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Summer box-office predictions: Can anyone compete with 'Age of Ultron'?

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Marvel

You might think that The Avengers: The Age of Ultron is the obvious choice for this summer’s biggest blockbuster. You might think that because the last Avengers film grossed $623.4 million, or because the greatest Marvel superhero team was on the cover of our Summer Preview Issue last week. But there’s a science behind the numbers, a calculus that requires a team of mathemagicians working around the clock for three long weeks to determine, beyond all doubt, what the biggest movies of the summer will be—based on release date, fan anticipation, and general perception of quality. After we crunched the numbers, after our interns collapsed from exhaustion, and after we hid from studio publicists’ phone calls for 48 straight hours, the answer was clear and obvious.

The Avengers: The Age of Ultron.

Okay, so maybe we didn’t need our discount Nate Silver knockoff to charge us for the WOPR-sized computer providing the same common-sense answer any EW reader could. Avengers is going to be huge. Really huge. But what will be this summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy, or Neighbors, or Lucy—films that exceeded expectations? And what potential blockbuster could conceivably give Ultron a run for its money at the box office? EW offers up its predictions for the summer’s top 15 box-office hits.

15. Pitch Perfect 2

STARRING Anna Kendrick, Elizabeth Banks, Rebel Wilson

DIRECTED BY Elizabeth Banks

RATED PG-13

RELEASE DATE May 15

BOX OFFICE PREDICTION $105 million

When Pitch Perfect 2 hits theaters on May 15, 32 months will have passed since moviegoers first saw Beca (Anna Kendrick), Chloe (Brittany Snow), Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), and the rest of collegiate singing sensations the Barden Bellas. Their all-gal pop mash-ups earned $117 million worldwide, launched the earworm “Cups” into the stratosphere, and turned a modest movie about college singers into a cult sensation. Now they just have to do it again. 

Newcomer Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) joins the cast as freshman Emily, and she’s just one new facet of the reinvented Bellas, who, three years later, have tasted the heights of fame—only to have an unfortunate mid-performance accident (involving Fat Amy) drop-kick them to the bottom of the aca-food chain. As Beca and the rest of the seniors prepare to graduate, the Bellas must claw their way back to the top via a worldwide singing competition. “It’s bigger, it’s more global, the performance numbers aren’t in teeny auditoriums, and the Bellas are sort of famous,” says director and producer Elizabeth Banks, who also reprises her role as acerbic competition commentator Gail. “People forget that in the first movie the Bellas sang ‘The Sign,’ like, four times, the same tired stuff the whole movie. This time, we really got to showcase them and show a group at its peak to the rest of the world.”

Everything about this production feels bigger: 58 songs were cleared for the film; Grammy-winning group Pentatonix joined the cast, as well as German YouTube star Flula Borg and the Green Bay Packers; and Rebel Wilson trained with Cirque du Soleil for a silks routine. Silks—Marc Snetiker

14. Trainwreck

STARRING Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Brie Larson, Tilda Swinton, LeBron James

DIRECTED BY Judd Apatow

RATED R

RELEASE DATE July 17

BOX OFFICE PREDICTION $115 million

While Amy Schumer was writing Trainwreck, director Judd Apatow (Knocked Up) encouraged her to dip into her own personal well of fears and neuroses for inspiration. What she came up with is a story about Amy (Schumer), a men’s-magazine writer who avoids serious romantic commitment whenever possible. But after she’s assigned to write about a sports doctor (Bill Hader), she realizes—with horror—she’s found a good guy she actually likes. Look for plenty of surprising cameos from star athletes, and a supporting turn from LeBron James, who’s been getting lots of laughs in preview screenings. “He can quit basketball and fall back on his real dream,” says Schumer. “He’s like a tall Kevin Hart.”

Trainwreck is the first movie Apatow has directed but not written. “Usually I’m up all night nervous about what else I should be doing,” he says. “It was really fun to be there for Amy, but it was nice to have her be the one up all night doing the punch-up” on the script. Schumer, meanwhile, had to wrap her head around the fact that a movie she’d written and was starring in was really happening. “The first day we were on set and I saw these director chairs that said Trainwreck on them,” Schumer says, “I was like, ‘Why is everyone f—ing with me? Why are we pretending we’re shooting a movie?’” The joke’s on us! —Sara Vilkomerson

13. San Andreas

STARRING Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Alexandra Daddario

DIRECTED BY Brad Peyton

RATED PG-13

RELEASE DATE May 29

BOX OFFICE PREDICTION $125 million

“There’s a term going around right now: ‘San Andreas is locked and loaded,’ ” says director Brad Peyton (Journey 2: The Mysterious Island), referring to the real threat of a colossal California earthquake—the inspiration for this disaster epic. In the film, the infamous fault finally gives, causing a magnitude 9.0 seismic upheaval. That’s one big quake. Following the catastrophe, a search-and-rescue helicopter pilot (Dwayne Johnson) and his estranged wife (Carla Gugino) head from L.A. to San Francisco to save their only daughter (Alexandra Daddario), but more trouble lies ahead. “Earthquakes don’t tend to be singular events,” Peyton warns. In other words, brace for aftershocks.

