Box Office Predictions for 2020: From Surefire Hits to Potential Busts

The box office has something to prove this year.

Moviegoers flocked en masse in 2019 to watch key Avengers hang up their suits and shields, the Clown Prince of Crime descend into madness and Simba take the throne (again). And yet, the domestic box office slipped 4% to $11.4 billion, down from 2018’s record high of $11.9 billion. But despite the downturn in ticket sales, studios and theater owners alike remain steadfast that moviegoing is far from a thing of the past.

Industry experts are optimistic that James Bond, Wonder Woman and Vin Diesel will reignite audience’s fervor for the theatrical experience and entice moviegoers looking for some big-screen pyrotechnics. But amid superhero spinoffs and franchise sequels, there will be inevitable whiffs. Some would-be blockbusters land with a thud (just ask the makers of last year’s “Cats”).

With that said, Variety took a peek inside its crystal ball to predict this year’s expected blockbusters and potential misfires.

SURE THINGS

“No Time to Die” (MGM)

Release Date:
April 8

What Looks Strong:
Daniel Craig is bringing James Bond out of retirement for what he promises to be the last time in “No Time to Die.” It’s rare that 25 films in, a property can still keeps fans asking for more. Another bonus: “Fleabag” creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge did a polish on the script. Does that mean we can call him “Hot Bond”?

Causes for Concern:
Nobody, not even 007, is immune to franchise fatigue. The long-running series has already seen diminishing returns with 2015’s “Spectre” ($880 million) after setting a new box-office benchmark with 2012’s “Skyfall” ($1.1 billion). That’s to say nothing of behind-the-scenes turmoil, including a director shakeup over “creative differences.”

Verdict:
Pent-up excitement to see Craig’s fifth and final take on the British secret agent will help “No Time to Die” go out on a series high.

“Black Widow” (Disney)

Release Date:
May 1

What Looks Strong:
Scarlett Johansson’s original Soviet-spy-turned-avenging-angel returns for this semi-prequel set in the time period between “Captain America: Civil War” and “Avengers: Infinity War.” Fans have been asking — nay, demanding — for years that Natasha Romanoff get her own movie, and director Cate Shortland had the foresight to cast 2019’s breakout star Florence Pugh as Black Widow’s sister.

Causes for Concern:
The compelling trailer nonetheless makes clear that “Black Widow” is operating on a far smaller scale than the gargantuan “Infinity War” and “Endgame.” Its box office returns could end up with similarly modest proportions.

Verdict:
C’mon. This is going to slay.

“Fast & Furious 9” (Universal)

Release Date:
May 22

What Looks Strong:
Fast cars, sinewy men and big explosions never seem to fall out of favor with moviegoers. Even nine films in, the “Fast” franchise — this time putting the spotlight on Vin Diesel’s Dom and Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty — still looks muscular.

Causes for Concern:
For the first time in almost 10 years, Dwayne Johnson won’t be getting down and dirty on the streets. That could prove problematic overseas, where the Rock is a massive draw.

Verdict:
The “Fast” series will eventually take its final lap in theaters, but the ninth chapter will pay big dividends.

“Wonder Woman 1984” (Warner Bros.)

Release Date:
June 4

What Looks Strong:
The first “Wonder Woman” was easily the most well received DC Comics adaptation since 2008’s “The Dark Knight,” and helped to set the stage for “Aquaman’s” $1.15 billion global take. With director Patty Jenkins returning — and savvily updating the action from World War I grit to Reagan-era power suits — there’s every reason to expect Gal Gadot’s lasso-wielding heroine will join the billion-dollar club, too.

Causes for Concern:
Um. Audiences might not dig seeing Diana Prince in shoulder pads?

Verdict:
Expect “Wonder Woman 1984” to take the box office tiara for the year.


SAFE BETS

“Onward” (Disney)

Release Date:
March 6

What Looks Strong:
Pixar’s first original film since 2017’s “Coco” engages the animation studio’s two biggest sweet spots: An innovative setting in a fantasy world — elves, trolls, dragons, etc. — that has largely forgotten magic as it’s entered modernity; and a heartfelt story about two brothers, voiced by Chris Pratt and Tom Holland, on a quest to reunite with their deceased father.

Causes for Concern:
“Onward” is the first Pixar film to open in March (virtually all the rest have premiered either in June or November), so it’s unclear whether audiences will flock to this film with the same blockbuster enthusiasm.

Verdict:
Then again, there’s no other family film competition in sight, so this film is likely “Onward” to commerical glory.

“Top Gun: Maverick” (Paramount)

Release Date:
June 26

What Looks Strong:
Tom Cruise is one of the last true movie stars, and “Top Gun: Maverick” sees the A-list actor revisit one of his most iconic roles.

Causes for Concern:
Studios can’t bank on name recognition alone when reviving a beloved property. Just ask “Charlie’s Angels,” “Terminator” or “Men in Black.” And getting Cruise back in the cockpit didn’t come cheap — the sequel cost over $100 million.

Verdict:
Paramount needs to recreate a must-see factor for “Top Gun: Maverick” to take flight.

