“It” is the much-anticipated and much-needed Stephen King adaptation. In addition to opening Friday with high box-office expectations, “It” also represents the fervent wish of every exhibitor that the dreadful summer of 2017 will recede like a bad dream.
Advance estimates suggest “It” could reach $70 million for its opening weekend. Anything over $62.5 million would top “Rush Hour,” the September record holder (in adjusted figures). Even if it did as little as $50 million, it should propel the weekend to a height it hasn’t seen in three months: More people would go to theaters than the same weekend in 2016.
The year-to-date total for North America is just under $7.6 billion, about $500 million less than the 2016 post-Labor Day box office. However, there’s still four months left — a full third of the year — to make up the gap.
That said: achieving that would mean each week, on average, would need to do $30 million better than the same period last year. That would be a nearly impossible achievement — but let’s start with the glass half full. Here’s seven scenarios where the unlikely could happen:
1. “It” is huge
The weekend after Labor Day used to be a black hole for studios, but last year Clint Eastwood’s “Sully” bucked precedent and opened to $35 million, which led to $125 million. If “It” opens at its high end ($70 million) and audiences are positive, it has a shot at $200 million. (Of note: It’s rare for horror films to achieve that multiple.)
2. “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” and “The LEGO Ninjago Movie” both top $100 million
Besides”Sully,” no other films released in September or October 2016 grossed over $100 million. “Kingsman” and “Lego” are franchises, each with predecessors above that number. A September with three films over $100 million would be unprecedented — but it’s possible.
3. “Blade Runner 2049” lives up to expectations
If audience interest equals the hype for the sequel to the 35-year-old cult classic, it could be potentially the fourth $100 million release in the next two months.
4. Jason Blum strikes again with “Happy Death Day”
Blum is the hands-on producer for this mid-October Universal horror release — his first since “Split” and “Get Out.” Blum’s Halloween period films have grossed more in the $20 million-$40 million range, but there’s precedent for a breakout success.
5. November’s Marvel, DC, and Disney Tentpoles all excel
Three November releases have a shot at $250 million or more by the end of the year. First up is “Thor: Ragnarok” from Marvel/Disney. As for comps, this year saw two Marvel Universe films: “Guardians of the Galaxy 2” and “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” which earned $390 million and $325 million, respectively. Second entry “Thor: The Dark World” grossed $220 million (adjusted) in 2013, but the most recent Marvel subset to have a third go-round, 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War,” jumped to over $400 million after “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” grossed $277 million (adjusted) in 2014.
Two weeks later,”Justice League” could cut into its totals. The ensemble film includes Wonder Woman, Batman, Superman, Aquaman, Lex Luthor, The Flash, and more. It could easily be the biggest hit between “Wonder Woman” and Christmas.
Then there’s the annual Disney Thanksgiving holiday release. This year it’s “Coco,” a Pixar film after several years of in-house titles like “Frozen” and “Moana.” The last Pixar blockbuster was last summer’s “Finding Dory,” which nearly reached $500 million. “Coco” has an excellent shot of surpassing “Moana.”
6. The Force is still with “Star Wars”
For the third straight year, the rebooted Star Wars franchise will provide December’s biggest success. Unlike last year’s spinoff, “Rogue One,” “The Last Jedi” is a direct successor to “The Force Awakens.”
By Dec. 31 of their respective years, “Force” grossed about $225 million more than “Rogue. If “Jedi” can split the difference, that would mean $100 million more than a similar title last year.
7. Surprise us
Like 2016, we will see just under 50 wide releases after Labor Day. Most of these titles are not sequels; this summer proved that could be a plus, but potential is tougher to estimate.
Will it work? It’s a longshot to make up the gap. But at worst, it should be significantly reduced from its to date level. If not, all the excuses for the summer – sequelitis, a vacated August, a release schedule aimed more at foreign than domestic tastes – will look secondary to a bigger concern that a long-term slump is the new normal.