This weekend, box office analysts cut Jack the Giant Slayer down off the proverbial beanstalk, prematurely calling it this year's John Carter, and saying that the road ahead to hitting 2012's record-breaking $10.84 billion domestic box office total was going to be brutal if not impossible.
Here's the sad, hard truth: 2013 more than likely won't hit that figure. But, to be honest, why would we have expected it to?
2012 had Marvel's The Avengers, Skyfall, The Dark Knight Rises, and the final Twilight film Breaking Dawn - Part 2. The Avengers and Dark Knight Rises hit over $1 billion dollars worldwide fairly early last year, while Skyfall and late-bloomer The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey both hit the same milestone earlier this year. More importantly, many of 2012's hits were complete surprises. Any box office analyst that said he predicted The Avengers hitting over $623 million stateside is lying. The Hunger Games out-grossed even the most successful Twilight installment, Eclipse, by over $100 million. And let's not forget about Seth MacFarlane's R-rated Ted, which became a comedic juggernaut at $218.8 million domestically, and was the only film of 2012's Top 10 to be a non-franchise live action film.
This year is a different animal all together. Twilight is gone. The Avengers is being followed up with two films, though neither will match its box office, even if you combine the films' grosses. Bond won't be shaking or stirring things up again until 2014. So, that really leaves us with The Hunger Games: Catching Fire in November, and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug in December. And yet, analysts were expecting grosses similar to last year? Really?
Let's take a look at some of the films that are considered the closest things to "sure bets" we have in 2013 in order to shed some light on the bigger box office picture.
Oz The Great and Powerful (March 8)
Even while Jack the Giant Slayer is reasonably disappointing at the box office, Disney will certainly turn 2013's doldrums around with the highly anticipated prequel to L. Frank Baum's classic tale. With director Sam Raimi at the helm, and touting a cast featuring James Franco, Mila Kunis, and Rachel Weisz, the film looks to be another Alice in Wonderland.
However, it's been three years since Wonderland, and Raimi may not be Tim Burton. 2011's Mars Needs Moms and last year's John Carter were well-noted bombs, and that puts a lot of pressure on Disney to pave the Yellow-Brick Road with gold. Wonderland's opening grosses were $116.1 in 2010, while Oz's opening is being tracked at about $75 million, which, though an improvement, may not be box office magic analysts were looking for.
The Avengers was the biggest cinematic risk in history, and had the biggest payoff, probably of all time. With Marvel's Phase One ending on the highest note imaginable, it's no wonder why the start of Phase Two is being pushed so hard.
Iron Man 3 starts off the Summer blockbuster season with a bang, being the first film to correlate directly to the events of The Avengers. While Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Don Cheadle are returning, director Jon Favreau is not (though he will be reprising his role as Happy Hogan). Director/co-writer Shane Black (who worked with Downey on Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) is not the only new blood on set, with Ben Kingsley, Rebecca Hall, and Guy Pearce joining the ever-popular franchise. But, ask any box office analyst, and they will tell you that the quickest way to ensure a franchise backslides is change things at the core. The previews are showing a much darker movie, which, though looking great thus far, is far different than the lighter tone of the first two installments, while Favreau's touches will be missed, as will S.H.I.E.L.D., which means no Nick Fury, Black Widow, Hawkeye, or Coulson.
Thor: The Dark World has even more hurdles to jump over. While both Iron Man films grossed north of $300 million, Thor only managed $181 million, which was mortal in comparison. True, following up directly with The Avengers and Iron Man 3 will almost certainly help, especially since now it's being highly publicized all these films will again lead up to 2015's Avengers sequel, and a lot of press has surrounded the casting of Doctor Who vet Christopher Eccelston as the film's main villain and Game of Thrones director Alan Taylor taking over for Kenneth Branagh. But Alan Taylor is not quite an established film director (did anyone else see 2001's The Emperor's New Clothes?), and Thor is still not a popular solo character for Marvel, so it's going to take a lot to bring the thunder.
Star Trek Into Darkness (May 17)
2013 seems a lot like The Year of the Sequel, or at least the high-profile sequel. 2009's Star Trek exceeded many people's expectations, but none more than Paramount Pictures' after taking in $257.7 million. While J.J. Abrams has been busy since then, wrapping up Lost and Fringe, he finally returns to the director's chair for Star Trek Into Darkness.
The upside? The film is finally coming out! Fans, both old and new, have been begging for this film the entire four-year time period, and, with the original film's cast all returning is giving them exactly what they've been asking for. Giving them the unparalleled Benedict Cumberbatch as the film's villain, and taking advantage of the IMAX 3D medium is more than anyone could've asked for.
The downside? 2012 showed that crowding any month with too many potential blockbusters is sure to detract from one film's overall grosses, and, with four other potential blockbusters coming out either before or after this film's release, just like Chris Pine's James Kirk, Trek Into Darkness may not play well with others.
Sequels are often big business these days, but 2012 showed us that, sometimes, more can mean less over time.
Fast and the Furious 6 is coming off of 2011's Fast Five, which made a franchise high of $209 million. Great, right? Of course! But, with this sixth entry and a planned seventh in tow, Vin Diesel driving fast cars will soon cause the franchise to run out of gas. It's only inevitable, and, with Star Trek Into Darkness being in its second weekend this week, it may come sooner than later.
