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In A Crowded Summer 2013 Blockbuster Season, Which Risky Films Will Be Hits & Which Will Flop?

In A Crowded Summer 2013 Blockbuster Season, Which Risky Films Will Be Hits & Which Will Flop?

2013 has claimed its first would-be-blockbuster casualty. This past weekend saw “Jack The Giant Slayer,” Bryan Singer’s long-delayed $200 million fairy tale movie, open to a decidedly underwhelming $28 million, putting it on the path to losing “John Carter“/”Battleship“/”Total Recall“-style sums of money. It was hardly a surprise (most people with half a brain saw this coming months ago), but it’s another illustration that for every expensive film that proves to be a hit, there’s at least one that fails entirely to connect with the audience that it needs.

Maybe ‘Jack’ will show some legs, but it’s unlikely: March is stacked with hopeful tentpoles, including “Oz The Great and Powerful,” “The Croods,” “The Host” and “G.I. Joe Retaliation,” all of which are competing for similar crowds, and not all of which will manage it. And things will get even worse in the summer; as has been the case for the last few years, as almost every week will bring a new blockbuster.

So with “Jack The Giant Slayer” the first to hit the deck, and the last-minute 3D conversion of “R.I.P.D” being announced, it seemed like a good time to look at some of the riskier prospects of the crowded summer blockbuster season, and examine their chances of being the next big smash, or the next “Cowboys & Aliens.” Read on below, and let us know how you think it’ll turn out in the comments section.

Oblivion” (April 12th)
The Cost: Originally planned by Universal (who picked the project up from turnaround at Disney) to be a relatively low $100 million. We’d wager it ends up a little over that, but maybe not by all that much.
The Risk: Ten years ago, Tom Cruise was about a safe a bet as you could imagine, but these days, it’s more of a toss-up as to whether his films can draw a substantial crowd. For every “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol” ($700 million worldwide, the biggest hit of Cruise’s career), there’s a “Jack Reacher” (a disappointing $213 million worldwide). His 2013 movie sees him try something relatively new, headlining an original sci-fi picture. Cruise has gone into fantastical territory before, with two successful Spielberg movies, but this is a bigger role of the dice: an expensive blockbuster from original material, from the director of a somewhat derided high-profile movie (Joseph Kosinski of “Tron: Legacy“), and a somewhat complex concept to get across (which Universal’s marketing campaign has done a mixed job of selling). And does an off-season release date (hitting IMAX theaters on April 12th, going wide a week later) indicate that the film is problematic, or simply that summer movies are landing earlier and earlier?
The (Possible) Return: The worst case scenario is that the film does a “John Carter” and opens to $30 million, comes in under $100 million domestically, but does reasonably well internationally (70% of the gross for ‘MI:GP’ and “Knight & Day” came from abroad). The best case scenario is that the film’s early release effectively makes it the first blockbuster of the summer, giving it a few weeks of uninterrupted play. Our guess is that it’ll be closer to the latter, with IMAX boosting grosses too, landing somewhere near the $400 million take of “Tron Legacy.”

“The Great Gatsby” (May 10th)
The Cost: $125 million was the original cost, but it appears there were some reshoots, although Warners were reportedly said to be reluctant to pay for them. And whether it’s an Oscar player, a summer spectacle or something in between remains to be seen.
The Risk: A reteam of director Baz Luhrmann and his “Romeo & Juliet” star Leonardo DiCaprio, on another classic work of literature, with a cast also including Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire and Joel Edgerton might not seem like a risk on paper. But “The Great Gatsby” is definitely one of the bigger question marks of the summer. Luhrmann has never been a box-office power-house (“Moulin Rouge!” is his top domestic grosser, at a fairly piddling $57 million, with $211 million haul “Australia” his best international player), and the hip-hop-soundtracked, stylized, 3D take on F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s novel threatens to be problematic in terms of drawing audiences. The execution could be too noisy for older, more literary audiences, but the material too fusty for the younger crowds.
The (Possible) Return: A rumored Cannes premiere (it opens internationally the day the fest kicks off) is still up in the air, but it could give the film a nice boost. The delay of the film from Christmas to spring isn’t particularly egregious (compared to the constantly shifting dates for “47 Ronin,” for example), and the $600 million haul for literary 3D adaptation “Life of Pi” is probably a comfort. Still, we think that going the week after the sure-to-be-a-monster “Iron Man 3” could be a mistake. And oh yeah, the following week “Star Trek Into Darkness” storms into theaters.” Use WB’s “Dark Shadows,” which had the same date, as a guide — it’ll probably go over $200 million, but how much more is the question. Will summer audiences want explosions or jazz age drama?

