|Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is not on this list, but how could I not make this lil' guy the header image?!?|
Boy, it feels weird to be doing this again.
For the first time in three years, I can do a proper Summer Box Office Predictions column. Knock on wood, we’re going to have a traditional summertime box office season that starts the first weekend of May and ends over Labor Day weekend. What a concept. The COVID-19 pandemic erased summer 2020 entirely and ensured that summer 2021 (save for A Quiet Place: Part II and Cruella) didn’t start until F9 arrived at the end of June 2021. Even then, a deluge of movies that offered up new theatrical titles simultaneously on big streaming services made things feel off-kilter.
So far, though, only Firestarter and Honk for Jesus, Save Your Soul among this summer’s wide theatrical releases have announced simultaneous launches on the small screen. The rest of this summer’s titles are all theatrical exclusives. Granted, it’s not a totally normal summer still. For one thing, there’s a dearth of comedies. Even compared to the summer of 2019, which had Good Boys, Stuber, and Long Shot (among others) all premiering theatrically, there really aren’t any major comedies dropping in the summer of 2022. August 2022 is also looking shockingly barren now that The Man from Toronto has hightailed it out of the month. August is usually where R-rated comedies or sleeper hit horror movies can thrive, but Hollywood’s continued emphasis on tentpoles means that we won’t have any potential surprise hits in that month this year.
Still, the slate for summer 2022 does look promising overall and the resurgence of family and adult women moviegoers throughout spring 2022 (not to mention the extraordinary sleeper success of Everything Everywhere All at Once) confirms that it isn’t just superhero movies that can thrive on the big screen provided that Hollywood, y’know, provides those titles. It’s doubtful (thanks to that empty August) that summer 2022 can match the biggest summer box office hauls of all-time, but it should still do fine for itself.
With that, let’s look ahead at my predictions for the 10 biggest movies at the domestic box office this summer. As in years past, I’m delivering projections for opening weekend and final gross sums as well as accompanying analysis on why I think these titles will perform the way they do.
The biggest advantage Elvis has going for it is that its distributor, Warner Bros., has no other movies dropping in the first two months of Summer 2022. The studio can solely concentrate on getting this title to a sizeable box office gross rather than splits its attention across multiple titles. The music biopic has a shaky track record to be sure (for every Bohemian Rhapsody, there’s a Respect), but Elvis Presley feels like a famous enough figure to attract moviegoers of all ages. Having Tom Hanks around in a showy supporting role should further sweeten the pot for general audiences.
Back in the summer of 2019, Rocketman opened to $24 million before legging it out to $97 million. I’d imagine Elvis can at least do a touch better than that since Presley is so ubiquitous and it’ll have the full might of the Warner Bros. marketing machine behind it. Let’s say this one narrowly cracks $30 million on opening weekend and then sticks around for a while. It won’t be the biggest Baz Luhrmann film ever in North America, but it’ll be a solid performer and just the kind of adult-skewing film that can take off once the middle of the summer arrives. That’s the point in the season where moviegoers begin to crave something that isn’t big and full of explosions. Elvis could fill that niche nicely.
Projected Opening Weekend: $30 million
Project Domestic Total: $115 million
9. Bullet Train
Since he burst onto people’s radars in May 1991 in Thelma & Louise, Brad Pitt has managed to appear in nine live-action movies that cracked $100 million domestically (not counting his brief cameo appearance in Deadpool 2). That’s not an expansive club of movies that cracked nine-digits in North America, but it’s wide enough to suggest it’s not impossible for a new blockbuster starring Pitt to crack $100 million in this territory. This is where the new Pitt movie Bullet Train comes into the equation, which seems poised to be a successful sleeper hit for Sony/Columbia.
Some movies are really complex in terms of the elements that suggest they’ll be hits. For Bullet Train, it’s quite simple. The early marketing, including an appealing trailer that debuted on The Batman, has been eye-catching, and this is the kind of movie people like to see Pitt in. Plus, it’s debuting the last weekend of July, which means it can play as the most recent action movie game in town during a surprisingly sparse August for new theatrical releases. As long as the film isn’t historically terrible (which could totally happen, of course), Bullet Train seems like it’s locked and loaded to be a hit despite not being based on source material that’s already a household name. Who knew appealing concepts and movie stars could get butts into movie theaters? Those factors should all combine to make Bullet Train the tenth live-action Brad Pitt film to exceed $100 million domestically.
Projected Opening Weekend: $39 million
Projected Domestic Total: $120 million
8. DC League of Super-Pets
Warner Bros. has a shockingly poor box office track record for animated movies considering it’s the studio behind Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. The LEGO Movie and Happy Feet were unquestionably hits, but then there’s The Ant Bully, Storks, Smallfoot, and the last two LEGO Movies. That erratic box office track record means that their newest family-friendly cartoons enter the marketplace with more skepticism in terms of box office prospects than, say, the newest Illumination feature. But if anything could manage to be a solid performer for the studio, it’d be DC’s League of Super-Pets.
