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Summer box office 2017: the superhero and kids movies that will dominate the season

We’re predicting these 11 movies will rule the roost at season’s end.

Spider-Man: Homecoming
There’s a new Spider-Man in town, and he’s played by Tom Holland.
Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

I’d love to tell you that the 2017 summer box office will see the sort of outside-the-box smash hit that rewrites the rules of the game, in the way Star Wars or E.T. or Titanic did.

I’d love to tell you that the European sci-fi romp Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets or the war film Dunkirk or the atmospheric thriller The Beguiled will shock everybody and take the world by storm.

But that’s probably not going to happen. Hope springs eternal, but the biggest movies of 2016 were generally installments in larger franchises, often about superheroes or animated goofballs. And as such, the summer of 2017 is almost certainly going to be ruled by movies in larger franchises, often about superheroes or animated goofballs.

Indeed, the biggest movie of 2017 so far, one that might stand as the biggest movie until Star Wars Episode VIII arrives in December, is the remake of Beauty and the Beast. Though that’s not a superhero film or (technically) an animated film, it’s definitely based on a beloved property and part of an ongoing “Disney remakes your favorite animated films” franchise. The filmgoing public has spoken, and it doesn’t really want anything new.

But there are many, many other things that could influence a film’s ultimate box office take beyond just familiarity. In particular, the very crowded nature of the release schedule, in June and July especially, means that some movies that would have made more money opening at any other time of the year will struggle to find room to operate. And some films — starts with T, ends with “ransformers” — are made with an international audience more in mind than one in the US and Canada, which affects both when they’re released and what they’re about.

With all that in mind, I’ve made my best guesses about how the summer of 2017 will shake out at the box office. The below rankings are ordered by which films I predict will make the most cash in the US and Canada, but if a movie stands to perform much more strongly overseas, I’ve tried to make note of that. (Also, I’ve declined to include The Fate of the Furious, which has already made more than $1 billion worldwide, because it came out in April, and summer movie season runs from May to August.)

Here are the 11 movies most likely to rake in the cash this summer.

1) Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (May 5)


If any movie can dethrone Beauty and the Beast and The Fate of the Furious to take the year’s box office crown (until Star Wars VIII), it’s probably this one. The first film made $333 million domestically and $773 million worldwide, back when nobody knew what a Groot even was, and it stands to reason that the sequel — which opens pretty much uncontested on May 5 — will see a nice boost from those numbers. I’ll guess it lands a little over last summer’s Marvel spectacular, Captain America: Civil War, with a $425 million domestic take and $1.2 billion worldwide.

2) Despicable Me 3 (June 30)

When it comes to kids flicks, there’s a safe rule of thumb: Bet on the movie that has the most time to itself in theaters, before additional children’s movies enter multiplexes. Such is the case with this animated sequel, in a series you may not have realized is as popular as it is. (Despicable Me 2 made more than $368 million domestically, and spinoff Minions made over $1 billion worldwide!) Cars 3 comes out a few weeks earlier, but after Despicable Me 3 premieres, it’ll have much of the summer to itself for the younger set. That looks like a solid $350 million domestic and $1 billion worldwide to me.

3) Wonder Woman (June 2)

Wonder Woman Warner Bros.

Here’s a tricky one to gauge. Of all the movies on this list that could break out and become runaway successes, it’s the most likely, thanks to a genuine hunger for a female-led superhero movie. (This will, somewhat remarkably, be the first.) There’s a world where this makes $500 million in the US and Canada alone. But there’s also a world where it stinks (like the other recent films based on DC superheroes) and limps to $400 million worldwide. Let’s split the difference, hope the movie’s at least entertaining, and say $310 million domestically and $900 million worldwide.

4) Cars 3 (June 16)

Though it’s never smart to bet against Pixar, I can’t help but feel I have this movie just a little high. The original Cars cleared $244 million in 2006, but its sequel pulled in “just” $191 million in 2011. Neither was a major barnstormer worldwide, either. Plus, what seems to be a darker tone for this sequel could impact its moneymaking potential. But the summer’s a little light on kiddie fare, and surely the kids can’t see Despicable Me 500 times. I’ll place this one nearer to the first film than the second, with $230 million domestic and $500 million worldwide.

5) Spider-Man: Homecoming (July 5)

And now we’ve reached the “movies that would probably do better if they didn’t have to go up against so many other movies” section of the list. One of the big box office lessons of 2016 was that a whole mess of blockbusters opening right on top of each other depressed all of their grosses. This one is atop the heap because it features Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, and he tends to drag in the crowds. But a release date in a crowded July suggests it could disappoint mildly. I’m saying $225 million domestic and $750 million worldwide.

6) Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (May 26)

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales Disney

On the one hand, a Memorial Day opening should give this one a little breathing room before Wonder Woman comes out in early June. On the other hand, the Pirates franchise has been steadily trending downward since its peak with 2006’s Dead Man’s Chest. This one is supposed to be better than 2011’s On Stranger Tides, but Johnny Depp isn’t the draw he once was, and it feels rather like the US might have moved on. $210 million domestic seems like a safe bet. The rest of the world is a different story, though: Don’t be surprised if this one somehow claws its way to $950 million worldwide. On Stranger Tides crested $1 billion!

7) Transformers: The Last Knight (June 23)

Here’s another series the US is tiring of even as the rest of the world continues to embrace it. 2014’s Age of Extinction made $245 million in the US, a new low for the Transformers series, but it made $1.1 billion worldwide. In fact, both of the last two Transformers movies have made $1.1 billion worldwide, even as they’ve each taken in less than their immediate predecessors domestically. The crowded marketplace in late June suggests this will make $195 million domestically, but when it comes to the rest of the world, well… $1.1 billion sounds about right.

8) Alien: Covenant (May 19)

Every summer, there’s a breakout horror hit. And every summer, people act surprised that horror still sells tickets. But what if that horror movie were also part of a franchise? Well, then you’d have Alien: Covenant. Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel-sequel probably won’t sell as many tickets as more family-friendly fare would, but it will get horror fans out in droves, especially thanks to a mid-May opening that should give it room to itself for a couple of weeks. That sounds like $185 million domestic and $500 million worldwide to me. (Perhaps remarkably, no movie in the Alien franchise — unless you count the pseudo-spinoff Prometheus, to which Covenant is a sorta sequel — had made more than $100 million domestically, which means I could be 100 percent wrong about this.)

9) War for the Planet of the Apes (July 14)

War for the Planet of the Apes Fox

On the one hand, this is an incredibly steady franchise, going from $175 million domestic for 2011’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes to $208 million for 2014’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes. On the other hand, this July is murderous for movies hoping to hold their own, and I wouldn’t be surprised by this one getting lost in the shuffle. Call it $180 million domestic and $650 million worldwide.

10) The Mummy (June 9)

Tom Cruise’s star power isn’t what it once was, but the combination of Cruise and Russell Crowe, plus the generally solid Mummy franchise (remember how big of hits the movies of the ’90s and early 2000s were?) should be enough to push this one to a respectable total. Universal’s monsters universe will finally get its feet under it with this one. I’m betting on $170 million domestic and $550 million worldwide.

11) Baywatch (May 25)

Most summers, a comedy breaks out domestically, if not worldwide. 2014’s Neighbors, for instance, made $150 million domestically but only $120 million everywhere else. (Comedy is hard to export.) Nevertheless, the presence of global superstar The Rock and the recognizable Baywatch brand name should push this one to greater worldwide heights than many comedies. Let’s say $155 million domestic and just under $350 million worldwide, with at least $30 million of that thanks to German David Hasselhoff fans.

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