Handicapping Hollywood movies is an inexact science at best. Some films with seemingly the right mix of stars, director and writers don’t find success while others deemed destined to flop beeline to the top. One thing is for sure: Every year, studios put out a slew of big-budget tentpole flicks—and their requisite 3-D counterparts—on which they put the lion’s share of their marketing dollars, in the hopes that they will bring in enough revenue to “hold up” the company through its not-so-profitable releases. And with receipts for last year setting a record at $10.8 billion, 2013 will be no different. With all the majors rolling out a host of hopefuls, here is a curated list of the year’s contenders.
Oblivion (April 19): On the heels of Jack Reacher, Tom Cruise becomes an action hero once again, this time as drone repairman Jack Harper who tends to Earth in the shadow of a post-apocalyptic alien invasion, guided (or is he waylaid?) by the steady hand of Morgan Freeman. Oblivion is directed by Joseph Kosinski, who brought Disney’s Tron: Legacy to a worldwide cume of $400 million. The guy knows his sci-fi.
SSN Insight: Reacher’s modest price tag of $60 million should net it a profit (it’s currently at $123 million worldwide), but Oblivion has a longer road with a budget of around $100 million. Still, it has a higher cool factor and should sate supernatural-loving moviegoers.
Kick-Ass 2: Balls to the Wall (June 28): The eponymous superhero is back, still oozing teen angst and still with no actual superpowers. Kick-Ass 2 is comic-book raunch at its purest. With its $543 million global box office haul, Kick Ass sets a high bar for the sequel. Director Matthew Vaughn handpicked the sequel’s relatively unproven writer-director Jeff Wadlow, since Vaughn himself is slated to be on X-Men duty.
SSN Insight: With the first flick reaping close to $100 million worldwide, nerd hearts are beating for Balls.
Despicable Me 2 (July 3): $543 million global box office for the first film means 2 has big shoes to fill—and Fourth of July is a big movie weekend, to boot. Universal’s animation division, Illumination, came out of the gate as a major player in tent-pole animation as audiences around the world fell hard for both Gru’s minions and his villainous heart of gold.
SSN Insight: With 6 million-plus Facebook “likes” and a minions spinoff set for release in December 2014, it’s clear the studio is banking on its defining franchise to do it again. Safe money, in our eyes.
Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Nov. 22): The sequel to the $700 million-global-grossing Hunger Games rolls out the continuing adventures of butt-kicking Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (tween magnet Josh Hutcherson)—more action, more danger and more hotties. British rising star Sam Claflin signs on as charmer Finnick Odair, ready to vie for Kat’s affections.
SSN Insight: Every studio in town passed on the “kids killing kids” book, despite the fact that it was already a bestseller. Lionsgate took the gamble and won big. The sequel is “blockbuster” epitomized.
The Great Gatsby (May 10): A larger-than-life period tale from Baz Luhrmann, a director who knows larger-than-life period adaptations. Leonardo DiCaprio plays the titular high-living rapscallion, starring opposite Tobey Maguire and Carey Mulligan, who plays his storied lady love, Daisy. What’s more, Jay-Z has signed on to co-score. Prepare for sensory overload.
SSN Insight: Jay-Z and Kanye West’s track “No Church in the Wild” heats up the trailer. Nevertheless, whether a hip-hop-laced soundtrack is enough to bring in the younger audience who aren’t acquainted with the American literary classic remains to be seen.
The Hangover, Part III (May 24): Director Todd Phillips shepherds three amigos Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis through the third and final film in the comedy series. III brings the same debauched and irreverent tone, which has proved to be comic gold. Rarely do directors return for three of the same franchise, but Phillips is unusually invested. He was rumored to have given up his usual fee to get the original made—and the gamble more than paid off on the back end.
SSN Insight: Can the Wolfpack still bite? Global box office of upwards of half a billion for the first two installments says the franchise still has steam.
Man of Steel (June 14): Hopefully, the disappointing Superman Returns isn’t a harbinger of things to come. Geek-favorite director Zack Snyder is blockbuster savvy, having helmed both 300 and The Watchmen. But the success of this reboot—and the likelihood of a new Justice League mash-up—depends on capturing the humanity within the ultimate superhero.
SSN Insight: If the anticipatory buzz on the Twittersphere is any indication, this one may just save the franchise.
Pacific Rim (July 12): Giant robots versus giant monsters, a supercool story conceived by talented writer Travis Beacham (whose Killing on Carnival Row script blew our minds) and fantasy-fiction kahuna Guillermo del Toro at the helm—it’s a combination of top-caliber talents that has the makings of an across-the-board blockbuster
SSN Insight: Rim has epic popcorn flick written all over it. What’s more: The movie hasn’t even landed, and the sequel script is already under way.
