The Summer Box Office Has to Be Graded on a Curve Yet Again

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With no MCU movie to start off the season, this year’s strike-addled blockbuster lineup will likely fall short of 2023

Deadpool and Wolverine, Despicable Me 4, Bad Boys: Ride or Die, Furiosa, A Quiet Place: Day One
"Deadpool and Wolverine," "Despicable Me 4," "Bad Boys: Ride or Die," "Furiosa," A Quiet Place: Day One" (TheWrap/Christopher Smith)

Excluding the COVID impact on 2020 and 2021, this year marks the first time since 2006 that the summer moviegoing season won’t begin with a Marvel release during the first weekend of May.

The lack of a superheroic kickoff to blockbuster season is a glaring symptom of a larger reality: The disruption caused by the 2023 Hollywood strikes is going to limit how high the summer box office can climb.

Alongside Disney, which was forced to vacate its favorite MCU release slot, the strikes also pushed films like “Mission: Impossible 8” to 2025, with not much to take their place. It will take several major surprises — like 2023’s “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” — to match last year’s $4 billion domestic total.

Insiders at analytics firm Gower Street, while leaving open the potential for upside, project a box office total of $3.3 billion in North America this summer, putting it in the neighborhood of the $3.39 billion total recorded in 2022. 

From the get-go, because of the strikes any comparisons between this summer’s box office and those of past years will immediately be marked with a huge asterisk. 

“This summer is a one-off, and I think everyone in the industry knows that,” Exhibitor Relations analyst Jeff Bock told TheWrap. “What I want to know is, how do these sequels play compared to last summer?”

Bock is holding out some optimism that despite a slow start, there may be some unexpected over-performance later in the summer. 

summer box office totals

Universal/87North’s original action romcom “The Fall Guy” may become a modest box office success if moviegoers have enough Kenergy in them to see Ryan Gosling in another comedic role. But it likely won’t bring theaters the $118 million opening or $358.9 million domestic run that “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” delivered in summer 2023. 

“We’ve seen that Imax and other premium (large) formats help make these franchise films feel like big events, and the fact that more PLF-supported films are coming out across the summer may help some of those films do better than some of the sequels we saw last year,” he said.

Big guns arrive in July

Despicable Me 4
“Despicable Me 4” (Illumination Entertainment and Universal Pictures)

That premium support will come in July, when the season’s biggest titles arrive. Universal/Illumination’s “Despicable Me 4” could be the sole $1 billion-plus hit of the summer if it can top the $370 million domestic/$940 million global run of “Minions: The Rise of Gru” in 2022. 

Marvel Studios’ “Deadpool & Wolverine,” due out on July 26, also has an outside chance of joining “Joker” as the second R-rated film to hit $1 billion. Though simply topping the $786 million global total of “Deadpool 2” would be a win for Disney, which inherited Ryan Reynolds and Hugh Jackman’s heroes in 2019 from the 20th Century Fox merger.

But the quantity of high-performing films is likely to be fewer. In 2023, 13 films grossed over $100 million at the domestic box office, including some surprises like Angel Studios’ cultural phenomenon “Sound of Freedom.” Among those movies, five grossed more than $250 million domestically: “Barbie,” “Oppenheimer,” “Guardians Vol. 3,” “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” and “The Little Mermaid.”

This year, a total of seven summer films are a lock to top $100 million domestically, based on the performance of their franchise predecessors:

  • “Deadpool 3” ($324.5 million for “Deadpool 2” in 2018)
  • Despicable Me 4” ($370.2 million for “Minions: The Rise of Gru” in 2022)
  • “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” ($146.8 million for “War for the Planet of the Apes” in 2017)
  • “Furiosa” ($154.2 million for “Mad Max: Fury Road” in 2015)
  • “Bad Boys: Ride or Die” ($206.3 million for “Bad Boys for Life” in 2020)
  • “Inside Out 2” ($356.9 million for “Inside Out” in 2015)
  • “A Quiet Place: Day One” ($160 million for “A Quiet Place — Part II” in 2021)

Perhaps a handful of other films will reach the $100 million mark. In May, Paramount will try to draw in families without the help of a familiar IP with the original film “IF” from John Krasinski. And Sony’s “The Garfield Movie” will cater to parents and kids with lingering interest in the lasagna-loving tabby cat. The comic strip graced newspapers across the country but Garfield hasn’t demonstrated the same cultural staying power as Snoopy and the “Peanuts” gang.

In addition to “The Fall Guy,” Universal has “Twisters,” another film with a strong chance of becoming a $100 million-plus contributor. Starring Daisy Edgar-Jones and Glen Powell, the film faces the challenge of “Deadpool 3” hitting theaters one weekend after its release.

This summer is a one-off, and I think everyone in the industry knows that.

Exhibitor Relations analyst Jeff Bock

Audience reception for the sequel to the 1996 Bill Paxton/Helen Hunt disaster film will have to be strong to keep it viable as a PG-13 alternative to violent late-summer titles such as “Deadpool 3,” “Borderlands” and “Alien: Romulus.” And the latter two of those will face an uphill battle to bring in audiences that aren’t just hardcore fans of their respective IP.

Beyond those franchise films, a handful of specialty titles will look to have breakout success, particularly in the middle of the summer. June 21 will be a big weekend for arthouses: Focus Features rolls out Tom Hardy and Austin Butler’s “The Bikeriders” nationwide while Searchlight begins a limited rollout of “Kinds of Kindness,” Yorgos Lanthimos and Emma Stone’s follow-up to their Oscar-winning “Poor Things,” which had a solid run as a prestige title last winter.

By this fall, the impact of the strikes should fully subside, giving way to a slate highlighted by sequels to “Venom” and “Joker” in October and “Wicked” and “Moana 2” at Thanksgiving. With those titles on the horizon, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the monthly totals for October or November exceed those of May or June. Such is the nature of this turbulent year for the film industry.


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