After Earth” (June 7th)
The Cost: $130 million
The Risk: One the one hand, you have Will Smith, probably the most consistently reliable movie star currently working, who after a few years’ absence, bounced back with a $600 million haul for last year’s “MIB 3.” On the other, M. Night Shyamalan, who despite an ever-increasing tornado of critical brickbats, continues to make a surprising amount of money at the box office: the awful “The Happening?” $160 million worldwide. The equally bad “The Last Airbender?” North of $300 million. So teaming them up (along with Will’s progeny Jaden Smith, who toplined surprise global hit “The Karate Kid“) would seem to be a recipe to make money. But it is original sci-fi, and despite “MIB 3” doing ok, Smith’s not quite what he was (the film was the lowest-grossing of the three internationally), and the film doesn’t just see him in grim-faced serious mode, but he also takes a back seat in the movie to Smith Jr. Plus it’s pretty similar in premise to “Oblivion,” which arrives a couple of months ahead of time. If that film doesn’t hit at the box office, Sony could get nervous, as people may feel they’ve already been there/done that with a ruined future earth adventure. It’s also got a crowded release date, with three wide releases against it, and “Man Of Steel” following the week after.
The (Possible) Return: Regardless of whether it’s any good or not, the film’s likely to skew fairly young, which can only help. We think the $300 million take of “The Last Airbender” is a good estimate, but it could end up going higher (like “I Am Legend” or “Hancock,” Smith vehicles that made around $600 million), or it could be a misfire and make half of that. We’re reasonably confident it’ll do ok, though.

“The Internship” (June 7th)
The Cost:Wedding Crashers” cost $40 million, we’d be very surprised if this cost all that much more, especially given that Vaughn and Wilson’s quotes aren’t what they were.
The Risk: Eight years ago, “Wedding Crashers” was an unmitigated success, breaking $200 million domestic on a budget of only $40 million. But neither of its stars have ever quite been able to match that toll, with both hits and flops along the way. Owen Wilson saw “Marley and Me” go to $143 million, while Vince Vaughn‘s last hit was “Couples Retreat,” which made just over $100, but their more recent pictures (“The Big Year,” “The Dilemma,” “The Watch“) have mostly underperformed. Will teaming them up again, selling them as a sort of Hope/Crosby double act, be any more successful? The premise of “Wedding Crashers” relied on the pair being young(ish) singletons, but this time the premise revolves more around them being old and out of touch. Will that appeal to audiences in the same way? And while this summer isn’t as loaded with comedy as last year, it still follows only two weeks on from “The Hangover Part III,” which is sure to be a monster.
The (Possible) Return: Even if the film looked as appealing as “Wedding Crashers” (and right now, it doesn’t), it’s unlikely that it would match that film’s total — that was something of a once-in-a-blue-moon-phenomenon. But there may be enough goodwill towards Vaughn and Wilson that the film could come close to half the total (especially with the reliable Shawn Levy, who hasn’t had a film take less than $80 mill domestically in over a decade). That said, last year’s “The Watch” suggested that audiences may be after a comedic changing of the guard, so if the film doesn’t get good word of month, it may struggle to make more than $50 million.

