The summer movie box office season officially kicks off in early May this year with the release of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, which precedes a slew of big-budget tentpoles that studios hope succeed well enough to fund an entire year of new productions and a round of holiday bonuses, and maybe, just maybe, actually some profits on the register by the time Labor Day weekend comes around.
With Universal‘s mega-blockbuster The Super Mario Bros. Movie making over $400 million in less than three weeks, something we rarely see in the “off-season,” there’s even greater pressure on this summer’s line-up.
How many of this summer’s movies will even come close to that amount? We’ll have to see, although two weekends standout this year — June 16 and July 21 — which each plays host to a pair of high-profile movies, so there’s a little box office gamesmanship at stake.
As always, sequels will be the name of that game, although there are a few high-profile reboots and one original movie based on a beloved toy that has had the internet buzzing since it was first announced.
This year’s prognostications come with a Big Ol’ Caveat, as there has still been very little promotion beyond, possibly, a single trailer, so my projections and predictions may change between the publication of this and our weekly Box Office Breakdown columns, and some of these movies might end up moving altogether. Just saying, it happens…
- Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (Disney/Lucasfilm) – June 30
Harrison Ford returns for what’s likely to be his very last outing as Indiana Jones, the popular adventurer introduced way back in 1981 with Raiders of the Lost Ark. This is the first one not directed by Steven Spielberg, as filmmaker James Mangold (Ford v Ferrari) takes the reins with Phoebe Waller-Bridge and others joining the cast. This will also be the first movie not released by Paramount, but it will also be seen earlier than usual with a premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May.
Pros: Reactions to the first trailers have generally been positive, and there’s quite a bit of goodwill toward Ford trying to end his tenure on a high note. Dial of Destiny has the mighty Mouse House marketing behind it, and it’s opening before the 4th of July which could mean a decent first week. Movie ticket prices are much, much higher now than they were 15 years ago.
Cons: The previous movie, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, was released 15 years ago, and it wasn’t particularly well received by fans compared to critics. There are definite worries about whether Ford can still pull off the action required for him at 80 years old. Younger moviegoers may not care so much about this compared to other summer offerings. It’s likely to only have two weeks in IMAX before losing those screens to Mission: Impossible.
Projected Opening/Domestic Total: $125 to $130 million / $360 million
- Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 3 (Marvel-Disney) – May 5
Before he leaves the MCU behind as he goes off to co-run DC Entertainment, James Gunn was given a chance to conclude the trilogy he began with 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy, bringing back all the cast, including Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, and the voices of Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper. The end of the trilogy promises lots of big moments for the Guardians, including the introduction of Will Poulter (“Detroit”) as Adam Warlock.
Pros: Kicking off the summer tends to give any movie an advantage since it’s likely to have the entire summer to rack up box office. Being the third installment and finale to Gunn’s trilogy could give the movie a similar bump in interest as Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises,” since very few filmmakers get to complete their trilogies, particularly at Marvel. Gunn has been particularly active and vocal in recent months, mainly gearing up for his work at DC, but still keeping “Guardians” front and center. Many secrets and surprises are promised with lots of long-standing questions answered.
Cons: Fast X is being released just two weeks later, which will certainly cut off the business this might have garnered from IMAX screens, many of which it’s likely to lose. Marvel Studios has been getting quite a bit of backlash in the past year due to disappointment in some of its other sequels, most recently “Ant-Man & The Wasp: Quantumania.”
Projected Opening/Domestic Total: $140 to 155 million / $345 million
- Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One (Paramount) – July 14
Tom Cruise returns as IMF Agent Ethan Hunt in the seventh movie in the franchise and first part of its ultimate conclusion, reteaming with Christopher McQuarrie, and setting up the grand finale, to be released in 2024. Three of the previous Mission: Impossible movies grossed more than $200 million domestically, including 2018’s Mission: Impossible – Fallout, which was the biggest opener and domestic grosser for the franchise.
Pros: There’s little question that the latest Mission will likely get a bump from the success of last year’s Top Gun: Maverick, which helped put Cruise back on track to being considered one of Hollywood’s most reliable box office stars. Fallout was so well received by critics and fans alike, there’s probably a boosted level of anticipation for this sequel.
Cons: Opening one week before the one-two punch of Barbie and Oppenheimer means it might not have the legs the franchise might normally get, and it’s likely to lose IMAX screens pretty darn fast. Being the first of a two-parter usually means it’s paving the way for its 2024 sequel to open bigger and do better as long as people generally like this one.
