12 Future Blockbusters That Will Burn Up the Box Office This Summer

The biggest blockbusters almost always adhere to one of a few tried-and-true formulas for success. While Hollywood still turns out a handful of gems each year — films like 12 Years a Slave and Blue Jasmine — most studios would prefer to have a box office hit than a critical darling. Money speaks louder than praise.

It’s still impossible to predict with absolute certainty which movies will score a home run and which will come up short, but Hollywood has it down to as much of a science as possible. Captain America: Winter Soldier is the biggest film at the box office right now, and absolutely no one is surprised. It’s the third film where Chris Evans has played Captain America in as many years, and the ninth Avengers film since the franchise got a reboot with Iron Man in 2008. That is to say, when movie producers find something that works, they keep doing it. The first film on this list of likely blockbusters in 2014 is a perfect example of that, and the reason it’s not much of a challenge to predict the next big box office hit.

1. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (May 2)

The beginning of May may be a stretch for a list of “summer” blockbusters, especially if you’re living in the Midwest, but The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has all the makings of a summer blockbuster. As the name would indicate, the film is the second in the latest Spider-Man reboot. The first, The Amazing Spider-Man, grossed $262 million domestically when it premiered just before the Fourth of July in 2012. In any other year, The Amazing Spider-Man may have been a runaway hit, but with stiff competition from films such as Marvel’s The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, and The Hunger Games, it was the seventh biggest box office draw of the year. Sony likely decided to play it safe with the second film by getting out of the gate ahead of the main blockbuster season, so that it can build up some momentum unimpeded by other major releases.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 isn’t likely to be the biggest film of the year, but it will surely fall in the top 10, below the third installment of The Hunger Games franchise, which debuts in November, and likely the next Transformers film, but how it holds up against this summer’s other anticipated blockbusters will depend on a number of as yet unquantifiable variables. How good is the script? The acting? Will audiences turn up to a “summer” blockbuster at the beginning of May? Whatever its rank, though, there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 will be one of the year’s biggest box office draws.

2. Godzilla (May 16)

It’s a fair bet that when a movie is being released in 3D, the studio has high expectations for its box office performance. A remake of Godzilla may not be the most inspired idea, but it’s meant to be low risk — not because it is low budget, which this movie certainly is not, but because there is already a demonstrated audience. The last Godzilla film, released in 1998, raked in $136 million at the domestic box office and grossed $379 million worldwide, despite a rather poor critical reception and no 3D ticket sales.

This new adaptation packs a lot more punch with Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston joining the mix, along with Indie princess Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche, and recent Oscar nominee Sally Hawkins. The all-star cast is enough to give us hope that the film will be something more than a vehicle for the latest in special effects, but even if that were all it had to offer, Godzilla could be relied on to perform pretty well at the box office. One need only to look at Warner Bros.’s recent track record. Some of the biggest blockbusters of the last decade have come from the same studio now behind this latest Godzilla franchise.

Fortunately for audiences, Warner Bros. has managed to bring something extra to the table in a lot of its adaptations and remakes. Take the Batman franchise, for instance. Warner Bros. recruited Christopher Nolan to direct a new trilogy, which resulted in some of the most critically acclaimed and financially lucrative superhero films in the last decade. To this day, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises are not only the two highest grossing Warner Bros. films of all time, but are also among the top 10 all time highest grossing films in the U.S., and in the top 20 worldwide. The Dark Knight Rises, the third and final film in the franchise, turned its $250 million production budget into a cool $1.1 billion by the time it closed its theater run. The Dark Knight’s figures aren’t far behind.

If Godzilla is only half as good and takes in just a fraction of the box office the Batman trilogy did, it’s sure to be another big summer blockbuster.

3. X-Men: Days of Future Past (May 23)

If the first film in the X-Men reboot is any indicator, this follow-up, which will be released during the Memorial Day weekend in the U.S., is sure to rake in some dough. X-Men: First Class pulled in $55 million in its opening weekend in June 2011 and grossed $146 million domestically by the time its run was over. With another $207 million from foreign ticket sales, the film more than doubled its $160 million investment.

