Without ‘Barbenheimer’ 2.0, Hollywood Needs ‘Deadpool 3,’ ‘Despicable Me 4’ and Other Sequels to Heat Up Summer Box Office

Hollywood movies
Alisa Gao for Variety

Say hello to sequel season.

That might as well be the nickname for this summer’s slate of potential blockbusters. Over the next four months, Hollywood is rolling out what it hopes will be a winning mix of follow-ups, reboots and spinoffs from tested franchises like “Despicable Me” and the Marvel Cinematic Universe as it looks to reinvigorate the shaky movie theater business.

Last summer flipped the script: New properties, such as “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer,” ruled, while entries in aging series, like “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” and “Mission Impossible 7,” missed the mark. This time out, the tried-and-true may yet prevail. Original offerings like Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt’s action-comedy “The Fall Guy” and Kevin Costner’s Western “Horizon: An American Saga” will attempt to lure audiences. But analysts anticipate that overly familiar brands — “Despicable Me 4,” Marvel’s “Deadpool & Wolverine,” and Pixar’s “Inside Out 2” among them — will once again heat up ticket sales.

“There’s no ‘Barbenheimer’ on the schedule,” says Jeff Bock, an analyst with Exhibitor Relations. “It’ll be more important for sequels to succeed, whereas last summer we saw sequels fail.”

Summer movie season unofficially begins on May 3 with Universal’s “The Fall Guy.” David Leitch’s film is based on the 1980s TV series about stunt performers, but it may as well be something entirely new because, let’s be honest, who remembers that show? Notably, this will be the first time since 2016 that Disney and Marvel aren’t kicking things off. “The Fall Guy” has nabbed strong reviews and could very well ignite its own franchise. However, box office comparisons to the same weekend in 2023 will be tough given that “Guardians of the Galaxy” started that party with $118 million. So, industry experts wouldn’t be surprised if summer starts slow.

“We saw an opportunity in May, and we were happy to take advantage of it,” says Jim Orr, Universal’s president of domestic distribution. “We think ‘The Fall Guy’ will not only open well but charm audiences throughout the summer.”

The Gosling and Blunt-starrer will arrive at a troubling time for the movie business. Though the strikes have long since ended, the aftershocks are still reverberating. Domestic revenues are stubbornly 20% behind those of 2023 as studios and exhibitors grapple with a lighter release calendar due to last year’s work stoppage. March’s “Dune: Part Two” and “Kung Fu Panda 4” are the only reasons the year-to-date deficit isn’t worse, but Hollywood is banking on popcorn season to salvage revenues.

“Summer is important to reestablish momentum. We had some in March, but we lost it,” says Orr. “I’m very optimistic about May and beyond.”

Last year’s summer stretch was mightier than expected thanks to “Barbenheimer,” which powered the season’s box office to $4 billion for the first time in the post-pandemic era. It also proved that a glut of new movies can co-exist, and even thrive off one another. That’s good news considering there’s nary a week until fall without at least one major release.

“This is how it used to be in summer — new films every single week,” says exhibitor Chris Randleman of Texas-based Flix Brewhouse. “We’re trying to form habits of moviegoing again.”

“Deadpool & Wolverine” is one title that could help determine the financial fate of summer. It’s predicted to become one of the year’s biggest films, but first it’ll have to overcome the existential threat of superhero fatigue. Recent misfires like “The Marvels” and every 2023 DC Comics entry proved ticket buyers won’t see any ol’ comic book character on the big screen. Audiences want them to be watchable, too. (Go figure!) The very-R-rated “Deadpool & Wolverine,” which unites Reynolds with Hugh Jackman, may flip a bird to naysayers.

Superheroes should have an assist in saving the box office. Theater owners have griped that since COVID, family movies have been in short supply. It should quell their concerns to know that studios are offering up many kid-friendly adventures, including Paramount and director John Krasinski’s fantasy comedy “IF” (May 17), Sony’s “The Garfield Movie” (May 24), “Inside Out 2” (June 14) and Universal’s “Despicable Me 4” (July 3). Pixar releases have been struggling since the pandemic, but exhibitors believe the sequel to 2015’s “Inside Out” (which grossed $858 million worldwide) will recapture the animation empire’s glory.

Whereas many of those titles are based on beloved IP, Paramount distribution chief Chris Aronson says, “Hopefully ‘IF’ will be one of those big bold original bets that pays off.”

Other epic swings on new ideas include Costner’s “Horizon: An American Saga,” with “Chapter 1” landing on June 28 and “Chapter 2” arriving on Aug. 16. And there’s “Fly Me to the Moon,” a space-centric romantic comedy with Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum that launches July 12. Apple spent more than $100 million on the movie (Sony is distributing), which will require stellar word-of-mouth to fill auditoriums and justify its massive price tag.

As always, studios are manifesting that what’s old is new again. Disney aims to revive two 20th Century franchises, with “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” on May 10 and sci-fi thriller “Alien: Romulus” on Aug. 16. Warner Bros. will return to the Wasteland for director George Miller’s “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga,” a prequel that promises the kind of glorious action that begs to be viewed in Imax.

Meanwhile, Universal is spinning off the 1996 cyclone epic “Twister” with a group of new storm chasers in “Twisters.” It opens on July 19 and analysts believe it has sleeper-hit potential thanks to the combination of nostalgia and Glen Powell’s budding stardom. Paramount’s nearly silent prequel “A Quiet Place: Day One” on June 28 reboots the post-apocalyptic world with Lupita Nyong’o and Joseph Quinn. And Sony has “Bad Boys: Ride or Die,” the fourth installment in nearly 30-year-old series, on June 7. But will audiences return for another Will Smith-Martin Lawrence reunion after watching Smith’s assault of Chris Rock onstage at the 2022 Oscars?

“‘Bad Boys 4’ has everything going for it, so if it doesn’t open big, we know why,” Bock says.

August can be hit or miss at the box office, but there’s certainly plenty on the calendar. Blake Lively’s literary adaptation “It Ends With Us” could score for Sony, while Lionsgate’s “Borderlands” will either continue the hot streak of “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” and “Uncharted,” or prove it’s still challenging to make a good movie out of a wildly popular video game.

“There’s a lot of traffic at the end of summer,” says Aronson, “but volume might make up for it.”

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From Variety US