After Earth (June 7): More post-apocalyptic thrill-seeking, with summer-movie stalwart Will Smith poised to pass the torch to now teen son Jaden. M. Night Shyamalan directs the Smiths’ first reteaming since The Pursuit of Happyness. Expect jaw-dropping F/X.
SSN Insight: One of the last truly bankable movie stars plus the filmmaking aplomb of M. Night, whose output has admittedly been a mixed bag, has considerable potential to become a sci-fi tent-pole juggernaut.
White House Down (June 28): Prepare yourselves for the Year of Channing Tatum. He showed his stuff in Magic Mike, got audiences tearing up in The Vow—and now People’s Sexist Man Alive is about to save the President of the United States. Roland Emmerich (2012, Independence Day) directs so count on big action.
SSN Insight: Sony has had faith in the Jamie Vanderbilt–scripted movie since it plunked down $3 million for the spec in an age when specs don’t sell. White House Down comes out three months after Tatum’s G.I. Joe: Retaliation, so this should bolster Tatum’s PR streak—and Sony’s investment.
Elysium (Aug. 9): With worldwide box office north of $200 million and four Academy Award noms, District 9 was 2009’s little movie that could. Now director Neill Blomkamp brings star Sharlto Copley—along with Jodie Foster and a bald, buff Matt Damon—back into the post-apocalypse for a little space-age class warfare. District cost only $30 million, and Sony is being just as smart with Elysium. At $50 million and with a much flashier cast, it’s a safe bet.
SSN Insight: Advance word is solid, and Damon, with his Bourne franchise credentials, has proven himself a world-class action star.
G.I. Joe: Retaliation (March 29): Channing Tatum wasn’t initially played up big in the inaugural trailer and poster for G.I. Joe. But, following his Sexiest Man moniker, the movie was pushed back—and, in its new marketing iteration, we find Channing front and center along with Bruce Willis and Dwayne Johnson in the promos. Director John Chu (Step Up and Justin Bieber: Never Say Never) may not seem an obvious choice, but he’s delivered for Paramount on his other films and this franchise is ripe for some new blood.
SSN Insight: Reportedly, test screenings didn’t go as hoped and prospects aren’t dazzling. On the other hand, the newly minted Channing brand may turn the film’s fortunes.
Pain & Gain (April 26): Beefcakes and bimbos and ransom round out this sleek, muscular outing with Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson playing two-thirds of a personal-training team—Anthony Mackie is their cohort—in a ripped-from-the-headlines kidnap-caper film.
SSN Insight: Action honcho Michael Bay turns in the first of his two-pic deal with the studio, and odds are it’ll be a high-octane performer.
Star Trek Into Darkness (May 17): Director J.J. Abrams returns for the 12th film in the famous franchise, along with much of his 2009 Star Trek cast—Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban and Zoe Saldana. A groundbreaking iPad app that allows users to unlock over-and-above content was unveiled at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show. And buzz is big on new villain John Harrison, played by BBC hearththrob Benedict Cumberbatch).
SSN Insight: Whether the movie is good or not is almost an aside: It’s a juggernaut—arguably the most anticipated film of the year.
World War Z (June 21): The epic post-apocalyptic saga was pushed back six months, and Lost scribe Damon Lindelof was brought in to pen reshoots for the zombie horror flick of Max Brooks’ 2003 novel. Talented but notoriously difficult, director Marc Forster has taken heat for straying too far from the well-liked novel.
SSN Insight: All this notwithstanding, we remain hopeful. Zombies are a surefire box office draw … and the global star Brad Pitt can’t hurt prospects either.
Wolf of Wall Street (Fourth quarter release date TBA): Leonardo DiCaprio and Oscar winning legend Martin Scorsese team up on their fifth collaboration. Based on Jordan Belfort’s memoir released after he served almost two years in prison for securities fraud and money laundering, Wolf appears to be suitably gritty, powerfully topical terrain for these world-class talents. Moneyball Oscar nominee Jonah Hill co-stars as Belfort’s friend and instigator, continuing his transition to serious actor.
SSN Insight: With DiCaprio announcing the flick will be his swan song before he heads off for a long-term commitment to focus on global issuees, audiences will surely turn out to bid adieu.
Anchorman: The Legend Continues (Dec. 20): Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, Christina Applegate, Steve Carell and Vince Vaughn all return for the long awaited sequel to the 2004 sleeper hit, as do director Adam McKay and producer Judd Apatow.
SSN Insight: Not much info yet on what newsroom shenanigans Ron Burgundy and the Channel 4 news gang are up to in this go-around, but it’s safe to say the film’s laugh factor will make headlines
Oz: The Great and Powerful (March 8): In this prequel to The Wizard of Oz, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams and Esquire’s Sexiest Woman Alive Mila Kunis cast their spell on Wizard James Franco. Robert Downey Jr. fell out of the lead role, and hoped-for Johnny Depp talks didn’t get off the ground, but the real star of this film will be the eye-popping special effects. Spider-Man director Sam Raimi left the comfort of his established franchise and home studio Sony to take a crack at reinventing Oz.
