Summer 2016: 11 Big Questions about ‘Captain America’, ‘Finding Dory’ and More

Last summer fueled a record-breaking year for Hollywood. Avengers: Age of Ultron, Jurassic World, Inside Out, Minions and even Pitch Perfect 2 helped drive moviegoers to their local multiplex above and beyond even the most bullish forecasts. 2016 is already off to a surprising start with smashes such as The Jungle Book, Deadpool and Zootopia. Still, 2015’s summer success is a lot to live up to and not everyone is going to hit Labor Day thrilled with the results. Keeping that in mind here are some questions that has Hollywood abuzz as the summer season is about to kickoff on May 6th.

Captain America Pt. 1: Can ‘Civil War’ Beat ‘Finding Dory’ at the Box Office?

Based on current studio polling the Russo Brothers’ latest Avengers movie, er, Captain America flick is looking at an opening beyond $190 million. Considering how strong critical response and word of mouth is that figure may be incredibly conservative at this point. It doesn’t hurt that Civil War also delivers the first look at the new MCU Spider-Man as well as Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther. Therefore, it’s not a stretch to predict Civil War could top Avengers: Age of Ultron’s $191.2 million debut and outgross its $459 million domestic tally. That doesn’t necessarily mean it will become the biggest movie of the summer, however. Pixar’s Finding Dory is the long awaited sequel to the beloved Finding Nemo that had a long reign as the studio’s highest grossing film. In fact, it took Toy Story 3’s monster gross of $415 million to knock it from the top in 2010. Like that Oscar winning franchise, Finding Dory is a multi-generational player that could gross over $400 million in the U.S. Granted, Civil War should easily take the global tally, but here in the states? The race for the summer box office crown is closer than you might think.

Captain America Pt. 2: What Will Marvel Learn from ‘Civil War’?

Critics and the media are already fans, but what insights will Marvel and Disney take away from audiences’ reaction to Civil War? Considering how much Paul Rudd steals the movie do they consider pushing up the 2018 release date of Ant-Man and the Wasp? Does Civil War’s success give Marvel the greenlight to fill Spider-Man: Homecoming with even more MCU cameos than it really deserves? Should we expect John Wick helmers Chad Stahelski and David Leitch to graduate from Civil War second unit to completely directing their own Marvel flick?

Can ‘Money Monster’ Tap into that Anti-Wall Street Angst?

Sony Pictures is taking a big gamble with Jodie Foster’s Money Monster. The adult skewing dramatic thriller is going up against the second weekend of Civil War and have to deal with the competition of The Nice Guys and Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising less than a week later. You have to believe George Clooney and Julia Roberts obviously have some starpower left in the tank, but not enough to be major players in the competitive summer season. It’s no surprise then that the studio is trying to appeal to Americans who are enraged by Wall Street on both sides of the aisle to sell tickets. The problem, of course, is that political fodder rarely drives box office (Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 being the exception to the rule). Can politics actually trump entertainment appeal in this case? We wouldn’t take that bet in Vegas, but then again we didn’t think Trump or Sanders would make it this far either.

Is ‘The Nice Guys’ the First Studio Oscar Player of the Year?

Let’s be clear, prestigious Cannes premiere aside Warner Bros. wants nothing more than for Shane Black‘s period thriller to be a surprise summer hit. You can tell that by the blatantly broad bus shelter ads all over Los Angeles.   The good news is that the buzz is that The Nice Guys delivers with a smart screenplay and some of the best work stars Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe have done in years. WB ended up with Cannes player Mad Max: Fury Road becoming an unexpected Oscar player a year ago. Can lightening strike twice? It’s possible.

Will ‘Me Before You’ Finally Turn Emilia Clarke into a Movie Star?