“Now You See Me” (June 7th)
The Cost: Allegedly around $70 million, so on the lower end of summer fare.
The Risk: For those wanting a break from superheroes and CGI, “Now You See Me” seemed on paper like it could be one of the more refreshing alternatives, featuring a terrific cast including Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson, Mark Ruffalo, Melanie Laurent, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine, in a high-concept thriller about a group of magicians who pull off a seemingly impossible bank heist. While the trailer demonstrated a little too much CGI for our tastes, Louis Leterrier‘s movie still looked like fun, but we’d still call it one of the riskier prospects of the summer. Summit originally had the film set for January, then March, so the summer release certainly speaks for their confidence in the finished product. But none of the cast are major box-office draws (though the Eisenberg/Harrelson pairing had a modest success with “Zombieland“), and we suspect that it could get buried by its bigger competition in the heart of the summer — it falls in that dicy in-between ground where it’s not quite grown-up counter-programming, and not quite brainless action.
The (Possible) Return: This is one of the harder ones to call this summer. With good reviews and smart marketing, it could doing the $200-odd million that something like “Inside Man,” made, though the $450 million of “Ocean’s Eleven” seems out of reach. But if “After Earth” and “The Internship” both open big, this could end up being overshadowed significantly, particularly with the rest of June looking so packed.

“This Is The End” (June 14th)
The Cost: Possibly as low as $25 million, but depending on the level of carnage depicted, possibly closer to $40 million.
The Risk: As with their slightly older predecessors, the shine’s starting to come off some of the Apatow set, box-office wise. Seth Rogen‘s “The Guilt Trip” and “50/50” both ended up around $35 million,  as did Jonah Hill‘s “The Sitter” and “The Watch” (though “21 Jump Street” took nearly four times that), while “Your Highness” took only $20 million two years ago. So will reuniting many of the main players on Rogen and co-writer Evan Goldberg‘s directorial debut, playing themselves alongside people like Rihanna and Emma Watson, restore some of the lost luster? The red-band clip that dropped recently was funny, and the film has a decent slot in a summer not overladen with R-rated chucklers, coming three weeks after “The Hangover Part III‘” and two before “The Heat,” plus it gets several months head start on the similarly named “The World’s End.”  But there’s always the risk that the film could end up feeling like an indulgent in-joke, and prove alienating for viewers outside L.A. And just as importantly, it’s opening against “Man Of Steel,” which unless it turns out to be a fiasco (and the buzz is that it isn’t), is likely to stomp it into tiny pieces .
The (Possible) Return: If that cost is accurate, the film is essentially going to go into profit whatever Sony do. Five years ago, some might have tipped this to be a $100 million grosser, but it seems to us that by slating it against “Man Of Steel,” they’ll be happy for it to hit that $35 million ceiling, and crank out some extra on home video. But, if “Man Of Steel” underperforms, or if they get a trailer in front of another “The Hangover Part III” screenings to make people want to go (it’s that technique that helped “Horrible Bosses” become a $100 million hit), maybe it’ll exceed our expectations.

World War Z
The Cost: The film was nearly scrapped when Paramount got uneasy about the $125 million budget; it’s unclear if that got trimmed down, or if partners Skydance helped make that more palatable. But supposedly, it had risen to $170 million even before the seven-week reshoots late last year, so our guess is it’ll be at least $200 million before marketing.
The Risk: Brad Pitt is about as solid a box-office prospect as you could ask for, in commercial fare at least. But “World War Z” feels particularly risky in terms of his studio fare: a sweeping, epic zombie horror actioner, and yet one that’s almost certain to carry a PG-13 rating. Paramount are probably hoping it matches the mega-grossing “I Am Legend” (nearly $600 million worldwide) , but that didn’t have the high-falutin’ socio-political aspirations that Pitt has talked about, and was also virtually unchallenged on release, while “World War Z” will follow the week after “Man Of Steel,” and go head-to-head with Pixar‘s “Monsters University.” And then there’s the bad buzz that includes the movie being pushed back, a well-publicized total rewrite and extensive third act reshoot. Will it be enough to rescue the movie?
The (Possible) Return): The bad buzz hasn’t necessarily broached the consciousness of the mainstream media at this point, and even if it did, moviegoers may not care that much. Even so, films this troubled can still reek, and Paramount’s marketing campaign has been pretty tepid by avoiding use of the term zombie, or even making clear what the threat is, while using the same footage in the Super Bowl spot as they did in the teaser. As such, we’d be very surprised if this did anything close to “I Am Legend” numbers. Pitt’s biggest hit remains the $500 million “Troy,” a more commercial prospect than this. That being said, Pitt rarely misses completely with a non-arthouse film, so this probably won’t be a historic flop either.

