With the U.S. box office poised to finish down around four percent year-over-year for 2011, Hollywood is setting its sights on 2012 with the hope that grosses can at least stabilize in the next 12 months. Similar to 2011, the upcoming lineup is packed with established and aspiring franchises and plenty of animated titles, most of which will be delivered in 3D. Considering audience interest in these areas appears to be on the decline, 2012 may not deliver the sort of jolt needed to revive confidence in the theatrical business.
Looking ahead, the biggest title of 2012 will almost certainly be The Dark Knight Rises. The movie is the follow-up to 2008's The Dark Knight, which ranks third all-time with $533.3 million, and the promise that it's the conclusion to director Christopher Nolan's Batman series should guarantee the movie winds up at least over $400 million. This is just one of many franchise movies on the calendar, though.
Including Prometheus (because let's be honest, the buzzy teaser trailer basically outs it as an Alien prequel) there are at least 27 franchise titles (sequels, prequels, spin-offs) scheduled for release in 2012, which is identical to the number that were on the calendar going in 2011. Aside from The Dark Knight Rises, other highlights include the end of the Twilight series with Breaking Dawn Part 2, the Lord of the Rings prequel The Hobbit, and the long-awaited Avengers team-up. There are also odd-ball projects like a Bourne movie without Matt Damon, a time-traveling third Men in Black flick, and a G.I. Joe outing that ditches most of the cast from the original movie.
Hollywood is also attempting to kick-start some new franchises this year, and currently the most-hyped movie is March's The Hunger Games. Based on the first part of a popular young adult book series and featuring a female protagonist caught in the middle of a love triangle, the entire production clearly brings to mind Twilight, though The Hunger Games also features a helping of arena violence that should be at least somewhat appealing to boys as well. Other obvious franchise bait includes John Carter, Battleship, and Snow White and the Huntsman. Of course, there's also The Amazing Spider-Man, which actually already has a sequel on the schedule, though this reboot is more an extension of an existing franchise than an attempt at a new one.
While there's plenty of talk about declining interest in 3D movies, Hollywood either doesn't seem to have gotten the message or doesn't agree that there's a problem. There are currently 37 movies scheduled for nationwide 3D release in 2012, up a bit from 35 in 2011. While the lineup is made up primarily of franchise fare and animated movies, there are also four 3D re-releases this year. The biggest will likely be Titanic, though Beauty and the Beast, Finding Nemo and Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace should also add to their already huge box office totals with their re-releases.
As always, there are plenty of comedies on the schedule as well, though not nearly as many as in 2011. Only 29 comedies are currently scheduled for nationwide release, and that includes action comedies like MIB 3 and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. At the same point last year, there were closer to 40 comedies on the schedule. Of course, comedies are lower budget and plenty will be added as the year goes on, but it's still worth keeping an eye on these to see if fewer comedies means higher grosses for each entry.