Now there’s good reason to believe the second film in the new franchise will do even better. First, it stars Jennifer Lawrence, whose fame has grown exponentially since her turn in X-Men: First Class thanks to two Hunger Games films and an Oscar win for Silver Linings Playbook. Second, the weekend preceding Memorial Day is one of the biggest of the whole year at the box office, and X-Men: Days of Future Past has no real competition. It’s the only anticipated blockbuster being released that weekend. Godzilla may still have some holdover from the weekend before, but X-Men will no doubt be number one by a fairly wide margin. Fox wouldn’t have invested $200 million-plus into the movie if they didn’t feel it was a sure bet.

In fact, X-Men: Days of Future Past is the priciest X-Men film to date, and there have been quite a few made already. It’s also the most complicated script to date, taking place in two time periods (spoiler: there’s some time travel), across six continents, and merging casts from the reboot and the last franchise.

This merging of casts might be the film’s biggest draw. The new X-Men introduced in X-Men: First Class — Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, and Nicholas Hoult — will be joined by some of the favorites from the previous franchise — Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Halle Berry, and Ian McKellan. Game of Thrones’ Peter Dinklage also joins the cast. Fox has a lot of faith in this film, and for good reason. 

4. Maleficent (May 30)

Just watch the trailer for Maleficent and it will give you the chills — in a good way. This adaptation of the Sleeping Beauty fairytale stars Angelina Jolie as one of the most ominously wicked witches in Disney history, and is sure to find fans among children and adults alike. Remember: the Sleeping Beauty feature film has been a Disney staple since it was released in 1959, which means many generations have grown up knowing this story, and are likely to be drawn to the more grown-up and decidedly more sinister take on the classic.

However, live action Disney films aren’t always the biggest box office draws — at least, not compared to superhero films and popular book series adaptations — and this one has Wall Street particularly concerned because it skews toward an older audience. It’s just too scary for younger children. In fact, Disney is specifically targeting young adults with this film, which means it’s a bigger risk than family films like Frozen. Disney is not immune to failure — does anyone remember John Carter?

Still, with Jolie’s star power, a less competitive opening weekend near the beginning of summer, and some positive buzz (the trailer really is excellent), Maleficent has the potential to pull off one of the biggest opening weekends of the season.

5. The Fault in Our Stars (June 6)

The Fault in Our Stars has a lot of points in its favor — it stars Hollywood’s new ‘it’ girl, Shailene Woodley on the heels of her successful turn in the first film in the Divergent franchise; it’s based on a best-selling young adult novel; and it looks like it’s going to be a genuinely good movie. However, there’s one major piece missing in the traditional formula for success: action.

Superheroes and supervillains usually reign supreme at the box office in the summer months. The Fault in Our Stars contains no major, potentially world-ending catastrophes, no epic fight scenes, no feats of derring-do. It does not take place in a dystopic future where children are forced to fight to the death. At its heart, it’s a love story — one that will hopefully live up to the beauty of the novel, but a love story nonetheless. The Fault in Our Stars is about two teenagers who meet and fall in love at a cancer support group. The story is touching and humorous, the characters are witty and raw, but this is not the kind of film that generally experiences the kind of box office success that characterizes a summer blockbuster.

It should, but it probably won’t. That’s why The Fault in Our Stars only gets an honorable mention on this list. If any film has the potential to upset the normal balance of things, it’s this one — but don’t count on it.

6. 22 Jump Street (June 13)

Opening to $36 million in its first weekend, 21 Jump Street wasn’t exactly what one would normally refer to as a blockbuster. However, a large part of its demographic — young men — had likely never heard of the late-80s TV show it was based on, which means the movie didn’t have the sort of reliable fanbase that franchise films like the latest X-Men installment or a Spider-Man reboot can count on to bolster ticket sales.

Still, a $36 million opener for an R-rated comedy is certainly nothing to sneeze at. The film only cost Columbia $42 million to make, and went on to gross $202 million worldwide. With numbers like that, a sequel was a no-brainer.

While 21 Jump Street was released in mid-March, the sequel, 22 Jump Street, is getting prime placement in mid-June, with no real competition. Godzilla and X-Men: Days of Future Past will already have been out for multiple weekends by the time of its release, and 22 Jump Street is aiming for an entirely different audience than Maleficent and The Fault in Our Stars, which means any holdover ticket sales from those more recent releases shouldn’t really weigh on its opening box office. Further, 22 Jump Street may even reign supreme in its second weekend, as there are no major releases scheduled until Transformers: Age of Extinction hits theaters on June 27.