Projected Opening/Domestic Total: $95 to 110 million / $320 million
- The Little Mermaid (Disney) – May 26
Filmmaker Rob Marshall continues his musical collaboration with Disney with this adaptation of the hugely popular 1989 animated movie, which launched a new era of Disney animation. This one is Disney’s big Memorial Day release starring newcomer Halle Bailey as Ariel, Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric, along with Melissa McCarthy and Javier Bardem.
Pros: The original movie is so beloved, and remakes of other beloved animated films from that era, like The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin, have all done very handsomely for Disney. The first two grossed $500 million domestically, and the third made more than $300 million. There’s a level of love for the original animated The Little Mermaid and its songs that should cover women across a wide age range, and Memorial Day weekend has seen the release of many mega-blockbusters including last year’s Top Gun: Maverick.
Cons: Although there will be a built-in audience for this one, it will also rely on positive reviews for anything resembling legs. Disney has been making so many of these live-action remakes with many geared for Disney+, which means we could start seeing diminishing returns. Bailey is an unknown quantity at this point, while McCarthy has spent the last few years making poorly-received comedies for Netflix.
Projected Opening/Domestic Total: $125 to 145 million (five-day) / $300 million
- The Flash (Warner Bros.) – June 16
Long in development, with many filmmaker exits and schedule changes, this movie finally got settled for release this weekend after so much turmoil going on at Warners and DC over the past few years (mostly non-COVID-related). Besides being the very first live-action movie about the Scarlet Speedster, starring Ezra Miller, it also brings It filmmaker Andy Muschietti into the DC mix, while also maintaining some of what had been set up by Zack Snyder with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Pros: The Flash is one of DC’s biggest superheroes that has never received a live-action movie, although the TV show has been hugely popular for the CW, as part of its “Arrowverse.” The fact that Michael Keaton is back as Batman, as well as Battfleck, will help make this an easy decision for most guys of a certain age. Batman movies have always done well for Warner Bros, which is why so much focus is being put on what could end up being small cameos. DC must be feeling pretty confident about this one to show it at the annual Las Vegas exhibitor’s showcase, CinemaCon.
Cons: The “extracurricular activities” of star Ezra Miller, which had #FilmTwitter calling for them to be excised from the movie, and the thought this movie may not matter in the grand scheme of things with James Gunn’s reboot, makes it questionable for some to see it. It’s likely to appeal to older male viewers rather than younger ones and families, which will have Pixar’s Elemental out this same week. Reactions out of CinemaCon were muted to mixed, at best.
Projected Opening/Domestic Total: $105 to 120 million / $260 million
- Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (Sony) – June 2
The sequel to the Oscar-winning animated Spider-Man film focusing on Miles Morales and the Spider-verse follows the 2018 movie, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which grossed $190 million domestically and $375.4 million worldwide. This is the first of a two-parter that will be continued into March 2024’s Beyond the Spider-Verse.
Pros: Not only did Into the Spider-Verse win an animated Oscar, but it was also a hugely popular iteration of Spider-Man that has really clicked with audiences both young and old. This could end up getting a significant bump thanks to the success of Spider-Man: No Way Home, its introduction of the multiverse into the MCU, and the fact it entered the top three all-time box office blockbusters with over $812 million just in North America.
Cons: Opening a week after Memorial Day and Disney’s The Little Mermaid puts a massive onus on this to grab away any family business. If the Disney remake performs like others like Beauty and the Beast, etc., it’ll make it even tougher for this animated movie to make a mark. It also has another Disney-Pixar movie opening two weeks after it opens.
Projected Opening/Domestic Total: $65 to 85 million / $250 million
7. Barbie (Warner Bros.) – July 21
A movie that has long been in development is also likely to be filmmaker Greta Gerwig’s biggest studio movie to date, teaming her with Margot Robbie as Barbie and Ryan Gosling as Ken, as well as a fantastic ensemble that includes Simu Liu, John Cena, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Alexandra Shipp, and many more, many of them playing different iterations of Barbie and Ken.
Pros: The popularity of Mattel’s line of dolls is pervasive and has been for over six decades, so there’s likely to be a huge wave of nostalgia ala the recent Super Mario Bros. Movie. Robbie has quite a female fanbase thanks to playing Harley Quinn, and Gerwig has a growing fanbase herself, mostly on #FilmTwitter. This one is not just hoping to find the success of Super Mario Bros. but also 2014’s The Lego Movie.
