The box office business is a funny thing. For some film fans, those numbers are treated with the reverence of sports statistics, and serve as the closest equivalent that we have. For others, they're a constant reminder that the film industry is just that, and that obsessively thinking about grosses and per-screen averages is a direct affront to art. Regardless, the one thing we can all agree on is that everything changes in the summer. In the summer, when the films so flagrantly double as products, it seems like the box office receipts become a way of keeping score of a game that everyone enjoys playing, at least a little bit.
So with that in mind, we've looked into our crystal ball and tried to predict how the summer season is going to shake out at the box office. Below, you'll find our picks for the 25 biggest hits, ranked by our predictions as to how much cash they'll rake in across the world. Again, it should be stressed that these picks are not sorted by their estimated performance at the domestic box office alone – we've paid careful attention to their global appeal, and you better believe the studios have, as well.
So with that in mind, grab some popcorn, reluctantly put on some 3D glasses, and enjoy our predictions of the summer's top 25 box office winners.
25. "The Heat"
Projection: $175 million ($120 million domestic)
Comparable Movie: "The Other Guys"
Best Case / Worst Case: Bullock! McCarthy! Surprisingly enough, the trailers have looked decent, and there is plenty of residual affection for Melissa McCarthy. If everything breaks wrong, this will go the route of "Cop Out" (read: box office doom) but director Paul Feig last directed "Bridesmaids" - so there's every reason to think he'll bring a solid comedy to the marketplace.
24. "The Internship"
Projection: $200 million ($135 million domestic)
Comparable Movie: "Wedding Crashers"
Best Case / Worst Case: Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson go together like peas and carrots, and though this will have very little international pull (most American comedies don't) it should attract a decent domestic audience. The worst-case scenario is "This is the End" taking its spot on the top 25, and in the process also knocking it from the theater marquees.
23. "Red 2"
Projection: $225 million ($100 million domestic)
Comparable Movie: "Red"
Best Case / Worst Case: The first one did pretty well given its budget, and though there doesn't seem to be any momentum for this project, it is one of the rare films aimed at a slightly older demographic. So it's not outrageous to think the sequel will manage modest gains over the original. Indeed, it is difficult to find a sequel that underperforms the original, though "Paranormal Activity 2" and "Wrath of the Titans" spring immediately to mind. But if it's not a total disappointment they'll be just fine.
22."Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters"
Projection: $250 million ($100 million domestic)
Comparable Movie: "Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief"
Best Case / Worst Case: The first edition, all the way back in 2010, was probably a slight financial loser. Some of that was probably due to how wordy the title was, no one wants to go to the box office to buy a ticket if the movie name alone exhausts them. If things break right for this newest edition they'll see a little sequel bump. If the world is indeed over "Percy Jackson"? Then anything over a $75 million production budget was a huge mistake by Fox.
Projection: $315 million ($140 million domestic)
Comparable Movie: "Sin City"
Best Case / Worst Case: Undead police officer films don't have much in the way of pedigree. In terms of tone, could "Sin City" or "Wanted" be somewhat close? This goes against "Red 2" and the next weekend sees the release of "Wolverine" so if the film isn't well received there's really no bottom, it could end up well under $200 million worldwide. Best case? Something along the lines of "Men in Black" meets "Dick Tracy".
20."Grown Ups 2"
Projection: $325 million ($200 million domestic)
Comparable Movie: "Grown Ups"
Best Case / Worst Case: Sony knows that people like these characters, the first one earned $271 million, so it's incredibly hard to bet against the sequel doing anything less than $300 million. Box office predictors often wonder when general audiences will give up on terrible Adam Sandler comedies, but the answer seems to be never, so why fight it?
Projection: $350 million ($80 million domestic)
Comparable Movie: "Battleship"
Best Case / Worst Case: This is a purely international play, any U.S. dollars "Pacific Rim" manages are a bonus for Warner Bros. The trailers already look better than "Battleship," and audiences flock to alien invasion films, so the stage is set for Guillermo Del Toro to win a couple of weekends in July. Worst case? Well, there's not really a worst case here, "Battleship" proved that spectacle sometimes sells for spectacle's sake.
