May Box Office Could Hit $950 Million, Powered by the Guardians and the Mario Bros.

"Guardians of the Galaxy 3" estimates are soft post- "Quantumania," but the Super Mario Bros. will be there to pick up the slack.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 3, Baby Rocket (voice: Bradley Cooper), 2023. © Marvel / © Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection
Baby Rocket in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3"
©Walt Disney Co./Courtesy Everett Collection

Well, that’s awkward: We predicted a healthy $650 million box office for April and missed the mark — by a lot. The month’s total was $900 million, thanks to the overwhelming overperformance of “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” (Universal), which initial projections placed at $250 million for its 24 days in April. (And even that felt optimistic.) “SMB” actually took in $491 million in the U.S./Canada for the period.

The rest of the month — holdovers “John Wick: Chapter 4” (Lionsgate) and “Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” (Paramount) added just under $150 million, and new releases “Air” (MGM) and “Evil Dead Rise” (Warner Bros. Discovery) combined for over $110 million — came in as expected.

April also introduced an unexpected question. As the summer season begins with the traditional Disney Marvel release, will “SMB” suggest a surge in expectations — or does it mean, with perhaps a $650 million domestic total, we’ve already seen the release of 2023’s top title?

Three May openings will give strong hints. “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” (Disney) opens Friday. Last year, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” debuted the same date to an initial $187 million. Projections for the “Guardians 3” debut are about two-thirds of that. Coming off the disappointing “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” ($213 million total U.S./Canada), guesses are conservative.

Even so, there are two big reasons to project that May 2023 may beat both May 2022 ($786 million) and April 2023. With a potential $300 million take for “Guardians 3,” along with substantial contributions from three other titles, this month could total $950 million. “SMB” could easily be the #2 film for this month with the potential for another $125 million-$150 million more in the period. Other holdovers this May might add another $60 million-$75 million.

May also has three openings that could add significantly more than $100 million this month. Last year had two with “Top Gun: Maverick,” which grossed $176 million over the five-day Memorial Day weekend, and “Dr. Strange.”

“The Little Mermaid” (Disney) takes the 2023 Memorial Day placement with six days of play in the month. “The Lion King,” the another live-action remake of a Disney animated classic, grossed $544 million domestically in 2019, though the 1994 film was much bigger than 1989’s animated “Mermaid.”

Book Club 2 review
“Book Club: The Next Chapter”Focus Features

The bigger X factor is “Fast X” (Universal), which opens May 19. That gives it nearly two weeks in the month and the previous two franchise releases grossed between $128 million-$170 million in their first 13 days. This will be a far bigger international success, but figure $125 million this month as a minimum, with better likely.

Seven other wide releases by major distributors wide releases will join these three debuts, although four don’t open until May 26. The one with the biggest potential could be “Book Club: The Next Chapter” (Focus), which opens May 12 and could gross $30 million-$40 million.

If May sees $950 million, that would be 21 percent better than last year. Last month was a stunning 58 percent better than April 2022, though down 12 percent from 2019. Year to date is 37 percent ahead of 2022 and 14 percent under 2019.

If the $950 million projection is correct, we would end the month 32 percent ahead of last year and 13 percent off 2019. That trajectory would result in about $9.7 billion-$9.8 billion domestic gross for 2023, which would be terrific: $9 billion was closer to consensus analyst guesses going into 2023.

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