For the first time since 2014, there will not be an installment of “Star Wars” or the Marvel Cinematic Universe released in the final four months of the year.
Nonetheless, analysts project that this year’s box office is on track to finish ahead of last year’s $11.1 billion domestic total — and there’s even a shot at besting 2016’s record $11.3 billion haul.
One key factor is that box office already has a jump start on the record books: Domestic grosses topped $8 billion a few weeks ago — earlier than ever before — and are running 9 percent ahead of last year’s and 3 percent ahead of 2016’s.
Another factor is a promising though potentially risky mix of untested franchises (“Fantastic Beasts” and “Aquaman”), spinoffs like Paramount’s “Bumblebee” and sequels that often feature new stars (“The Girl in the Spider’s Web”) — as well as some original bets and the usual crop of awards contenders.
“This is definitely the most interesting and uncertain end-of-year schedule we’ve had in a while,” said comScore’s Paul Dergarabedian. “Rather than it just being ‘Star Wars’ being the clear favorite and you could get a surprise like ‘Jumanji’ and ‘The Greatest Showman,’ we’re looking at a schedule where there’s no single film that’s definitely going to have a huge opening.”
That message is certainly true in September, which produced the surprise hit remake of “It” last year. This time, analysts expect a continuation of August’s modest successes, quiet flops and indie releases. It will start with Warner Bros./New Line’s “The Nun,” the fifth film in the “Conjuring” series, which is projected by trackers to earn an opening of $32 million.
After that, Fox will release Shane Black’s take on the “Predator” series, which will try to do better than the disappointing $74 million domestic haul posted by “Alien: Covenant” last year. Other September releases include Eli Roth’s family horror film “The House With a Clock in Its Walls,” the Kevin Hart-Tiffany Haddish comedy “Night School” and Robert Redford’s acting swan song “The Old Man and the Gun.”
In October, business will start to pick up with a healthy mix of popcorn flicks and awards contenders. Ryan Gosling reteams with his “La La Land” director Damien Chazelle on the Neil Armstrong film “First Man.” Combined with Bradley Cooper’s remake of “A Star Is Born” with Lady Gaga, adult audiences looking for non-blockbuster fare will have a pair of wide releases to choose from that should both have long legs through autumn.
But the biggest box office potential belongs to Universal/Blumhouse’s “Halloween,” which will see Jamie Lee Curtis return to the horror franchise that made her famous. While horror has become a much larger presence on the chart in the last few years, it’s been a while since the genre has had a big hit release in October. The return of Michael Myers and Laurie Strode could change that.
“I have heard really good things about ‘Halloween’ and the studio’s done a good job promoting the film to fans of the original,” said a rival distribution chief who asked not to be identified. “Even though John Carpenter’s only producing and not directing, I think his presence is going to get people who enjoyed the original to give it a shot, and there’s going to be the usual Halloween-time crowd interested in seeing a horror movie.”
November will likely be driven by family audiences, as Disney and Universal will put out animated offerings like “Ralph Breaks the Internet” — the sequel to 2012’s $190 million-grossing “Wreck-It Ralph — and Illumination’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” while Warner Bros. will release the latest movie set in J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world, “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.” (The series’ debut grossed $234 million two years ago.)
And finally, on the week of Christmas, all six major Hollywood studios will put out a wide release — and it could be anybody’s game.
The big players will be Warner Bros.’ latest DC Films release, “Aquaman,” and Paramount’s Transformers spinoff “Bumblebee,” two installments in franchises that have seen both reception and box office grosses decline in 2017: “Justice League” grossed $239 million last year, while last summer’s “Transformers: The Last Knight” eked out a franchise-low $135 million. Both will need strong word-of-mouth.
Fox is betting big on director Robert Rodriguez’s manga-inspired action movie “Alita: Battle Angel,” a James Cameron production with a motion-caption heroine.
But the one franchise play with the most upside may belong to — surprise, surprise — Disney, with “Mary Poppins Returns.” Coming 54 years after the original Julie Andrews musical, this sequel should be a major draw for older female audiences as well as families, while “Hamilton” fans throughout the age spectrum will likely be interested in seeing Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first major film role since his smash hit musical sent him rocketing to stardom.
“Mary Poppins Returns” looks to have the long-lasting success of last year’s starry original musical “The Greatest Showman” — which lured a lot of repeat visitors through January to achieve a $178 million domestic gross.
And all of this doesn’t take into account the limited releases that will be contending for Oscar consideration, like Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight” follow-up “If Beale Street Could Talk,” Joel Edgerton’s star-filled examination of gay conversion therapy “Boy Erased,” or the Saoirse Ronan/Margot Robbie biopic “Mary, Queen of Scots.”