While the actual Summer season doesn't officially begin until late-June, the Summer movie season historically kicks off in the month of May. As usual, the studios have jam-packed the slate with would-be blockbusters, though the schedule is particularly competitive this year: no fewer than four movies are sequels to $200 million domestic grossers, which means all of these titles come with insanely high expectations.
The biggest May ever came in 2011 ($1.04 billion), while last May was also quite strong with $1.02 billion. Based on the titles alone—Iron Man 3, Star Trek Into Darkness, Fast & Furious 6 and The Hangover Part III, among others—May 2013 should set a new record, though it's possible that these movies cannibalize each other late in the month and the box office falls just short. May 3
To officially start the season, Iron Man 3 is the only new release on the first weekend of May. The sequel opened in most overseas markets this past weekend and earned an incredible $198.4 million, which was actually slightly up on last Summer's The Avengers; this confirmed the theory that, at least in some places, the movie is going to perform like the follow-up to The Avengers, not Iron Man 2. The Avengers was an unprecedented movie-going event, though, and matching that movie's $207.4 domestic opening weekend record should be out of reach for Iron Man 3. With strong reviews (it's currently hovering in the high-80s on Rotten Tomatoes), and goodwill from The Avengers, though, an opening weekend over $150 million seems guaranteed, which will put it on pace to set a very high bar for Summer 2013 releases. May 10
The second weekend of May is historically a tough place to open a blockbuster movie, though it isn't the total dead zone that some make it out to be (this weekend produced a $100 million movie in 2009, 2010, and 2011). This year, the studios are using the date to counterprogram to female audiences with The Great Gatsby and Tyler Perry Presents Peeples.
Director Baz Luhrman's adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's iconic novel The Great Gatsby seems to have a lot going for it: it has stunning visuals, an all-star cast, and a vibrant, romantic marketing effort. Unfortunately, early word is that the ambitious movie doesn't really work, which means it will have a tough time holding up against tough competition for the rest of the month. If it turns out to be decent, a $100 million total is within reach, but otherwise look for it to fall a bit short. Tyler Perry Presents Peeples is the first movie produced by—but not written or directed by—prolific filmmaker Tyler Perry. With a likeable, recognizable cast that includes Craig Robinson and Kerry Washington, the movie will likely have broader appeal than most Perry movies, though without Madea it's hard to say how much of Perry's core fanbase will turn out. Ultimately, it should perform on the lower-end for Perry comedies, which still means a total of at least $40 million. May 17
There's only one movie opening on the third weekend of May, but it's a big one. Star Trek Into Darkness is the follow-up to 2009's Star Trek reboot, which earned over $257 million and retains a strong reputation four years later. The marketing for this entry has done a fine job increasing the stakes by highlighting the Enterprise's destruction, and has also made a concerted effort to showcase the conflict between Kirk and the new villain, played by Benedict Cumberbatch. Combined with the goodwill for the first movie, this should be enough to propel the movie to a huge opening weekend, but the crowded late-May schedule should make it difficult for the movie to noticeably out-gross its predecessor.
For this movie, though, the big growth area is overseas: the first outing only earned $128 million, but with the addition of 3D, the growth of major markets like China and Russia, and a concerted international marketing strategy from Paramount, this entry will do at least double that (probably much, much more).