Based in the world of DC Comics and even using characters like Superman and Batman in prominent supporting roles, Super-Pets focuses on a gaggle of misfit pets who get superpowers. A premise that probably got some Warner Bros. executive salivating at the thought of a cross between the Marvel Cinematic Universe and The Secret Life of Pets, this one also comes packed with the combined weight of Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart in the lead roles. The popularity of DC properties, Johnson and Hart’s reliability in family-friendly fare, and a late summer release date where it won’t have to face much competition should give this one a solid boost and make it a welcome animated movie hit for Warner Bros.
Projected Opening Weekend: $34 million
Projected Domestic Total: $130 million
Jordan Peele’s first two directorial efforts each managed to exceed $160 million domestically, both incredible feats for original R-rated horror movies. Look for that streak to continue with Nope, a mysterious new horror film that’s already getting buzz thanks to a swam of eye-catching teasers and posters. We have a few horror films lined up for this summer, but none are even close to Nope in terms of how high-profile they are or the filmmaking pedigree they come saddled with.
Intriguingly, Nope was filmed with IMAX cameras and its marketing is emphasizing an even greater sense of scale than Us, which could make this even more of a must-see event for moviegoers. Unlike the last two Peele movies too, Nope will take advantage of summer weekdays to further juice its box office haul. If reviews turn out divisive or negative, a film like this without a big brand name to stand on could end up flaming out real quickly at the box office. But if Nope resonates with people anywhere near at the level of Peele’s previous movies, then this auteur can expect his third consecutive box office hit, with there being a lot of potential here for Nope to go even higher.
Projected Opening Weekend: $75 million
Projected Domestic Total: $180 million
6. Minions: The Rise of Gru
Back in 2017, the Despicable Me franchise demonstrated its first instance of box office vulnerability with Despicable Me 3. That sounds weird to say for a movie that grossed $1 billion worldwide on an $80 million budget, but domestically, the films $264 million haul was a sharp 41% decline from the North American gross of Despicable Me 2. It was also down 28% from the domestic gross of Minions just two years earlier. This franchise appears to have peaked domestically in 2013, and even when The Rise of Gru was set to drop in July 2020, it was bound to experience further decline.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the film an additional two years, meaning it’ll now arrive a whopping five years since the last Despicable Me outing and seven years since the original Minions. The general public has doubtlessly cooled on these characters in that timespan and intense competition from other family movies like Lightyear and League of Super-Pets won’t help. The enduring appeal of those Minions will probably keep this one above the domestic gross of The Secret Life of Pets 2 and it may be able to just squeak past $200 million if Universal can deliver one of its no-holds-barred marketing campaigns. Minions: The Rise of Gru will be far from an unprofitable venture but it will be another sign that the Despicable Me saga is now what it was a decade ago.
Projected Opening Weekend: $65 million
Projected Domestic Total: $205 million
5. Top Gun: Maverick
Did you know Tom Cruise has never starred in a movie that made over $235 million domestically? It’s true. The 2005 blockbuster War of the Worlds is still the man’s highest-grossing feature with $234 million while none of the Mission: Impossible titles have exceeded $220 million in North America. This means there’s a ceiling in terms of how high Tom Cruise features can go. That having been said, there’s more reasons to be optimistic than pessimistic, at least at this juncture, about the box office prospects of Top Gun: Maverick, the latest Cruise vehicle.
For starters, it’s a legacy sequel, an incredibly popular mold of the blockbuster right now. For another, it see’s Cruise returning to one of his most iconic roles. Top Gun isn’t Star Wars, but it’s still a popular movie, and the nostalgia associated with this feature should give it some solid rocket fuel. The lack of big blockbusters beyond Jurassic World in June should also allow it hold better than your average Memorial Day blockbuster. Plus, Paramount Pictures has been on a hot streak this year successfully launching everything from Scream to The Lost City to Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Maverick seems poised to keep the good times rolling. It won’t dethrone War of the Worlds to become the biggest Cruise movie ever domestically but expect this long-awaited Top Gun follow-up to still be a sizeable box office winner.
Projected Opening Weekend: $79 million
Projected Domestic Total: $225 million
Believe it or not, it’s been three years since a PIXAR movie had a conventional theatrical release uninterrupted by the pandemic. Onward got its theatrical run cut abruptly short by the pandemic, while Soul, Luca, and Turning Red all went straight to Disney+. But now PIXAR has a sequel starring a white guy on its slate, so I guess it can’t be dumped to streaming. Lightyear comes courtesy of the Toy Story franchise, which has achieved the remarkable feat of constantly improving on its predecessor in terms of domestic and worldwide grosses. Each Toy Story has been bigger than the last, though Lightyear will probably put an end to that. That’s less because Lightyear is guaranteed to be a cataclysmically “bad” movie and more that it’s a spin-off, those tend to always do weaker box office than their predecessors.
