July 22 Update: News out of San Diego Comic-Con this weekend hit the online movie crowd with expected haste: Warner Bros. is planning a Batman-Superman crossover film for 2015. Later that weekend, the first details of the Avengers sequel--now titled Marvel's Avengers: Age of Ultron--also presented themselves at the con.
While the latter was covered in our previous analysis of what lay ahead for 2015, and with little-to-no news about a Man of Steel sequel to report, the former wasn't. Now we know why.
One of the first questions that comes to mind is: where will a Batman-Superman movie fit on the 2015 release calendar? As BoxOffice's Phil Contrino pointed out, the coveted mid/late July weekend is still up for dibs. It seems to be the most likely spot for Warner Bros. considering they have unofficially owned it since 2007.
Necessity being the mother of all invention, WB's strategy here makes sense. Some of their major franchises have ended in recent years (and other one next year with the final Hobbit). Moreover, there is an understandable desire to let Chris Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy ferment before anyone is bold enough to reboot a standalone Batman series. And while Man of Steel has been one of this summer's big successes, its holding power failed to impress (especially in the domestic market). Part of that can be chalked up to a higher-than-usual level of competition in the June market, but critics were divided over the film and some audiences/fans feel they may have over-corrected for Superman Returns' lack of adrenaline. The future of the franchise has been increasingly bright since the day Man of Steel opened, but the level of audience enthusiasm for it has been much tamer compared to that of Batman Begins.
Satisfying the entire fanboy crowd is an oxymoron, but when a studio is caught between a rock and a hard place as WB is with the Superman and Batman franchises, sometimes the best answer is to do the unexpected. Sure, we've heard rumors about a Batman-Superman movie for the past decade, but it was an idea seemingly on the back burner. Not so, obviously.
Not to be forgotten is that this gives DC Comics a much-needed breather from comparisons to Marvel's box office trajectory. The latter studio spent half a decade building up to The Avengers with successful standalone movies, and it's been no secret that WB and DC want the same kind of success with the Justice League (now being planned for 2017). That goal became more complicated when Green Lantern bombed at the box office in 2011.
Now, instead of focusing on the introduction of second tier characters, the powers-that-be have decided to give the people what they really want: their two most popular superheros, together on-screen for the first time. The character-driven spectacle that two methodically conflicting heroes like Batman and Superman can provide isn't just fodder for a cool movie, it's also a potentially strong allegory to the time we live in. As something we've never seen before, that kind of allure is exactly what helped drive mainstream interest in The Avengers last year.
Speaking of Avengers, Marvel and Joss Whedon were also on-hand to announce the sequel's official title, Avengers: Age of Ultron. We won't bore you with too much analysis of what that means for the film's plot, but our earlier analysis deserves new emphasis: the first film set outrageously high standards at the box office through a team-up concept that had never been achieved before. With something like an unprecedented Batman-Superman film presumably opening during the same summer, Disney may not have the same monopoly on the summer crown that we once thought. (They're still the arguable favorite right now, though.)
One of the biggest ripple effects of the weekend's news reverberates back onto Disney itself: where now do they put Star Wars: Episode VII? July was the last best choice for a summer release--which is still what Disney claims to be planning for. Whatever the Mouse House, J.J. Abrams, and the gang are cooking, their self-imposed deadlines for the Star Wars film franchise remain on the books and pressure is mounting for the studio to firm up an exact release date. That being said, the European Star Wars Celebration is gearing up to take place July 26-28 in Germany, and we wouldn't be surprised to see some big announcements come out of that fan convention. Both a Christmas 2015 release or a delay to Summer 2016 have higher odds of happening now unless Disney is willing to bump Pirates 5 to either of those time frames.
Previously: Throughout the past few months, you might have noticed an avalanche of release date announcements and/or changes that have begun filling up 2015's box office calendar. It should stand out with good reason, too: the year has a number of highly reputable and lucrative franchises returning to (or debuting on) the silver screen.
So many, in fact, that it's not a stretch of the imagination to say that 2015 is seemingly being built to break box office records. For that reason, among several, we figure now is as good a time as any to see how 2015 is shaping up so far.
Things may even get started as early as February when Lionsgate plans to release an untitled wedding comedy starring Kevin Hart. Judging by how successful his two feature films have become, on top of his record stand-up tour sales, that flick will be one to watch out for.
