Choosing a movie’s release date remains more art than science today, even with the oceans of analytical data, tracking information drawn from test audiences and historical referencing.
Distribution executives at Hollywood studios are the ones who pick the dates on which movies premiere and where. In simplest terms, their aim is to find a slot on the calendar that gives their movies the best chance to succeed at the box office.
For example, if you’re opening a horror film, you don’t want to go against another horror movie, or roll out even a week after, but you don’t mind opposing a romantic comedy at all.
They’re getting pretty good at it, too, and rarely do you see matchups between two films that target the same demographic group, like a couple of years ago when “Fast and Furious 6” took on “The Hangover III” in May. (The hot cars won, by knockout.)
That’s good for the movies, the studios and audiences. It’s not so hot for the purposes of this piece, which highlights some of the juicier smackdowns, but there are a few fun face-offs this summer:
“PITCH PERFECT 2” vs. “MAD MAX: FURY ROAD”
Weekend: May 15
Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) and Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) rate an edge over the Barden Bellas’ Rebel Wilson and Anna Kendricks, given their $150 million budget and director George Miller‘s return to his 1980s apocalyptic franchise for Warner Bros. But the a cappella angels are no slouches when it comes to high notes or laughs, and Universal has cultivated a major fan base. Still, we’ll give the nod to the dystopian devils based on the killer trailer.
Winner: “Mad Max,” in a close one.
“ALOHA” vs. “SAN ANDREAS”
Weekend: May 22
Both of these movies have the potential to really connect — or whiff. If Bradley Cooper and Emma Stone pass their chemistry test, Sony’s romantic comedy written, directed and produced by Cameron Crowe, could be an island of relief for moviegoers from the action and superheroes. And you have to like the supporting cast, with Bill Murray, John Krasinski and Rachel McAdams. But the Warner Bros. earthquake thriller has Dwayne Johnson and Kylie Minogue, and there hasn’t been a disaster movie since last August’s “Into the Storm.” The reteaming of The Rock, director Brad Peyton and producer Beau Flynn should prevail, but it may not top their $350 million “Mysterious Island” haul. Winner: “San Andreas,” but it’s shaky.
“SPY” vs. “ENTOURAGE” vs. “INSIDIOUS 3”
Weekend: June 5
Of course we realize there’s an extra noggin in this head-to-head-head battle, but we wonder why Warner Bros. didn’t when it slotted Ari Gold and the gang here. They’re set up to be shaken and stirred by Melissa McCarthy in Fox’s Bond spoof, and spooked by the creepy Jason Blum threequel directed by Leigh Whannell. Alas, there may have been no great date for this one, given it comes four years after the end of the HBO series. The raft of cameos (Warren Buffet, Tom Brady) is cool, but with interest waning in Hollywood, imagine what it’s like in Nebraska?
Winner: “Spy,” edging “Insidious 3” and waxing “Entourage.”
“MAGIC MIKE XXL” vs. “TERMINATOR: GENISYS”
Weekend: July 1
We’re guessing Channing Tatum’s abs offset the absence of Matthew McConaughey and Alex Pettyfer, but have doubts about Myrtle Beach as a hot spot. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s best days at the box office may be behind him and the same is likely true for the iconic killer cyborg series. The new cast of Jason and Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney and J.K. Simmons is a good one, and director Alan Taylor is no slouch. “Genisys” may not cover its mega-budget but it should open large, thanks in part to the curiosity factor.
Winner: “Terminator: Genisys” in close one.
“ANT-MAN” vs. “TRAINWRECK”
Weekend: July 17
Early word on the Judd Apatow-directed comedy starring Amy Schumer is positive, and supporting players Bill Hader, Tilda Swinton, Mike Birbiglia and Marissa Tomei should be fun. But there’s some irony in the R-rated commitment comedy going up against a superhero saga starring former Apatow acolyte Paul Rudd. With the monster “Minions” opening a week before, this could be the first Marvel movie since it partnered with Disney not to open at No. 1.
Winner: “Ant-Man,” because who bets against Marvel?
“MASTERMINDS” vs. “FANTASTIC FOUR”
Weekend: Aug. 7
With Zach Galafianakis, Kristen Wiig, Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis, Relativity’s comedy based on the 1997 Loomis Fargo heist has a fairly fantastic four of its own, and Jared Hess (“Napoleon Dynamite”) as director. But Fox’s reboot has a nice lineup too, with Miles Teller, Michael B. Johnson, Jamie Bell and Kate Mara. The director is Josh Trank, who’s on board for the standalone “Star Wars” film, and the writer is “X-Men” alum Simon Kinberg. The Meryl Streep rock dramedy “Ricki and the Flash” could crimp the comedy, while the super group’s main concern may be midsummer Marvel malaise.
Winner: “Fantastic Four,” by plenty.
“STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON” vs. “THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.” vs. “UNDERDOGS”
Weekend: Aug. 14
Given the anticipation surrounding the story of N.W.A. from Ice Cube and starring his son, O’Shea Jackson, Universal’s biopic about the iconic rap group is the clear favorite. But the Weinstein Company thinks its remake of the Argentinian foosball hit voiced by Ariana Grande, Katie Holmes, Bella Thorne and Eugenio Derbez (“Instructions Not Included”) will be its biggest animated film ever. Director Guy Ritchie and stars Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer make a potent trio, but why they chose a 50-year-old TV show to base an action film on, we can’t figure out.
Winner: “Straight Outta Compton,” easily.