Throw a blond wig on Emilia Clarke and the Game of Thrones star can barely walk to the grocery store without being accosted by fans. If she’s in public with her natural brown hair, however, she might walk right by without earning a second glance. That’s the benefit and the curse of playing such an iconic character on television. Hollywood tried to turn Clarke into a movie star with Terminator Genysis but that proved to be the absolutely wrong big screen franchise to jump into. Now she’s’ back with the romantic drama Me Before You which MGM and Warner Bros. have confidently put up against the latest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie on June 3. The current trailer might be too studio marketing saccharine for most, but WB’s tease at CinemaCon earlier this month was more than a pleasant surprise. Simply put, Clarke radiates off the screen in the most unexpected of ways and if Me Before You turns into a real hit don’t be shocked to hear Clarke’s name to return to the top of many studio-casting lists over the next year or so.

Can ‘Warcraft’ Outperform Expectations?

Outside of the game’s hardcore fan base has any reportedly $100 million budgeted fantasy flick gotten less love from the genre community than Duncan JonesWarcraft? Ever since the first test footage screened at Comic-Con in 2013 there has been a lot of skepticism over this project and the extended preview in San Diego last year went over with a dramatic thud (wait, another African American actress painted green? Say it isn’t so…). Now, Universal has been doing everything they can to turn the Legendary production into something close to a hit, but it ain’t gonna be easy. Warner Bros. has slotted The Conjuring 2 on the same date and there is no reason to believe that horror sequel can’t blow the original film’s $41 million opening out of the water. The pseudo-family friendly Now You See Me 2 is also on the same date although you can easily argue Lionsgate is making a Red 2-like mistake opening it in too competitive a frame. No matter the case, expect Universal and Legendary to focus much more on international and keep expectations down for the U.S. release (i.e., coming in behind Conjuring 2). And in all seriousness, if it somehow makes over $30 million in its opening weekend then they might actually find a way to spin it as a win.

Can a Movie Not Aimed at Older Moviegoers Actually Be the Art House Hit of the Summer?

The art house movie market has progressively skewed toward older ticket buyers for some time, but 2015 proved your parents and grandparents are the lifeblood of most mini-major distributors. Roadside Attractions had two of the biggest hits in their history with Love & Mercy and Mr. Holmes. Bleecker Street surprised with I’ll See You In My Dreams and Broadgreen scored with the $29 million grossing A Walk in the Woods (Plus, The Weinstein Company’s April release Woman in Gold made a substantial chunk of its $33 million in May and June). Meanwhile, acclaimed films that aimed for a younger demo such as Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Dope and The End of the Tour didn’t live up the media’s expectations. 2017, on the other hand, looks like more of a mix. A24 has two critically acclaimed releases, The Lobster and Swiss Army Man, that could play with twenty and thirtysomething audiences. On the other hand, Bleecker Street has Sundance and Cannes player Captain Fantastic that will likely appeal most to older audiences as will Roadside’s Sundance pick up Indignation and Fox Searchlight’s Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie. Those two studios also have two other releases that could succeed with a cross section of art house moviegoers in Southside With You and A Bigger Splash. What’s missing? Anything teenage focused like last year’s Me and Earl or Dope. Independent distributors aren’t going to take that chance again anytime soon unless it’s a slam-dunk (or a prestige horror flick like It Follows or Goodnight Mommy.)

Will ‘Lights Out’ Put a Dent into ‘Star Trek Beyond’s Opening Weekend?

It used to be that horror was a bad sell in the summer. That’s hardly the case anymore and it may give Paramount some pause. After the not so great taste Star Trek Into Darkness put in some fan’s mouths, the studio needs Star Trek Beyond to get moviegoers and fans excited again. As of this publication date they haven’t necessarily released any materials that point to an opening that would equal Into Darkness’ $70 million first weekend in 2013 (nothing to sneeze at mind you). Sensing an opportunity and knowing Star Trek usually skews more male and over 25, Warner Bros. and New Line have slotted their potential new horror franchise Lights Out on the same date. Every competing studio exec in town can tell you they’ve heard David F. Sandberg’s creation is testing through the roof and that’s not great news for Star Trek. The best-case scenario for all involved is that marketplace simply expands and both hit the numbers they need. However, until Beyond shows it has more up its sleeve we’re not so sure that both studios will be happy when they head to their Monday morning marketing meetings.

