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Hollywood looks to ‘Indiana Jones’, ‘Barbie’, ‘Oppenheimer’ & ‘M:I-7’ to spark up summer box office

Harrison Ford’s final outing as the titular adventurer in Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny is expected to earn in the region of $65m when it opens in North America this weekend over the July Fourth holiday, ushering in a crowded month that Hollywood will be watching closely.

Studio and distribution executives – not just at Disney/Lucasfilm but throughout Hollywood – hope the fedora-wearing, whip-brandishing icon of the big screen will launch on that amount, or close to it.

After a mixed start to summer punctuated by hits like Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3 and Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse and disappointments like The Flash and Elemental, the pressure is on the swashbuckling action adventure and three other major tentpoles scheduled to follow in short order in July.

Indy earned $7.2m in Thursday previews on June 29 as it started its run. In terms of final gross targets, the franchise record for domestic box office is $317.1m set by the much-maligned Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull in 2008, while Raiders Of The Lost Ark, which opened in 1981, finished on an unadjusted $212.2m and $248.1m factoring in re-releases.

On July 12, less than two weeks after Indy ventures into more than 4,500 theatres, superstar Tom Cruise arrives in his latest outing as the death-defying spy Ethan Hunt in action thriller Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning, Part One.

It is anticipated to take in around $65m in the opening weekend. That would be a record for a 27-year-old franchise whose films have generated more than $1bn in North America, with each entry tending to finish on around $200m and more than double that internationally.

A little over one week after Paramount’s tentpole infiltrates the megaplexes, Hunt and Indy will find themselves up against the twin July 21 attack of Warner Bros/Mattel’s Barbie directed by Greta Gerwig and Christopher Nolan’s drama Oppenheimer at Universal.

Barbie, which stars Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, is widely predicted to win the July 21 weekend and is tracking to launch upwards of $70m, kicking off what many believe could be one of the hits of the year.

Oppenheimer appears to be heading for an opening weekend in the $40m range. Given the more sombre nature of the atom bomb drama starring Cillian Murphy, steady box office growth based on word of mouth among older audiences, who have shown they do not rush out to see a target film in opening weekend, would seem a more natural path.

Imax face-off

If the confluence of a beloved explorer, thrill-seeking spy, iconic toy brand adaptation and mature-skewing drama appears a lot for audiences to contend with – especially at a time when there remain big question marks over whether theatre-going has returned in a meaningful way – the view in Hollywood is that each of these films can prosper.

“The market will expand to accommodate strong movies,” says David A. Gross, a film consultant who publishes the box office newsletter FranchiseRe. “It always does.”

In fact recent reporting on an Imax scheduling clash between Mission: Impossible 7 and Oppenheimer show how bullish the studios are on their films. Mission: Impossible 7 will be the only film playing on virtually all of the 401 Imax screens in North America for just over one week when it launches. That is all it is getting because by the time Paramount settled on a July release after multiple delays, Universal had already secured a three-week exclusive Imax run for Oppenheimer.

That was due in large part to the fact that Nolan shot Oppenheimer on Imax cameras. Plus Universal is doing everything it can to please the British filmmaker and wants to keep him in the fold after his long collaboration with Warner Bros ended amid the Project Popcorn furore, when all 2021 Warner Bros films opened simultaneously in cinemas and on HBO Max.

Studios want to be on Imax, whose popularity has grown over the years. Imax and other large-screen brands are a key contributor to box office. Audiences are prepared to pay more than they would for a conventional cinema ticket knowing they are getting an experience they cannot replicate at home.

Imax head Rich Gelfond has said he hopes Ethan Hunt can return to his circuit after Oppenheimer’s engagement. Meanwhile, starting this weekend Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny will be the only tentpole on Imax for the first week of its run. Barbie will not play on Imax because it opens the same day as Oppenheimer.

Each of these potential box office titans has made plenty of noise in the run-up to their releases, with glitzy international promotional tours, billboards, TV spots, and in-theatre and digital marketing. The only traditional part of the marketing campaigns that has been absent is the US late-night talk shows and Saturday Night Live guest slots.