The same sobering news comes for The Hangover Part III. While Part II ended with about $254 million, it's notably less than the first film's $277 million, which means this R-rated comedic threequel is could be suffering from more than temporary memory loss.
Man of Steel (June 14)
Now that The Dark Knight Trilogy has come to an end, writer/director Christopher Nolan has a lot of free time, and Warner Bros. is bereft of a sure thing again. So, getting Nolan to produce this year's Superman reboot Man of Steel is a smart decision. Bringing Nolan's eye for dark detail and putting 300's Zack Snyder in the director's chair is making quite a stir, causing fans to believe bringing Clark Kent's alter ego back is a great plan.
Unfortunately, they also believed in Bryan Singer's ill-fated attempt Superman Returns in 2006, and were met with not-so-super returns to the tune of $200 million -- not bad, but certainly not amazing either. Snyder's post-300 track record is spotty as well. 2009's comic book adaptation Watchmen unmasked a paltry $107.5 million, while 2011's Sucker Punch only mustered up $36.4 million.
Worse yet is the pressure Warner Bros. is putting on Man of Steel. DC's own superhero supergroup Justice League of America is looking for its own big budget film, but Warner is waiting to see where the chips fall with Man of Steel first to see if it's worth it to move forward with JLA. This is a hell of a risk, seeing that Green Lantern didn't earn a lot of green in 2011 with only $116 million. So, if Man of Steel doesn't perform, it will mean not only low grosses for 2013, but will successfully kill another franchise all-together. But no pressure, right?
The Lone Ranger (July 3)
Fourth of July weekend always means big business at the box office, and Disney's hoping to cash in on this fact with its latest in a hopeful new franchise. The Lone Ranger looks like it could score the house that Walt built another hit, bringing back the winning collaboration of producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Gore Verbinski, who scored three successes with the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy.
However, it's not all a sure thing. POTC: On Stranger Tides set a franchise low with $241 million, thanks, in part, to dramatic changes in cast and director (see Iron Man 3 above), and The Lone Ranger isn't quite as hip with the kids as POTC was, so don't count on fireworks yet.
Pacific Rim (July 12)
Original films have every chance at succeeding as big budget franchises do, and Guillermo Del Toro's Pacific Rim is gearing up to be one of those success stories. The combination of giant robots fighting giant sea monsters has serious potential, and could be gold in the spot occupied by so many of Warner Bros.' past hits, like Harry Potter and last year's The Dark Knight Rises.
If only it were that simple. Del Toro's last big film, Hellboy: The Golden Army made less than $76 million in 2008, and has yet to really make a true hit with a major motion picture. Also, the film's premise is a bit out there. Seeming like Godzilla, which is being rebooted in 2014 and 2008's Cloverfield, which made $80 million while the found footage craze was in its infancy, Pacific Rim would be a huge surprise hit, or miss like last year's tremendous flop Battleship.
The Wolverine (July 26)
While Marvel made a killing with The Avengers, a lot of attention was taken away from the first franchise that made them a solid profit: X-Men.
With X-Men: Days of Future Past coming out next year, the follow-up to X-Men Origins: Wolverine finally sees the light of day. Hugh Jackman, naturally, returns as everyone's favorite adamantium-infused anti-hero, showing Logan's time in Japan.
The severe downside is that the first Wolverine movie was almost universally hated by fans of the series, causing that film to earn a meager-in-comparison $179.9 million. Add in the fact that X-Men: First Class only tallied $146.4 million, and this new film seems more like a gamble than a sure thing.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Nov. 22)
After reading all the bumps in the road, here's some good news...
Last year's The Hunger Games was an unforeseen success with $408 million domestically, which shattered expectations dramatically, simply by being everything Twilight was not. Bella is certainly no Katniss, Kristen Stewart can't hold a candle to Jennifer Lawrence, and Hunger Games was a deeper, richer story than any of Stephanie Meyer's books combined, which led to both men and women wanting to see it.
New Moon out-grossed the first Twilight's grosses by 65 percent, which means that, in the even Catching Fire can out-gross Hunger Games' income, it could lead to domestic grosses over $600 million or more. Will this happen? Probably not. But it's almost guaranteed to increase the ticket sales from the first, which will make a great pay day for the franchise, and a wonderful precursor to the film's next two installments.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Dec. 13)
While An Unexpected Journey was a bit slow on the uptake, now that audiences have a taste of what the Hobbit is really like, this second installment may not have the same problem.
Peter Jackson's Middle Earth is now iconic, and audiences will almost assuredly flock to the theaters to see it on the big screen again, especially with the inclusion of IMAX 3D showings like the first installment did. Add in the fact that these films are more accessible than any of the Lord of the Rings films, and this is almost a guaranteed $1 billion worldwide box office again.
Will 2013 meet up with 2012's grosses at the box office? Though it could potentially get close, the answer is still no. Even looking at previous patterns, there's never a guarantee any of these films will perform to where they need to be, and that's not even accounting for any major flops or under-performers.
But, in the end, does this matter? No. Is a movie still worth seeing, even if the grosses are mildly disappointing? Often time, yes (especially with Jack the Giant Slayer this year). It would be ideal if we could simply focus on the quality of the movie rather than how much it makes, but then the good folks over at Box Office Mojo would be out of a job, and that's certainly not ideal, so they can count, I can critique, and we'll both be happy in the end.