summer preview

What Will Be the Biggest Movie of the Summer?

Vulture bets on five films breaking through the hottest months of 2022, in whatever ways they can.

Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photos by Universal Pictures, A24, Warner Bros and Netflix
Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photos by Universal Pictures, A24, Warner Bros and Netflix

Dog, a small 2022 drama starring Channing Tatum, about a dog that doesn’t die at the end, sold more tickets at the domestic box office than 2021’s House of Gucci, Ridley Scott’s extravaganza of Italian accents starring Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, and several other well-known two-legged actors. Dog’s success in more than 3,600 theaters is either another sign theatrical moviegoing is inching back to normalcy this year or a harbinger of a strange future in which the only movies capable of breaking through feature Tatum or a Marvel superhero. But what does it mean to break through anymore when a colossal opening-weekend haul isn’t the key indicator of a film’s success? Last year’s Red Notice allegedly broke records on Netflix without ever hitting the multiplex, and 2022’s Everything Everywhere All at Once broke records for A24 despite opening on only ten screens.

The summer movie season, historically a time of blockbusters, kicks off this weekend with the release of Top Gun: Maverick, which could take in as much as $395 million over its North American run. Will it be the biggest — as in, most bankable — movie of the summer? Or will a true cinematic breakthrough sidestep the box office entirely? Will an indie studio deliver another slow-to-build hit that will dominate the conversation for months? Or will a horror movie run away with ticket sales and the discourse? Vulture has some ideas.


The Box-Office Winner

The biggest movie of the summer will be Jurassic World Dominion, which come June 9 is widely anticipated to take a T. rex–size bite out of the box office to become this summer’s biggest blockbuster. According to pre-release “tracking” estimates, the third entry in the Jurassic World trifecta of films (and franchise steward Colin Trevorrow’s return to the director’s chair) could pull in more than $200 million over its opening weekend, thereby toppling Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness as the year’s top-grossing debut. It will open big, as Jurassic Park IP has over three decades, and it will maintain momentum on its way to ticket receipts at or near the 10-figure range; it hits multiplexes a full month before its nearest would-be blockbuster rival, Thor: Love and Thunder.

The franchise’s near omnipresence through two back-to-back trilogies gives it an edge in comparison to Top Gun: Maverick, whose IP hibernated for 36 years after turning Tom Cruise into a household name. With original Jurassic Park cast members Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum joining Jurassic World principals Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, Dominion will woo audiences with old-fashioned “four quadrant” appeal. That is: It will pull in men and women, olds and youngs — a broad draw unlikely to be rivaled by Maverick or the God of Thunder (with their predominant, respective Gen-X and fanboy constituencies). “The characters coming back reminds me a lot of Spider-Man: No Way Home in terms of wrapping things up in a way that makes audiences feel elated,” says Jeff Bock, senior box-office analyst for Exhibitor Relations Co. “And that usually translates to the box office.”

The analyst also points out that at a time of increasing geopolitical turmoil between the U.S. and the world’s biggest moviegoing territory, China, Dominion became one of the increasingly rare Hollywood studio productions to land a Chinese release date, pointing toward international blockbuster-dom. This year’s Doctor Strange and Thor sequels, along with last year’s Eternals and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, all failed to do so. —Chris Lee


The Indie Hit

Marcel the Shell With Shoes On, based on a popular series of shorts created by Jenny Slate and Dean Fleischer Camp, about a tiny, one-eyed anthropomorphic shell that lives with his beloved grandmother and a piece of lint, premiered at the 2021 Telluride Film Festival and would have made my Top Ten list had it come out last year, so I’m very happy that the film is finally being released on June 24. I have a feeling that once audiences see this warm, winning picture, it will become a legitimate hit, critically and theatrically. For starters, it’s a movie that feels like it could strike a nerve in an environment where people have become overwhelmed with terrible news and dark, catastrophic narratives. Its quaint logline doesn’t quite do justice to the film’s wit, gentle satire, playful mockumentary style, or surprisingly emotional climax. Indeed, the movie ultimately becomes so moving that I’m getting emotional here just thinking about it.

