It’s May, box office fans — which means, uh, summer is here! Yeah, I know, I know, the real calendar says otherwise, and it might not feel like summer in some parts of our fair land. (Hey there, dear readers from South Dakota, where there’s currently a very pleasant summer breeze registering 20 degrees in wind chill!) Still, at the box office, the hottest season of the year has arrived.
The first weekend in May has been a big one at the multiplex for more than a decade now. The list of hits that have opened in this frame is impressive: Deep Impact (1998), The Mummy (1999), Gladiator (2000), The Mummy Returns (2001), Spider-Man (2002), X2: X-Men United (2003), Mission: Impossible III (2006), Spider-Man 3 (2007). During that stretch, just two movies — 2004’s Van Helsing and 2005’s Kingdom of Heaven — have failed to live up to expectations in the domestic marketplace.
So what does it all mean for this year’s big summer starter, Iron Man? Will Marvel’s superhero join the ranks of Spidey, Maximus, and Wolverine…or is he the next Orlando Bloom in chain mail/Hugh Jackman sans adamantium? Read on for my prediction about that film and the other big new opener, the rom-com Made of Honor — and then head on over to EW.com's Summer Box Office Challenge to try your hand at this prognostication game. After you’re done shoveling the snow off your driveway, of course.
THE (LIKELY) TOP FIVE
Paramount/Marvel · PG-13 · 4,105 theaters · NEW
There’s a lot of goodwill for Robert Downey Jr. these days. It seems like everybody wants him to finally triumph in his nearly decade-long career resuscitation; damned if I can find a single person who doesn’t like the guy. (And can you blame them? As I learned when I met him at ShoWest in March, dude is incredibly charming.) But that’s incidental. The real star of this big-screen take on the somewhat obscure Marvel comic is the character of Iron Man himself. Fans have been waiting decades for the big guy to get a movie of his own (guess unintended homages from Black Sabbath and, you know, the Ironman Triathlon didn’t suffice). And now they have it, courtesy of Downey (who plays Tony Stark, the man in the metal suit), costars Terrence Howard, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Jeff Bridges, and director Jon Favreau. That’s not the whole reason that Iron Man is so money, however. The mood at the box office during the past two months has been subdued to say the least; moviegoers, I think, are hungry for something, anything, to break the monotony caused by the middling comedies and horror flicks that have been trickling out. And then there’s the fact that this movie has been getting remarkably good reviews (not that critics necessarily impact a blockbuster’s business one way or the other). Which is why I expect us to be looking at a first weekend take somewhere in the neighborhood of X2’s $85.6 mil debut. Iron Man isn’t a franchise film like that was (so far), but it sure feels like it.
Weekend prediction: $84 million
Made of Honor
Columbia · PG-13 · 2,729 theaters · NEW
Everybody loves Patrick Dempsey too, huh? Well, here he is in a sort of My Best Friend’s Wedding told from the guy’s point of view — seemingly perfect counterprogramming against the boy-baiting Iron Man. The Grey’s Anatomy hunk appeared able to translate his small-screen success into big-screen bucks last year with Enchanted, which earned a fairy tale-like $127.8 mil. In that film, he had a magnetic female costar, Amy Adams; acting opposite Dempsey this time around is the infinitely charismatic Michelle Monaghan, who, oddly enough, has yet to become a major star despite key roles in hits like M:I-3. A strong opening weekend could go a long way toward fixing that problem.
Weekend prediction: $15 million
Universal · PG-13 · 2,548 theaters · 2nd weekend
Oh, yeah, there’ll be some other movies playing in theaters this weekend! Right! Almost forgot. Well, um, sure, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s comedy premiered at No. 1, banking $17.4 mil (a bit down from Sunday's early estimate, by the way). And interest in Iron Man will juice box office returns in general (people are just going to go to the movies this weekend, no matter what). But you’ve gotta think direct competition from the similarly PG-13-rated Made of Honor could cause Baby Mama some labor pains.
Weekend prediction: $9 million
Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay
Warner Bros./New Line · R · 2,545 theaters · 2nd weekend
John Cho and Kal Penn’s politics-laced stoner comedy is actually the one movie without a substantial new rival this weekend, so it should hold on strong from its impressive $14.9 mil debut a week ago.
Weekend prediction: $8 million
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Universal · R · 2,869 theaters · 3rd weekend
Heading into its third weekend, the raunchy romance has about $39 mil in the bank — a tidy sum, if markedly less than the $76 mil that producer Judd Apatow’s other lewd love story, Knocked Up, had at this point in its run. So, no, I haven’t forgotten about Sarah Marshall. Yet.
Weekend prediction: $7 million