Carrying over only one character from the Toy Story franchise, not to mention feeling less like an organic extension of the story of Buzz and Woody, will keep Lightyear a bit grounded in terms of box office. However, otherwise, the movie appears good to go in terms of box office prowess. 8 of the last 10 PIXAR movie to open in the summer ended up grossing over $235 million domestically, with the only two exceptions being Cars sequels. Something connected to the Toy Story saga that also serves as the first big-animated kids movie of summer 2022 is bound to keep that box office hot streak alive. This won’t be the next Toy Story 4 at the box office, but Lightyear should have no problem being another summertime hit for PIXAR.
Projected Opening Weekend: $95 million
Projected Domestic Total: $325 million
3. Thor: Love and Thunder
Moviegoers have finally gotten their first glimpse at Thor: Love and Thunder and it looks like a lot of fun. It also looks like just the kind of teaser that’s bound to draw the attention of moviegoers. The visuals look stunning and there’s a good balance between the old and the new here. Thor, Valkyrie, and Korg are all back, but there’s also lots of new locations to explore while the Guardians of the Galaxy are showing up for the first time in a solo Thor film. Then there’s the big final moment of the teaser depicting Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster returning with a hammer as the new version of Thor.
This teaser is all people have to go on regarding Thor: Love and Thunder right now, but it’s easy to see why Disney/Marvel marketers think that’ll be enough to get people into the theater. By far the biggest title set to launch in July 2022, Thor: Love and Thunder looks poised to have a strong box office run, especially given the positive reception to Thor: Ragnarok and Thor’s increased exposure after being a lead character in the last two Avengers movies. The latter appearances will doubtlessly help this score an even bigger box office haul than Ragnarok, though how high it goes will depend on the rest of its marketing campaign and its eventual critical reception. For now, though, it looks pretty easy to determine that Thor: Love and Thunder will be another big box office hit for the God of Thunder.
Projected Opening Weekend: $165 million
Projected Domestic Total: $465 million
2. Jurassic World: Dominion
Though it didn’t inspire a massive impact on pop culture, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom proved to be a remarkably powerful beast at the box office. A dropoff from the box office of 2015’s Jurassic World was inevitable, which meant Fallen Kingdom fell 36% from its predecessors North American box office haul. However, a $417 million domestic total was still nothing to sneeze at and made it the second-biggest title ever for Universal in this territory. Expect Jurassic World: Dominion to improve on the domestic box office performance, if only narrowly, primarily thanks to the presence of key Jurassic Park cast members and the promise of this being a “finale” to the Jurassic World saga.
The importance of the presence of actors like Sam Neill and Laura Dern in leading roles to Dominion’s box office prowess can’t be underestimated. That defines the film in the eyes of moviegoers as being right in line with lucrative legacy sequels like The Force Awakens. Plus, a mid-June date worked out like gangbusters for the last two Jurassic World movies. Much like with those other two installment, opening here allows Dominion to exploit Father’s Day weekend and function as the only big blockbuster for a whole month. Expect that craft piece of scheduling to help Dominion score one of the biggest box office hauls of the year, though it’s doubtful it comes close to the domestic box office heights of Jurassic World from 2015.
Projected Opening Weekend: $160 million
Projected Domestic Total: $450 million
1. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
First of all, can you believe Disney has only released one new theatrical release (Death on The Nile) in the first four months of 2022? Right now, A24 has put out more wide releases in this year than Disney. That’s bonkers. The COVID-19 cinematic landscape is full of unexpected wonders.
Anyway, Disney’s getting back into the blockbuster game with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, which is only the fourth theatrical-exclusive title (exempting the Fox movies) to be released by the Mouse House since the pandemic began. Multiverse of Madness already looks poised to be a triumphant box office performer thanks to strong advanced ticket sales and a rampant marketing campaign that’s put the movie on the forefront of the pop culture landscape. The only question now is how high it goes.
Hitting the $260 million debut of Spider-Man: No Way Home will be impossible since that film was a unique Avengers sized crossover event. Seeing Doctor Strange and Scarlet Witch work together is not at the same level of the prospect of watching Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock duke it out with Tom Holland’s Spider-Man. However, the sky is otherwise the limit here. The last few summer kickoff Marvel Studios movies all opened above $150 million save for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (and that barely missed it with a $147 million debut), so that’s the basement here. Getting above the $179 million debut if Captain America: Civil War looks likely at this juncture, and even the $191 million bow of Avengers: Age of Ultron looks like it could get toppled.
Here’s the question I’ll wonder aloud here; could Multiverse of Madness score the biggest May opening weekend ever? That record still belongs to the $207 million bow of The Avengers from 2012 (it’s currently the oldest movie to hold a monthly opening weekend record). It’s not hard to imagine Multiverse of Madness going higher than that, but it doesn’t need to hit such extraordinary numbers to be a hit. Let’s for now say it’ll open in the same range as Age of Ultron and, per usual for an early May Marvel Studios project, a domestic total that’s about 2.35-2.5 times its opening weekend. That would be one heck of a way to kick off the summer 2022 box office, no question.
Projected Opening Weekend: $190 million
Projected Domestic Total: $465 million