Minions, multiverses, and Maverick are all on the slate for the first full-fledged summer movie season in years.
Summer moviegoing was fairly nonexistent in 2020 during the pandemic, and in 2021 it was still subdued as many big films debuted on streaming. But the outlook is better for theaters this year, even if the summer slate is lighter than was normal pre-COVID. Just one movie has grossed over $1 billion worldwide since the pandemic began, but three or more could pass that threshold this summer alone.
Before the season kicks off on May 6, here are some of the biggest questions about how it will play out and what the implications could be for the future of the industry.
Will Dominion end the Jurassic World trilogy with a bang?
Just how massive of an event will the trilogy-capping Jurassic World Dominion (June 10) be? The previous installments grossed a huge $1.6 billion and $1.3 billion, respectively. But will this be a Star Wars sequel trilogy situation, where the third entry is the least successful? Probably not for one big reason: Jurassic World saved its best box office play — the return of the original Jurassic Park trio — for last. That nostalgia should propel it to around $1.5 billion or more worldwide, and if the summer ends up having a single must see movie, this could be it.
Does Marvel have two $1 billion films on its hands?
Marvel has two big summer blockbusters scheduled with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (May 6) and Thor: Love and Thunder (July 8), and there's a chance they'll both cross the $1 billion mark. The last Thor film got close with $853 million, and the kind of light, colorful adventure director Taika Waititi provides may be just what audiences are craving mid-summer.
Multiverse of Madness, which kicks off the summer, is also the direct follow-up not just to one of Marvel's biggest hits ever, Spider-Man: No Way Home, but to the streaming sensation WandaVision. Plus, it looks to have a few No Way Home-style cameos in store that could boost interest. For those reasons, Multiverse of Madness will likely be the bigger hit of the two, but either way, it will be another great summer for Disney. What else is new?
Will we see several animated smash hits?
This summer should offer strong evidence that family movies can still do well, and even phenomenally well, during the pandemic. First, after two years of Pixar movies skipping theaters, the studio returns to multiplexes with the Toy Story spinoff Lightyear (June 17). Its premise is somewhat confusing — it's a movie that the characters in Toy Story would have gone to see — but the Toy Story and Pixar brands are likely strong enough to overcome that, making this the biggest animated hit of the pandemic.
Soon after, there's Minions: The Rise of Gru (July 1). It's an open question whether Minions fatigue will start to set in after more than a decade, but there was no sign of that when Despicable Me 3 grossed over $1 billion in 2017. DC League of Super-Pets could be another animated success story, and by the end of the summer, it will likely be clear as ever there's no need to send family films like Turning Red straight to streaming anymore.
Do audiences feel the need for another Top Gun?
Top Gun: Maverick (May 27) may be the season's biggest question mark. On paper, it seems like it should be a hit, especially because of how well the recent Mission: Impossible films have performed. But this is also a long-delayed sequel to a 36-year old movie that younger audiences may not be as familiar with. Unfortunately, it's also releasing at a time when younger people are mostly the ones going to the movies. Will those who are nostalgic for the original Top Gun turn out, and can the film still appeal to those who aren't? If not, don't be stunned if this one goes the way of Independence Day: Resurgence, another action sequel released decades later that grossed far less than its predecessor.
Could Nope become Jordan Peele's biggest movie?
Jordan Peele has quickly become a director whose name alone gets audiences to turn out, and Nope should have no problem matching the success of Get Out and Us. In fact, the intriguing first trailer, which teases what looks like an alien invasion epic, suggests it could even outperform them. If Peele's previous work is anything to go by, Nope could also provoke the most conversations of any summer movie. It remains to be seen, though, if it will be another awards player like Get Out or see Peele miss out on the Oscar conversation again as with Us.
Will older moviegoers return for Downton Abbey?
The original Downton Abbey film was a big hit, grossing over $230 million worldwide. But like the original, the sequel A New Era targets an older demographic that has generally been more reluctant to return to theaters during the pandemic. Will that trend continue this summer, or could Downton be the movie that helps break it?
Are there any other awards contenders in the mix?
2022's Best Picture winner, CODA, was technically a summer movie, so are there any future award contenders on the schedule? Most of the big ones are releasing in the fall, but don't sleep on Cha Cha Real Smooth. Like CODA, the Dakota Johnson dramedy got strong reviews out of Sundance and was snapped up by Apple for a summer streaming release. The biopic Elvis is also worth keeping an eye on, and that could also be a surprise box office hit in the vein of Rocketman. Where the Crawdads Sing might have some awards potential, as well, if only to score Taylor Swift an original song nomination.
What non-franchise movies could break out — if any?
As theaters seek to recover from the pandemic, the million-dollar question is whether audiences will still turn out for movies that aren't part of large franchises. The recent successes The Lost City and Everything Everywhere All at Once suggests they might, though the days when an original movie like 2019's Once Upon a Time... In Hollywood could gross almost $400 million over the summer might be gone for good.
This summer, non-franchise movies like Nope and Elvis, or perhaps the action film Bullet Train or the horror film The Black Phone, performing better than expected would be a great sign for the industry. But if movies without major IP attached keep disappointing the way Michael Bay's Ambulance recently did, a future where the multiplex is nothing but Marvel movies competing against each other may be frighteningly close.