Thanks to a slew of high-profile releases that includes three big-budget sequels, May 2010 is poised to start the summer with huge box office returns. Last May set the all-time May gross record with $1.02 billion, a number that is well within reach for these potential box office behemoths.
Easily one of the most anticipated movies of the year, Iron Man 2 launches May 7, mirroring the first movie's release in 2008. The first weekend of May has generated opening records before with Spider-Man ($115 million) and Spider-Man 3 ($151 million), and the record currently held by The Dark Knight's $158.4 million is within reach. Anticipation has reached a fever pitch, with an overwhelming 62 percent of Box Office Mojo users voting Iron Man 2 as their top choice to see in May. Commercials are flooding the airwaves, doing a solid job balancing plot, character and action. Finally, in a sign of the movie's presumed box office clout and broad demographic appeal, no other studio has dared to even counterprogram. Even if it doesn't reach the heights of The Dark Knight, Iron Man 2 should have no problem opening significantly higher than the first Iron Man's $98.6 million.
The second weekend in May is admittedly quieter than the first, and should be conducive to a multi-week reign at number one for Iron Man 2. It's toughest competition comes in the form of Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe's period epic Robin Hood, which hopes to appeal to the same action-seeking male crowd that turned their Gladiator ($187.7 million/around $270 million adjusted for ticket price inflation) in to a smash hit in 2000. Outside of Gladiator, though, gritty historical epics tend to struggle at the box office, as evidenced by Mr. Scott's Kingdom of Heaven ($47.4 million), which opened in the same time slot five years ago.
Shrek Forever After, advertised as "The Final Chapter" in the Shrek series, opens May 21 opposite MacGruber. This is the fourth Shrek movie but the first in 3D, which should help bolster its earnings. However, it's likely audiences are beginning to grow tired of the series' pop culture humor: the third movie made over $100 million less than the second and also received a lower grade from Box Office Mojo's readers (B to B-). Surely, Shrek is a strong enough brand to post a big opening, but it wouldn't be surprising if it falls short of Shrek the Third's $322.7 million final gross.
Also opening this weekend is MacGruber, which is a 90-minute movie based on a 90-second Saturday Night Live skit. That seems like a recipe for disaster, but advanced buzz is so solid that marketers actually made the uncharacteristic move of including positive quotes from critics on the poster. MacGruber probably won't be the next Wayne's World ($121.7 million/around $225 million adjusted), but it could prove that SNL adaptations aren't completely dead.
Memorial Day Weekend sees the release of two high-profile movies targeting completely different audiences. Sex and the City 2 gets the jump on Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time by opening on Thursday. The first Sex and the City movie debuted to $57 million on the same (non-Memorial) weekend two years ago, ultimately closing with $152.7 million. It may be tough to match that success, though, as there was pent-up demand for the first movie, and the second appears more episodic in nature, taking the ladies on an Abu Dhabi vacation. Still, it's the first must-see event movie of the summer for women, and therefore seems like a preordained hit.
Distributor Walt Disney Pictures and producer Jerry Bruckheimer hope that video game adaptation Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time will be the next Pirates of the Caribbean. Right now that seems unlikely, considering the past failures of video game adaptations and the generally incoherent trailers and commercials that have thus far been released. Disney and Bruckheimer, though, have delivered before, and Prince of Persia has a shot at surpassing Lara Croft: Tomb Raider ($131.2 million) as the highest-grossing video game adaptation.