“The Heat” (June 28th)
The Cost: Aside from a substantial paycheck for Bullock, and probably a decent one for McCarthy, it probably wasn’t wildly expensive. Assuming they took upfront payments, let’s call it $60 million all in.
The Risk Factor: Sandra Bullock certainly has a built-in audience, but it tends to be for reasonably comforting fare — “The Proposal,” “The Blind Side,” “Miss Congeniality” et al. When she steps outside that zone, as with “Premonition” or “The Lake House,” takings tend to drop. Which is why it’s intriguing to see her starring in an R-rated action comedy. Will that alienate her usual audience? However, the film got moved quite late on from April to the heart of summer, which is a show of confidence.
The Return: While it could be seen as a risk on paper, this looks like a license to print money to us. Bullock’s a reliable leading lady solo (and her desire to push her brand a little bit here is admirable), and teaming her with “Bridesmaids” director Paul Feig, and that film’s breakout Melissa McCarthy (the main draw of the lone box-office bright spot of 2013 so far with “Identity Thief“) is a golden opportunity. The film looks pretty funny as it is, and it has a prime release date, with no comedy competition for two weeks either side of it (and no R-rated comedy competition until “We’re The Millers” six weeks later). This definitely feels like a case where Fox moving the film to the summer was a bullish move. The film should crest $100 million domestic, but it could go as high as “The Proposal” or even “Bridesmaids” ($179 million).

“White House Down” (June 28th)
The Cost: Ain’t nobody saying. Given the smaller scope, it’s likely to be less than the $200 million cost of “2012,’ but it’s probably also well over $100 million.
The Risk Factor: Every year has some kind of duelling-premises contest between rival movies, and this year brings the contest between two “Die Hard“-in-the-White-House movies. And “White House Down” has the disadvantage of coming a couple of months after “Olympus Has Fallen.” Coming second didn’t affect “Snow White & The Huntsman” which comfortably outgrossed “Mirror Mirror,” but they seemed to have more obvious differences in their target audiences. At this point at least, four months from release, Sony haven’t shown much beyond stills of “White House Down,” and maybe need to get going on that campaign, for risk of making audiences think they’ve already seen the film, and that it starred Gerard Butler. Plus “Olympus Has Fallen” looks so terrible that it could be tarnished by association. It’s also worth noting that the “Die Hard”-type movie hasn’t been a great draw in recent years: even “A Good Day To Die Hard” is struggling, and looks likely to be the lowest-grossing of that series.
The Return: All that said, Roland Emmerich is, for the most part a hit machine (if we exclude “Anonymous,“”10,000 BC” is his only significant flop, and even that took over $250 million worldwide), and Channing Tatum has proven a reliable lead across the last year pushing three movies to over $110 million domestic. Having co-star Jamie Foxx coming off “Django Unchained” will help too. Hitting just in time for the 4th of July weekend can only be a boost too. It’s unfortunate to be splitting audiences with “The Heat” (as Tatum vehicle “Magic Mike” did with “Ted” on the same slot last year), but both films should perform, with the $300 million worldwide take of “Air Force One” probably the high watermark in this case.

