Summer doesn’t begin until June 20, but the summer blockbuster season unofficially started on May 5, when Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was released into theaters. I say “unofficially” because it used to be common practice for studios to debut their tentpole films no earlier than May, but in 2017, the year’s two highest grossers, Beauty and the Beast and The Fate of the Furious, came out in March and April, respectively. And they’re likely to stay at one-two until Star Wars: The Last Jedi cleans up at the box office in December. Or will they?
Here are the eight movies coming out this summer (and only the summer; so, no Justice League) that have the best chance of throwing Beast ($1.2 billion) off a castle and driving over Fate ($1.1 billion), so to speak, when it comes to international box office totals — and reasons why they will, or won’t, end the summer as the year’s highest-grossing film.
Pirates of the Caribbean 5 (May 26)
Why it will: That’s not actually the name of the movie. There’s a very lengthy subtitle, which has become a Pirates tradition. I bet even the biggest Gore Verbinski, Rob Marshall, and/or Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg fan couldn’t place these films in chronological order. Does Dead Man’s Chest come before or after On Stranger Tides? And is Walk the Plank the third or fourth film in the series? I’m also willing to wager that most people wouldn’t be able to name the highest-grossing Pirates movie. Hint: it’s 2006’s Dead Man’s Chest (that’s the second one) with $1.066 billion, followed by 2011’s On Stranger Tides with $1.045 billion (that’s the fifth one). Walk the Plank didn’t make the cut, because it doesn’t exist. And that’s kind of the point.
Why it won’t: The Pirates of the Caribbean films have made over $3.7 billion at the box office, but besides the original Curse of the Black Pearl, it’s the most anonymous multi-billion dollar franchise ever, at least until Avatar 2 comes out. On Stranger Tides was more grating than fun, and although Dead Men Tell No Tales (the new one) has something that film doesn’t — the return, however brief, of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley — the world has turned on Johnny Depp in the last six years. Pirates 5 received solid buzz coming out of CinemaCon, but it might be too little, too late to topple Beauty.
Wonder Woman (June 2)
Why it will: It’s a superhero movie. Not only that, but it’s the first superhero in the DC Extended Universe (which began with Man of Steel) or Marvel Cinematic Universe (Iron Man) to be headlined by a female superhero, one who’s been waiting for a feature film treatment for a long time.
Why it won’t: Wonder Woman is expected to make $65 million in its first weekend of release, which, as Deadline noted, is “on par with the feature starts of such other big superhero properties as 2011’s Captain America: First Avenger ($65 million) and Thor ($65.7 million).” Those films ended up bringing in $370 million and $449 million, which is solid, but not solid enough to reach the top spot for the year.
Cars 3 (June 16)
Why it will: Children freaking love Cars. I worked as a camp counselor the year the original came out, and all the kids in my group owned at least one piece of Cars merchandise. You haven’t seen a temper tantrum until you’ve seen a five-year-old freak out when he thinks he lost his Mater towel. You know what else children freaking love? Spending their parents’ money. There’s a two-week gap between fellow kiddie fare Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie and Cars 3 — that gives the Disney Channel more than enough to remind Lil’ Johnny and Jenny that there’s a new Lighting McQueen adventure coming out. It will make Krusty the Clown seem restrained by comparison.
Why it won’t: Cars 2 made more money than Cars, but it still only (“only”) added $562 million to Disney’s comically-large money vault. Cars is bigger as a brand — shirts, backpacks, Mater towels — than as a franchise.
Transformers: The Last Knight (June 21)
Why it will: If any movie on this list is going to topple Beauty and the Beast, it’s this one. The most recent Transformers film, Age of Extinction, was a domestic disappointment ($245.4 million, the lowest in the series) but a massive international hit (a worldwide total of $1.1 billion, just shy of the highest). The Last Knight, which adds the immensely overqualified Anthony Hopkins to the fold, might do even better. Director Michael Bay is done with “probably the most iconic franchise in movie history” after this one, which should bring in some curiosity-seekers to see how he wraps up his tenure (Transformers is peak “Eh, there’s nothing to do and it’s so hot outside, wanna go see…?”) Plus, there are dragons and Nazis. These movies are insane.
