After May and June set new monthly records, July 2013 is poised to get off to a strong start over Independence Day weekend. Opening at 3,956 locations on Wednesday, Despicable Me 2 should be able to leverage goodwill from the original movie in to at least $100 million in its first five days. Meanwhile, The Lone Ranger rides in to 3,904 theaters, though it will probably only open to about half as much as Despicable Me 2. Finally, Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain debuts nationwide in 876 theaters and will have one of the best starts ever for a stand-up movie. Despicable Me 2 opens almost exactly three years after the first Despicable Me, which earned a surprising $251.5 million and put upstart animation house Illumination Entertainment on the map. After being well-received by audiences at the time, Universal Pictures has done a nice job maintaining the Despicable brand in toy stores and in their theme parks. While Gru and his Minions may not have quite the same level of pop culture awareness as top-tier animated brands like Toy Story and Shrek, they've gotten about as close as you can with only one movie.
Fully aware of how strong the brand is, there hasn't been much of an attempt made at differentiating Despicable Me 2 from its predecessor. Instead, the marketing for Despicable Me 2 has mainly been geared around driving awareness: one of the posters even includes the tagline "Back 2 Work," which nicely sums up the messaging. More so than the first time around, advertisements are focused almost exclusively on the Minions, who are so popular that they have their own spin-off scheduled for release next year. Generating laughs with adults and children alike is critical to driving animated movie ticket sales, and Despicable Me 2 seems to have that angle locked down.
Animated sequels have a rocky track-record: for every movie that improves noticeably on its predecessor (Shrek 2), there's one that can't quite match up (Kung Fu Panda 2). While it's unlikely that Despicable Me 2 sees the kinds of monumental gains that the Shrek series did in its second outing, it should at least see noticeably higher initial attendance figures.
For the five-day opening, Universal is expecting at least $100 million, though early reports suggest it will wind up over $130 million.
After scoring with two safe bets (Iron Man 3 and Monsters University), Disney releases its big Summer 2013 gamble over the Fourth of July weekend. The Lone Ranger carries a reported budget north of $200 million, which may seem like a lot for a Western based on a character that probably reached the height of his popularity over 50 years ago. It's not as outrageous, though, when considering the movie is "from the team that brought you Pirates of the Caribbean", which through four entries has earned over $3.7 billion worldwide.
Unfortunately, the Pirates team has lost of a bit of its luster in recent years. Star Johnny Depp—who takes top-billing here for his role as Lone Ranger sidekick Tonto—is coming off the disappointing Dark Shadows ($79.7 million), and the last Pirates of the Caribbean movie was also the lowest-grossing entry at the domestic box office with just $241.1 million. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer has struggled outside of the franchise as well: in 2010, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and The Sorcerer's Apprentice earned $90.7 million and $63.2 million, respectively. Similar to The Lone Ranger, both of those movies were adventures based on established brands, and both pushed the Pirates of the Caribbean connection.
Still, The Lone Ranger should be able to drift off the Pirates franchise more than other efforts due to the fact that it has Depp and Bruckheimer (along with director Gore Verbinski) together again. Currently, the top debut ever for a live-action western belongs to 2011's Cowboys & Aliens ($36.4 million); initial reports suggest The Lone Ranger should be right around that level for the three-day frame, and wind up over $60 million for the five-day period. The movie has received awful reviews, though, and will likely be very front-loaded—a $60 million debut will likely translate to less than $150 million total.
In 2011, comedian Kevin Hart surprised many when his stand-up movie Kevin Hart: Laugh at My Pain earned $7.7 million despite never reaching more than 287 theaters. Two years later, he's back with Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain, which distributor Lionsgate is pushing out in to nationwide release. Hart's brand has improved in the last few years, and he again seems poised to surprise: early results indicate the movie could be headed to over $20 million by Sunday, which would make it one of the biggest success stories of the Summer so far.
Finally, Fox Searchlight is releasing Sundance hit The Way, Way Back in to 19 locations this weekend. The movie is being positioned as this Summer's Little Miss Sunshine, and Searchlight will likely push the movie towards a nationwide expansion throughout July.
Note: Because estimates are already rolling in, we're forgoing a formal forecast this weekend. Bar for Success Despicable Me 2 ultimately needs to match its predecessor's $250 million; if it opens to $110 million for the five days, it should be able to get there. Meanwhile, given its massive budget, The Lone Ranger needs at least $70 million to get a pass. Finally, if Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain matches Laugh at My Pain's $7.7 million total over opening weekend, it's in great shape.