Wednesday, May 5, 2021

In Laman's Terms: Predicting the ten biggest movies of Summer 2021!

An image from Peter Rabbit 2, a movie that isn't on this list. 

In Laman's Terms is a weekly editorial column where Douglas Laman rambles on about certain topics or ideas that have been on his mind lately. Sometimes he's got serious subjects to discuss, other times he's just got some silly stuff to shoot the breeze about. Either way, you know he's gonna talk about something In Laman's Terms!

Boy, it feels good to do this again.

Yes, with Guy Ritchie's Wrath of Man opening in wide theatrical release on Friday, the Summer 2021 moviegoing season is actually going to happen! The first big tentpole releases will only come three weeks later than usual (A Quiet Place: Part II and Cruella are dropping over Memorial Day rather than the first weekend of May), but otherwise, we've got a slew of theatrical features on the way! Yay!

With that in mind, it's time do something I love to do but wasn't able to do last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic; a column predicting the biggest movies at the summer domestic box office! As I've done in year's past, I'll be predicting the ten biggest movies of the season. Unlike in year's past, I'm not gonna predict opening weekend and domestic grosses. We still have so little data what theatrical moviegoing will look like, it doesn't seem to fair to try to attach specific figures to these titles. Predicting what films will end up being the biggest of the summer, though, that feels totally fair! 

So why don't we begin with the predictions by looking at my projections for the tenth-biggest movie of the season?

Easy A (2010)

10) Cruella

Here's a movie that probably would have done significantly better in pre-COVID-19 times. Live-action Disney remakes have been largely successful (save for the occasional Dumbo) and combining Oscar-winner Emma Stone with an iconic figure like Cruella DeVill probably would have been enough to print money. The fact that it was set to open over the Memorial Day holiday weekend where Aladdin worked like gangbusters in 2019 once looked like an extra dash of gravy on a juicy pile of mashed potatoes. 

However, the pandemic has changed everything and that includes Cruella's box office prospects. Now, the film looks a little riskier. Will audiences turn out for this when A Quiet Place: Part II is an option? Horror movies and family movies usually don't compete with one another but given that both Quiet and Cruella are PG-13, it looks like they may overlap more moviegoers than expected. The marketing for Cruella has also been more subdued compared to past live-action Disney remakes and it's even unclear how many movie theaters will even play the picture. It's easy to imagine Cruella doing strong numbers under many circumstances, but right now, this looks poised to be one of the lower-grossing Disney remakes. 

Remember when we were getting a Jungle Cruise movie starring Tom Hanks and Tim Allen?

9) Jungle Cruise

I'm not sure there's really much demand for Jungle Cruise, a movie that looks like a hodgepodge of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and The Mummy with some African Queen tossed in. However, this is just the kind of movie audiences do like seeing Dwayne Johnson in, family-friendly titles heavy on laughs and explosions. Having Emily Blunt as his co-lead straight after her turns in A Quiet Place and previous Disney title Mary Poppins Returns also sweetens the pot. 

It also doesn't hurt that its late July release means it'll be the last family-friendly movie of the summer (except for the Paw Patrol movie) and that it'll be Disney's first movie since Onward in March 2020 to debut exclusively in theaters. I'm still not sure there's enough uniqueness in either the marketing for this movie or room in the summer 2021 family movie marketplace for Jungle Cruise to become the next Pirates of the Caribbean. Still, it does have some strong ingredients in place to suggest it can reach enough audiences to become a decent performer for the Mouse House.

8) In the Heights

If there's any movie that looks poised to be a big sleeper hit, it's In the Heights. A film adaptation of the beloved Broadway musical, In the Heights already looked to poised for box office glory last year thanks to the increased pop culture presence of its writer, Lin Manuel-Miranda. But now, in summer 2021, it feels like the quintessential movie people will wanna see on the big screen. A peppy tone? Check. Lots of spectacle? Also check. A hopeful aesthetic? Triple-check. The fact that early word-of-mouth from those who've seen In the Heights is that the movie delivers the good could give it killer advanced buzz too.

