As the start of the Summer movie season, the month of May is typically loaded with major franchise fare—both established and aspiring ones. This year is no different, though each of the would-be blockbusters comes with a few question marks.
The current May record was set in 2013, when the month racked up $1.14 billion in total box office. Without an Iron Man 3, it's hard to imagine that May 2014 gets quite that high. Still, there's enough appealing content to ensure that the first month of Summer tops $1 billion.
For another look at the Summer movie season, be sure to check out our early predictions here. May 2
For the eighth year in a row, May kicks off with a Marvel superhero movie. This year, it's The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which is the sequel to 2012 franchise reboot The Amazing Spider-Man. That movie earned $262 million at the domestic box office, which was a significant step down from the previous Spider-Man movie (which had the previous series low with $336.5 million).
We won't belabor the point on this one, as it's already been covered in an international forecast, the Summer Forecast, and two weekend reports (here and here), and will be covered again in Thursday's weekend forecast. Still, it's worth reiterating a few points. First, the last two Spider-Man movies received a mixed reception: Spider-Man 3 was generally disliked, while audiences were lukewarm to The Amazing Spider-Man. Historically, that almost certainly means another drop in domestic box office for this next outing. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 does have a handful of interesting villains—though Jamie Foxx's Electro does seem to elicit some eyerolls—and Sony has rolled out a very aggressive marketing effort. It also brings the franchise back to the first weekend of May, which was where it set opening weekend records in 2002 and 2007. That doesn't seem like enough to stave off franchise fatigue, though, and a domestic box office total below $250 million seems like a guaranteed outcome. May 9
The second weekend of May finds Seth Rogen comedy Neighbors facing off against two much more modest releases. Neighbors seems poised to be one of the highest-grossing comedies of the Summer. Rogen is coming off one of his biggest hits ever (This is the End), and the material here feels safely within his wheelhouse. The movie also stars Zac Efron and Rose Bryne, both of whom should broaden its appeal outside of Rogen's young male fanbase.
Aside from highlighting tons of memorable jokes, Universal's marketing campaign has done a good job setting up the movie's "Family vs. Frat" conflict. Posters have Rogen holding his child on one side, and Efron holding a red Solo cup on the other. A straightforward, relatable premise is critical to comedy success, and Neighbors has it in spades. Meanwhile, strong early reviews suggest it's going to play well coming off opening weekend: while it would be wrong to expect Bridesmaids-level grosses, it's a safe bet that Neighbors finishes north of $100 million. Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return is the first release from upstart distributor Clarius Entertainment, which is planning to book the animated movie at over 2,000 locations on May 9th. The animation looks fairly low-rent—akin to Free Birds and The Nut Job—and many moviegoers are probably still reeling from their 2013 trip to Oz. It is at least getting a solid marketing push, and could be a good option for parents with very young children.
Meanwhile, Sony is releasing Moms' Night Out via their TriStar label on Mother's Day Weekend. Looking at the filmography of the directors (October Baby) and some of the producers (God's Not Dead), it's likely that Moms' Night Out has some faith-based elements to it; unfortunately, it's nearly impossible to tell that from the movie's poster and trailer. Still, it has a strong focus on family and an appealing cast that includes Patricia Heaton and country music star Trace Adkins. If Sony puts some marketing muscle behind this—like they recently did with Heaven is for Real—it could wind up doing surprisingly strong business.
Jon Favreau's Chef opens in limited release this weekend as well. The movie has an interesting cast, though early reactions are lukewarm and the first trailer doesn't really serve up the goods. May 16
The third weekend of May features the return of Godzilla, as well as a true story baseball movie Million Dollar Arm. Without a doubt, the big green lizard is going to rule the box office this weekend. Godzilla is arguably the most-anticipated non-sequel this Summer. There's plenty of distance between it and Roland Emmerich's successful-yet-despised 1998 movie, and strong marketing seem to have completely eradicated that memory from our collective consciousness.
Reeling from the lackluster domestic performance of last Summer's Pacific Rim, Warner Bros. has avoided making Godzilla out to be a monster movie. Instead, the tense, gloomy marketing positions it as a large-scale, big-budget disaster movie, which is a genre that audiences have turned out for again and again.
There is some concern about setting expectations, though: the movie itself does have multiple monsters, and deceptive marketing can result in poor word-of-mouth. Still, Godzilla seems mighty enough to come close to matching last Summer's World War Z ($202.4 million). Also, look for international returns that are significantly higher than Pacific Rim's $309 million.
Disney seems bullish on Million Dollar Arm, which stars Mad Men's Jon Hamm as a sports agent who travels to India to find a cricket player to turn in to a Major League Baseball pitcher. The movie looks like a mix of Moneyball, Slumdog Millionaire and The Blind Side, and early word is strong. Baseball movies can be a tough sell, though: in the last two decades, the highest-grossing baseball movies are 42 ($95 million) and Moneyball ($75.6 million). Getting to that range would make this a solid success, though that's far from a guarantee at this point.