Report: 2012 season could see fewer $100 million pics

The summer box office has been flying high overseas for several weeks now, and the season officially kicks off Stateside Friday with the launch of Disney-Marvel’s “The Avengers.” But some prognosticators estimate that a wealth of tentpoles might not be enough to beat last year’s record-setting summer.

Summer B.O. is forecast to trail last year’s $4.5 billion benchmark summer by 12%, with 17 films projected to earn more than $100 million domestically from the first weekend in May through Labor Day weekend, according to projections issued earlier this week by Barclays Capital. Last summer, 19 pics topped the $100 million threshold domestically.

A summer slowdown would be a turnaround from last year, when a weak first quarter sunk the overall B.O., only to rebound in

summer. So far in 2012, year-to-date domestic B.O. is outpacing last year by 14% and even up 5% over a record-setting 2009.

Still, bizzers aren’t relying solely on superheroes to grease summer turnstiles: Seven billion-dollar franchise installments — three more than last year’s high — are set to bow through August.

“There’s a huge variety of movies this summer,” said Universal distribution prexy Nikki Rocco. “What I see is that it’s going to be a gangbuster summer.”

The Barclays report estimates that “Avengers” and Warner Bros.’ “The Dark Knight Rises” will be this season’s highest-grossing films at around $400 million each. Sony’s “The Amazing Spider-Man,” Disney/Pixar’s “Brave” and DreamWorks Animation’s “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted,” from Paramount, are expected to follow in the $200 million-plus range.

Such projections — based on past comparisons and cast and filmmaker gross potential — don’t account for possible breakout hits. The forecast doesn’t include specialty films.

Consider last summer’s biggest surprises: Few predicted “Bridesmaids” would go on to gross $170 million domestically. The same goes for Woody Allen’s $57 million specialty hit “Midnight in Paris.”

Looking ahead to this summer, Universal hopes to follow its “Bridesmaids” success with another raunchy comedy, “Ted,” on July 13. Sony Pictures Classics, meanwhile, bows Allen’s latest “To Rome With Love,” which unspools June 22.

There are plenty of other potential standouts.

Fox’s Ridley Scott sci-fier “Prometheus,” which bows Stateside on June 8, has been tempting fans for months now; the studio created exclusive videos that feature elements from Scott’s “Alien” franchise. Fox initially tried to distance the pic from “Alien,” but since has embraced the connection.

Universal’s “Battleship” could surprise when it bows Stateside on May 18 if the film gains considerable steam outside its core teenage fanbase. The pic will have to impress quickly though, as Sony’s “Men in Black III” launches the next weekend, followed by U’s “Snow White and the Huntsman” on June 1, then “Prometheus” and “Madagascar 3.”

Bizzers are doing all they can to maximize the calendar both domestically and abroad.

“The marketplace really expands during the summer, but it’s also really competitive,” said Megan Colligan, prexy of domestic distribution and marketing for Paramount. “You have to work extra hard to make your film stand out.”

Paramount bumped back “The Dictator” from May 11 — the same date as Warner Bros.’ “Dark Shadows” — to Wednesday, May 16, distancing the pic slightly from “Battleship.” Par also moved up “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” to June 29 after originally dating the sequel last year for Aug. 10.

For “Retaliation,” Par added action star Dwayne Johnson, who at this year’s CinemaCon was referred to as “franchise Viagra,” after he helped reinvigorate series installments “Fast Five” and “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island.”

On the overseas front, “Avengers” launched a week before its U.S. bow and scored a whopping $260.5 million from 39 overseas territories through May 1. “Battleship,” which kick off its overseas run April 11 with $55.2 million from 26 territories, has amassed $185.4 million in a total of 47 markets.

“It certainly gets more challenging having the big guns enter the marketplace,” said Veronika Kwan Vandenberg, prexy of Warner Bros. Intl., who added that the Euro Cup soccer match brings challenges in dating the summer pics.

Though domestic distribs get to bypass the soccer pitch, London Summer Olympics telecasts from July 27 to Aug. 12 could still keep some Stateside moviegoers at home.

Fox launches two films during that period: sci-fi comedy “Neighborhood Watch” on July 27 and family pic “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days” Aug. 3. Summit bows dance pic “Step Up Revolution” on July 27. On the specialty front, LD Entertainment’s “Killer Joe” and Fox Searchlight’s “Ruby Sparks” both launch the weekend of the opening ceremony. Generally speaking, Summer Olympics skew more male than the Winter Games, though both events mostly attract families and over-25 viewers.

The games likely will have a limited effect on tentpoles such as “The Dark Knight Rises,” bowing July 20, as well as U’s “The Bourne Legacy” and Sony’s “Total Recall,” both of which launch Aug. 3. That’s because those pics — “The Dark Knight Rises,” especially — are considered event pics.

Pics including Sony’s Meryl Streep-Tommy Lee Jones starrer “Hope Springs” and Warner Bros.’ laffer “The Campaign” (both opening on Aug. 10); followed by Lionsgate-Summit’s “The Expendables 2″ on Aug. 17; and Open Road Films’ action-comedy “Hit and Run” (Aug. 24) help round out the summer.

Specialty labels are looking to stoke summer heat too.

Fox Searchlight has three additional summer releases — “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” (Friday), “Lola Versus” (June 8) and “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (June 27) — while Focus Features launches Cannes opener “Moonrise Kingdom” domestically on May 25, followed by “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” on June 22, and Laika toon “ParaNorman” on Aug. 17.

Other potential specialty standouts include FilmDistrict’s “Safety Not Guaranteed” on June 8, local French hit “The Intouchables,” which Weinstein debuts Stateside May 25, and Sony Classics’ Sundance pick-up “Celeste and Jesse Forever” on Aug. 3.

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