All those shows went dark ever since Writers Guild of America members went on strike on May 2. However, the consensus among Hollywood insiders is that this won’t make much of a dent. In fact Cruise himself – whose Top Gun: Maverick was 2022’s top domestic earner on just over $718m – has been talking up not just Mission: Impossible 7 but Indy, Barbie and Oppenheimer, urging audiences to get out to their local multiplexes.

Box-office ups and downs

One would be hard pressed to find a studio head speaking so magnanimously about rival fare, but everybody in distribution privately wants all these films to succeed.

Box-office observers have been looking forward to this summer as a season when the number of wide releases has returned to something like pre-pandemic levels. According to Gross of FranchiseRe, through the end of June there will have been 61 wide releases on more than 1,000 screens in North America, compared to 69 in 2019 and 44 in 2022.

All year executives have looked to this summer – with its steady flow of wide releases and a mix of genres – as the opportunity to get box office back on its feet after Covid.

Comscore data shows that the May 1-June 25 initial portion of this year’s summer season trails the same period in 2019 – arguably a better barometer than the last three pandemic-impacted years – by a relatively modest 14.9%, and is ahead of 2022 by a slender 1.6%.

So far summer 2023 has been fairly decent with the usual ups and downs punctuated by a stellar $118.4m launch for Disney/Marvel Studios’ Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3, which kicked things off May 5 and has earned $352m to date, and the dire performance of Warner Bros/DC’s The Flash.

The latter opened over the June 16-18 weekend on $55m and will finally cross $100m in this, its third weekend – a dismal result for a superhero tentpole.

Even Disney/Marvel’s Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania, labelled a disappointment by Marvel’s lofty standards and branded as proof of superhero fatigue when it launched in February, managed to open on $106.1m. What Warner Bros executives would give for The Flash to have come near that number, or its $214.5m final gross.

Elemental, the latest entry from the once-incredible Pixar hit factory, has also been a disappointment. The Cannes closing night selection opened the same weekend in second place behind The Flash on a paltry $29.6m for the lowest debut by any Pixar film when adjusted for inflation. It held well in its second weekend after a 37.7% drop but had barely scraped past $75m at time of writing.

Comscore figures put the May 1-June 25 period at $1.69bn in ticket sales in North America, with the highest earner being Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3. That compares to $1.99bn from all films in the corresponding date range in 2019. Back in May the success of Guardians 3 sparked talk in Hollywood of a possible $4bn summer, which would bring this year into the orbit of the 2019’s $4.3bn summer.

Sony/Marvel’s June 2 release Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse has been another mighty early summer 2023 release, becoming the season’s second $100m-plus launch on $120.7m over June 2-4. To date it has earned $325m – demolishing its 2018 predecessor’s $190.2m final gross.

Disney’s The Little Mermaid (May 26-28) opened on $95.6m and has done solid business to reach $274.6m and counting, while Universal’s Fast X was a disappointment, in North America at least, opening to $67m over the May 19-21 session and currently sitting at $145m – one of the lower performances in a Fast And Furious franchise which is led by Furious 7 on $353m in 2015, and Fast & Furious 6 on $238m in 2013.

While July is the critical month, what happens in August will play a large part in the summer 2023 box office story too.

The two big hopes are Paramount’s animated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem (August 2), which hails from a popular and beloved brand; and Warner Bros’ Meg 2: The Trench starring Jason Statham on August 4. The latter will be looking to outdo its 2018 predecessor, which finished on a solid $145m for an unknown brand at the time and crossed $500m worldwide.

Two big relative unknowns that could spring a surprise are: Sony’s racing car action adventure and PlayStation adaptation Gran Turismo from the admired director Neill Blomkamp on August 11; and Warner Bros/DC sci-fi action adventure Blue Beetle (August 18), which is directed by Puerto Rican filmmaker Angel Manuel Soto and skews to the Latino market with its story of a Mexican teen who discovers an ancient relic that gives him superpowers. US actor Xolo Maridueña stars.


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