Summer Face-Offs

This past weekend, two pricey fantasy epics hit movie screens in the form of Warner Bros.' swords-and-sandal sequel "Wrath Of The Titans" and Relativity's comic fairy tale "Mirror Mirror." And while their audiences were, in theory, different (with Tarsem's Snow White picture skewing much younger), neither fared as well as hoped, "Wrath of the Titans" ending up with barely half of the original film's opening weekend, around $35 million, while "Mirror Mirror" failed to clear the $20 million mark, despite the presence of Julia Roberts.

In part, it's because they were following on the second weekend of colossal smash "The Hunger Games," which topped the box office with another $65 million or so. But it's all indicative of something that's becoming increasingly common: big movies opening on the same date, leading to at least one, and sometimes both, of the films disappointing financially. Counter-programming, of course, can work wonders sometimes (we imagine that was Relativity's plan here), but ultimately, there are simply more tentpoles being made than audiences who will see them, and it's seeing a lot of people lose a lot of money.

With that in mind, we've looked ahead to the summer months for what look the five key head-to-head openings of the summer: films that, for the most part, are chasing the same audiences on the same weekend, and will more than likely see at least one of the openers bruised and blooded. Ladies and gentlemen, place your bets.

Dark Shadows Vs. The Dictator
May 11: "Dark Shadows" vs. "The Dictator"
In The Red Corner: Tim Burton's garish revamp of the 1960s Gothic vampire soap, starring megastar Johnny Depp.
In The Blue Corner: The latest vehicle for "Borat" star Sacha Baron Cohen, in which he plays a despot stripped of his money and power and forced to work in a New York health store.
Who Will Win? One would be forgiven for thinking that this would be a no-brainer: the last time Burton and Depp worked together on "Alice in Wonderland," it made a billion dollars, whereas Baron Cohen's last headline gig, "Bruno," underwhelmed. But the comic spin of "Dark Shadows" puts the films squarely head-to-head, and WB's marketing campaign for the film has been slow off the blocks, an indication that they're not quite sure how to sell an odd mix of genres that comes across more like "Death Becomes Her" than anything they've done before. After all, "Sweeney Todd" barely cleared $50m in the U.S. In contrast, Paramount's campaign for "The Dictator" has been strong, and the film looks closer to "Borat" than to "Bruno" (even if it looks far weaker than either). We'd still likely give "Dark Shadows" the edge on opening weekend, but given they're both hot on the heels of "The Avengers," which opens the week before, this likely isn't going to be pretty for anyone.

Battleship Vs. What To Expect
May 18: "Battleship" vs. "What To Expect When You're Expecting"
In The Red Corner: "Hancock" helmer Peter Berg brings the board-game to the big-screen with a "Transformers"-style makeover, and a cast including Taylor Kitsch, Rihanna and Liam Neeson.
In The Blue Corner: An all-star ensemble including Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Anna Kendrick and Chris Rock take a comedic look at the pregnancy manual.
Who Will Win? Unlike some of these other big weekends, these two couldn't be aiming for more different audiences, but that doesn't mean they won't be in competition, and we think we could well end up seeing an upset. "Battleship" has been something of a running joke for a few years now, and despite a recent trailer essentially made up of nothing but explosions, it still looks like a dicey financial prospect. 'What To Expect...' meanwhile, is firmly in the "He's Just Not That Into You"/"Valentine's Day" wheelhouse, and in a summer season without a lot of counter-programming aimed at women, has a distinct advantage being slotted in the same frame that made "Bridesmaids" such a massive hit last year. That being said, "Battleship" will likely have momentum from its early international opening, and "New Year's Eve" showed that the all-star rom-com formula can fall flat. Even so, we think 'What To Expect' has a very good chance at an upset here.