Summertime might seem like a pure cash grab for studios stagnant with awards hangovers — but trust us, there are plenty of Hail Mary passes getting tossed all throughout the hotter months.
Last year, the four-month summer movie season brought in $4.5 billion in total box office revenues — a full 39 percent of the year’s $11.4 million total domestic gross. Studios have a lot riding on performance of big-budget tentpoles, and it’s often more challenging and expensive to market those films with so many competitors beside them on calendar.
The 2016 summer season delivered two movies that grossed more than $1 billion worldwide, Disney’s “Captain America: Civil War” and “Finding Dory,” as well as Disney’s “The Jungle Book,” which reeled in $967 million. But it was also home to a handful of big-budget flops, such as Sony’s “Ghostbusters” and Paramount’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows.”
The holidays may be the season for prestige pictures, but in the summer, studios have to go big or go home. Here are some of their riskiest bets:
“King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”
(Warner Bros., May 12)
In a kingdom of Hollywood action stars, Charlie Hunnam is certainly among the fairest — but he’s largely untested in the marketplace, especially packing IP as dusty as King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.
Combine that with the much-delayed release date and director Guy Ritchie — whose last Warner outing, “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” was a visual feast and a lot of fun but failed to resonate worldwide — and this is certainly risky business. Hopefully the studio can pull a sword out of stone on this one.
(Fox, May 12)
It’s been 14 years since Goldie Hawn graced the big screen, and she returns in an action comedy playing Amy Schumer’s mom. The onscreen pair are irresistible in interviews and early promotional appearances, but this film does not have the Judd Apatow halo afforded Schumer on her debut “Trainwreck.”
The good news? Schumer is a huge star now, and while she did not write the screenplay here she seems to have infused the project with her brand of rivaling self-deprecation and empowerment. The bad news? Director Jonathan Levine has not been around since his underperforming YA project “Warm Bodies” in 2013. Time will tell if this comedy snatches an audience.
(Warner Bros., May 19)
If “Everything, Everything” were on a roulette table, we’d be happy to put our chips down — despite the fact that this is the first major outing for Stella Meghie (director of the SXSW gem “Jean of the Joneses”) and a big test for internet-beloved actress/activist Amandla Stenberg. On the plus side: This interracial youth romance has a modest budget, grassroots potential and a Warner Bros. marketing budget.
“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales”
(Disney, May 26)
How do we solve a problem like Johnny Depp? It’s no secret that he’s had a terrible fun of box office luck. But that Captain Jack Sparrow costume has always been kind to Depp — and a veritable cash machine for Disney. But it’s been six years, and a hell of a lot of personal drama, since Depp played the swashbuckler. Javier Bardem lends some star power as an undead villain, but there’s no telling if “Dead Man” has a pulse.
(Warner Bros., June 2)
Warner Bros.’ DC Comics universe has produced solid hits like “Suicide Squad” and “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” but they haven’t performed as well financially — or critically — as Disney’s Marvel universe. Can director Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman” right the ship? There’s a lot riding on the film’s performance — including the Warner Bros.’ strategy for upcoming DC-inspired movies as well as the future of its top executives as AT&T looks to complete its acquisition of the studio.
(Universal, June 9)
Universal has struggled to cash in on its classic horror franchises — anyone remember 2010’s “The Wolfman” or 2014’s “Dracula Untold”? And while Tom Cruise has an impeccable action-movie track record, rebooting the studio’s storied monster movie universe is a hell of a mission for a horror newbie.
Sofia Boutella’s menacing supernatural villain looked fantastic in early footage, though, and it features an action sequence with a zero-gravity escape from a crashing plane.
“All Eyez on Me”
(Lionsgate, June 16)
Legendary rapper Tupac Shakur was gunned down in Las Vegas 21 years ago. Given the strength of Universal’s “Straight Outta Compton,” it’s encouraging to see another ’90s hip-hop icon’s life story on screen. Now we’ll see if audiences get hype to the tune of the $200 million worldwide take for “Compton.”
(Disney, June 16)
Yeah, yeah, Pixar has a bulletproof library of beloved animated films — but there’s something to be said for being the bridesmaid on a shelf of brides. The “Cars” franchise is that bridesmaid — 2011’s “Cars 2” earned $50 million less than the 2006 original domestically — and it’s another summer sequel that has taken six years to sputter back to the big screen. Despite star voices from Owen Wilson and Armie Hammer, will audiences be ready to buckle up for another adventure here?
(Sony, July 7)
After Andrew Garfield hung up his red costume two movies into a planned trilogy, Sony teamed with Marvel to reboot Spider-Man once again. The new Spidey, Tom Holland, was a standout in his introduction in last year’s “Captain America: Civil War,” but audiences may tire of seeing a third iteration of Peter Parker back in high school. And director Jon Watts is untested with big-budget movies — his last outing, “Cop Car,” earned just $135,000.
(Warner Bros., July 21)
A big strand of the Christopher Nolan brand DNA is that the director is a massive earner — but divorced from the Batman franchise, the highly-sensitive and meticulous filmmaker might not deliver the same results. Especially with “Dunkirk,” a gravely serious retelling of WWII’s Battle of Dunkirk.
Brief, starry glimmers of Tom Hardy and the screen debut of pop crooner Harry Styles aside, this Warner Bros. release is surely a box office battle test — especially slotted in summertime, where popcorn-friendly crowd-pleasers rather than serious fare tends to dominate.
“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”
(STX, July 12)
If anyone knows outer space as high art, it’s director Luc Besson — who is also a Queenmaker in the realm of female action stars (Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson, to name a few). “Valerian,” however, has an astounding reported budget of $208 million and no bankable stars (sorry, Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne).
“The Dark Tower”
(Sony, August 4)
Stephen King’s multi-book, genre-busting saga is one of the hottest properties surrounded by a powerful fandom — and the movie has languished in development for decades. After a few date shuffles and a promising show of footage at CinemaCon this year, Sony and MRC will finally birth the first installment in the epic, starring Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey. But it has to work, and big, if planned film sequels and TV spinoffs are to follow.
The Emoji Movie
(Sony, August 4)
The tiny icons have made texting a lot more informal — and universally understood across languages — but is there really enough for a feature film? Sony will soon find out. Bonus points for serious placement partners in apps like Spotify, and getting Patrick Stewart to voice the very popular poo emoji.