Summer Jam Feature

2013 has claimed its first would-be-blockbuster casualty. This past weekend saw "Jack The Giant Slayer," Bryan Singer's long-delayed $200 million fairy tale movie, open to a decidedly underwhelming $28 million, putting it on the path to losing "John Carter"/"Battleship"/"Total Recall"-style sums of money. It was hardly a surprise (most people with half a brain saw this coming months ago), but it's another illustration that for every expensive film that proves to be a hit, there's at least one that fails entirely to connect with the audience that it needs.

Maybe 'Jack' will show some legs, but it's unlikely: March is stacked with hopeful tentpoles, including "Oz The Great and Powerful," "The Croods," "The Host" and "G.I. Joe Retaliation," all of which are competing for similar crowds, and not all of which will manage it. And things will get even worse in the summer; as has been the case for the last few years, as almost every week will bring a new blockbuster.

So with "Jack The Giant Slayer" the first to hit the deck, and the last-minute 3D conversion of "R.I.P.D" being announced, it seemed like a good time to look at some of the riskier prospects of the crowded summer blockbuster season, and examine their chances of being the next big smash, or the next "Cowboys & Aliens." Read on below, and let us know how you think it'll turn out in the comments section.

Oblivion, Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman

"Oblivion" (April 12th)
The Cost: Originally planned by Universal (who picked the project up from turnaround at Disney) to be a relatively low $100 million. We'd wager it ends up a little over that, but maybe not by all that much.
The Risk: Ten years ago, Tom Cruise was about a safe a bet as you could imagine, but these days, it's more of a toss-up as to whether his films can draw a substantial crowd. For every "Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol" ($700 million worldwide, the biggest hit of Cruise's career), there's a "Jack Reacher" (a disappointing $213 million worldwide). His 2013 movie sees him try something relatively new, headlining an original sci-fi picture. Cruise has gone into fantastical territory before, with two successful Spielberg movies, but this is a bigger role of the dice: an expensive blockbuster from original material, from the director of a somewhat derided high-profile movie (Joseph Kosinski of "Tron: Legacy"), and a somewhat complex concept to get across (which Universal's marketing campaign has done a mixed job of selling). And does an off-season release date (hitting IMAX theaters on April 12th, going wide a week later) indicate that the film is problematic, or simply that summer movies are landing earlier and earlier?
The (Possible) Return: The worst case scenario is that the film does a "John Carter" and opens to $30 million, comes in under $100 million domestically, but does reasonably well internationally (70% of the gross for 'MI:GP' and "Knight & Day" came from abroad). The best case scenario is that the film's early release effectively makes it the first blockbuster of the summer, giving it a few weeks of uninterrupted play. Our guess is that it'll be closer to the latter, with IMAX boosting grosses too, landing somewhere near the $400 million take of "Tron Legacy."

Bachchan Great Gatsby Header
"The Great Gatsby" (May 10th)
The Cost: $125 million was the original cost, but it appears there were some reshoots, although Warners were reportedly said to be reluctant to pay for them. And whether it's an Oscar player, a summer spectacle or something in between remains to be seen.
The Risk: A reteam of director Baz Luhrmann and his "Romeo & Juliet" star Leonardo DiCaprio, on another classic work of literature, with a cast also including Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire and Joel Edgerton might not seem like a risk on paper. But "The Great Gatsby" is definitely one of the bigger question marks of the summer. Luhrmann has never been a box-office power-house ("Moulin Rouge!" is his top domestic grosser, at a fairly piddling $57 million, with $211 million haul "Australia" his best international player), and the hip-hop-soundtracked, stylized, 3D take on F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel threatens to be problematic in terms of drawing audiences. The execution could be too noisy for older, more literary audiences, but the material too fusty for the younger crowds.
The (Possible) Return: A rumored Cannes premiere (it opens internationally the day the fest kicks off) is still up in the air, but it could give the film a nice boost. The delay of the film from Christmas to spring isn't particularly egregious (compared to the constantly shifting dates for "47 Ronin," for example), and the $600 million haul for literary 3D adaptation "Life of Pi" is probably a comfort. Still, we think that going the week after the sure-to-be-a-monster "Iron Man 3" could be a mistake. And oh yeah, the following week "Star Trek Into Darkness" storms into theaters." Use WB's "Dark Shadows," which had the same date, as a guide -- it'll probably go over $200 million, but how much more is the question. Will summer audiences want explosions or jazz age drama?

After Earth
"After Earth" (June 7th)
The Cost: $130 million
The Risk: One the one hand, you have Will Smith, probably the most consistently reliable movie star currently working, who after a few years' absence, bounced back with a $600 million haul for last year's "MIB 3." On the other, M. Night Shyamalan, who despite an ever-increasing tornado of critical brickbats, continues to make a surprising amount of money at the box office: the awful "The Happening?" $160 million worldwide. The equally bad "The Last Airbender?" North of $300 million. So teaming them up (along with Will's progeny Jaden Smith, who toplined surprise global hit "The Karate Kid") would seem to be a recipe to make money. But it is original sci-fi, and despite "MIB 3" doing ok, Smith's not quite what he was (the film was the lowest-grossing of the three internationally), and the film doesn't just see him in grim-faced serious mode, but he also takes a back seat in the movie to Smith Jr. Plus it's pretty similar in premise to "Oblivion," which arrives a couple of months ahead of time. If that film doesn't hit at the box office, Sony could get nervous, as people may feel they've already been there/done that with a ruined future earth adventure. It's also got a crowded release date, with three wide releases against it, and "Man Of Steel" following the week after.
The (Possible) Return: Regardless of whether it's any good or not, the film's likely to skew fairly young, which can only help. We think the $300 million take of "The Last Airbender" is a good estimate, but it could end up going higher (like "I Am Legend" or "Hancock," Smith vehicles that made around $600 million), or it could be a misfire and make half of that. We're reasonably confident it'll do ok, though.