Will Man of Steel Be the Top-Grossing June Opener Ever?

HENRY CAVILL as Superman in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ action adventure “MAN OF STEEL,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

UPDATED4:28 p.m. EST - Removed erroneous reference to Pacific Rim.

Opening in a week, Warner Bros.'s Man of Steel's box office projections have been all over the place since the beginning of the year, when people started predicting such things. One box office expert back in March predicted that it wouldn't crack the top five for the year--but that same person predicted that The Hangover Part III would be a huge hit and that Fast & Furious 6 wouldn't. Hitfix has Man of Steel pegged for the year's #2 spot, but with a $300 million domestic gross. They also predicted that Iron Man 3 would bring home $350 million at #1 - which is about $35 million short of what it has already done, with probably another month (of admittedly modest returns) to get it up over $400 million or so. BoxOffice.com removes its projections after the movies debut, so we don't know what they predicted for Iron Man 3, but they've got Man of Steel pegged to open at just over $110 million and wind up with about $340, which doesn't sound too unreasonable (although we expect a bigger opening weekend than that). Man of Steel might have more staying power than Iron Man 3, if word-of-mouth stays strong and the hardcore fans go back for more. Iron Man 3 had strong competition among adults every week after its release, whereas Man of Steel will face World War Z, but that's hardly expected to blow anyone out of the water (Monsters University will likely be a dominant force at the box office, but it doesn't have the same target audience). While "staying power" might not lift Superman past Iron Man, what it might do is make the film dominant over a longer time, giving it a chance to nose its way toward the top of the list of June openers.

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June releases have traditionally not done as well as May releases, which may (along with a number of other factors including the success of prior Iron Man and Marvel films) have played into Hitfix's projections,which seem likely to be about right except for projecting on the low end of the margin of error. The number of June releases to ever top $300 million (unadjusted) in their domestic run is five: Toy Story 3, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, E.T., Jurassic Park and The Lion King. (Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Spider-Man 2 get honorable mention because they were released in the final day or two of June and their first box office reports came back reported as July). Compare that to fourteen $300 million-plus movies released in May (including a bunch of Marvel movies) and twelve in July (including The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises) and you begin to see why Man of Steel might have low expectations. Monsters University, too, will take a toll; while they may not be competing for the same moviegoers, they're certainly competing for the same cinemas and there are only so many 3-D screens to go around. This summer's saturation may well serve as a guarantee that no movie stays at the top of the list longer than Iron Man 3's two weeks, so if anyone is to compete with Marvel for long-term box office dominance they'll have to do so by maintaining audience enthusiasm over a long period of time, rather than blowing the doors off the place in the first two or three weeks. Of course, one never knows what could happen if Man of Steel opens at something like $150 million at the box office. It's tracking better than Iron Man 3 for opening weekend as of now in terms of presales via Fandango, and that movie opened at around $180 million and was the second-biggest domestic opening ever. There's a record to be broken if Man of Steel performs anything like Iron Man 3 has. While the top-grossing film May release was The Avengers, which Iron Man 3 was never going to match, June's biggest performer to date has been Toy Story 3. With a lifetime mark of $415 million domestically (as opposed to more than $600 million for The Avengers), the film is theoretically beatable, especially if Warners decides that something like that matters and elects to keep Superman in theaters a few extra weeks in the dog days of August. A summer's-end push like The Avengers got could theoretically lift the bottom line. In fact, if the movie is projected to open at $112 million and then make $340 million overall (boxoffice.com), it would be reasonable to expect a $400 million box office if it opened at $150 or $175 million. Assuming similar week-to-week percentage drops in the first three weeks, $400 million would start to look like the obvious projection level after a $150+ million opening.

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Of course, there's an argument to be made (looking at Toy Story 3) that 2013 could see the record fall--but not to Superman. Monsters University's potential is hard to get a bead on. Monsters, Inc. was released more than ten years ago and grossed nearly $300 million, although it was a November release and has had a 3-D reissue recently, after it was already beloved. BoxOffice.com is projecting an $80 million opening and a lifetime gross of $275 million for Sully and company, which is pretty respectable, and about what you'd expect from a Pixar film. But as much success as Pixar has had with the Toy Story films, the only other sequel they've made was Cars 2--a June release that opened higher than Cars ($66 million versus $60 million) but fell like a stone once audiences saw it, ultimately making less money than its predecessor by a significant margin ($191 million versus Cars's $244 million). With not a lot of buzz around Monsters University, it's hard to guess how it will perform after it's opened big and everybody has decided whether or not they like it.