Handicapping the summer movie clashes


The dust has barely settled on the 2009 movie year, but it’s never too early to look ahead to the promise and peril of 2010, especially its summer box-office showdowns.

About 40% of all movie tickets are sold between Memorial Day and Labor Day, and as the studios try to squeeze more dollars from the vacation season, they not only are expanding the parameters of what defines the summer (Marvel and Paramount’s “ Iron Man 2” opens on May 7) but also inevitably packing numerous movies into some key weekends like so many cars on the 405 Freeway.

As is often the case, some of the year’s most-anticipated movies -- DreamWorks’ “Shrek Forever After” on May 21, for example -- will open alone, with the competition steering clear. It’s the same wide berth given last summer to Paramount’s “Star Trek,” Sony’s “Angels & Demons” and Warner Bros.’ “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” all of which premiered with no new national releases against them.

But even with studios staking out release dates well beyond our imagining -- DreamWorks already has claimed May 25, 2012, for “Madagascar 3” and penciled in “Shrek 5” for 2013 -- it’s inevitable there will be any number of bloody clashes. This past summer, Sony’s “Year One” dared to premiere directly opposite Disney’s “The Proposal,” and we know how well that turned out for Jack Black.

Based on what agents, studio executives and filmmakers have been saying, here’s a look at some of this summer’s face-offs, with a handicapping of the races.

May 28

Disney’s “The Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” versus Warner Bros.’ ” Sex and the City 2.”

Horn: We all know how badly some recent video game adaptations have fared (remember “Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li”?), but Jerry Bruckheimer’s “Prince of Persia” feels like both a hit in its own right and the potential launch of a new franchise. The first “Sex and the City” grossed more than $150 million, but I’m taking sandstorms over shoes.

Fritz: No question “Persia” will open bigger thanks to a well-known brand among gamers, a hunky star ( Jake Gyllenhaal) and what look like phenomenal special effects. But Hollywood has a consistent track record of screwing up video game adaptations, while films aimed at older women such as “It’s Complicated” can play well for a very long time. So I’ll bet “Sex and the City” will win out in the long run, at least in the U.S. (as evidenced by “2012,” effects-laden tentpoles are often huge overseas regardless of what we Americans think).

June 11

Fox’s “The A-Team” versus Sony’s “The Karate Kid.”

Horn: Tough call. Family movies almost always over-perform in the summer: Look at Fox’s “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs,” which grossed nearly $900 million worldwide. Is Will Smith’s son Jaden the next Ralph Macchio, and Jackie Chan today’s Pat Morita? In a coin toss, the money’s on the remake of the movie, not the remake of the TV show.

Fritz: For those who recall when John had to make a tough call for a June weekend last year, he picked “Land of the Lost” over “ The Hangover.” That alone would be reason to disagree. But if Fox’s plan for “The A-Team” comes together as well as the ‘80s TV show did, it could be a potent mix of action and comedy driven by rising stars like Bradley Cooper, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and “ District 9’s” Sharlto Copley. Nostalgia alone, meanwhile, may not be enough to carry “The Karate Kid.” Just ask the makers of “Fame.”

June 18

Disney and Pixar’s “Toy Story 3” versus Paramount’s “Footloose.”

Horn: Underestimate Pixar at your own peril. “Toy Story 2” ($245.9 million domestically) outgrossed the first “Toy Story” ($191.8 million) and there’s no reason why the third Buzz and Woody film won’t do better than both.

Fritz: Gee, that’s almost as tough a call as “Avatar” versus “Did You Hear About the Morgans?” the weekend before Christmas. Given the track record of Pixar and this franchise in particular, I’d bet “Toy Story 3” won’t only beat its weekend competition but will be the biggest movie of the summer.

July 2

Fox’s “Knight and Day” versus Paramount’s “The Last Airbender” versus Summit’s “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse.”

Fritz: Unless an unexpected virus wipes out the global population of teenage girls, there’s no contest. The only question is whether “Eclipse” will beat “Knight and Day” and “Airbender” combined.

Horn: It’s foolish to bet against Hollywood’s hottest franchise (the first two “Twilight” movies have combined to gross more than $1 billion worldwide), and I’m no fool. But expect Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz’s “Knight and Day” and M. Night Shyamalan’s “Airbender” to do better than many people might expect.

July 16

Disney’s “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” versus

Warner Bros.’ “Inception.”

Horn: Chris Nolan and Leonardo DiCaprio’s “Inception” certainly looks like one of the cooler summer movies, and Nolan’s no slacker selling tickets, either (“The Dark Knight”). But as uneven a year as Disney suffered through in 2009, 2010 is looking a whole lot brighter, and “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” (from “National Treasure” director Jon Turteltaub) looks huge.

Fritz: Matching the star and director of “National Treasure” with a well-known company brand should be a home run for Disney. If new studio chairman Rich Ross has his marketing team in place and ready to launch a new film franchise, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” should be a big winner. “Inception,” meanwhile, looks more like Nolan’s critically acclaimed drama “The Prestige” (domestic total: $53 million) than “The Dark Knight.”

July 23

Paramount’s “Dinner for Schmucks” versus Sony’s “Salt.”

Fritz: Angelina Jolie kicking butt in “Salt” looks like a surefire success. However, “Schmucks” stars Zach Galifianakis, Paul Rudd and Steve Carell are as hot as they come in comedy these days. In a summer short on smart laughs, I’ll bet on “Schmucks” to be the “Hangover” of 2010.

Horn: If I’m not mistaken, Ben predicted that “The Blind Side” would open to about $20 million. It grossed $34 million in its first weekend. I’m not sure he’s wrong about “Schmucks,” though, but consider the source.

July 30

Warner Bros.’ “Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore” versus Universal’s “Little Fockers” versus Paramount’s “Morning Glory.”

Fritz: If I were Universal I might be worried about how long in the tooth the “Fockers” franchise is (“Meet the Parents” came out in 2000 and “Meet the Fockers” in 2004). But as John points out, “Cats and Dogs” is even older. And neither Harrison Ford nor Diane Keaton have carried a hit movie (without “Indiana” in the title, anyway) in quite a while, so I’ll go with “Little Fockers.”

Horn: It’s telling that the underdog here is the only original movie, Ford and Keaton’s “Morning Glory.” The Warners pets sequel comes nine years after the first “Cats & Dogs” movie, so the momentum (and the weekend) goes to Universal’s expensive “Fockers” sequel.

Aug. 6

Disney’s “Step Up 3-D” versus Sony’s “The Other Guys.”

Fritz: After seeing how 2009 went at the box office, would you bet on “Other Guys” star Will Ferrell over a 3-D installment of a series popular with young girls? I won’t.

Horn: Well, I bet the Kings would win the Stanley Cup, so I’m not scared of contrary thinking. Ferrell is reteaming with director Adam McKay (“Anchorman,” “Talladega Nights,” “Step Brothers”) so I say even if it had four dimensions, “Step Up” can’t win it.