Even the mid-June 2021 date feels absolutely perfect for the title, since it'll give it two weeks of space between both A Quiet Place: Part II and F9. And, yes, having post-Hamilton Manuel-Miranda around as a prominent part of the marketing should only be extra helpful to this movie standing out in the marketplace. The stage is set for In the Heights to dance its way to a triumphant box office run. Basically, expect this one to sell far more than 96,000 tickets in its domestic run. 

7) Hotel Tranylsvania: Transformmania

The newest (apparently last?) Hotel Transylvania movie, Hotel Transylvania: Transformmania, is about to be a very big fish in a very small pond. With PIXAR and Illumination moving their Summer 2021 titles out of the season, that leaves this new Sony Pictures Animation title as, by default, the biggest fully-animated kids movie of the season. Given that the Hotel Transylvania movies have been remarkably consistent in their domestic box office performance up to this point, there was always little chance this one suddenly took the series to Ice Age: Collision Course levels of disastrous domestic box office.

Still, with no other fully animated titles to compete with, this new film can be assured to maintain the majority of its predecessor's domestic gross even with COVID-19 still impacting the theatrical landscape. The marketing on this one hasn't started yet, so it's hard to tell if it'll have as distinct of a hook as its predecessor's cruise line storyline.  At the moment, though, the Drac Pack look poised to be one of the biggest movies of the summer and fill an animated kids movies void in the Summer 2021 marketplace. 

6) A Quiet Place: Part II

Keep that noise down! A Quiet Place: Part II is almost here! The first Quiet Place was already a gigantic smash hit in its 2018 box office run. Just before the pandemic shut everything down, A Quiet Place: Part II looked poised to do the same thanks to impressive box office tracking figures. 14 months later, it looks like A Quiet Place: Part II is still set to be a hit, even if nobody's expecting it to live up to either the first movie or that initial box office tracking from March 2020.

Even prior to the health crisis, the ads for this sequel smartly made sure to emphasize fresh story details like the presence of Cillian Murphy's new character and flashbacks to when the monster-informed apocalypse first began. Those ingredients plus goodwill from the first movie made A Quiet Place: Part II pretty much a financial slamdunk from the get-go. Now, though, the film could be extra appealing to audiences not only as a long-awaited feature but also as something you have to see in the theater. The original Quiet Place was a lot of fun to see with a crowd on the big screen. A Quiet Place: Part II could get a lot of mileage out of those fond memories in its domestic box office run.

5) Space Jam: A New Legacy

Everybody get up now, it's time to predict how Space Jam: A New Legacy will do at the box office. Really, though, if there's any slam-dunk (no pun intended) at this summer's box office, it's Space Jam: A New Legacy. LeBron James is a beloved sports stars. Space Jam is a seminal movie for a certain generation. Plus, the trailers for the sequel haven't just promoted a new Space Jam movie, they've also taken a cue from Ready Player One in simultaneously promoting a whole slew of other familiar pieces of WB IP.

All these qualities, plus the fact that 2021 Warner Bros. movies are overperforming like crazy, all point to Space Jam: A New Legacy being a massive hit. Could it crack $200 million domestically? Under normal circumstances, I'd say heck yeah. The first one, adjusted for inflation, made $162 million domestically and that one didn't have 25 years' worth of hype behind it. Crossing that threshold is more of a question mark in a theatrical landscape rocked by COVID-19. If any movie could do it, though, it'd be a Space Jam sequel. Moviegoers are ready to slam and jam, it seems, and that desire will result in one of the biggest movies of the season.

4) Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Up to this point, the biggest movies of all-time that have opened over the Labor Day weekend frame are Halloween and Final Destination movies. That all changes this year as a big-budget superhero movie calls the holiday weekend home for the first time. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will debut on September 3 and there's no question it'll help redefine what a successful Labor Day weekend release looks like. True, no Labor Day movie has ever crossed $100 million domestically before but none of those previous releases were massive Marvel Studios blockbusters.