What's the Most Interesting Release Weekend of the Summer? (You May Be Surprised)

There a number of competitive weekends at the box office this summer, but the most intriguing one doesn’t involve super-hyped tentpoles like Suicide Squad or Independence Day: Resurgence. Instead, it finds Woody Allen‘s Cafe Society, Florence Foster Jenkins with Meryl Streep, Disney’s Pete’s Dragon, Seth Rogen‘s R-rated animated Sausage Party and the sci-fi thriller Spectral opening wide against each other on August 12th. In theory, the Disney marketing machine will fuel Pete’s Dragon to a big debut, but why are two older moviegoer targeted films such as Cafe and Florence Foster going head to head? Oh, and did we mention it will be the second wide weekend of the similarly targeted The Founder? Granted, wide only means over 700 or so theaters, but there is a lot of older audience cannibalizing going on here. And with Suicide Squad in its second week (potentially $45-50 million) can Sausage make any headway with the R-rated crowd? Even with potential critical accolades? It’s just a big, messy head scratcher all around.

Can ‘The Light Between Oceans’ Prove the Skeptics Wrong?

Eyebrows were raised when Walt Disney Studios and DreamWorks Studios announced that Derek Cianfrance‘s The Light Between Oceans was set to open on Sept. 2. That’s Labor Day weekend and usually the least busy moviegoing weekend of the entire year. This was surprising because not only is Light the latest film from the director of Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond The Pines, but its based on a best selling novel whose key audience – women over 25 – will mostly be predisposed over the holiday. Oh, and did we mention it stars real life couple Michael Fassbender and 2016’s Best Supporting Actress winner Alicia Vikander? In theory, it is the epitome of Oscar bait and a movie that even if it doesn’t work you can sell during awards season with predictable box office. Moreover, this is the sort of film that traditionally needs to open in New York and Los Angeles before expanding nationwide. Currently, Light is set for a wide release. It’s also worth noting that this is the last film under the distribution agreement between Disney and DreamWorks as the latter has moved on to Universal Studios. Since this isn’t the type of film that’s in Disney marketing’s wheelhouse there was some thought Light would transition over to Universal’s mini-major Focus Features with the new deal. That didn’t happen. At this point, it basically has the word ‘dump’ written all over it, but is it really that bad? Light still has a shot to open the Venice Film Festival on August 31 before its U.S. release. And eleven years ago The Constant Gardener surprised both critically and at the box office with a Labor Day release (star Rachel Weisz also won an Oscar for her performance). Of course Focus Features, who was at the height of their art house game at that time, oversaw Gardener’s release. Can Disney and DreamWorks duplicate their magic?

Is the Only Potential Breakout Summer Comedy… ‘Bad Moms’?

Comedy has been big summer business this decade, but Hollywood’s choices this time around are sort of predictable. There’s the Seth Rogen and Zac Efron sequel Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, another Efron comedy with Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates and Central Intelligence with Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart, all movies you could probably come up with and cast on your way to work. The Lonely Island is looking to make waves with Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, but the trailers leave us unconvinced. STX has a shot, however, with their ensemble Bad Moms that, based on the extended CinemaCon preview, is a little Mean Girls meets Sex and the City. It’s not exactly the most original concept ever, but in context it seems fresher than most of the competition. The only other hope is Todd PhillipsWar Dogs with Miles Teller and Jonah Hill, but Warner Bros. has slotted it on a late date (August 19th) that often insinuates a picture might not completely work. (And yes, Ghostbusters and Sausage Party technically qualify as comedies but the former is looking more action-packed than you might think and the latter feels like something else entirely).

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