Cons: No, seriously, they have made a movie based on Barbie dolls? Until people start seeing the movie and reviews are released, there is likely to be quite a bit of cynicism about the movie’s very existence. Despite the release of a first teaser, not that many people even know what the actual story of this movie will be.
Projected Opening/Domestic Total: $85 to 105 million; $225 million
8. Elemental (Disney-Pixar) – June 16
Pixar Animation returns to theaters with its first original non-sequel to get a full theatrical release since 2020’s Onward, this one directed by Peter Sohn (The Good Dinosaur). With a high-concept premise involving various elementals (fire, water, etc.) living together, the biggest name voice actor is Catherine O’Hara from Schitt’s Creek.
Pros: This is taking Pixar’s regular mid-June slot when schools across the country let out for the summer, which means that if this is well-received, it could do great business over its entire run. The Disney and Pixar brands are pretty solid with parents who might prefer taking their kids to see this over some of the PG-13 superhero fare.
Cons: The Pixar brand may have been weakened by a lack of theatrical releases other than last year’s Lightyear, which was not received as well as the Toy Story franchise from which it was spun off. Original animated movies are always going to be a tougher sell than sequels in popular franchises, and this does look like a rip-off of Inside Out. This might not connect with the older audiences that often help Pixar movies become blockbusters, plus it’s opening against The Flash, a highly-anticipated and much-delayed superhero film.
Projected Opening/Domestic Total: $45 to 60 million / $225 million
9. Fast X (Universal) – May 19
Opening the weekend before Memorial Day, the second-to-last installment of Universal’s hugely popular franchise reunites Vin Diesel’s “family” with a cast that’s actually bigger than that of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, since just about every character from any previous Fast & Furious movie returns – not Dwayne Johnson nor Gal Gadot – joined by Jason Momoa and Brie Larson as two new villains.
Pros: This is a bonafide franchise that has racked up $1.9 billion domestically and $6.6 billion worldwide, giving Universal a good reason to keep it going; the new cast additions should be of special interest to those who may not have seen previous movies, but really, it’ll be just as much about the returning characters.
Cons: There’s been so much bad mojo swirling around the project from original director Justin Lin leaving just before production started, and the feud between Diesel and Dwayne Johnson; the last two installments have topped out around $173 million, though one was Johnson’s Hobbs and Shaw spin-off, and the other one was released in the summer of 2021 in the midst of COVID.
Projected Opening/Domestic Total: $90 to 105 million / $220 million
10. Transformers: Rise of the Beasts (Paramount) – June 9
Six years after Michael Bay‘s Transformers: The Last Night and a little more than four years since Bumblebee, Paramount and Hasbro Films return to the franchise that has brought in $4.8 billion worldwide over the course of the six-film 15-year franchise. Rise of the Beasts is directed by Steven Caple Jr., who directed Creed II, which wasn’t as well received as the other two movies in that sub-franchise, but will that matter if this is has a better story than some of Bay’s movies?
Pros: The fanbase for Transformers continues to be fairly diehard, mostly driven by nostalgia but Rise of the Beasts introduces the popular robotic animals from Beast Wars. There are some interesting voice actors like Michelle Yeoh, Ron Perlman, and Pete Davidson to get out the promo trailer.
Cons: As much as people loved to complain about Michael Bay’s Transformers movies, he still created the type of movies that appealed to the diehard fans of the toys, cartoons, etc. Unlike Bay’s Transformers movies, this doesn’t have a big-name star like Mark Wahlberg or others, mostly relegating the better-known actors to voice roles. Instead of getting a plum 4th of July weekend as past movies, this is being released in early June amidst many higher-profile summer fodder.
Projected Opening/Domestic Total: $75 to 90 million / $200 million
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem (Paramount) – Aug. 4
The popular comic book and cartoon property that led to a popular trio of ‘90s films is getting its second animated movie, the first animated feature since 2007’s TMNT, which didn’t do so well, until Paramount and Michael Bay got involved for the 2014 blockbuster, which made $485 million worldwide, and its 2016 sequel, which did about half that. This one is produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg and directed by Jeff Rowe (The Mitchells vs. the Machines).
