It wasn’t that long ago when people were writing premonitions, pre-nostalgic anticipations and “whoa, look out” warning pieces about the massive pile-up of gigantic blockbusters heading for the summer of 2015. That's still true to a degree, but the landscape has shifted and 2016 is looking bigger, brighter and scarier. Even “Star Wars: Episode VII” originally scheduled for May 2015 was pushed back to the tail end of the year (December) because J.J. Abrams and co. knew they’d need all the time in the world to finish their big franchise-resurrecting project (their request to push the film further to 2016 was denied).
Which means that actually, in 2015, the only guaranteed sequel/franchise megahits are “Fast & Furious 7,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and probably “Jurassic World” (though if it did “Jurassic Park 3”-like numbers, that would be a huge disappointment). Yes, Pixar is back (but with the more adventurous “Inside Out” rather than a guaranteed sequel smash like most of their last few pictures) and so is Universal’s mega-successful “Despicable Me” franchise (with the spin-off “Minions”), but Pixar’s movie could be a tougher sell than most. “Ted 2” is likely to be a big comedy hit too, but Seth MacFarlane's brand was definitely damaged by the flop of “A Million Ways To Die In The West."
Don’t get it twisted, it could be a gigantic year, but beyond that, there’s a lot of question marks. “Mad Max: Fury Road” looks rather incredible at the moment (these pics are great) and there’s a new “Terminator: Genesis” film on the horizon, but you never know when one of those are going to fizzle like some tired, would-be-rebooted franchises do (see 2014’s “RoboCop” and 2013’s “Total Recall” for examples; there’s also the fact that “cool” or not, it’s unclear if Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron can open a movie together; at least not necessarily at mega-blockbuster numbers). A lot of raunchy and/or ambitious comedies are coming too (Melissa McCarthy’s “Spy,” the “Entourage” movie, Diablo Cody’s “Ricki & The Flash,” Amy Schumer/Judd Apatow’s “Trainwreck,” Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Grimsby”), but you really never know how many of these could cannibalize each other.
There’s a bevy of hopeful franchise starters, probably at least half of which will disappoint (“Pan,” Tim Burton’s “Peregrine,” “Assassin's Creed,” “Goosebumps," and more). And there’s super hero films of course: “Fantastic Four” and “Ant-Man,” which in theory are superhero movies and home-runs, but don't have a lot of fanboy goodwill at this point—they actually could be riskier than most if they don’t connect (a lot is riding on Fox to fix their “Fantastic Four” franchise too, a potentially lucrative property that’s been wasted thus far).
Whereas 2016, because of all domino effects of switching release dates, is already looking like a pile-up, especially with a busy March. Duncan Jones’ “Warcraft” (once scheduled for December 2015) and the Ridley Scott movie that appears to be “The Martian” (but could yet be a sequel to "Prometheus") are both landing, and the former in particular is a film that Universal and Legendary have sky-high hopes for. There’s a lot of big brand-names coming, some of which are gonna be competing directly with each other.
Granted, summer 2015 was looking pretty mammoth as a movie year at the time, but as schedules are wont to do, things shifted. “Pirates of the Caribbean 5” was supposed to be ready for 2015, but still appears to be in a sort of limbo. Recent rumors suggest it could shoot in January, but a behemoth like that needs time and a proper 8-month-out marketing campaign, so if production does go forward at the top of next year you can still bet the movie won't arrive until 2016. “Independence Day 2” also wasn’t ready and got pushed a year.
Likewise, the next ‘Bourne’ installment isn't ready so it too got delayed into summer 2016 (and the word is despite the denials, they're trying to bring Matt Damon back). "Superman Vs. Batman: Dawn Of Justice" was another one. Warner Bros. originally wanted to fast track it for summer 2015, but because they started retrofitting their script as they went—deciding to make a hard and fast pivot and plan towards getting "Justice League" up and running, they realized they needed more time, particularly with those films set to shoot back-to-back.
That's three major tentpole that were scheduled for next year and bumped another 12 months. On top of that, Paramount recently announced their intention to get three of their big franchises back on track (and continue the one they’re about to launch now) in 2016 with “Star Trek 3,” “G.I. Joe 3” and “Transformers 5.” Laying out the slates, it's now looking like 2016 has the upper hand, in terms of being an utterly ginormously crowded year that could break box office records.
Here’s how things stand right now (and note: we use the term “summer” loosely because blockbusters pretty much run from February to December minus a brief reprieve in the fall)
“Fast & Furious 7” - April 10th
“Avengers: Age Of Ultron" - May 1st
“Mad Max: Fury Road”/”Pitch Perfect 2”/”Pixels” - May 15th
“Spy”/”Tomorrowland” - May 22nd
“Monster Trucks” - May 29th
“BOO”/“San Andreas” - June 5th
“Jurassic World”/ “Entourage” - June 12th
“Fantastic Four”/“Inside Out” - June 19th
“Ricki And The Flash”/“Ted 2” - June 26th
“Magic Mike 2”/”Terminator: Genesis” - July 1st
“Minions” - July 10th
“Ant-Man”/”Pan” - July 17th
“Trainwreck” - July 24th
“Grimsby”/“Peregrine's Home For Peculiars” - July 31st
“Assassin's Creed”/”Goosebumps”/”Point Break” - August 7th
“Straight Outta Compton” – August 14th
Timur Bekmambetov’s “Ben Hur” - Feb 26
"The Martian" OR "Prometheus 2” - March 4th
“Warcraft” - March 11th
“Divergent 3” - March 18th
“Beverly Hills Cop 4” reboot - March 25th
“The Mummy” - April 22nd
“Batman V. Superman”/”Captain America 3” - May 6th (one of these dates will likely shift, likely into early April, but it's a game of corporate chicken right now)
Untitled R-Rated Universal Comedy - May 13th
“Alice In Wonderland 2”/”X-Men Apocalypse” - May 27th
“Sausage Party” - June 3rd
“The Amazing Spider-Man 3” - June 10th
“Finding Dory”/ “How to Train Your Dragon 3” - June 17th
“Angry Birds”/ Steven Spielberg’s “The BFG”/”Independence Day 2”/”Tarzan” - July 1st
Marvel Untitled (“Doctor Strange”? “Guardians 2”? “Thor 3"? ) - July 8th
“Bourne 4/“Ice Age 5” - July 15th
“King Arthur” - July 22nd
“Planet Of The Apes 3” - July 29th
“Untitled Smurfs Reboot” - August 5th
“Pirates of The Caribbean 5” (TBD)
“Star Trek 3” (TBD)
“G.I. Joe 3” (TBD)
“Transformers 5" (TBD)
This is likely going to be the typical forecast annually. Each year is going to look, sound and feel bigger than the last. But something will always underperform, something will always surprise and some plans will fall off track leading to delays (with 2016 already looking like such a clusterfuck, look for the dicier prospects like "The Mummy" and "King Arthur" to get pushed back, and there are already rumors that "The Amazing Spider-Man 3" will be pushed to 2017 too, though Drew Goddard's "Sinister Six" is reportedly gearing up to take its place). Look for the blockbuster calendar to spread even wider: "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" and "Gravity" have proven you can pull down tentpole numbers in the traditionally quiet months of April and October, so expect more studios to follow their lead.
To borrow and paraphrase a predictive sentiment that Jon Favreau once famously said, someone (meaning some filmmaker or studio or both) is going to get “kicked in the teeth.” With so many aiming for immodest blockbuster success, failure is inevitable for some. It’s just a matter of who.