"G.I Joe: Retaliation"
Who's In It And What's It About? Sequel to the 2009 toy-based actioner, with Channing Tatum the lone major returning cast member (although the trailer suggests not for long...), this time he's joined by Dwayne Johnson, Bruce Willis and a host of newcomers. "Step-Up 3D" director Jon M. Chu helms.
What's The Risk Factor? When J.J. Abrams wasn't ready to roll on "Star Trek 2" in time to make a summer 2012 release, it caused Paramount to have something of a tentpole gap, and "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" got a promotion from its slated August slot. But here's the thing: it's a film that seems to exist only to fill that release date. The first did ok, but not brilliantly: $300 million worldwide on a $175 million budget. And do you know anyone who really liked it? Who was really, truly amped to see a sequel? Paramount have smartly added star power this time out with Dwayne Johnson, but his action fare, outside "Fast Five" has tended to underperform, and Bruce Willis isn't exactly a home-run every time at bat either. In a competitive summer, this could well be the one that falls between the cracks.
What's It Cost? Stephen Sommers went over budget on the first one, so Chu's hiring is likely in the hope of it being fast and cheap, although Johnson and Willis likely didn't come without hefty paychecks. Let's call it somewhere between $100-125 million, but don't be surprised if it's more.
What's The Estimated Return On Investment? Paramount likely figured that the film would end up with around the same gross as the original, hence the lowered budget, to amp up profitability, but the brand is already established on screen so chances are unless it's a major stinker, the numbers are going to climb. If it does end up exceeding the original significantly, Johnson will officially have inherited Arnie's mantle as an action star.
When? June 29th
"The Great Gatsby"
Who's In It And What's It About? Baz Luhrmann adapts F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel, in 3D, no less, with Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire, Joel Edgerton and Isla Fisher.
What's The Risk Factor? It's Oscar bait, for sure, but Warners were certainly thinking of the bottom line when they greenlit this one. However even with a starry cast, it's an expensive prospect. And that cast isn't bulletproof -- DiCaprio is the only real draw, but his Oscar-type projects tend to bottom out at around $35 million, like last year's "J. Edgar." The literary source material and the spectacle sure to come with a Luhrmann production should help things over that barrier, but don't forget that Luhrmann's last awards-baiting film, "Australia," didn't do much business, domestically at least; if the reviews aren't there, people won't go for the sake of it. December is very crowded (with "Django Unchained" opening on the very same day), and could the 3D element hurt more than it helps? There's no proof that audiences could be drawn to a three-dimensional film that's not action/fantasy led, and 3D receipts are dropping as it is.
What's It Cost? Reportedly around $125 million, which is an awful lot for a drama, even if it is a period one.
What's The Estimated Return On Investment? Despite everything we've said, we think the high-school favorite text paired with DiCaprio and Luhrmann will prove a big draw, and it should easily top "Australia"'s $200 million worldwide total, so long as the reviews are enthusiastic (not necessarily a given, with the source material being so well known, everyone has already made this movie in their heads). But given the cost, plus P&A and awards campaigning, we can still see this struggling to make a profit.
When? Christmas Day
Who's In It And What's It About? Edgar Rice Burrough's classic pulp hero finally reaches screens, embodied by Taylor Kitsch, while Willem Dafoe, Lynn Collins, Mark Strong, Thomas Haden Church, Ciaran Hinds and Samantha Morton are also among the cast. Pixar grad Andrew Stanton ("Wall-E") makes his live-action debut.
What's The Risk Factor? Well, boy, at this point, what isn't? A tough sell to begin with (a relatively little known property, lots of weird looking aliens), it's been plagued both by production issues (THR had a story a week or so ago that the film had major reshoots, in part thanks to Stanton's live-action inexperience, and the budget has soared) and a truly botched Disney marketing campaign that suggested that the studio had little confidence in the project. On top of that, it's led by Taylor Kitsch, who between this, "Battleship" and "Savages," will either be the biggest star in the world by the end of the year, or the male Gretchen Mol. All that being said, the film's reportedly testing well, and let's not forget, many thought "Avatar" would flop a month ahead of release (although that film obviously had more novelty value when it came to its performance capture and 3D elements). Disney kicks the marketing campaign up again with the Super Bowl this weekend so let's see how it catches on across the next few weeks.
What's It Cost? Initially planned at $200 million, the reshoots are said to have pushed it closer to $300 million, which allegedly means the film needs to clear $700 million worldwide to guarantee a sequel.
What's The Estimated Return On Investment? It's possible that this could be a "Mars Needs Moms"-level disaster, but we suspect the film has a few things on its side, principally being the first blockbuster in a marketplace that's been starved of such fare since Christmas, even if "The Hunger Games" and "Wrath of the Titans" could hurt its tail. But also don't forget the long-term success of "Tron: Legacy," which was hugely expensive, opened soft, but topped out at $400 million worldwide. It's possible that could serve as the model for "John Carter," but it's also not a semi-established franchise as "Tron" was, even if the sequel was super belated. It if catches on, it could reach "Tron: Legacy"-like numbers, but if it tanks completely, it could make a quarter of that.
When? March 9th
"Life Of Pi"
Who's In It And What's It About? An adaptation of Yann Martel's bestseller, which attracted the attention of directors like Jean-Pierre Jeunet and M. Night Shyamalan over the years, this sees the return of Ang Lee for a fable about a shipwrecked boy on a raft with a tiger. A cameoing Tobey Maguire is the biggest name in the cast.
What's The Risk Factor? Arguably the biggest dice-roll in a December full of expensive, risky fare, Ang Lee's 3D film might be full of CGI creatures, but it's closer to something like "Cast Away" in tone than to, say, "We Bought A Zoo." Lee is rarely a box office home-run, and the film's not exactly swimming in A-listers. We're intrigued to see how Fox sells the film, as it's far from the cutesy fare of "Marley & Me" or "War Horse" -- this is dark, scary, grown-up stuff, possibly too much so for pre-teens, and Lee is unlikely to have watered it down. Plus, with "The Hobbit" opening the week before, and "Les Miserables," "World War Z" and "The Great Gatsby" either side, it's got tough competition. Ultimately, this is one film that will really need awards love to make its money back.
What's It Cost? Fox initially pulled the plug fearing that $70 million was too much. But still, it's probably around $60 million.
What's The Estimated Return On Investment? The $400 million haul of, say, "Slumdog Millionaire" feels like a long way off without ecstatic reviews, but the book is beloved, and it could find itself striking a chord. The relatively low cost means it likely won't lose money, but it probably won't make a huge profit either unless it becomes a global surprise hit.
When? December 21st