“In the Heights” (Warner Bros.)

Release Date:
June 26

What Looks Strong:
Lin-Manuel Miranda became a household name after the smash success of “Hamilton.” But his first musical, “In the Heights,” set in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, was another triumph that boasts equally catchy tunes and even faster raps. Plus, director Jon M. Chu, best known for 2018’s hit “Crazy Rich Asians,” certainly knows a thing or two about adaptations.

Causes for Concern:
The musical, which features a relatively unknown cast, will have to compete for screens with “Wonder Woman: 1984,” Pixar’s “Soul” and “Top Gun: Maverick” in the heat of summer.

Verdict:
If reception to the trailer is any indication, fans are eager to see Washington Heights on the big screen.

“Tenet” (Warner Bros.)

Release date:
July 17

What Looks Strong:
Director Christopher Nolan comes as close as one gets to a reliable big-screen draw. In a sign of confidence, Warner Bros. began airing trailers for the action thriller in theaters, where Nolan insists it’s made to be seen, more than six months ahead of its debut.

Causes for Concern:
“Tenet” carries a huge $205 million price tag, so the blockbuster-hopeful will need to become a massive commercial hit to turn a profit. And aside from its vague tagline, setting the high-stakes epic in the world of international espionage, the premise is still basically a mystery.

Verdict:
If Nolan, along with stars John David Washington and Robert Pattinson can win over critics, “Tenet” could mark another success for both Nolan and the state of moviegoing.

“Venom 2” (Sony Pictures)

Release Date:
Oct. 2

What Looks Strong:
Tom Hardy returns as the titular alien symbiote and his human host Eddie Brock, this time with Woody Harrelson as one of Venom’s biggest adversaries, Cletus Kasady, aka Carnage — who appeared in the post-credits teaser from the first film in 2018. That was a major hit for Sony, grossing $856 million worldwide, proving that Spider-verse characters could work on their own without the webslinger’s presence.

Causes for Concern:
“Venom” was the only comic book movie to premiere in the fall of 2018, but “Venom 2” will open between Fox’s “The King’s Man” in September and Marvel Studios’ “Eternals” in November.

Verdict:
This is as close to a surefire hit as Sony has this year.


QUESTION MARKS

“Ghostbusters: Afterlife” (Sony Pictures)

Release Date:
July 10

What Looks Strong:
Jason Reitman takes directing reins from his father for this continuation of the original 1980s horror-comedy franchise. This go-around transplants the action from New York City to a small, rural town and focuses on a single mother (Carrie Coon) and her two children (Finn Wolfhard and Mckenna Grace). Original “Ghostbusters” stars Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver, Annie Potts and Bill Murray are all expected to reprise their original roles.

Causes for Concern:
Resurrecting decades-old franchises has been a dicey prospect lately, and we all lived through what happened to Paul Feig’s distaff version of “Ghostbusters” in 2016.

Verdict:
If Reitman can pull this off, this new “Ghostbusters” could scare up a needed win for Sony.

“Morbius” (Sony Pictures)

Release date:
July 31

What Looks Strong:
After “Venom’s” success, Sony continues its series of spinoff movies based on Spider-Man rogues with this film about a biochemist (Jared Leto) who tries to cure his rare blood disease but — oops — turns himself into a vampire instead.

Causes for Concern:
Outside one “Twilight” film, vampire movies haven’t historically done all that well during the summer.

Verdict:
It will likely draw some blood, but won’t suck the box office dry.

“The Many Saints of Newark” (Warner Bros.)

Release Date:
Sept. 25

What Looks Strong:
There’s comfort in the familiar, and “The Many Saints of Newark” brings viewers back to a world they loved to watch — from a distance — in “The Sopranos.” It helps that David Chase, the mastermind behind the original series, wrote and produced the prequel.

Causes for Concern:
“The Sopranos” wrapped over a decade ago, and appetite for even a beloved series is wont to diminish over time.

Verdict:
“Entourage,” “Sex and the City” and “Downton Abbey” have proved TV-to-movie adaptations don’t need outsized critical approval to turn a profit.

“Dune” (Warner Bros.)

Release date:
Dec. 18

What Looks Strong:
Director Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival,” “Blade Runner 2049”) has brought his unique eye to Frank Herbert’s seminal 1965 sci-fi novel, and he’s assembled a killer cast to do it: Timothée Chalamet, Oscar Isaac, Zendaya, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Rebecca Ferguson, Stellan Skarsgard and Jason Momoa.

Causes for Concern:
David Lynch’s 1984 version of “Dune” starring Kyle MacLachlan has its admirers, but it was a box office and critical flop, suggesting that Herbert’s complex and cerebral story isn’t a great fit for a big budget cinematic treatment.

Verdict:
The risks here are high, but given Villeneuve’s enviable track record with prestige sci-fi thus far, the rewards could be great.

“West Side Story” (Disney / 20th Century Fox)

Release Date:
Dec. 18

What Looks Strong:
Steven Spielberg is bringing a fresh lens to one of the most well-known musicals. Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway classic, itself based on “Romeo and Juliet,” has already proven it can be a success on-screen — the 1961 adaptation was the second-highest grossing movie that year and won 10 Oscars.