As what has become the unofficial warm-up session for summer, March will see the release of The Fantastic Four reboot from Chronicle director, Josh Trank. That franchise posted respectable success in the mid-2000s thanks to playing to the kiddie audiences, something that Fox isn't expected as to do as blatantly this time around. The brand wasn't particularly huge compared to other superheroes, but the comic book genre is a golden box office ticket these days. Disney's re-imagination of Cinderella and DreamWorks' The Penguins of Madagascar spin-off will follow later on that month, so March already looks busy.
Then comes the current keynote of the year: Marvel's untitled Avengers sequel. The $623.8 million domestic and $1.514 billion global box office takes of the 2012 mega-blockbuster are still going to be intimidating benchmarks come May 1, 2015--so much that no other studio has scheduled a single release for April or May yet. Let no one fool you: repeating the first film's success (particularly in North America) is something that Disney, Marvel, Joss Whedon and co. must strive to ignore. After all, there are convincing arguments to suggest the franchise hit maximum audience saturation already. Topping the allure of seeing a collection of popular superheroes on screen for the first time will be a monumental challenge, but there's little doubt that another Avengers pic will set opening records 'round the planet.
June will then bring DreamWorks' B.O.O.: Bureau of Otherworldly Operations, followed by the Michael Fassbender-starring adaptation of the exceedingly popular Assassin's Creed video game series, Pixar's original Inside Out (from Up and Monsters, Inc. director Pete Docter), and Paramount's reboot/re-imaging of Terminator (not "The" Terminator--see what they did there?). Even to this day, Pixar is hard to bet against. As for the others, the history of video game movies and Terminator flicks without James Cameron have been sketchy at best. But, as fan favorites, maybe their time will finally come in 2015.
Kicking things off for Fourth of July weekend will be a sequel, by then, 19 years in the making: Independence Day 2. Director Roland Emmerich is reported to return along with Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman, but word is that Will Smith will not be coming back (we'll see if that sticks). Given he was one huge component of the original's popularity, it's difficult to see how a sequel will spawn the same cultural impact--especially when the original's marketing campaign is still considered one of the most effective in history. Anything could happen with ID2 over the next couple of years, though. If After Earth was any indication, maybe cutting out the large paycheck that would otherwise go to Smith is a smart play on Fox's part. Overseas potential on this one will be strong.
July will also bring us a currently untitled project from Illumination Entertainment (makers of the Despicable Me franchise). This looks to be an original concept for now with their Minions spin-off already dropping in December 2014, but the critical and commercial success of the Despicable Me films thus far make it an animated feature to watch out for. Sony will also join the animated fray that month with The Smurfs 3.
One of the 21st century's centerpiece characters of entertainment also returns in July 2015: Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean 5. Taking up the second weekend of July indicates that Disney is hoping to follow in Dead Man's Chest's successful release strategy footsteps. Domestically, however, the fourth film declined an alarming 22 percent in gross and 40 percent in estimated admissions from 2007's trilogy closer, At World's End. Overseas saw a significant 23 percent uptick in terms of gross, though, thanks to four years of market growth, 3D expansion, and price inflation. The disappointing performances of Dark Shadows and The Lone Ranger notwithstanding, U.S. audiences may be more reluctant to turn Pirates 5 into another major blockbuster for the brand--but even if they are, it's a safe bet that overseas crowds will still embrace Disney's cash cow (er, pirate).
The next three months on the calendar remain a mystery. The only film currently slated for release in August, September, or October is Sony's Hotel Transylvania 2. Animated sequels don't always break out, but they're still generally shoe-ins for some level of success. The first film impressed industry watchers with its $148.3 million domestic haul and $348.2 million global take. So long as the adult-friendly voice cast featuring Adam Sandler returns, families will probably eat it up.
And then there's November.
Where do we begin? Marvel and Disney currently have a long-awaited Ant-Man feature in the works from director Edgar Wright. Rumors suggest that his concept has generated great buzz among insiders, but we're too far away to have any reliable notion of what it can do at the box office. The film will kick off Phase 3 of Marvel's Cinematic Universe, something that in and of itself may depend on how audiences respond to Phase 2 films (including The Avengers 2). Ant-Man is going to be a wild card for the foreseeable future.
We wouldn't even rule out Ant-Man leaving November altogether. Why? Because its planned November 6 slot was just secured for the 24th James Bond movie. Disney and Marvel have plenty of reason to be confident these days, but this is one instance where it will be wise to concede a weekend. Daniel Craig will be returning along with his Skyfall directing/writing team of Sam Mendes and John Logan, something that Sony will be well-advised to play up in the future ad campaign. Duplicating the brilliant marketing synergy that Skyfall was able to capture with the franchise's 50th anniversary, a hit song from Adele, and extraordinary critical and commercial word of mouth isn't an enviable task for 007's next outing. Still, it's hard to imagine the film not having a shot at franchise opening weekend records both stateside and abroad after Skyfall became the highest-grossing Bond film ever, the top global earner among 2D movies since The Dark Knight, and one of the most-attended Bond movies in history.