“Lone Ranger” (July 3rd)
The Cost: Shut down/delayed once because of a budget deemed unacceptable to Disney, the film was eventually greenlit, only for costs to soar again once filming began. It’s likely to be at least $250 million, and may have gone higher than that even, making it one of the summer’s most expensive films.
The Risk: You wouldn’t think that a movie that reteams most of the creatives behind the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films, which have taken close to $4 billion between them, could be deemed as a risk. But you also wouldn’t have thought a western could cost over $350 million (once P&A is taken into account) either, and yet here we are. It’s the kind of “John Carter“-ish sum that means the film has to be a megahit or bust (we’re not even sure that the $600 million that the original ‘Pirates’ took would put this into the black). But the risks go beyond that. Depp proved with “The Tourist” and “Dark Shadows” that he can’t turn everything into gold, and co-star Armie Hammer is untested as a draw. Plus westerns historically perform less well internationally, and worldwide gross has been the savior of recent ‘Pirates’ films (75% of the take for “On Stranger Tides” came from outside the U.S.). Plus, remember “Cowboys & Aliens.”
The Return: Much of this was said about pirates movies before “Pirates of the Caribbean,” so it’s possible that if the film works, Disney have another billion-dollar franchise on their hands. Depp certainly remains popular enough around the world, and even if the character isn’t exactly popular, there’s a degree of name recognition there. Plus Disney are probably comforted that “Django Unchained” has so far made 60% of its box office abroad, so westerns aren’t totally U.S-centric. But even so, Disney’s marketing hasn’t quite brought across the have-to-see factor. We can see a world in which this makes “John Carter” money, around $300 million, and a bunch of people at Disney lose their jobs. We can also see a world where it gets over a billion. The truth is likely somewhere in between.

Pacific Rim” (July 12th)
The Cost: No stars keeps the overheads relatively low, but reports vary as to how much the whole shebang costs, from $150 million to $250 million.
The Risk: Like “Oblivion” and “After Earth,” “Pacific Rim” is a sci-fi action epic that isn’t based on pre-existing comics/video games/etc, but unlike those films, it doesn’t have a Will Smith or a Tom Cruise (though the latter was briefly in talks for Idris Elba‘s role, as it happens). What it does have is an acclaimed and beloved director, one who studios are happy to give major sums to to make something like this. But unlike, say, James Cameron and Christopher Nolan, Del Toro is an unproven force at the box-office: “Hellboy II” is his top-grosser, but even that only took $160 million. He might draw in the cinephiles, but he’s not really a name that registers with the general public. And while the concept is fairly irresistible, the trailer didn’t do much to sell it to the general public (comparisons to “Transformers” got out there, which as “Battleship” proved, doesn’t help you much unless you’re actually a “Transformers” movie). Another clip, with more finished effects and a clearer sense of narrative, could yet pull it back though.
The Return: Of everything this summer, this is the one that feels like it could go either way. When we read the script, we thought to ourselves, “This is going to make a billion dollars.” But we don’t sense a lot of buzz out there for this amongst the general public, as yet, and while it’s early, July is creeping closer. We’re still confident than Del Toro can deliver the goods, but Warners can’t make the same mistake that many have before, and just sell it to the geek crowds who’ll turn up to anything with a giant robot and a cool monster (and there is a lot more to the script beyond that). This might end up doing “Inception” type numbers if it works and word of mouth is strong, or it could still be the summer’s most high profile flop.