Why it won’t: Honestly, I think it might. Transformers is one of America’s biggest cinematic exports, because there’s no language barrier to overcome. Robots beating the junk out of each other is universally understood.
Despicable Me 3 (June 30)
Why it will: Every installment in the Despicable Me franchise has made more money than the last. The original: $543.1 million. Despicable Me 2: $970.7 million. Minions (as in, the spinoff about farting Twinkies): $1.1 billion. At this rate, Despicable Me 3 (which even adults might enjoy: South Park creator Trey Parker voices the villain in his first-ever movie role without Matt Stone) should bring in enough dough to buy the world’s supply of bananas. I give Dave & Co. the second best odds of usurping Beauty, after Transformers.
Why it won’t: The world has to get tired of Minions someday, right? Right…?
Spider-Man: Homecoming (July 7)
Why it will: The Amazing Spider-Man and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 didn’t exactly fizzle at the box office (they both made over $700 million), but they’re duds compared to Sam Raimi’s superior original trilogy, even before being adjusted for inflation. Was it Peter Parker fatigue, or were the Amazing movies a classic case of false advertising? It looks like the latter: Spider-Man: Homecoming, starring age-appropriate Captain America: Civil War breakout Tom Holland, is on pace for a $135 million opening weekend and “$325 million in total at the domestic box office.” If even Spider-Man 3 can bring in $890 million, then Homecoming should have no problem cracking $1 billion, maybe even more with the involvement of Robert Downey, Jr.’s Iron Man.
Why it won’t: As noted by Box Office Pro, Homecoming is the “third tentpole comic book film to open within two months’ time,” after Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Wonder Woman, so “audience demand to return to the genre won’t exactly be at its peak.” That could dampen the enthusiasm just enough to keep your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man out of first place.
Dunkirk (July 21)
Why it will: I heard someone once describe Christopher Nolan as the thinking man’s Michael Bay. It’s an apt comparison. Both directors make massive, visually stimulating cinematic experiences (“film” is too weak a word), but they use the screen differently: Bay fills it with as many robots as possible, while Nolan prefers epic landscapes and perspective shifts. Dunkirk is being billed as this summer’s “adult blockbuster,” which should attract interest from cinephiles, and the trailer makes it seem like something you need to watch in a theater, not wait until it’s out on DVD. Plus, oh my God, that Harry Styles is SO CUTE. Directioners should add a couple million to Dunkirk‘s final total.
Why it won’t: The only two Nolan movies to bank $1 billion are The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises. As far as I can tell, Dunkirk doesn’t star Batman (although it should, as should every movie).
The Dark Tower (August 4)
Why it will: August is usually a rough time at the box office for blockbusters — families are on one last vacation before school resumes, hoping to soak up as much sun as Sheryl Crow — but it’s particularly dire this year. (It’s promising for smaller films, though: Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit, Ingrid Goes West, and Logan Lucky, which I’ve already decided is my favorite movie of the year, all come out in a three-week span.) If you have a kid, your only choice is The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature, and if you want to watch something loud and expensive, you’re stuck with finally getting around to Atomic Blonde or The Dark Tower. To be fair, although the film stars Idris Elba and Matthew Matthew McConaughey, and it’s based on one of Stephen King’s most popular works, The Dark Tower isn’t your typical loud and expensive blockbuster…
Why it won’t: The Dark Tower series consists of seven books, each more convoluted than the last. The mythology is dense, and the fact that this big screen adaptation has been in the works for a decade isn’t promising. For The Dark Tower to have a chance at breaking the top-10, let alone the top-one, it would need incredible word of mouth buzz. And for Universal and Paramount to hold Despicable Me 3 and Transformers: The Last Knight back a year.