Summer 2011 holds the current record with $4.4 billion—with around 20 movies likely to earn over $100 million, it's almost a foregone conclusion that Summer 2013 will wind up exceeding that figure.
Ahead of the beginning of the season, here are predictions for the Top 20 domestic titles (with foreign forecast included as well), along with some thoughts on other major titles coming up in the next four months. 1. Iron Man 3 (May 3): When the second entry in a franchise is poorly received—as was the case with Iron Man 2—that typically indicates that the third movie will see a decline in domestic box office. Iron Man 3 should be able to buck this trend, though, since it's technically a follow-up to last May's universally loved (and incredibly successful) superhero team-up The Avengers. While Iron Man 3 won't match The Avengers's $623.4 million, it should be the highest-grossing entry in the Iron Man franchise thanks to its great release date, strong early word-of-mouth, and goodwill from The Avengers. (Domestic: $400 million, Foreign: $600 million)
2. Despicable Me 2 (July 3): The first Despicable Me surprised many and put Illumination Entertainment on the map when it earned $261.5 million in Summer 2010. The movie was also very well-liked—the Minions in particular are already iconic—and the sequel ups the ante story-wise with supervillain Gru recruited by a government agency to stop another supervillain. Still, with the exception of Shrek 2, most animated sequels tend to wind up at about the same level as their predecessor. Despicable Me 2 will be one of the highest-grossing movies of the Summer—just don't expect it to join the ranks of $400 million animated movies Toy Story 3 and Shrek 2. (Domestic: $300 million; Foreign: $410 million)
3. Man of Steel (June 14): With his superhuman strength and somewhat bland personality, it's been tough to get Superman to stand out against Batman, Spider-Man and the like in the past few decades: 2006's Superman Returns did decent business ($200 million domestic) but was widely considered a creative disappointment. With Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan providing guidance to director Zack Snyder, though, it appears Man of Steel has found a way to make the invincible superhero seem accessible to general audiences. The movie's previews have received tons of praise so far, and if it's as good as rumors suggest, then Warner Bros. should have a pretty big hit on their hands. (Domestic: $290 million, Foreign: $360 million) 4. Monsters University (June 21): Almost 12 years after Monsters, Inc. grossed $255.9 million (at the time, an all-time high for Pixar), prequel Monsters University reaches theaters. Pixar has had mixed success with franchise fare: Toy Story 3 became their highest-grossing movie ever in 2010 with $415 million, though Cars 2 wound up noticeably lower than its predecessor ($191.5 million vs. $244.1 million). Monsters, Inc. is more popular than Cars was, and there's more ticket price inflation kicking in here. Still, prequels are inherently unnecessary—we already know Mike and Sully become best friends and elite scarers—so a Toy Story 3 bump appears out of the question as well. (Domestic: $280 million; Foreign: $470 million) 5. Star Trek Into Darkness (May 17): The 2009 Star Trek reboot was a surprise hit with $257.7 million, and maintains a very strong reputation four years later (it has a spot in IMDb's Top 250). Usually this would mean that the sequel would noticeably outperform its predecessor: unfortunately, the movie seems to be having a tough time standing out amidst the crowded May schedule, and early word indicates that it isn't a leap forward in quality. Even if it does wind up around the same level domestically as the first movie, though, four years of strong word-of-mouth and the addition of 3D will at least translate in to significantly higher foreign grosses. (Domestic: $250 million, Foreign: $400 million) 6. Fast & Furious 6 (May 24): Most franchises hit their peak around the second or third outing: for the Fast and Furious series, though, its highest-grossing entry is the fifth one, which earned $209.8 million in 2011. With the return of all major cast members, an interesting new location (London) and previews that feature some fantastic vehicular action, all signs point to the sixth movie being at least equally successful. Still, it's competing with the second weekend of Star Trek Into Darkness and the opening of The Hangover Part III, and that should keep it from improving drastically on Fast Five. (Domestic Forecast: $215 million, Foreign Forecast: $500 million) 7. The Heat (June 28): Hollywood often neglects women, though rarely has it been as obvious as it is in Summer 2013: it will be nearly two months in to the season before the first live-action nationwide release with a female lead arrives. That movie is The Heat, which finds two funny and likeable ladies—Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy—teaming up as mismatched cops. If The Heat turns out to be really funny—and with Bridesmaids director Paul Feig at the helm, there's a good chance it is—it will easily be a major mid-Summer comedy hit. (Domestic: $155 million, Foreign: $125 million) 8. The Hangover Part III (May 24): The first two Hangover movies are two of the most successful comedies ever with $277.3 million and $254.5 million, respectively. Unfortunately, the second one is largely reviled, and the third movie's previews are surprisingly low on laughs. A good comparison for The Hangover Part III is Little Fockers, which was the follow-up to a disappointing sequel. It dropped 47 percent from its predecessor; with tough competition in late May, a similar fall wouldn't be surprising for The Hangover Part III. (Domestic: $150 million, Foreign: $300 million) 9. Pacific Rim (July 12): Previews for director Guillermo Del Toro's monsters vs. robots movie have received overwhelmingly positive reactions from the geek community, and the movie has a great spot on the July release schedule (distributor Warner Bros. has scored in mid-July in each of the past four Summers). Unfortunately, this is a case where the online buzz is likely to outweigh the movie's actual box office haul—it's going to score with younger males, but it probably won't break out beyond that group too much. It does, at least, have huge overseas potential, which should make this a worldwide hit. (Domestic: $145 million, Foreign: $330 million) 10. White House Down (June 28): The year's first White House invasion movie, Olympus Has Fallen, was a major hit for indie distributor FilmDistrict, and is on its way to a final total around $95 million. While that might sound like it would be a problem for White House Down, history suggests two closely-timed, nearly-identical movies can actually both succeed. In this case, the best example is the Deep Impact vs. Armageddon battle in 1998: Deep Impact earned $140.5 million in May, but two months later Armageddon outgrossed it with $201.6 million. With a noticeably bigger budget and big-time stars Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx, it wouldn't be surprising if White House Down takes a similar leap over Olympus Has Fallen. (Domestic: $140 million, Foreign: $190 million)
11. Lone Ranger (July 3): A decade ago, star Johnny Depp, director Gore Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer bucked the trend of unsuccessful pirates movies with Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, which spawned one of the most successful franchises ever. That crew is looking to do the same thing for Westerns with The Lone Ranger, though that's easier said than done. Depp's schtick is struggling a bit lately—the fourth Pirates movie was the lowest-grossing one yet, and last Summer's Dark Shadows couldn't even get to $80 million. Additionally, previews for The Lone Ranger still aren't really gelling, despite what seems like a valiant effort from Disney. Expect slightly higher grosses than other big-budget Westerns like Cowboys & Aliens ($100.2 million) and Wild Wild West ($113.8 million), but not by much. (Domestic: $135 million, Foreign: $270 million)