“R.I.P.D.” (July 19th)
The Cost: Rumors are that it came in over $200 million, and that was before the recent decision to convert the film to 3D.
The Risk: Actually, we may have jumped the gun when we said that “Pacific Rim” might have the chance to be the summer’s most high profile flop, we may have jumped the gun a bit. Ryan Reynolds had two summer misses in 2011 with “Green Lantern” and “The Change-Up,” but by that time, he’d already been cast in this Universal production, which teams him with Jeff Bridges in a “Men In Black“-style effects-packed action comedy. The film shot at the end of 2011, and has been in lengthy post-production ever since, but five months out from release, not a single still or piece of footage has been unveiled. Perhaps of more concern, the studio made a last minute decision to convert the movie to 3D, which suggests that they think they could probably use the subsidized ticket sales (“Pacific Rim” did the same, but with a year to go). The public essentially have no idea that the film exists at this point, so Universal have a lot of work to do to get the word out, assuming that they don’t end up pushing it back (which is entirely possible at this point).
The Reward: It should be mentioned that Reynolds had a solid hit with “Safe House,” which like this, paired him with an older co-star, to the sum of $200 million worldwide. And last summer reminded us of the appeal of the “Men In Black” movies to worldwide moviegoers. But this is a new property, based on a comic no one knows, and Reynolds and Bridges don’t equal Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. If the bad buzz is wrong, and the film’s a crowd-pleaser, it could turn out to be a surprise and end up around the $400-500 million mark, but much more likely (given stiff competition) is that it ends up doing about the same as “Safe House,” which would mean that Universal will be writing off a lot of money. Either way, they should probably start selling the thing. 

“Elysium” (Aug 9th)
The Cost: Significantly more than the $30 million cost of “District 9,” the film was originally intended to be made for around $90 million, but we’d wager it came in over $100 million by the time reshoots were completed.
The Risk: Four years ago, “District 9” proved to be a pleasant surprise — a low-budget sci-fi (that looked like it cost four or five time as much as it really did) with no names, sold mostly on the name of executive producer Peter Jackson, that proved to be a solid late-summer hit. This time around, expectations are higher, not least thanks to a bigger budget, and the presence of movie stars Matt Damon and Jodie Foster as the hero and villain of the piece. But will the takings rise with the budget? The film’s set to be very much a continuation of its predecessor, mixing socio-political themes, sci-fi and ultraviolence. But will those who caught up with “District 9” at home flock to theaters for this? They’ll have to, because the film probably won’t break even if it makes the same $210 million that its predecessor did. Sony pushed the film back from its original March 1st date, which is also a little concerning, particularly because August is so overloaded with older-skewing action pictures. And it’s worth remembering that outside the “Bourne” movies, Matt Damon’s hasn’t been a consistent draw, although this does at least see him back on ass-kicking territory.
The Reward: Again, outside of a Comic-Con presentation (which was, it should be said, rapturously received), no trailer or footage has been seen from the film yet, though a few stills and virals have arrived. But “District 9” was a late starter too, and still played well. Like we said, if it matches that film’s total (or that of last summer’s “Total Recall” remake), it’ll be disappointing, but if it can make it to the $300 million mark, it’ll be a little more respectable.

Also out: Generally speaking, sequels to established franchises are safer bets, and the main question with “Iron Man 3,” “Star Trek Into Darkness,” “Fast & Furious 6,” “The Hangover Part 3,” “Despicable Me 2,” “Monsters University,” “Grown Ups 2” and “The Wolverine” isn’t if they’ll make money, but how much they’ll take. August brings some slightly dicier prospects in “300: Rise Of An Empire” (which doesn’t retain the original director or most of the cast), “Red 2” and “Kick-Ass 2.” The former two were sleepers that now have to stand their ground against more competition, the latter wasn’t a huge hit in the first place, and was only greenlit on the basis of strong home video performance.

Elsewhere, “Epic” and “Turbo” mark new animated properties, and unless one tanks like “Rise of the Guardians” did last year, they should be fine. Horror flick “The Conjuring” looks to have the potential to be a sleeper hit (don’t be surprised if it outgrosses the more expensive “R.I.P.D” when they open on the same weekend), while as “2 Guns” stars two of the most reliable box-office draws in North America, Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg, and we expect it’ll do fine. Finally, “Man Of Steel” is an interesting question: it’ll have to outperform “Superman Returns” to be seen as a success, but with the goodwill of Christopher Nolan‘s name (and the strong buzz we’re hearing around the film), that shouldn’t be a problem. 

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