixar movies - and the only ones in the neighborhood of $300 million - both opened at the end of May, where Shrek is sitting. The June Pixar movies - Cars, Wall-E, and Ratatouille - all failed to make $250 million. The brand name will help, but family viewing will be splintered once July arrives with Last Airbender, Despicable Me, and Sorcerer's Apprentice. They're not direct hits, but they'll certainly steal some audience.

4 - The Twilight Saga: Eclipse ($310 million)

This one really depends on the first weekend. Just look at the history: Both previous films failed to triple the results from the opening frame. In fact, Twilight and New Moon are eerily similar after the debut, with New Moon making only $20 million more than Twilight after the first three days. So if Eclipse will only do about $150 - $160 million after the Fourth of July weekend, it had better frontload a lot of business. And it will. It's built to.

5 - Inception ($245 million)

Here's where the drop-off begins. Yeah, I know The Dark Knight was a massive hit, but did that have more to do with Christopher Nolan or Heath Ledger? No doubt, Nolan's reputation has made up ground in the past two years and he's now one of the very few directors who can sell tickets. But it's still really hard to give this one a better estimate because nobody knows anything about it. On the surface, it doesn't seem like a summer movie, people are hot and cold with DiCaprio movies, and it faces an immediate challenge with the much more audience-friendly Sorcerer's Apprentice. I'll go back to Star Trek: $257 million in a weaker than normal May and it was the best popcorn movie all summer. Can a dense movie about the architecture of the mind really pull that off? Maybe it can; people will (sometimes) pay for quality. But I'm not betting on it.

6 - Robin Hood ($170 million)

I don't know what it would take to make this movie a hit since the production was famously delayed a couple times for one reason or another. But I do know that it will take the overseas market to really make it a substantial player in the summer sweepstakes. The trouble is, how does it get off the ground in the shadow of Iron Man? Even if it has a solid debut, it will fight with that film for two weeks and then Prince of Persia shows up. If it's good - and it looks like it might be - it will probably have decent legs through June, but that will mostly be just stat padding.

7 - Despicable Me ($165 million)

Universal doesn't have the greatest track record with animation (or with anything else right now), but this one is the last big animated movie of the summer, and believe me, Uni is going to throw everything it can at this. Once again, 3-D ticket prices will be a factor, so this one might be able to sneak past $150 million if it starts strong enough. Opening against Predators, which draws a completely different crowd, it might be able to do that.

8 - Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time ($150 million)

Jerry Bruckheimer knows what he's doing, and the placement of this film as May's last big film - effectively giving it three weeks of being the highest-profile movie in release - should pay dividends. Video game movies have been cursed at the box office, but none of them have had that Bruckheimer touch before. It's also a full two weeks removed from the male 18-34 competition, getting a buffer from Robin Hood and Iron Man thanks to Shrek 4 and most likely surviving Get Him to the Greek without much trouble before The A-Team arrives.

9 - The Last Airbender ($140 million)

Paramount embraces 3-D when it really needs it here, and this is the summer's only live-action 3-D blockbuster. This is my pick for the summer's sleeper hit, because while it will have some early audience from people familiar with the Nickelodeon show on which it's based, there's a good chance it could have some walk-up business from young adults who just think it looks cool. We'll also have to see how counterprogramming Eclipse impacts it.

10 - The Sorcerer's Apprentice ($140 million)

Can Bruckheimer hit twice in one summer? This one actually looks better than Prince of Persia and as we stated in our 2009 summer post-mortem, the opening weekend can be an overrated indicator for some films. What Apprentice has in its favor is that it aims wider than Inception or Salt and should pick up business for several weeks from parents with 10-year-olds who don't want to see cartoons. So there's a chance. I'm tempted to go even higher with this, actually.

The Also-Rans:
The Karate Kid ($130 million)
The A-Team ($125 million)
Sex and the City ($115 million)
Grown Ups ($105 million)
Knight and Day ($95 million)

Reader Comments (11)

I agree with some, I disagree with others. I think Shrek won't break $300 million domestic (but the 3D numbers could inflate that), ditto for Eclipse (but it'll come close to what New Moon did). I still don't think Robin Hood will be that big a hit. What was the last medieval film to do any business? I don't see it breaking $150 million in the States, but I know it'll be huge overseas, which'll make it a victory in Universal's eyes.

Again, these are all hunches. Summer is the best movie season- I'm always surprised at the box office totals on a weekly basis.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterVince

watch out for Sex and the City. Don't count on Shrek being a major hit

Wednesday, May 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNelson

Hmmm... I like the way you have these ordered, though I actually see Iron Man cracking $400 million. I'm also with you that Inception seems really miscast as a summer tentpole. It'll probably be the best live action movie of the season but the fact we still don't know anything about it and the fact Disney is opening a big movie against it could spell trouble at the box office.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterD

What do you think Predators will wind up with Colin?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBrandon

Predators was next on my list of also-rans, and I had it at $90 million. I have a gut feeling it'll absorb a lot of the young male crowd.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010 | Registered CommenterGet The Big Picture

I agree with just about all of this list Colin except for my dollar estimates are slightly different on some and i have Toy Story at #5 and then move Eclipse and Inception up. Remember Toy Story only made $191 million and Toy Story 2 only made $245 million. I just can't see this one jumping up to more than $280 million. Plus i think Karate Kid and Airbender steal some audience from it. I also think Airbender will be a little higher and i think Salt will easily break $100 million and be closer to $150 which would put it in your top ten but you don't even mention it in your also-rans. I think you and I are the only ones that think Shrek will be #2 which just baffles me. With the 3D ticket prices and no competition for 3 or 4 weeks (3 weeks - Karate Kid and 4 weeks - Toy Story) it should be a lock for $300 million based on that and how well the franchise has done. Other than a couple little things my list would be about the same

Thursday, May 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHonz Brix

I wonder if people are little tired of the Shrek and Twilight franchises. Don't get me wrong, I think they'll put up big numbers because of their substantial and loyal fan bases, but I just get the sense that those numbers won't be as big as history would seem to point to.

On the other hand, I think Toy Story has a lot of buzz and appeals to the widest audience of any summer movie. I see it nipping at the heels Iron Man 2.

I also agree with you on The Last Airbender. I wouldn't discount the Shyamalan influence. Granted, his last few films have been a little disappointing to most, but I think a lot of people are excited to see what he can do with a new genre.

My two must-sees personally are Robin Hood and Inception...should be an interesting summer.

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