Projection: $350 million ($100 million domestic)
Comparable Movie: "District 9"
Best Case / Worst Case: There's an awful lot of "Oblivion" in this Neill Blomkamp ("District 9") film, but they've got Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, and an August release date going for them. "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" made nearly $500 million from an August slot, so it's certainly possible. The worst outcome is "Total Recall (2012)" - in which case you can expect an awful lot of people to be fired.
17. "300: Rise of an Empire"
Projection: $350 million ($150 million domestic)
Comparable Movie: "300"
Best Case / Worst Case: We're going $100 million under "300"'s total, mostly because it's been six years and they don't have Gerard Butler or Zack Snyder (back when having Zack Snyder was an advantage). The best case is a huge number north of $500 million, but the most likely result is an inability to capture lightning in a bottle twice.
16."White House Down"
Projection: $400 million ($150 million domestic)
Comparable Movie: "Olympus Has Fallen"
Best Case / Worst Case: Here's the difference between a March release date ("Olympus Has Fallen") and a June one. Plus, director Roland Emmerich has a proud tradition of crushing it with huge action films. For example, "White House Down" would only need to earn half of what "2012" did to hit $400 million. The worst-case scenario for Sony is that overseas audiences don't want to see a primarily American plot line, which could lead to something closer to (gulp) $200 million at the box office.
Projection: $400 million ($250 million domestic)
Comparable Movie: "Cars"
Best Case / Worst Case: Children's movies are the closest thing to a surefire bet over the summer. "Turbo" won't have the marketing might of Disney behind it, as "Cars" did, but Fox has proven they can hold their own in luring families to the theater. For an example, look no further than "The Croods" which currently stands at a healthy $470 million dollars worldwide.
14. "The Wolverine"
Projection: $425 million ($200 million domestic)
Comparable Movie: "X-Men Origins: Wolverine"
Best Case / Worst Case: I'm not completely sure audiences are clamoring for another "Wolverine" film, especially as it's hard to differentiate why this version will be any different than the 2009 one. Still, it's facing off against nothing in late July, the rare example of finding an empty weekend in the summer. Thus, it should be the beneficiary of a sequel bump. If not? Well, that might be the last we see of ol' Wolvie for this decade.
13. "Man of Steel"
Projection: $450 million ($250 million domestic)
Comparable Movie: "Superman Returns"
Best Case / Worst Case: "Man of Steel" has plenty going for it, Christopher Nolan's involvement, positive buzz, and a shot at redemption for the widely panned 2006 version. That said, "Superman" hasn't shown billion dollar ability since 1978, almost 35 years ago, and there's no reason at all to figure international audiences want to see this. The best-case scenario is huge critical love followed by great word-of-mouth. The worst-case scenario is another dead on arrival "Superman".
12."Star Trek: Into Darkness"
Projection: $450 million ($300 million domestic)
Comparable Movie: "Star Trek"
Best Case / Worst Case: The "Star Trek" franchise has historically shown little ability to translate outside of America. Even the excellent J.J. Abrams entry made only half overseas what it did stateside, a strange occurrence given most action films do at least 1.5x internationally. Could it be that "Star Trek" is simply American Sci-fi, and not something the rest of the world "gets"? That seems to be the situation, and so while this should perform well domestically there won't be much in the way of the international reach (needed for huge box office tallies).
Projection: $475 million ($125 million domestic)
Comparable Movie: "John Carter"
Best Case / Worst Case: The opposite is true of M. Night Shyamalan's movies, he's tends to play to larger crowds overseas. Plus, having Will Smith involved can only help him in America and worldwide, Smith's recent track record with action films, including "Hancock" and "I am Legend" suggests that, if anything, this could be a $600 million earner. The worst case is, well, "John Carter".
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Projection: $500 million ($200 million domestic)
Comparable Movie: "Cars"
Best Case / Worst Case: The name alone, "Planes," should get them a couple hundred million dollars. It also has nothing in its way for the month of August, so it will own the family dollar. Interestingly enough, "Cars 2" was the far more accepted version overseas, which clears the way nicely for a triumphant "Planes" run at the box office. I don't think there is a worst-case scenario here, they will bank.