As for animation, Fox and Pixar will go to the ropes in time for the holidays. The former is prepping their untitled Peanuts movie for an early November release, and the latter will launch their Finding Nemo sequel, Finding Dory, from director Andrew Stanton. The success of the Alvin and the Chipmunks franchise goes to show how well a brand can do around the holidays with generations of built-in audiences--a major plus for Peanuts. By the same token, Nemo is still one of Pixar's top earners and is regarded as a modern classic by families and critics alike. Will Dory be able to live up to that?
Opening one week before Thanksgiving 2015 will be the franchise finale of The Hunger Games with Mockingjay, Part 2. We've still got two sequels to get through before we know how excited general audiences will be for that finale, but the success of the book series and record springtime performance of the first film in 2012 at least goes to show that these sequels will do their best to fill in the blockbuster novel adaptation shoes left behind by Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Lord of the Rings / The Hobbit series.
December will then bring us a fourth Alvin and the Chipmunks installment, DreamWorks' Kung Fu Panda 3, and the very recently announced Inferno--the third film adaptation of Dan Brown's Robert Langdon novels (Tom Hanks and director Ron Howard are reported to be returning). None of those series are going into their next film with peak momentum by any means, but their built-in appeal is a good recipe for holiday business.
One other film that may hit in 2015 will be Jurassic Park 4, 22 years after the original and 14 years after the most recent sequel. Universal released a banner with the familiar franchise logo and a "2015" date at the Licensing Expo 2013 in June. Here's another franchise sequel with on-again, off-again production starts over the years, but it seems to finally be happening now. The big question is: will audiences go for a new sequel after two previous follow-ups that failed to live up to the 1993 original?
With many blank spots left to fill, 2015's calendar will undergo more changes over the next 17 (or more) months. Some of them could significantly shift the balance of others' box office potential. But there remains one film that every studio and movie fan are waiting with bated breath to hear about: Star Wars: Episode VII. There's not much we can say that hasn't already been said, but to summarize as briefly as possible, the combination of director J.J. Abrams, screenwriter Michael Arndt, and the Disney powerhouse marketing muscle will be unmistakably present when the film does release.
Some speculate that Episode VII could end up moving to 2016, but for now, that's merely rumor based almost entirely on the fact that the key opening weekends for 2015 have been taken. Disney owns two of them with Avengers 2 and Pirates 5--could either be strategic placeholders for Star Wars (particularly in the case of Pirates)? Does Disney have the confidence to release Star Wars in the same month as either of them? Could the studio aim for an unorthodox (relative to the franchise's history of May openings) June or December release?
A lot of question marks surround the hugely anticipated sequel. While some are quick to point out that the prequels could do some disservice to the brand's demand, let's not forget those movies still filled more theater seats than most big blockbusters out there. The generational appeal is far more likely to outweigh any ill will from hardcore fans, most of whom will show up to theaters anyway.
Make no mistake: if Disney is able to get Star Wars: Episode VII out in time for a 2015 release, the studio will be competing with its own Avengers sequel for "highest profile film of the year". It's anyone's guess as to who could win that heavyweight box office battle, be it domestically or overseas.
Looking at the grand scheme, one thing is a relatively safe bet: the overseas market could stand to gain just as much or more than the domestic side of things. Avengers, Bond, Pirates, and Pixar have already proven themselves abroad, but the Star Wars, Jurassic Park, and Independence Day franchises haven't yet experienced the modern boom in international territories. Considering that all three of them were all-time best performers in the late 1990s and early 2000s *without* 3D or the market expansion of China, India, Russia, and the like, foreign box office receipts should prove to be something very special in 2015.
What studios need to keep in mind is the potential for overcrowding the domestic market. Sure, it's a good way to generate big numbers at the box office, but as summer 2013 has been showing us, not all of these anticipated features will reach their expected or full potential. Sometimes that's a case of a film simply not delivering for audiences, but other times, it's a byproduct of a studio growing overconfident in a franchise that should reconsider distancing itself from the bigger titles. Where 2015 is concerned, a lot will be at stake for the future of these veteran players.
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