The second half of 2018 has a lot to live up to. “Black Panther,” “Incredibles 2,” and “A Quiet Place” were just a few titles to generate big business and help bolster the box office to near-record heights.
Summer alleviated fears of franchise fatigue when a number of over-performing movies — “Avengers: Infinity War,” “Mission: Impossible – Fallout,” and “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” to name a few — propelled popcorn season earnings 14% ahead of 2017. But it can’t be sunny skies forever. Studio executives are privately fretting that the back half of the year might not have as much firepower.
It’s the first time in four years that the box office doesn’t have a “Star Wars” installment or Disney/Marvel movie to pad numbers during the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons. That means studios and exhibitors are banking on some unexpected breakouts to resonate with audiences.
With that said, Variety took a hard look at the slate of movies still ahead to predict the sure-fire hits and the big risks.
THE SAFE BETS:
1. “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” (Nov. 16)
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter could be just the thing to inject a little magic into the holiday season. “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” proved the franchise can thrive even without everyone’s favorite boy wizard. The first film in the prequel trilogy garnered universal acclaim and generated a lofty $814 million worldwide. It even became the first “Harry Potter” movie to win an Oscar. Interest has only heightened for the sequel now that Warner Bros. added Jude Law into the mix. And given Johnny Depp’s appearance at Comic-Con, the studio doesn’t seem too worried about reactions to the controversy around the actor.
2. “A Star Is Born” (Oct. 5)
Two words: Lady Gaga. If the Venice Film Festival’s rapturous reception to Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut is any indication, “A Star Is Born” looks to be one of the buzziest movies this fall. It’s already being touted as an Oscar frontrunner, and some are even predicting the musical drama can take home all five major Academy Awards. This go-round is the third remake of the 1937 film about an alcoholic musician who falls in love with an up-and-coming singer. In case the 30-second preview of Gaga belting out “The Shallows” in the emotional trailer isn’t enticing enough, perhaps the curiosity of finding out if Cooper can carry a tune will be enough to pack theaters.
3. “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” (Nov. 9)
Rooney Mara left big shoes to fill as Lisbeth Salander in “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” But if anyone is up for the job, it’s the queen herself, Claire Foy. The reboot doesn’t have director David Fincher at the helm this time, so it will be interesting to see if Lisbeth is able to stir up enough intrigue on her own. It should also benefit from some counter-programming since it opens against Universal’s family-friendly “The Grinch.”
4. “Mary Poppins Returns” (Dec. 19)
Ah, nothing like a little nostalgia around the holidays. That’s, at least, what Disney is hoping when they drop “Mary Poppins Returns” a whopping 54 years after Julie Andrews assumed the iconic role. Just because Lyndon B. Johnson was president when the original film was released doesn’t mean the magical nanny has gotten any less appealing. Andrews passed off her signature hat and umbrella to Emily Blunt for the sequel, but Blunt sounds so much like Andrews in the trailer, if you aren’t looking, you might forget who is feeding you a spoonful of sugar. Plus, “Hamilton” fans will be excited to see Lin-Manuel Miranda tackle the big screen as a lamplighter named Jack.
5. “Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch” (Nov. 9)
The joy of the holiday season isn’t for everyone. If December doesn’t leave you feeling warm and fuzzy inside, you’ve got company. Jim Carrey’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” is still the second-highest grossing holiday movie of all time, and Universal is hoping to cash in on a little of that charm. And who better to voice the green grouch who ruins Christmas than Benedict Cumberbatch?
THE QUESTION MARKS:
1. “Aquaman” (Dec. 21)
The DC Extended Universe is something of a mixed bag. Gal Gadot and Patty Jenkins proved Warner Bros. comic book films can churn out a hit when “Wonder Woman” smashed expectations last summer. But then there’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Justice League” — do we even need to remind you how those two fared? It’s safe to say that moviegoers, at the very least, will be curious to see how “Aquaman” will stack up. The studio is trying to guide their comic book pics in the direction of the massive popularity Marvel movies, but will Jason Momoa be enough to steer the franchise into clearer waters? If not, at least we get to see Nicole Kidman as the queen we already know she is.
2. “Bohemian Rhapsody” (Nov. 2)
Audiences love an underdog! OK, one of the most legendary British rock bands in history has a pretty big following — but once upon a time, Freddie Mercury had to convince producers to play Queen songs on the radio. As the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20. Rami Malek perfectly embodies the iconic frontman, who gives audiences a front-row seat at the unconventional tactics used to create songs that now span generations. Still, the turmoil around director Bryan Singer could taint the biopic. Three days after Singer was fired as director, he was sued for allegedly raping a 17-year-old boy. Despite being replaced by Dexter Fletcher during the latter stages of the shoot, Singer will still retain sole directing credit on “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
3. “Mortal Engines” (Dec. 14)
Peter Jackson has had massive success adapting the “Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings” trilogies. Will lightning be able to strike again? “Mortal Engines” is also based on a book series — this one, a post-apocalyptic steampunk adventure — but its expensive $100 million production budget makes it a gamble.
4. “Alita: Battle Angel” (Dec. 21)
“Alita: Battle Angel’s” most telling challenge might be its tough release date. It opens in a crowded weekend alongside five major premieres: “Aquaman,” “Bumblebee,” Will Ferrell’s “Holmes and Watson,” and the Steve Carell drama “Welcome to Marwen.” Though it’s produced by James Cameron and directed by Robert Rodriguez, without a well-known character, it may be difficult for the cyborg heroine to stand out among the pack and justify its costly price tag estimated to be over $175 million.
5. “Bumblebee” (Dec. 21)
Forgive us for being skeptical, but the last “Transformers” movie didn’t exactly leave us clamoring for more. Five films in, the once-beloved franchise seems to be running on fumes. And it doesn’t help that Michael Bay has forgone directing duties for “Bumblebee.” The sixth installment could breathe new life into the tired series, however, as the prequel adds Hailee Steinfeld into the mix as a teenager who befriends a familiar face — Bumblebee. After 2017’s “Transformers: The Last Knight” brought the worst box office receipts of the franchise, can it go up from here?