SSN Insight: Raimi’s visual verve and track record as a consistently bankable director means this one shouldn’t disappoint. The curiosity factor alone could drive box office.
Iron Man 3 (May 3): Another go-round for Robert Downey Jr.’s billionaire industrialist Tony Stark. Disney paid Paramount $115 million for the rights to 3 (as well as The Avengers) after the success of Iron Man 2, but the Paramount logo remains on the film. When the trailer came out last October, it created a Twitter firestorm, with a one-day total of 105,970 posts. Downey reteams with his 2005 Kiss Kiss Bang Bang director Shane Black, who takes over the reins from Jon Favreau.
SSN Insight: Only the second Marvel movie after last summer’s Avengers to be released under the Disney/Marvel deal, Iron Man 3 is sure to continue on the same path. It’s a can’t-miss hit.
Monsters University (June 21): Hooked by that Super Bowl commercial touting a college offering “an education where extraordinary comes standard”? Welcome to the marketing onslaught for the follow-up to the box-office behemoth that was Monsters, Inc. Pixar’s first prequel brings John Goodman and Billy Crystal’s Sully and Mike full circle, along with an all-star voice cast.
SSN Insight: This movie is such a juggernaut that Dreamworks Animation reconceived their competitive project, Boo U so that it no longer features ghosts at a university. A decade in the making, Monsters previous devotees are now grown, but no matter—a whole new generation of kiddies lies in wait.
The Lone Ranger (July 3): This is a big summer weekend, and this is a big movie, to be sure, with Armie Hammer as the iconic crimefighter and Johnny Depp as his trusty companion Tonto. Depp’s Pirates of the Caribbean director Gore Verbinski, a distinctive stylist, helms. But the film has been awash in budget, script and scheduling gaffes, as well as the publicity of a crewmember’s on-set death.
SSN Insight: We’re hopeful this doesn’t go the way of John Carter. High caliber talent and a well-known, already established property should hold it together.
Thor: The Dark World (Nov. 8): Marvel mania continues with the sequel to 2011’s Kenneth Branagh–directed half-billion-dollar Thor funfest. Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman and Anthony Hopkins return for more mythical adventures, shepherded by Game of Thrones director Alan Taylor.
SSN Insight: Certainly, Taylor knows a thing or two about medieval fantasy, though it’s debatable whether this is too much movie for a director established primarily in television.
The Croods (March 22): A prehistoric caveman and his clan forge a new life after an earthquake forces them from the only world they’ve ever known. And thus, past and present collide in the first film from DreamWorks’ new distribution deal with Fox. Lilo & Stitch mastermind Chris Sanders co-directs with Space Chimps helmer and writer Kirk De Micco.
SSN Insight: With A-list voices Nicolas Cage, Ryan Reynolds and Emma Stone in the tribe of cast members, the Ice Age-esque entry should attract sizeable numbers. Sequel, anyone?
The Heat (April 5): Will 2013 finally be the year of the female buddy pic? Comedy “It” actress Melissa McCarthy and Miss Congeniality herself, Sandra Bullock, are banking on it. Directed by Bridesmaids’ Paul Feig, Heat infuses a dose of estrogen into the take-no-prisoners, wise-cracking cop comedy, with reportedly successful results.
SSN Insight: With quirky, ass-kicking, big-girl roles in Bridesmaids and February’s Identity Thief, McCarthy runs the risk of cementing herself into quirky, ass-kicking, big-girl roles. Then again, she does it really well. As for Sandra Bullock, her enduring box office appeal can only boost The Heat’s performance.
The Internship (June 7): Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn may be an unlikely comic pairing but the near $300 million-grossing Wedding Crashers proved their mettle. This time, the duo cracks the Silicon Valley glass ceiling as out-of-work middle-agers forced to work for peanuts to get a leg up. Ping-pong, naps, junk food … and bosses half their age. Suffice it to say, laughter ensues. Shawn Levy directs a Vince Vaughn-penned script.
SSN Insight: Google threw its doors wide-open for the production, and the masses have been salivating for a look around.
The Wolverine (July 26): It’s fascinating how adeptly Hugh Jackman can go from singing show tunes in Les Miserables to kicking box-office butt in the almost $2 billion X-Men series. Now he bulks up beyond compare as his eponymous mutant gets fully mined. Fox was sent on a scramble to keep the film on track after original Wolverine director Darren Aronofsky backed out.
SSN Insight: Fox needs Wolverine to work to keep one of its few remaining franchises alive. And we believe director James Mangold (who’s more than capable in both the action and character departments) can convert the property into box office success.