Causes for Concern:
Musicals can be hit or miss at the box office, and “West Side Story” is a remake of a movie that was popularized back in an era when John F. Kennedy was president.

Verdict:
Will lightning strike twice? That depends heavily on the unproven star power of Ansel Elgort and his co-star, newcomer Rachel Zegler.


BIGGEST RISKS

“Dolittle” (Universal)

Release Date:
Jan. 17

What Looks Strong:
Robert Downey Jr., at his worst, still knows how to lay on the charm. Plus, it premieres over the long Martin Luther King Jr. weekend when kids are out of school.

Causes for Concern:
Does anybody even know this movie is coming out? Most press about “Dolittle” has surrounded extensive reshoots after poor test screenings. Overhauling the film could help save face, but it didn’t come cheap. The movie carries a $175 million budget.

Verdict:
“Dolittle” could be the first flop of 2020. The good news? Universal doesn’t seem to have spent much on promoting the film.

“Sonic the Hedgehog” (Paramount)

Release Date:
Feb. 14

What Looks Strong:
After the internet went haywire over the first trailer, Paramount went back to the drawing board to retool the blue character. But fans seem mostly receptive over the redesign.

Causes for Concern:
As a whole, video game adaptations are a genre that’s filled with more flops than not. The big-budget adventure will have to overcome skeptical audiences to beat the franchise curse.

Verdict:
“Sonic” could struggle if “Birds of Prey” sucks up the oxygen in theaters when it opens the weekend prior.

“My Spy” (STX)

Release Date:
March 13

What Looks Strong:
Director Peter Segal, the filmmaker behind “50 First Dates,” “Anger Management,” and most recently, Jennifer Lopez’s “Second Act,” tends to deliver movies that are more beloved by audiences than critics.

Causes for Concern:
STX has shifted the release date three times (so far), not exactly a boost of faith. It’s now launching the weekend after “Onward,” an animated movie from Pixar that should be a big draw among family audiences.

Verdict:
Paramount’s kid-friendly “Playing With Fire” beat expectations last November so we’ll never say never, but “My Spy” looks like the kind of film that younger crowds will pass over in favor of Disney Plus.

“The New Mutants” (Disney / 20th Century Fox)

Release Date:
April 3

What Looks Strong:
Fox’s final mutant movie before Marvel Studios retools the franchise takes a radically different approach from last year’s disastrous “Dark Phoenix.” This chapter takes a brand new crew of young mutants — played by Maisie Williams, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton and Alice Braga — and a brand new genre of storytelling: horror.

Causes for Concern:
Since the first trailer for this movie debuted in October 2017 — two-and-a-half years ago! — this movie’s endured four separate release dates, reports of reshoots that don’t seem to have happened and a new studio in Disney that was unimpressed with a cut of the film last year.

Verdict:
Director Josh Boone seemed to suggest recently that the version of the film opening in April keeps to his original vision for the movie. So maybe things will turn out well after all?

“Godzilla vs. Kong” (Warner Bros.)

Release Date:
Nov. 20

What Looks Strong:
Well, literally speaking, the colossal iconic movie monsters of the title, will battle in the fourth film in Warner Bros. and Legendary’s MonsterVerse. Alexander Skarsgard and Rebecca Hall join series veterans Millie Bobby Brown, Kyle Chandler and Zhang Ziyi, with horror director Adam Wingard (“Death Note,” “Blair Witch”) taking the reins.

Causes for Concern:
“Godzilla: King of the Monsters” opened just last year and significantly underperformed in comparison to its predecessors, suggesting audiences are already cooling on the MonsterVerse. Warner Bros. pushed the release date from March, but this is the wrong trajectory for a franchise heading into its big crossover movie.

Verdict:
A killer trailer could revive “Godzilla vs. Kong’s” prospects.

“The Last Duel” (Disney / 20th Century Fox)

Release Date:
Dec. 25

What Looks Strong:
Matt Damon and Ben Affleck reunite as screenwriters for the first time since their Oscar-winning script for 1997’s “Good Will Hunting.” They’ve adapted, with Nicole Holofcener, the 2004 book by Eric Jager about the infamous 14th century duel between French knight Jean de Carrouges (Damon) and his former friend and squire, Jacques LeGris (Adam Driver). Emmy winner Jodie Comer (“Killing Eve”) plays the nobleman’s wife, Marguerite. Ridley Scott is directing. With this kind of superlative pedigree, what could possibly be risky about this movie? Wellllllll…

Causes for Concern:
The duel — overseen by the king and attended by thousands in Paris — is over Marguerite’s allegation that, while her husband was away at war, LeGris brutally raped her. It’s the kind of story for which the phrase “execution dependent” was invented, and yet Disney has slated “The Last Duel” to open over Christmas. Yiiiiiiikes.

Verdict:
It’s dizzying to consider all the ways this movie could go wrong, but one thing is certain: The press tour is going to be a Whole Thing.