It feels like something we’ve seen before.
That’s the consensus view on many of this summer’s biggest movies, including a third Spider-Man reboot, a Baywatch reboot, and Rough Night (basically The Hangover with women). To say nothing of sequels on sequels on sequels: Cars 3 landed in theaters this weekend, the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie is still playing, and new Transformers and Planet of the Apes films are coming soon.
“Getting people excited for this slate is really tough,” says Jeff Bock, senior box-office analyst for Exhibitor Relations. “The best you can hope for are surprises.”
The biggest surprises this past weekend came from two lesser known flicks, Lionsgate’s long-awaited Tupac Shakur biopic, All Eyez on Me; and the Mandy Moore-starring indie shark thriller 47 Meters Down. Both beat expectations in the US and Canada—the two markets that make up domestic box-office figures.
All Eyez on Me ranked third domestically, with $27 million in box-office returns, more than analysts’ prediction of $17 million to $20 million (paywall). That was in spite of sweepingly negative reviews, and backlash from actress Jada Pinkett Smith, a friend of the late rapper, who said the movie’s representations were “deeply hurtful.”
47 Meters Down brought in $12 million domestically—20% more than its Entertainment Studios had anticipated. Not bad for a movie that earned a “C” on movie-scoring site CinemaScore, and was almost released straight to home video a year ago.
Cars 3, meanwhile, managed to overtake Wonder Woman, which has carried the domestic box office for the past two weeks and continues to do so internationally. Still, the third installment of the Cars franchise was one of the smallest Pixar premieres ever.
Indeed, franchise fatigue has already depressed the summer’s domestic box office. Returns were reportedly down about 9% from last year, until Wonder Woman came out in June and shored up what could have been a summer of flops. It’s now up to movies like Baby Driver, Atomic Blonde, Dunkirk, and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets to push the summer ahead.
“Sometimes the bigger and better box-office stories are not at number one,” Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at ComScore, told the Associated Press. “All Eyez on Me and 47 Meters Down are the kind of movies people are looking for. It bodes well for Baby Driver and Atomic Blonde.”
Baby Driver, a heist movie set to an epic soundtrack, has a rare 100% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes, and could become a breakout hit when released in the US on June 28. Atomic Blonde, starring Charlize Theron as an MI6 spy, is thought to become a cult classic when it debuts in July. Christopher Nolan’s hotly anticipated and beautifully shot World War II film Dunkirk could also make splash in theaters.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is more of a gamble. A return to the science-fiction genre for director Luc Besson (The Fifth Element), the visually stunning movie is the most expensive French film ever made. It was produced entirely outside of Hollywood, with funding from French independent studio EuropaCorp and China’s Fundamental Films.
“A film like Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is an example of something that hasn’t depended on the studio system to be creative,” says Bruce Nash, founder and publisher of movie-date site The Numbers. “It looks as though it could be really cool. …Or it could just be a bad movie.”
If audiences turn out for Valerian and these other titles, it could signal to the movie industry that there are rich creative opportunities beyond Hollywood, which currently dominates the global theatrical market. If we’re lucky, that signal will lead to more titles outside of the formulaic franchises we’re used to.
“Isn’t that the funny thing?” says Bock. “We’re hoping not [for] sequels that used to be the safety nets… [but] that these original properties are the things that are going save summer. That’s vastly different than what we used to be talking about.”