9."The Great Gatsby"
Projection: $510 million ($275 million domestic)
Comparable Movie: "Romeo + Juliet"
Best Case / Worst Case: This is a toughie, as it would seem that "Gatsby" would be a uniquely American tale. But getting an international director (Baz Luhrmann) and an all-star cast (DiCaprio, Mulligan) raises the profile the whole world round. The huge delays that transpired here usually indicate a real problem with the film, but there's some chance that Warner Bros. simply felt this was more of a summer movie. The best outcome would be something along the lines of "Moulin Rouge" without the financial penalty (via the male audience) of being a musical. The most dire scenario would be "Australia"'s $211 million gross, another one like that and Baz Luhrmann will have some explaining to do.
8."The Smurfs 2"
Projection: $575 million ($200 million domestic)
Comparable Movie: "The Smurfs"
Best Case / Worst Case: If there weren't an international market, Sony would have lost its shirt on "The Smurfs". But there is, so they didn't, earning an astonishing $421 million dollars overseas. There's no reason to think they won't have the exact same outcome this time around, they are playing with house money on this project.
7. "World War Z"
Projection: $600 million ($200 million domestic)
Comparable Movie: "I am Legend"
Best Case / Worst Case: Forecasters are extremely dubious about the American market taking to this film, which was rumored to have major issues during the shoot, but this is the precise sort of broad action movie that plays well internationally. Brad Pitt had a run where he couldn't miss, The "Oceans" franchise, "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," and "Troy," but he jettisoned the huge projects for more intimate fare. The results of "World War Z" will have a lot of say on the options that will be available to him going forward.
Projection: $650 million ($250 million domestic)
Comparable Movie: "Tangled"
Best Case / Worst Case: Three out of the top six films are animation, that's no surprise given children are out of school and parents need a couple hours off. "Epic" is looking like another hit for Fox, and they've proven their one-off ability with "Rio" and the aforementioned "The Croods". As the first animation of the summer, it would seem that pent-up demand will help "Epic" - but if they fail to saturate the airwaves with marketing there is some chance of slippage.
5."The Hangover 3"
Projection: $675 million ($275 million domestic)
Comparable Movie: "The Hangover 2"
Best Case / Worst Case: The sequel proved audiences are hungry for the wolf-pack, even if the movie itself is mediocre. The finale installment should bring in massive audiences, making it the biggest comedy of the summer by a wide margin. Every so often ticket-buyers punish the third edition of a franchise for the second film's sins, but it's extremely unlikely that happens here.
4."Despicable Me 2"
Projection: $700 million ($300 million)
Comparable Movie: "Despicable Me"
Best Case / Worst Case: My guess is that plenty of people took this in on home video and found it to be entertaining, guaranteeing a larger audience this time around. Opening over July 4, "Despicable Me 2" won't have to worry about any competition for a month ("Smurfs 2") and so there's absolutely no reason to bet against it on any level.
3. "Fast & Furious 6"
Projection: $750 million ($250 million domestic)
Comparable Movie: "Fast Five"
Best Case / Worst Case: Universal has built a very sturdy franchise here, and by going bigger in terms of plots, names, and explosions, they've turned this series into a cash machine. Even if it is awful, (and how could it be?) they are looking at a bare minimum of $500 million in ticket receipts. If it's great? Yeeps, I dare say it could take second place for the entire summer!
Projection: $850 million ($400 million domestic)
Comparable Movie: "Monsters, Inc."
Best Case / Worst Case: If you were constructing a case against "Monsters University" you'd note it has been over a decade since the original, and that it's a prequel, which is rarely as effective as a sequel. But there's simply no way Pixar is going to miss with this title, and if anything the demand is now stronger because they waited so long between films.
1."Iron Man 3"
Projection: $1.1 billion ($500 million domestic)
Comparable Movie: "The Avengers"
Best Case / Worst Case: It's already made $200 million internationally, so we've got great data to work with here. One film always rises above the others for summer dollars, and this looks to be the prime candidate. Already receiving glowing reviews, and yet to open in quite a few major markets, "Iron Man 3" has no worst case scenario. It's all coming up roses for Tony Stark's biggest "Iron Man" film yet.