By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood April 20, 2010 at 4:01AM
It's starting to look a lot like summer.
Universal is scheduling screenings of Ridley Scott's Robin Hood in advance of opening the Cannes Film Fest May 12. The studio put Russell Crowe, looking puffy and thick-waisted, on the Oprah Winfrey Show to charm her femme audience, but he looked half-hearted and miserable, trying to demonstrate his prowess with a giant cross-bow. (Despite the presence of Cate Blanchett as Maid Marian, the movie looks very action-male to me.)
Iron Man 2, judging from what I saw and learned at Comic-Con, is likely not only to please me, but everyone else. As a sequel, it's much more pre-sold than the first movie, which built good buzz to a $98.6 million opening in May 2008, a $318.4 million domestic gross and $585 million worldwide. The record to beat: The Dark Knight's July 2009 $158.4 million opening. Some b.o. prognosticators say Iron Man 2 can pull $160 million.
But Marvel wanted to make sure that Iron Man 2 would advance the first success, not just bilk it. Downey, Favreau, Marvel exec Kevin Feige and writer Justin Theroux collaborated for months hashing out the story, and continued improvising and changing on set until the last minute.
Iron Man 2 starts out six months after the first one, as billionaire Tony Stark deals with going public as Iron Man. Now everyone knows he has the power to save the world—if he can keep his sanity. Assistant/love interest Pepper (Gwenyth Paltrow) tries to help him to fly straight, shooting him stern glances as he baits a nasty Senator (Gary Shandling) out to steal his invention. And old chum Colonel Rhodes (now played by Don Cheadle) is not necessarily on his side.
Word is, the villains are better this time: Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell and Scarlett Johannson deliver the goods as vicious Russian prison vet Whiplash, snarky rival arms dealer Sam Rockwell and super-fit fatale Black Widow. Paramount grabbed the same early May slot as the first one, and should roll up enormous grosses before any real summer competition gets under way. What could beat Iron Man 2 at the summer box office?
OTHER TOP SUMMER TENTPOLES
While Chris Nolan's Inception (July 16), starring Leonardo DiCaprio and a cartload of mindbending effects, is a strong contender for best summer movie, that doesn't mean it can beat a franchise sequel like Iron Man 2. It's not a Batman film.
Potentially more robust are two animated sequels: Paramount/DreamWorks Animation's Shrek Forever After boasts an early release date (May 21) as well as the 3D premium; Disney/Pixar's Toy Story 3, also in 3D, follows four weeks later on June 18 and will chug along all summer. Toy Story 2 grossed 245.8 million in North America back in 1999, but the franchise thrives on DVD. Shrek 2 grossed $441 million, while Shrek the Third dipped 26% to $322.7 million. It will be a close race but I will put my money on perennial quality-guarantor Pixar to deliver great WOM, with a nice 3-D boost.
While The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (June 30) will deliver a huge opening off star combo Pattinson, Stewart and Lautner, judging from some ill-favored winds surrounding David Slade's direction (losing one's editor and lengthy reshoots are not a good sign), I suspect it might fall off. Twilight: New Moon grossed $296 million last year.
Angelina Jolie is Hollywood's most bankable female star because she can do action. But one franchise (Lara Croft: Tomb Raider) petered out on bad execution, she turned down the Wanted sequel (the original delivered $135 million domestic, $341 million worldwide) and where's the return of her biggest grosser (with partner Brad Pitt) Mr. and Mrs. Smith? Philip Noyce's spy thriller Salt (July 23) (which Cruise was originally up for) could do serious business, but it's a launch.
While Jolie is attempting to mount a Bourne-like franchise, Matt Damon is starring opposite Emily Blunt in George Nolfi's romantic The Adjustment Bureau (July 30), which as another non-Bourne movie, requires a hard sell. Another movie with femme appeal could be the film adaptation of the bestseller Eat, Pray, Love (August 13), starring Julia Roberts as a peripatetic woman in search of her identity. But it's unlikely to cross over to males.
Sex and the City 2 (May 27) should do even better than the first movie ($153 million domestically). This brand name is catnip to women and men who like shopping, but the picture won't push into action blockbuster territory.
The Cruise/Diaz combo could lure audiences to James Mangold's non-sequel Knight and Day (June 25), but neither star is a guaranteed b.o. draw at this point, even in a popcorn movie. Cruise's last two pictures, the adult-targeted Valkyrie and Lions for Lambs, struggled at the box office; his last tentpole sequel, 2006's Mission: Impossible III, topped out at $133 million and lost Cruise his producing shingle at Paramount.
Disney/Bruckheimer boast two VFX-heavy live-action summer entries: Mike Newell's glossy sword-and-sandal epic Prince of Persia, starring Jake Gyllenhaal (May 28) and Jon Turteltaub's The Sorcerer's Apprentice (July 16) starring Nic Cage (it's partly based on animated classic Fantasia). Both will need to build great buzz to outlast the competition.
The Robert Rodriguez-produced Predators (July 7) will be strictly R-rated male action, so there's a cap. In the same ballpark but possibly more commercial is Sylvester Stallone's The Expendables (August 13), with its all-star action ensemble led by Stallone, Jet Li and Jason Statham. Rocky Balboa grossed $70 million domestic, $155-million worldwide in 2006, and Li and Statham boast global followings.
Comic book action western Jonah Hex (June 18), starring Josh Brolin, and Edgar Wright's ensemble action comedy Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World (August 13) look like two sleeper candidates to break out beyond the fanboy demo. But they won't challenge the big guns. To me, also lacking the right stuff to reach the b.o. heights are The A-Team, The Last Airbender, The Karate Kid, Grown-Ups and Despicable Me. But you never know what's going to break out.