Summer's true heavy hitters, Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, arrive in July. They were the frontrunners from the outset, and, since no May or June release has yet to hit $250 million, they have retained that status. The five top-grossing months ever are the last five Julys, and July 2010 holds the record with $1.32 billion. With Harry Potter, Transformers, the big screen debut of Captain America and a handful of other broadly appealing movies, July 2011 has an excellent shot at breaking that record. July 1
Though Transformers: Dark of the Moon hits theaters on June 29, it's classified as a July release based on its first weekend. The last Transformers movie earned $402.1 million two years ago, though it established a reputation as a lousy movie (even director Michael Bay has frequently acknowledged that it's lacking). In this way, at least, Dark of the Moon is facing an uphill battle. Additionally, audiences have so far rebelled against 3D sequels this year: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and Kung Fu Panda 2 have dropped at least 23 percent from their predecessors' grosses (and much more in attendance). Transformers 3, though, seems to have a much more effective marketing campaign than those movies. The trailers and commercials have mixed stunning visuals with a semblance of a story (as convoluted and revisionist as it may be). Also, the movie's being pushed as the first must-see 3D movie since Avatar, and the Tuesday night 3D-only previews could help that assertion. However, it's hard to imagine that the masses will gladly pay a premium this time around after being burned by the last movie, and so lower grosses still seem inevitable.
With all the Transformers hype, it may be hard to remember that there are two other nationwide releases scheduled for the July 4 weekend. Larry Crowne reunites Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts for a romantic comedy of sorts centered around a man who decides to attend community college after being laid off from his job. Hanks and Roberts' last collaboration, Charlie Wilson's War, made $66.7 million in 2007, and that was essentially an R-rated history lesson. Larry Crowne, on the other hand, appears to be a light comedy that serves as adult counter-programming to Transformers, and cash-flush distributor Universal Pictures has made sure that awareness is high.
The weekend's other release, Monte Carlo, has much more limited appeal, though it does have a lot going for it. The movie marries the European vacation aspects of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants with the wish-fullfillment angle of A Cinderella Story, The Princess Diaries and more. It should be in line for modest business but will ultimately be inconsequential in a July full of much bigger movies. Bottom Line:Transformers will burn off a lot of demand from Tuesday to Thursday, but it will still easily take the weekend. July 8
The second weekend of July is admittedly one of the quieter ones, though both Zookeeper and Horrible Bosses seem well positioned. After going four-for-four at the start of his movie career, Kevin James had his first dud with The Dilemma in January. He's back in his wheelhouse, though, with Zookeeper, which is essentially a mix of two of his past movies (Hitch and Paul Blart: Mall Cop) with Doctor Dolittle. Those three movies average out to an incredible $156 million. If Zookeeper can get to that level, it will go down as one of summer's biggest hits. Horrible Bosses is more of a wild card than Zookeeper. It has an edgy-yet-relatable premise (everyone has had an awful boss at some point), and it has likeable comic actors as the supposed heroes (Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day) going up against well-known baddies (Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell, Jennifer Aniston). The movie even throws Jamie Foxx in to the mix as a crudely-named "murder consultant." However, the previews have yet to establish this as a must-see (like The Hangover was two years ago), and it's probably going to take strong word-of-mouth to turn this in to a true success.
Bottom Line: Both movies are poised for comparatively strong openings, though that still probably won't be enough to dethrone Transformers. July 15
The most anticipated movie of the year (at least according to Box Office Mojo readers) arrives on July 15. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 marks the final chapter in what will soon become the highest-grossing franchise ever. The series has been gradually losing audience over the past few entries, but series conclusions usually reverse this trend (Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King are the best examples here). It shouldn't be any different for Harry Potter, as Deathly Hallows Part 2 appears to deliver the epic battle between the forces of good and evil that fans have been waiting years to see on the big screen. Part 2 will almost certainly earn more than Deathly Hallows Part 1 ($295 million) and should top the first Harry Potter's $317.5 million total as well.
The only movie brave enough to go up against Potter is the latest big-screen incarnation of Winnie the Pooh. Distributor Walt Disney Pictures is surely hoping to attract families with children too young for the violent Potter movie, which might actually be a substantial group. The movie has already opened in many international territories but has so-far made less than $7 million. Pooh's last big screen adventure was Pooh's Heffalump Movie, which earned a weak $18.1 million in 2005. The new movie is a broader nostalgia trip, though, and should do more business.
Bottom Line: Look for Deathly Hallows Part 2 to make a serious run at breaking The Dark Knight's $158.4 million opening weekend record. July 22
After watching countless fellow comic book heroes have their chance at big screen glory, Captain America finally gets his origin story told in Captain America: The First Avenger. Four comic book adaptations have already come and gone this Summer, with none of them reaching true blockbuster levels. Captain America hopes to change that, featuring a well-known character and effective marketing. The newest trailer plays up the patriotic aspects of the movie with the tagline "Heroes Are Made in America," and the movie as a whole looks like an adventure worth taking. However, opening in the shadow of Harry Potter is a frightening prospect (though that didn't seem to affect Tangled), and comic book burnout seems to be in full effect after Green Lantern. Captain America's ability to out-draw Marvel stable mate Thor ($176.7 million) seems to be up in the air. Friends with Benefits, the season's fifth R-rated comedy, stars Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis in a remake of No Strings Attached. Or so it would seem, based on their nearly identical "sex friends" premise. Kunis and Timberlake are probably not as popular as Portman and Kutcher, and being late to the game doesn't help. No Strings Attached earned a solid $70.7 million. If Friends with Benefits can hit that mark, it should be considered a mild success.
Bottom Line:Captain America will easily top Friends with Benefits, but it's going to take a truly heroic opening to beat Potter's second weekend. July 29
July 2011 is one of those rare months that has five complete weekends, and it will definitely squeeze out some major cash on its last weekend. Cowboys & Aliens is the latest in a line of movies like True Grit ($171.1 million) and Rango ($122.9 million) that signal a potential comeback for the Western genre. Directed by Jon Favreau (Iron Man) and starring Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford, the comic book adaptation has been one of the summer's most hyped movies since the slick teaser trailer arrived last year, though its momentum has flagged a bit as more material has been released. Also, the alien invasion genre may have reached overkill status this year after Battle: Los Angeles and to a lesser extent Super 8. Finally, with both new and old competition, it's unclear if Cowboys & Aliens can gin up enough diverse interest to break out of its genre trappings.
Targeting family audiences, The Smurfs should not detract from Cowboys & Aliens. Movies featuring CGI stars that hew close to their source material tend to do very well, with Alvin and the Chipmunks, Scooby-Doo and even Yogi Bear serving as good examples. Smurfs looks unbearable for adult audiences, but the same could be said for any of the previously mentioned movies. G-Force made $119.4 million two years ago without an established brand, and that's as good a target as any for The Smurfs.
The real wild card this weekend is Crazy, Stupid, Love., which should siphon off date night audiences from Cowboys & Aliens in a major way. The cast is broadly appealing, and the movie so far looks like a more mature version of star Steve Carell's The 40-Year-Old Virgin. A potential drawback is that the movie's divorce drama could become too pronounced and alienate summer moviegoers looking for fun, but the advertising so far has mostly pushed the movie as a romantic comedy with good-looking people.
Bottom Line: With a fanboy push Cowboys & Aliens has the edge for opening weekend, though any of these three movies could ultimately finish as the top earner.