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In A Crowded Summer 2013 Blockbuster Season, Which Risky Films Will Be Hits & Which Will Flop?

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist March 4, 2013 at 3:03PM

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.
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The Heat, trailer
"The Heat" (June 28th)
The Cost: Aside from a substantial paycheck for Bullock, and probably a decent one for McCarthy, it probably wasn't wildly expensive. Assuming they took upfront payments, let's call it $60 million all in.
The Risk Factor: Sandra Bullock certainly has a built-in audience, but it tends to be for reasonably comforting fare -- "The Proposal," "The Blind Side," "Miss Congeniality" et al. When she steps outside that zone, as with "Premonition" or "The Lake House," takings tend to drop. Which is why it's intriguing to see her starring in an R-rated action comedy. Will that alienate her usual audience? However, the film got moved quite late on from April to the heart of summer, which is a show of confidence.
The Return: While it could be seen as a risk on paper, this looks like a license to print money to us. Bullock's a reliable leading lady solo (and her desire to push her brand a little bit here is admirable), and teaming her with "Bridesmaids" director Paul Feig, and that film's breakout Melissa McCarthy (the main draw of the lone box-office bright spot of 2013 so far with "Identity Thief") is a golden opportunity. The film looks pretty funny as it is, and it has a prime release date, with no comedy competition for two weeks either side of it (and no R-rated comedy competition until "We're The Millers" six weeks later). This definitely feels like a case where Fox moving the film to the summer was a bullish move. The film should crest $100 million domestic, but it could go as high as "The Proposal" or even "Bridesmaids" ($179 million).

White House Down, Channing Tatum
"White House Down" (June 28th)
The Cost: Ain't nobody saying. Given the smaller scope, it's likely to be less than the $200 million cost of "2012,' but it's probably also well over $100 million.
The Risk Factor: Every year has some kind of duelling-premises contest between rival movies, and this year brings the contest between two "Die Hard"-in-the-White-House movies. And "White House Down" has the disadvantage of coming a couple of months after "Olympus Has Fallen." Coming second didn't affect "Snow White & The Huntsman" which comfortably outgrossed "Mirror Mirror," but they seemed to have more obvious differences in their target audiences. At this point at least, four months from release, Sony haven't shown much beyond stills of "White House Down," and maybe need to get going on that campaign, for risk of making audiences think they've already seen the film, and that it starred Gerard Butler. Plus "Olympus Has Fallen" looks so terrible that it could be tarnished by association. It's also worth noting that the "Die Hard"-type movie hasn't been a great draw in recent years: even "A Good Day To Die Hard" is struggling, and looks likely to be the lowest-grossing of that series.
The Return: All that said, Roland Emmerich is, for the most part a hit machine (if we exclude "Anonymous,""10,000 BC" is his only significant flop, and even that took over $250 million worldwide), and Channing Tatum has proven a reliable lead across the last year pushing three movies to over $110 million domestic. Having co-star Jamie Foxx coming off "Django Unchained" will help too. Hitting just in time for the 4th of July weekend can only be a boost too. It's unfortunate to be splitting audiences with "The Heat" (as Tatum vehicle "Magic Mike" did with "Ted" on the same slot last year), but both films should perform, with the $300 million worldwide take of "Air Force One" probably the high watermark in this case.


Lone Ranger, Johnny Depp
"Lone Ranger" (July 3rd)
The Cost: Shut down/delayed once because of a budget deemed unacceptable to Disney, the film was eventually greenlit, only for costs to soar again once filming began. It's likely to be at least $250 million, and may have gone higher than that even, making it one of the summer's most expensive films.
The Risk: You wouldn't think that a movie that reteams most of the creatives behind the "Pirates of the Caribbean" films, which have taken close to $4 billion between them, could be deemed as a risk. But you also wouldn't have thought a western could cost over $350 million (once P&A is taken into account) either, and yet here we are. It's the kind of "John Carter"-ish sum that means the film has to be a megahit or bust (we're not even sure that the $600 million that the original 'Pirates' took would put this into the black). But the risks go beyond that. Depp proved with "The Tourist" and "Dark Shadows" that he can't turn everything into gold, and co-star Armie Hammer is untested as a draw. Plus westerns historically perform less well internationally, and worldwide gross has been the savior of recent 'Pirates' films (75% of the take for "On Stranger Tides" came from outside the U.S.). Plus, remember "Cowboys & Aliens."
The Return: Much of this was said about pirates movies before "Pirates of the Caribbean," so it's possible that if the film works, Disney have another billion-dollar franchise on their hands. Depp certainly remains popular enough around the world, and even if the character isn't exactly popular, there's a degree of name recognition there. Plus Disney are probably comforted that "Django Unchained" has so far made 60% of its box office abroad, so westerns aren't totally U.S-centric. But even so, Disney's marketing hasn't quite brought across the have-to-see factor. We can see a world in which this makes "John Carter" money, around $300 million, and a bunch of people at Disney lose their jobs. We can also see a world where it gets over a billion. The truth is likely somewhere in between.

Pacific Rim Idris Elba Rinko Kikuchi
"Pacific Rim" (July 12th)
The Cost: No stars keeps the overheads relatively low, but reports vary as to how much the whole shebang costs, from $150 million to $250 million.
The Risk: Like "Oblivion" and "After Earth," "Pacific Rim" is a sci-fi action epic that isn't based on pre-existing comics/video games/etc, but unlike those films, it doesn't have a Will Smith or a Tom Cruise (though the latter was briefly in talks for Idris Elba's role, as it happens). What it does have is an acclaimed and beloved director, one who studios are happy to give major sums to to make something like this. But unlike, say, James Cameron and Christopher Nolan, Del Toro is an unproven force at the box-office: "Hellboy II" is his top-grosser, but even that only took $160 million. He might draw in the cinephiles, but he's not really a name that registers with the general public. And while the concept is fairly irresistible, the trailer didn't do much to sell it to the general public (comparisons to "Transformers" got out there, which as "Battleship" proved, doesn't help you much unless you're actually a "Transformers" movie). Another clip, with more finished effects and a clearer sense of narrative, could yet pull it back though.
The Return: Of everything this summer, this is the one that feels like it could go either way. When we read the script, we thought to ourselves, "This is going to make a billion dollars." But we don't sense a lot of buzz out there for this amongst the general public, as yet, and while it's early, July is creeping closer. We're still confident than Del Toro can deliver the goods, but Warners can't make the same mistake that many have before, and just sell it to the geek crowds who'll turn up to anything with a giant robot and a cool monster (and there is a lot more to the script beyond that). This might end up doing "Inception" type numbers if it works and word of mouth is strong, or it could still be the summer's most high profile flop.

This article is related to: Features, World War Z, Pacific Rim, The Lone Ranger, After Earth, Summer Pile-Up


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