The first trailer for Shang-Chi already generated lots of hype and it feels like a guarantee that, even by early September, the glow of returning to theaters will have enough pull to lend an extra layer of specialness to Shang-Chi. The lack of direct connections to Avengers sequels like Black Panther and Captain Marvel had will keep it hitting from the box office highs of those two inaugural solo Marvel Cinematic Universe films. Even a domestic total closer to Doctor Strange than Guardians of the Galaxy, though, would make Shang-Chi one of the biggest movies of summer 2021. Take THAT, Rob Zombie's Halloween

A shark! 

3) The Suicide Squad

Nobody liked the 2016 Suicide Squad but it still made over $320 million domestically. That made it a big hit but that negative reception meant an inevitable sequel would have to do more than just say "the Suicide Squad are back!" So far, the marketing for The Suicide Squad has dedicated itself to doing just that by emphasizing the presence of new director James Gunn, a radically different tone, and a slew of new characters, including King Shark. So far, responses to the trailer have been widely positive, the red-band trailer broke viewership records, and IMDB users have declared the feature their most anticipated movie for 2021.

There is the fact that, unlike its predecessor, The Suicide Squad is simultaneously debuting on HBO Max, but that doesn't seem to be impacting the box office of Godzilla vs. Kong and Mortal Kombat, why should it hinder a DC Comics juggernaut? Lingering COVID-19 concerns and negative associates with that first movie make it likely this one opens below the first Suicide Squad but don't be surprised if this legs it out to a slightly higher overall domestic gross. Those Nathan Fillion fans are gonna come out in droves, that's gonna make all the difference at the box office.

An image from a crossover between The Nanny Diaries and Midsommar

2) Black Widow

The Marvel Cinematic Universe returns to the big screen for the first time in two whole years in July, the longest gap of time between installments of this franchise since the MCU began. The film that kicks things back off is one audiences have been demanding for years, a Black Widow solo movie. Being the lone female Avenger for so long made Black Widow a highly-recognizable figure and that only got even more true in the wake of her memorable sacrifice in Avengers: Endgame. Now, this highly-publicized feature is offering moviegoers a chance to explore the origins of this character.

Prequels tend to make less than sequels that just continue a story on in a linear fashion, but the MCU's always breaking box office norms, so don't expect that to be too much of an issue here. More pressing, though, is whether or not releasing Black Widow on Disney+ as a PVOD title will hurt its domestic box office run. Those simultaneous HBO Max launches haven't hurt Warner Bros. titles in 2021, but again, we're in uncharted territory. Who knows how this will shake up. Still, never bet against Marvel, whose incredibly successful Disney+ programs like WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier have proven that audiences haven't forgotten the franchise in its big-screen absence. The consistent box office track record of MCU films plus the long-awaited nature of Black Widow means it'll probably beat out all other summer 2021 titles...except for one!

1) F9

The first big-budget blockbuster to exclusively hit domestic theaters in nearly a year and one of the rare Summer 2021 titles to not have a simultaneous streaming run? F9 is already much like Stacy's Mom in how it has got it going on. However, Universal isn't just resting on the laurels of a post-COVID-19 theatrical landscape to carry this newest Fast & Furious adventure. The presence of John Cena as the new villain is already a great new gimmick as are memorable set pieces involving magnets and rockets. There's also the fact that this is the movie where fan-favorite character Han (Sung Kang) returns from the dead and the final trailer indicates that Dominic Toretto's family is finally headed to space.

All of these qualities mean that F9 has a lot more going for it in its marketing than the previous series installment, The Fate of the Furious, ever had. Still, will that all be enough to get it the top spot at the summer 2021 box office domestically? I think it could, especially since, again it'll have more exclusivity playing in theaters, and its release date times it to the 4th of July holiday. All those extra days of being the only blockbuster in town when people are off work should give it an extra boost to its box office engine. Watch out for F9, this one could end up surpassing Furious 7 to become the highest-grossing entry in the franchise domestically. 

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