Importantly, Marcel is being released by A24, which has proven over and over again that it understands how to market offbeat material (see: EEAAO) and recognize the viral potential of something like this; the original shorts, after all, were huge on YouTube. Another bonus: A24 is committed to keeping its films in theaters. That kind of extended theatrical life will be particularly important to the success of Marcel, because I’m sure the temptation (and the pressure) to quickly send something like this to streaming will be enormous. —Bilge Ebiri


The Streaming Phenom

There’s no way to really know what the biggest streaming movie of the summer will be. Streaming services only make their ratings data public in painstakingly framed declarations of success — the most-watched first three minutes of a series, the film projected to be a record-setting hit by the end of the month — while outside firms rely on different approaches to make educated guesses about what’s really going on. But it’s a safe bet that The Gray Man is going to be declared a monster hit even if it gets there by being programmed to automatically start playing as soon as people fire up the app, because Netflix needs it to. The Gray Man was reported, when it was announced in 2020, to have the highest budget of any Netflix film, and given the company’s recent downturn and belt-tightening measures, it’s unclear how many other projects it will pony up this kind of cash for going forward.

Directed by Marvel regulars Anthony and Joe Russo, starring Ryan Gosling (in his first role since First Man) and Chris Evans (making a heel turn to play a sociopathic former CIA agent), and adapted from the first book in a series by Mark Greaney, The Gray Man is a globe-trotting espionage saga and the possible start of a franchise, Netflix’s answer to James Bond. It does sound like it has the stuff of a hit, conventional or streaming, with that talent attached, and helmed by the Russo brothers, who have been reliable if not always exceptional overseers of action movies. But it remains to be seen if the movie will overcome the ersatz quality that has plagued Netflix’s other attempts at blockbusters to date, that feeling that even when stars are attached and money is being splashed around, the production itself looks wan and feels like a second-run affair. Exorbitantly expensive productions look cheap and interchangeable, plots feel recycled, celebrities become charmless and unengaged. Either way, expect to hear about some form of wild viewing numbers a few days after the film drops on July 22, seven days after a dutiful limited theatrical release. —Alison Willmore


The Oscar Contender

Do Oscar movies come out in the summer? Yes, they do: Last season’s big winner, CODA, was an August release (though admittedly most voters didn’t discover it until later in the year). And you don’t have to go too far into the past to find summer movies like Dunkirk, Blackkklansman, and Hell or High Water nabbing Best Picture nominations. What’s this year’s best bet? I could go with the guy whose last near-summer release managed to take the Oscar race by storm: George Miller, the Mad Max auteur whose magical romance Three Thousand Years of Longing premiered at Cannes. It’s a big-hearted fable about an academic (Tilda Swinton), a jinn (Idris Elba), and the magic of storytelling. In other words Miller has made his Shape of Water, and we remember how things ended there, don’t we?

But judging from the mood in France, I’m going to go with Elvis, Baz Luhrmann’s perpetual-motion machine of a rock-and-roll biopic. Not because of the reviews, which have been mixed to positive, but because of what happened at the premiere. Every film at Cannes gets lavish rounds of applause at the end; Elvis’s happened in the middle of the movie. Critics’ disdain for Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman didn’t prevent both those films from walking off with Oscar gold, and the same could be true here. If the film is a hit upon its June 24 release — a gamble, I know — the goodwill could give Elvis the strength to leg it out through the fall awards season. Watch out especially for Austin Butler, who is being hailed as the best thing about the movie. Though the 30-year-old hunk is younger than Oscar usually goes for, voters love a transformation into an iconic 20th-century figure, and the way Butler channels the King’s soul is particularly striking. Will he get the chance to tell the Academy, “Thank you, thank you very much”? —Nate Jones


The Original Horror Surprise

Every summer has its runaway horror film, and this year’s will undoubtedly be Jordan Peele’s third feature as a writer and director. Just consider for a moment his 2018 work, Get Out. That slippery movie — dramatizing the unease of being Black in white spaces — was more than beloved; it became one of the most-talked-about films not just for horror nerds but for a variety of taste palettes and filmgoer backgrounds. It would be easy to think Get Out was a summer film given the raucous crowds at theaters and how long the film spent at the center of cultural conversations. But it actually came out in February. Nope, however, is a certified summer release, with its July 22 date solidifying Peele’s ascendance in Hollywood since 2017.

Nope has a lot going for it, including the mystery surrounding its plot and characters (the film reteams Peele with star Daniel Kaluuya, alongside an infectious Keke Palmer and brilliant Steven Yeun). Fan theories have already seeped into the ether following the release of an opaque trailer, signaling a rabid curiosity that will only bolster the film’s box-office bottom line. Whether or not Peele succeeds in the eyes of critics, his movie’s likely twist ending is sure to send audiences into a tizzy, spawning the kinds of memes and parodies that defined the afterlife of Get Out and Us. In an era of cinema dominated by thinly drawn adaptations, reboots, and tepid superhero attractions, the idea of a director maintaining fame with wildly original material isn’t just novel, it’s downright radical. —Angelica Jade Bastién

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What Will Be the Biggest Movie of the Summer?