5 of Summer's Biggest Box-Office Smackdowns

5 of Summer's Biggest Box-Office Smackdowns

The season's most intriguing head-to-head matchups at the multiplexes kicks off this week with "The Hangover III" vs. "Fast & Furious 6"

Summer is when Hollywood studios roll out their heavyweight contenders and look for knockouts. There are 41 movies set for wide release between May and August this year, and the overall box office is expected to exceed last year’s $4.3 billion.

With so many releases — and we're not counting the indies — the studios have been forced to schedule some high-profile and pricey movies up against each other.

That’s good news for moviegoers. It means there's a little more variety than last summer, which was superhero-saturated and saw “The Avengers,” “Dark Knight Rises” and “The Amazing Spider-Man” rank as the top three movies.

See photos: 60 Summer Movies Looking for Your Box Office Bucks

But for the studios, it seriously raises the competitive bar and financial stakes. Paramount’s “Star Trek Into Darkness” was the only wide release last weekend, but things are getting crazy crowded now.

Will college students spark more to a third dose of Wolfpack debauchery, or a sixth lap of dynamite downshifting? Who will teenagers find cooler, Gru’s minions or Johnny Depp’s Tonto? Can Brad Pitt and zombies punch out Pixar?

Here are breakdowns on five of the best multiplex matchups:

“The Hangover III” vs. “Fast and Furious 6” on Memorial Day weekend
The summer’s first major smackdown — with young men the target audience — could be its best. Warner Bros. showed how badly it wants to win when it moved the opening of its comedy “Hangover III” up a day. That could mean the Wolfpack will wind up with around the same $100 million for the long holiday weekend that Vin Diesel should drive for Universal. And it could help both films. As “Hangover” director Todd Phillips said at CinemaCon, “I think people will go to two movies in five days.” "Hangover III" will be the summer's first big comedy, but the Justin Lin-directed action film has more momentum coming in: “Fast Five” was the franchise’s biggest earner. With Fox targeting the family crowd and rolling out the animated “Epic” on the same weekend, it could be a record-breaking holiday. 
Advantage: “Fast and Furious 6.”

“The Internship” vs. “This Is Is the End,” June 12
Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson reteam for the first time since “The Wedding Crashers" as displaced-by-digital salesmen who land jobs as Google interns in the Fox comedy "The Internship.” It opens a few days earlier on June 7 and could have a broader base because it's PG. But Sony's “This Is the End” will have the last laugh if the social media buzz surrounding Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen's R-rated raunch and gore-fest translates to box office. James Franco, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel and Michael Cera play obnoxious versions of themselves dealing with the apocalypse — at a party. 
Advantage: “This Is the End.”

“Monsters University” vs. “World War Z,” June 21
There’s no reason to think “Monsters” won’t be the 14th Pixar movie in a row to open at No. 1. It was 12 years ago, but the original “Monsters” made $255 million in the U.S., and this time Disney will get the benefit of a 3D pricing boost. Paramount’s zombie invasion film “World War Z” has endured production delays, overruns that have driven its budget to $200 million and a re-shot ending. Still, the Max Brooks novel upon which it is based was a huge bestseller. That will draw fans of the book and Pitt’s box-office track record on high-profile projects is solid. But early projections have “Monsters University” opening to $70 million, and “World War Z” roughly $40 million.
Advantage: “Monsters University.” 

“The Heat” vs. “White House Down,” June 28
As box-office battles go, this should be a beauty. Channing Tatum is hot, fresh from “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” and a string of hits last year, and Jamie Foxx is coming off “Django Unchained.” But can either of the two stars of Sony's “White House Down” match the mojo of Melissa McCarthy? She proved a box-office dynamo in “Identity Thief,” the year’s biggest comedy to date, and teams with Sandra Bullock as FBI agents in the R-rated comedy “The Heat.” It went over very big at CinemaCon and it's one of the few female-driven films of the summer. It remains to be seen how much Roland Emmerich’s explosive epic will be hurt by “Olympus Has Fallen,” a similarly themed president in peril action from FilmDistrict that debuted in March. Long-range projections have both films opening north of $35 million. Advantage: “The Heat,” by a hair.

“Despicable Me 2” vs. “The Lone Ranger,” Fourth of July weekend
The box-office bar and the budget – a reported $225 million — have both been set very high for Disney’s adaptation of the Western classic. That’s because it’s a reteaming of Depp and director Gore Verbinski, the duo behind the studio’s billion-dollar “The Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, with hunky Arnie Hammer thrown in as the titular good guy. But Universal’s “Despicable Me 2’ is looking considerably stronger than the yet-to-be-rated "Lone Ranger." The original animated film — voiced by Kristen Wiig and Steve Carrell — rolled up a stunning $250 million domestically in 2010. This one won’t surprise anyone, because the studio has mounted a massive marketing campaign behind it. Its Facebook page has eight million “likes” and toy stores are already stocked with Gru’s minions. "Despicable Me" could hit $60 million; "The Lone Ranger" may not come close. Depp makes it a wild card, but he couldn't save "Dark Shadows." Advantage: “Despicable Me 2."