Pros: The summer isn’t that crowded with family films as has often been the case over the summer. By the time this one opens in early August (the same weekend as Paramount’s 2014 blockbuster hit), it will have been more than six weeks since Disney-Pixar’s animated Elemental, so there should be room for this to find younger audiences.
Cons: The previous animated TMNT didn’t fare nearly as well as the live-action movies that came after it, and one has to wonder if there’s still an older fanbase for the Turtles that might see this as more than just a movie for kids;
Projected Opening/Domestic Total: $50 to 60 million / $170 million
- Oppenheimer (Universal) – July 21
After his most recent movie, Tenet, got the kibosh from the pandemic, filmmaker Christopher Nolan returns with another historic drama that stars his frequent collaborator, Cillian Murphy, as J. Robert Oppenheimer, creator of the atomic bomb. Murphy is surrounded by a Rogues Gallery of an ensemble, which includes Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr, Florence Pugh, Emily Blunt, Gary Oldman, and more.
Pros: There is little question that Nolan is one of the most respected and appreciated filmmakers in Hollywood thanks to his “Dark Knight” trilogy, Dunkirk, Inception, and other movies. Watching the movie in IMAX will be highly touted (as it has been for almost a year), which immediately increases the average ticket price. Even though no one has seen the movie yet, one has to expect it’s likely to be in the Oscar conversation similar to Dunkirk and Inception, especially with that cast. Nolan’s new home at Universal also makes it a major priority for the studio.
Cons: The subject matter will hold very little interest to younger people and women, and maybe even less interest due to backlash from Tenet. Opening this against known IP like Barbie might make this an even tougher sell, the irony, of course, being that Barbie is being released by Nolan’s alma mater at Warner Bros.
Projected Opening/Domestic Total: $45 to 60 million / $165 million
Here are some other potential breakout hits to look out for this summer. You might want to note that many of them are R-rated fare.
The Boogeyman (20th Century Studios) – June 2
Originally planned for streaming, Rob Savage’s adaptation of Stephen King’s short story, adapted by A Quiet Place’s Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, is definitely benefiting from the surprise hit of last year’s Barbarian, and early word of mouth for this one has been great so far.
Strays (Universal) – June 9
An R-rated comedy involving stray dogs from Universal, featuring a voice cast that includes Will Ferrell, Jamie Foxx, Randall Park, as well as Will Forte. It’s from Josh Greenbaum, the director of Barba and Star Go to Vista del Mar, which became a cult favorite in 2021. This could end up being this year’s Ted for the studio.
No Hard Feelings (Sony) – June 23
Following a number of odd decisions (plus a performance in Apple’s Causeway that got her co-star, Brian Tyree Henry, an Oscar nomination), Jennifer Lawrence returns to theaters, teaming with Good Boys filmmakers (and Bad Teacher writers) Gene Stupnitsky and John Phillips for some more raunchy R-rated comedy.
Joy Ride (Lionsgate) – July 7
Yet another R-rated comedy, this one being the directorial debut by Crazy Rich Asians screenwriter Adele Lim, starring Ashley Park, recent Oscar nominee Stephanie Hsu, and Sherry Cola (who also kills it in Randall Park’s Shortcomings) as three of four Asian-American friends who return to Asia in search of one of their birth mothers. This screened for exhibitors at the annual CinemaCon conference in late April, following its SXSW debut, which will help get exhibitors on board to play this in hopes of another Crazy Rich Asians hit.
Blue Beetle (Warner Bros.) – Aug. 18
The other DC release of the summer is based around a character that might not be as well known as The Flash, though reactions to the first trailer were fairly positive, and this could bring in a younger audience as well as appeal to the Latinx community, who regularly contribute to creating some of the biggest box office hits.
The Equalizer 3 (Sony) – Sept. 1
Five years after Denzel Washington last appeared as Robert McCall in Sony’s reimagining of the popular TV show from the ’80s (which has since been reimagined as a TV show starring Queen Latifah). It reteams him with filmmaker Antoine Fuqua, with whom he has made many big hits, including 2001’s Training Day, for which he won his second Oscar.
There are plenty of other movies we haven’t touched upon, but between the top 12 we project for the summer and any sleepers, that’s probably going to cover all of the bases. The big winner for the summer will probably be Disney with Paramount, Warner Bros, Universal, and Sony all hoping their franchise offerings and sleeper movies will pan out.
Any and all box office data provided by The-Numbers.com. Thanks to ATL contributor Jamie Williams for his feedback on this article.