It’s June or Bust: This Month Will Determine the Summer Box Office

If Summer 2023 box office has a shot of meeting its optimistic $4 billion projection, the June movie lineup needs to step up. Since May 5, when the season began with Marvel release “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” receipts are down over five percent from last year. To achieve $4 billion, returns now through Labor Day would have to be 26 percent ahead of 2022, when box office totaled just under $3.4 billion.

It’s still doable, but the variables are… more variable after May failed to meet its optimistic expectations. “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” didn’t hold as well as hoped, and everything beyond the three top releases proved to be only modest contributors.

Despite three lucrative franchises in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “The Little Mermaid,” and “Fast X,” May will total about $760 million. That’s down from $785 million in 2022, which had only two franchises with “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” and “Top Gun: Maverick.”

“Guardians” held well after a below-average start, but it grossed $65 million less than “Guardians 2” last May. “Fast X” and Mermaid” came close to their tempered domestic expectations. More than ever, the business is feast or famine that leaves theaters with little margin for error.

By this time last year, summer already had its two biggest releases; they also proved to be the only ones that passed $400 million domestic. “Guardians” surpassed $300 million this weekend and “Mermaid” has an outside chance of reaching that target; neither has any chance of scoring $400 million.

The good news is that while only “Guardians” had an opening three-day weekend over $100 million, with nine wide releases in June several stand an outside shot.

Between 2008-2019, every June grossed more than $1 billion — no adjustments required. Despite substantially higher ticket costs, only one month grossed over $1 billion since 2019. (That was July 2022.)

It’s possible now: Led by “The Little Mermaid,” and with “Guardians” and “Fast X” still offering some heft, $250 million-$300 million is likely. (By comparison, “Maverick” alone added $362 million in June and was #1 for the month).

“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” (Sony, 6/2) is first up among major new releases. A surge in tracking and now very strong reviews suggest an $80 million-$100 million opening. With nearly the whole month to play, it looms as the month’s top grosser.

“The Flash”Warner Bros.

Initial projections have “The Flash” (Warner Bros. Discovery, 6/16) opening around $70 million, although it has the potential to break out within the month’s 15 days of playtime. $150 million for the period sounds like a good starting point.

In between, Paramount has “The Transformers: Rise of the Beasts” (6/9). The latest in the Hasbro toy film franchise is more of an international play, but positioned to add $100 million domestic to June’s haul.

With its reported $300 million cost, Disney’s “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” has little margin for error. (“The Flash: and “Transformers” are each closer to $200 million.) Only one day’s worth of gross will be included with its June 30 opening, but a strong start could mean $60 million or more.

Like “Indiana Jones,” Disney bet on Cannes to boost Pixar’s “Elemental” (6/16). It also received a tepid critical response and suggests that Pixar’s recent issues with audience appeal remain outstanding. Expect $80 million during June. (It cost $175 million).

Among the smaller-budget and non-franchise films, none are expected to surpass $50 million during the month. “The Boogeyman” (Disney) is out this Friday. Lionsgate has “The Blackening” (6/16), Universal the animated “Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken” (6/30), with Sony presenting the rare comedy with Jennifer Lawrence vehicle “No Hard Feelings” (6/23). A couple of sleepers within this group would be helpful.

“Asteroid City”Courtesy of Pop. 87 Productions/Focus Features

The month will also see at least two significant specialized entries. Celine Song’s “Past Lives” (A24), the top reviewed film of the year so far, starts its platform run Friday. Its performance will be a significant barometer of life in this struggling sector. Wes Anderson’s “Asteroid City” (Focus) opens on June 16, then goes wide the following week.

Plenty of options to choose from, but are they enough to gross $1.2 billion this month? That’s the necessary number if the summer had a shot at $4 billion. We’re going to go with not impossible, but also not likely: At this point, a $3.7 billion summer is closer to reality.

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