Columbia is relying on the same audience that came out to support the first film coming out to support the second, and with an 85 percent fresh rating for first film on RottenTomatoes, that seems like a reasonable expectation. Even critics liked 21 Jump Street, including Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers and Richard Brody at The New Yorker, who described the film as having “jolts of sentiment, personal discovery, and wild comedy.”

With such a positive reception for its predecessor and over two years to gain new fans who maybe didn’t watch 21 Jump Street in theaters, but who later found it on Netflix or iTunes, 22 Jump Street will likely be the summer’s biggest comedy blockbuster.

7. Transformers: Age of Extinction (June 27)

This film is among the summer’s surer bets. It’s the fourth Transformers film since 2007, and each of its predecessors has grossed upward of $300 million just at the domestic box office. The latest, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, was the second highest grossing film of 2011, falling slightly behind the final installment in the Harry Potter franchise. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was second only to Avatar in 2009, and the first Transformers film, released in 2007, came in third behind Spider-Man 3 and Shrek the Third. Together, the first three films in the franchise have grossed roughly $1.1 billion just in domestic ticket sales, and roughly $2.7 billion globally.

Paramount wouldn’t have thrown $165 million into producing Transformers: Age of Extinction, of which a large chunk is probably the salary for director Michael Bay and star Mark Wahlberg — who will replace Shia Labeouf as the lead in the franchise — if they didn’t believe it had the potential to land somewhere in the ballpark of the last three films.

The beauty of the Transformers films is that they don’t have to be good — at least, not according to the same standards that dictate the success of a plot-driven film. In the Transformers franchise, and others like it, plot comes second to special effects, and we already know Paramount can bring the heat when it comes to titanic fight sequences. If viewers only get more of the same, Transformers: Age of Extinction will be a home run.

8. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (July 11)

With a production budget of $93 million, Rise of the Planet of the Apes took home nearly $177 million domestically in 2011 after a 26-week run, adding another $305 million in foreign ticket sales, for a return just shy of four times Fox’s investment. Released ten years earlier, Planet of the Apes, with a production budget of $100 million, also performed well with $180 million in domestic ticket sales and $182 million at the foreign box office. Even with a slightly inflated budget — $120 million for this third installment — Dawn of the Planet of the Apes will be a success if it manages only to match the performance of its predecessors.

Of course, with a new cast, nothing is certain. The first film in the reboot of the classic film franchise was directed by Tim Burton and featured Mark Wahlberg, Helena Bonham Carter, and Paul Giamatti. The second film introduced a new cast, including James Franco and Freida Pinto, which certainly didn’t hold it back, but Dawn of the Planet of the Apes doesn’t have the same star power of the last two films. Whether that holds any weight in whether people decide to go to see the film remains to be seen. Fox must not think it will or they would have invested in some bigger names. Still, it couldn’t have hurt. But either way, this film is sure to make back its production budget and then some.

9. Jupiter Ascending (July 18)

Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum star in this sci-fi adventure film about a young woman who learns that she has a great genetic destiny. Set in the future, where gods rule over humans, Kunis’s character, Jupiter Jones, is a Russian immigrant who cleans toilets for a living until Caine (Tatum), an interplanetary warrior, is sent by the King of the Universe to kill her. According to Caine, the stars were pointing to an extraordinary event on the day Jupiter was born, and her DNA could mark her as the universe’s next leader.

The plot, cast of characters, and people making the film — the Wachowskis, who wrote, directed, and produced the film, were also behind the Matrix trilogy — all indicate that Jupiter Ascending could be a blockbuster. But it’s a new story, one that hasn’t been told in comic books or previous film franchises, and it’s harder to predict audience turnout when there’s no existing fanbase. With a budget of $150 million, its clear Warner Bros. has faith in the film, but Jupiter Ascending will need to garner a lot of positive buzz ahead of its release.

Fortunately, Kunis and Tatum can help with that. They’re each at the height of their careers, and have had some big box office successes in recent years, not to mention some critical acclaim. The studio could not have picked two actors better equipped to carry this kind of franchise. So far, all the right moves have been made. The movie’s fate is now in the hands of Warner Bros.’s publicity machine, critics, and theater-goers.

