Franchises to Rule Again in 2012
The Top 7 movies of 2011 were all sequels, and that list could grow to nine once Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows have ended their runs. It may be similar in 2012, albeit with more prequels and spin-offs sprinkled in as well. Including Prometheus, which now appears to be an Alien prequel, there are at least 27 sequels, prequels or spin-offs already scheduled, which represents roughly 20 percent of the nationwide releases currently on the calendar.

Sure Things

The Avengers (May 4): After five movies and four years, Marvel's superhero squad The Avengers is finally set to assemble on the perennially lucrative first weekend of May. People who haven't seen Thor or Captain America may balk at seeing this one, though Disney already appears to be combatting that by essentially selling the movie as "Iron Man & Friends." Five months out, The Avengers is all-but-assured to be one of the biggest movies of the year.

The Dark Knight Rises (July 20): There's been a wave of skepticism tied in to this project lately, particularly in regard to villains Catwoman and Bane (buckets of internet ink have been spilled in the past three weeks discussing his muffled voice in the 6-minute IMAX prologue). Still, goodwill is incredibly high from mega-blockbuster The Dark Knight ($533.3 million), and the promise that this is the definitive conclusion to Christopher Nolan's Batman story will almost certainly make this the top movie of 2012.

Skyfall (Nov. 9): The first two Daniel Craig James Bond movies are the highest-grossing ones ever with $167.4 million and $168.4 million, respectively. It has been four years since the poorly received Quantum of Solace, but James Bond is such an icon that one disappointing movie can't kill his mojo. This might not reach the same levels as Craig's other entries, but it is still guaranteed to be a late year hit.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (Nov. 16): The last three Twilight movies have all wound up between $275 and $301 million. With final movie status similar to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, don't be surprised if Breaking Dawn Part 2 exceeds Eclipse's series high mark ($301 million).

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Dec. 14): The Lord of the Rings trilogy made over $1 billion domestically from 2001-2003, won 17 Academy Awards, and remains fairly popular to this day. While the source material for The Hobbit isn't quite as epic, goodwill and a high curiosity factor should easily make this the must-see movie of Christmas 2012.

Question Marks

Prometheus (June 8): After endless assertions that Prometheus only "shared DNA" with Alien, the thrilling teaser trailer all-but-confirmed that the movie is similar enough to be considered a prequel. Distributor 20th Century Fox had decent success with prequels/reboots this past Summer with X-Men: First Class ($146.4 million) and Rise of the Planet of the Apes ($176.7 million), and Prometheus has already become one of Summer 2012's most-anticipated movies. In this case, though, the brand isn't strong enough right now to drive huge initial attendance, so it's going to take an actually good movie from hit-or-miss director Ridley Scott to turn Prometheus in to a hit.

Madagascar: Europe's Most Wanted (June 8) and Ice Age: Continental Drift (July 13): Both the Madagascar and Ice Age franchises have been fairly consistent to this point, with the last two entries in both series finishing between $180 million and $200 million. Unfortunately, animated sequels Cars 2, Kung Fu Panda 2 and especially Happy Feet Two got crushed at the domestic box office this past year, and so it's fair to be concerned about these two movies as well.

The Bourne Legacy (Aug. 3): The last Jason Bourne movie, The Bourne Ultimatum, made an enormous $227.5 million in Summer 2007. For The Bourne Legacy, Matt Damon is replaced by Jeremy Renner as a Bourne-like assassin existing within the same world, which will likely raise all kinds of warning bells among prospective audience members. Coming off two Oscar nominations and a box office hit with Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, Renner is definitely gaining in popularity, but Damon is Bourne, and Renner isn't Damon.

The Expendables 2 (Aug. 17): By gathering a band of over-the-hill action stars in an over-the-top action movie, The Expendables became a surprise hit in 2010 with $103.1 million. The sequel adds Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme (and supposedly gives extended screen time to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis as well), though that might not be enough to overcome the fact that the novelty value has probably worn off a bit.

Untitled Judd Apatow Comedy (Dec. 21): Coming off the disappointing Funny People ($51.9 million), writer-director Judd Apatow is going back to the well and making a spin-off featuring the Knocked Up couple portrayed by Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann. Apatow is a perpetual hitmaker, and he's on record insisting that people really responded to these two characters in the first movie, but it still feels like their marital challenges were sufficiently covered in Knocked Up.

Continued with "Head Scratchers" and "Prospective Franchises" >>