Biggest Studio Gambles of the Summer, From ‘Ghostbusters’ to ‘Ben-Hur’

Summer Movie Preview 2016: Who says Hollywood never takes risks anymore? From the video-game adaptation “Warcraft” to a “Tarzan” reboot, some of this year’s fare is anything but safe

It wouldn’t be summer without Hollywood taking a few risks, whether financial or creative.

Was it risky of Sony to make the R-rated animated movie “Sausage Party?” Yes. Or for Warner Bros. to shake up the superhero movie formula and focus on Batman’s rogues gallery of villains in “Suicide Squad”? Absolutely. But both of those creative risks will likely pay off in August with box office returns.

TheWrap studied the studios’ summer slates and identified six significant risks — one per studio, in the interest of fairness. Some of these gambles are bigger than others — Sony has more riding on “Ghostbusters” than Disney does on “Pete’s Dragon,” for instance — but each reflects a calculated bet on a departure from the beaten path.

“Warcraft” (Universal, June 10) Universal and Legendary’s “Warcraft” opens against sequels to “The Conjuring” and “Now You See Me” and arrives between sequels to “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and “Finding Nemo.” The fantasy film is based on a popular video game, source material that has proven difficult to translate to the big screen. (Anyone remember “Prince of Persia” or “Hitman: Agent 47”?) Plus, it was written and directed by Duncan Jones, who has never made a movie on this scale.

What’s even riskier is that the film doesn’t boast a proven movie star to anchor the release. Travis Fimmel is a rising talent, but it remains to be seen whether this will be his “Guardians of the Galaxy” or his “John Carter.”

“Independence Day: Resurgence” (20th Century Fox, June 24)
We move from orcs to aliens, which are back to terrorize the Earth — but this time, Will Smith isn’t around to stop them. Jeff Goldblum, Judd Hirsch and Bill Pullman return armed with one of the Hemsworth brothers. But the last movie was released in 1996, before many members of the target audience were born — which could prove a marketing challenge both to educate and refresh the memories of audiences.

And as with many summer movies, the “Independence Day” sequel will have just one weekend to make a splash, as Steven Spielberg‘s ‘The BFG” will stomp into theaters the following weekend along with…

“The Legend of Tarzan” (Warner Bros., July 1)
Yes, “Tarzan” will have to take on “The BFG,” but there are other factors that make this film a risk for a studio that would love to launch another franchise.

Warner Bros. successfully lobbied “Harry Potter” finale director David Yates to helm this take on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ jungle-dweller, which was a huge coup for the studio. But there have been rumors of postproduction trouble, with Yates moving on to focus on directing “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” for the studio. It’s highly unusual for a director to have two big-budget blockbusters released in the same year, by the same studio, no less.

Meanwhile, not only is Alexander Skarsgard still unproven as a movie star, but the character itself may be a little old-fashioned for modern audiences. Disney’s big-budget adaptation of Burroughs’ “John Carter” didn’t exactly score with audiences, and that had a very capable filmmaker at the helm as well.

“Ghostbusters” (Sony, July 15)
There’s a lot riding on Sony’s “Ghostbusters” reboot, which isn’t just expected to launch a franchise, but an entire Ghostbusters-themed universe. But hey, no pressure or anything. After struggling for years to get “Ghostbusters 3” off the ground, Sony deserves credit for entrusting the franchise to Paul Feig and backing his plan to cast four funny women as the leads. That said, the pricey movie is still a major risk, given that the last film in the franchise was released in 1989.

Initial reaction to the first trailer has been mixed, and while accusations of misogyny have plagued a portion of the fan base, it remains unclear whether that small yet vocal group will show up to theaters. Sony is tasked with delivering both spectacle and laughs, which isn’t always easy. Just ask the producers of the 2013 Ryan Reynolds bomb “R.I.P.D.”

Additionally, the “Ghostbusters” release is sandwiched between two major animated movies: “The Secret Life of Pets” and “Ice Age: Collision,” and it will have only one weekend to itself before “Star Trek Beyond” hits theaters. That’s a lot of competition.

But if anyone can pull it off, it’s the combination of Feig and Melissa McCarthy, who found success with “Spy,” “The Heat” and “Bridesmaids.”

“Ben-Hur” (Paramount, Aug. 12)
Back in the day, Ben-Hur was probably seen as a kind of superhero. Unfortunately, now he has to compete with real ones. Timur Bekmambetov takes the reins of this big-budget chariot race starring Jack Huston — yet another unproven movie star. Are you sensing a theme here?

It would be generous to call the reaction to the first trailer “mixed,” and frankly, the entire idea of remaking an Old Hollywood classic like “Ben-Hur” seems ill-advised from the start.

Paramount will likely face an uphill battle, especially if “Suicide Squad” holds stronger than “Batman v Superman” in its second weekend and adults eat up “Sausage Party.” Plus, some audiences may choose to stay home to watch some real racing at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, which runs from Aug. 5 to Aug. 21.

“Pete’s Dragon” (Disney, Aug. 12)
It’s safe to say that Disney can afford to take risks given the rest of its slate of movies from Marvel, Lucasfilm and Pixar. This remake of one of the studio’s lesser-known library titles — a 1977 mix of live action and animation — could very well prove a smart bet in August, when family films are in short supply.

While David Lowery was an inspired choice to direct, we never would’ve guessed he’d tackle a Disney movie following “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.”

Bolstered by Robert Redford, the cast is intriguing, but the success of this film will rest on the scaly shoulders of its titular dragon, and right now, Disney’s marketing campaign is hiding the goods. The winged creature won’t stay in the shadows much longer, and only then will we know what we’re dealing with.