10. Hercules (July 25)

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson stars as Hercules in this adaptation of the Greek and Roman myths about the noble demigod and hero. The son of Zeus, Hercules is famous for his super-human strength, and in this latest film, is recruited to help defeat a tyrannical warlord.

The professional wrestler-turned-actor couldn’t be better suited to play Hercules — he already has the strength, the size, the bulging muscles, and the box office clout. Last year, Johnson shared the screen with Vin Diesel and Paul Walker in Fast and Furious 6, which opened to $97 million in its first weekend, giving it the fourth best debut of 2013. He also starred with Mark Wahlberg in Pain & Gain, which turned a relatively paltry $26 million production budget into $86 million in gross ticket sales. G.I. Joe: Retaliation, also starring Channing Tatum and Bruce Willis, turned its $130 million production budget into nearly $376 million in gross ticket sales.

However, in all of his successes, The Rock had a co-star or co-stars who could help carry the film. In Hercules, he’s joined by some well-received actors, but none with a history of making big bucks at the box office. In last year’s Snitch, he was also expected to carry the film, but it couldn’t even manage to take the top weekend spot when it opened in February, falling behind Identity Thief, then in its third weekend. With an estimated budget of $15 million, a $13 million opening and $43 million gross is respectable, especially considering the film was released in just 2,511 theaters (for comparison, Fast and Furious 6 was released in 3,771 theaters.) But it’s enough to question whether Johnson is a big enough box office draw by himself. With a production budget of $110 million, Paramount are crossing their fingers he will be.

Sandwiched between Jupiter Ascending and Guardians of the Galaxy in a summer jam-packed with superheroes and sequels, this big budget action-adventure film is in the rare position of being an underdog. Without the established credibility of a franchise or a large ensemble cast, Hercules is a true measure of The Rock’s ability to put butts in seats.

11. Guardians of the Galaxy (August 1)

Bradley Cooper, Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Glenn Close, Vin Diesel, and the list of stars in this galaxy goes on and on. Unlike the previous weekend’s biggest offering, which rests solely on the albeit very ripped back of a single actor, Guardians of the Galaxy is pulling out all the stops with a huge ensemble cast.

As big a draw as its celebrity roster may be, though, one name matters more than all the rest: Marvel. As is the case with some of the biggest blockbusters of the last decade, Guardians of the Galaxy is a film adaptation of a popular Marvel comic — the first in what is likely to be another franchise.

However, none of that is protection against the film being a flop. It’s the first time any of the Guardians will be introduced on the big screen, and some of them are a bit unusual — a talking raccoon and a tree person aren’t your average blockbuster material. Further, the Guardians comics aren’t nearly as popular as the X-Men or Spider-Man were before they were adapted for film. Of course, neither was Iron Man, and that spawned sequel after sequel and has grossed billions since the first film was released in 2008.

Fortunately for Disney, Guardians of the Galaxy only cost $30 million to make — less than Robert Downey Jr. took home for his third turn playing Iron Man in Marvel’s The Avengers. If it can only match the performance of The Watchmen — another film based on a relatively unknown comic — then the studio should be happy. There’s no denying this film has blockbuster potential, but it doesn’t have to be a major hit to be a win for its producers.

12. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (August 8)

There’s already a lot of buzz surrounding Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It’s the 8th ranked film on IMDB’s MovieMeter, which means it’s a highly searched term this week, a full four months before it’s due to be released.

Originally a comic book, the ninja turtles were first adapted for screen in 1990. That first film was a commercial success, spawning sequels in 1991 and 1993. Another film for the franchise didn’t follow until 2007, and unlike the previous films, was completely computer generated. Given its low production budget — just $34 million — the film didn’t exactly ‘bomb,’ but it barely ranked in the top 50 films that year, a far cry from a blockbuster. With the king of blockbusters, Michael Bay, behind the upcoming film, it’s fair to say expectations for the reboot are higher.

As demonstrated in 2007, there will always be an audience for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Fortunately, young men in their teens and twenties are the biggest theater-going demographic, and they also happen to be the generation that grew up with the ninja turtles, on film and on TV, as action figures and Halloween costumes. With the same man behind the Transformers franchise lending his expertise to the turtles reboot, and adding Megan Fox for good measure, it seems likely Paramount will have a hit on its hands come August.

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