After a lackluster start to the summer, things got rolling again in June thanks to strong performances from Toy Story 3 and The Karate Kid. That momentum is likely to continue in to July with the launch of The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, and the rest of July is filled out with a host of potentially crowd-pleasing fare like Inception, Salt, The Last Airbender and Dinner for Schmucks. It would take exceptional numbers, though, for July 2010 to exceed July 2008's record $1.27 billion total, but July 2009's $1.05 billion should be within reach.
Eclipse opens June 30, but it's effectively a July release because its first weekend starts July 2. The third Twilight movie hits theaters just over seven months after The Twilight Saga: New Moon, which set the opening day record ($72.7 million) and ultimately collected $296.6 million. The history of closely-timed, serialized sequels like The Matrix Revolutions and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End points to Eclipse grossing less than New Moon. However, Eclipse is based on what many deem the best Twilight novel, and its previews have pumped up the dramatic action and Bella-Edward-Jacob romance. While Eclipse's Wednesday debut will keep it from setting the opening weekend record, it will vie for the Independence Day weekend record currently held by Spider-Man 2's $88.2 million.
The Last Airbender, an adaptation of animated TV series Avatar: The Last Airbender opens in 3D a day after Eclipse. At first glance, this movie seems problematic: director M. Night Shyamalan's box office pull has diminished (Lady in the Water, The Happening), while business for recent martial arts fantasies has ranged from modest (The Forbidden Kingdom) to pathetic (Dragonball Evolution). Unlike those movies, though, Last Airbender has an aggressive marketing campaign, showcasing striking visuals and action, instead of relying exclusively on the brand. It will undoubtedly open behind Eclipse, but this shouldn't stop The Last Airbender from making some waves in early July.
The second weekend of July sees the release of Despicable Me and Predators. Despicable Me marks distributor Universal Pictures' third computer-animated movie ever and their first in a deal with Illumination Entertainment, founded by former Fox Animation president Chris Meledandri. The movie finds super villain Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) taking care of a set of young girls while at the same time planning to steal the moon with his legion of minions. While there are no direct comparisons for a family movie with a villain as the protagonist, Despicable's family themes and plot for world domination bring to mind The Incredibles ($261.4 million), but Incredibles likely had broader appeal with its family of superheroes. Also, there's a good chance families have already had their 3D animation fix after Toy Story 3 and Shrek Forever After.
Produced by Robert Rodriguez, Predators features Adrian Brody, Laurence Fishburne, Topher Grace and a handful of others as a group of elite warriors snatched from Earth and brought to the Predator home planet, where they are hunted. The original Predator opened in June 1987 and grossed $59.7 million, ranking 12th for the year, but the franchise crashed with Predator 2 in 1990. Alien Vs. Predator seemed to resurrect it, grossing $80.3 million, but sequel Aliens Vs. Predator - Requiem was another step backward, tallying $41.8 million. Predators is a stab at rejuvenating the franchise, but the movie's marketing machine will have to rev up considerably to score a sizable opening weekend.
Exactly two years after The Dark Knight set box office records, writer/director Christopher Nolan is back with Inception, an original mind-bending thriller starring Leonardo DiCaprio that's distributor Warner Bros.' main event of the summer. The movie's marketing has struck early and often: a cryptic trailer debuted last summer, slightly more informative previews followed in the winter and spring, then a barrage of commercials have been airing for the past few months. Good will from Dark Knight, the movie's intrigue and the advertising appear to be paying off: Inception is by far the most anticipated movie of July in Box Office Mojo's reader polling, claiming over 50 percent of the vote. At this point, Inception is angling to become the highest-grossing non-sequel of the summer.
The fourth weekend of July brings Salt, the return of Angelina Jolie to her most profitable genre: action. While Ms. Jolie has yet to carry a non-action hit, she's had plenty of success in movies like Lara Croft: Tomb Raider ($131.2 million), Mr. & Mrs. Smith ($186.3 million) and Wanted ($134.5 million). Salt's premise, which finds Jolie's title character on the run trying to clear her name, brings to mind past successes like the Bourne series, Mission: Impossible, Minority Report, Enemy of the State, The Fugitive and many more. While Salt is by no means a preordained hit, this type of movie consistently strikes a chord.
The July 23 weekend's other new release, Ramona and Beezus, counterprograms the action-packed lineup that will be dominating the box office by mid-July. Non-fantasy children's book adaptations like Ramona have had a spotty record, with Hoot, How to Eat Fried Worms and Nancy Drew all disappointing. However, kids turned out in decent numbers this spring for Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which made $63 million. If Ramona and Beezus does similar business, it would undoubtedly qualify as a success.
Three major movies are set to battle for audiences in the last weekend of July, though at this point there doesn't seem to be a clear winner lined up. Comedy Dinner for Schmucks, directed by Jay Roach and starring Steve Carell and Paul Rudd, has a number of factors working in its favor. First, Mr. Roach's last three movies, Meet the Parents, Austin Powers in Goldmember and Meet the Fockers have averaged an astounding $220 million, indicating that he knows how to direct a hit. Also, there has yet to be a breakout comedy this summer: Get Him to the Greek was a mid-range performer, while Grown Ups has done average Adam Sandler business. In each summer dating back to 1995, at least one comedy has crossed the $100 million mark, and summer 2010's two remaining candidates for non-Sandler comedy glory are Dinner for Schmucks and The Other Guys in August.
Also out on July 30 is talking animal sequel Cats & Dogs: Revenge of Kitty Galore in 3D. The first Cats & Dogs opened in early July 2001 and generated $93.4 million (over $130 million adjusted). There's no indication that the original is remembered fondly (it has a "C+" grade from Box Office Mojo readers), and a long break often doesn't result in gains. Despite a recent slip-up with Marmaduke, though, the talking animal subgenre remains popular, and the comparable G-Force opened around the same time last year to $31.7 million on its way to a $119.4 million total.
Charlie St. Cloud debuts July 30 as well. The movie's star Zac Efron has had success outside of High School Musical, appearing in Hairspray and headlining 17 Again, which opened to $23.7 million before wrapping up at $64.2 million. 17 Again had a historically successful body switch comedy premise, but Charlie St. Cloud falls in the less-appealing romantic drama category (see Remember Me). With its supernatural component, it somewhat recalls The Lake House, which opened to $13.6 million in June 2006 and closed with $52.3 million.