Johnson is a tough guy, but working every day amid massive destruction took its toll on his psyche. “You start shooting all these sequences and you try to keep it as real and authentic as possible, and that’s where it really hits you,” he says. “Even on a movie set, it hits you how terrifying and relentless something like this is.” And Peyton says there’s more to the film than just mayhem: “The movie is really about a family coming back together. It just happens within one of the largest natural disasters in recorded history.” No better time for a family reunion, right? —C. Molly Smith

12. Magic Mike XXL

STARRING Channing Tatum, Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello, Jada Pinkett Smith

DIRECTED BY Gregory Jacobs

RATED R

RELEASE DATE July 1

BOX OFFICE PREDICTION $155 million

What happens in the sequel to 2012’s male-stripper hit? “No plot,” teases Channing Tatum. “Just a bunch of naked dudes sitting around doing dude stuff. We read all the message boards, and people were like, ‘Less story. Less plot. Just dudes’ things.’ And we listened to that.”

There’s more to XXL than just naked dudes—although there is a lot of that, too. The film picks up three years later, with Mike (Tatum) and his dancing buddies (Matt Bomer and Joe Manganiello, among others) taking a road trip to a—yes!—stripper convention in Myrtle Beach, S.C. On their way, they run into newcomers to the Mike universe, including Jada Pinkett Smith as a strip-club owner and NFLer–turned–Kelly Ripa cohost Michael Strahan as one of her gyrating employees. Steven Soderbergh, who directed the first Mike movie (it grossed $114 million in the U.S.), chose to hand over the reins to his longtime assistant director, Gregory Jacobs, but stayed on as XXL’s cinematographer and producer. With Jacobs’ approval, of course. “Chan and Steven turned to me and were like, ‘What do you think?’ ” says Jacobs. “I guess keeping it in the family made the most sense.”

While Magic Mike XXL doesn’t boast giant dinos or flying superheroes, Tatum teases that there’s plenty of spectacle. “Basically, we all were taking penis-enlargement pills since the last one, so we weren’t worried about what temperature the room was when we came out to do our dances,” he jokes. (We think.) “That’s what XXL means.” Who says there’s no truth in advertising? —Tim Stack

11. Ant-Man

STARRING Paul Rudd, Corey Stoll, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas

DIRECTED BY Peyton Reed

NOT YET RATED

RELEASE DATE July 17

BOX OFFICE PREDICTION $160 million

They say a film is only as good as its villain, but maybe they should change that to a villain and his suit. In Marvel’s Ant-Man, Paul Rudd plays jailbird-turned-superhero Scott Lang, who has the power to shrink himself and control his six-legged namesakes, thanks to gear designed by inventor Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). But Lang’s armor is positively pacifist compared with the more advanced suit worn by the nefarious Darren Cross, a.k.a. Yellowjacket (Corey Stoll). “Hank Pym’s Ant-Man suit doesn’t have a single weapon,” says director Peyton Reed (Yes Man), “whereas Yellowjacket is armed with plasma cannons.”

That would make the first big showdown between the foes a decided mismatch, right? Maybe not. “Ant-Man is very fast when he’s small,” he says. “Also, when he shrinks, he increases his density, so he’s got increased strength.” (Not to mention that ant-whispering power, which plays a crucial role in Lang’s attempt to steal Yellowjacket’s garb.)

Reed insists Internet reports that he recently reshot some of the film are just that. “I love turning on the computer in the morning and reading the things that I did the day before—that I didn’t do!” he says. “We are going to do a little bit of additional photography, but we have not done any yet. It’s minor stuff.” To sum up: Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill. Or an anthill. —Clark Collis

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10. Fantastic Four

STARRING Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell

DIRECTED BY Josh Trank

NOT YET RATED

RELEASE DATE August 7

BOX OFFICE PREDICTION $160 million

In this origin-story reboot, the titular Four—Reed Richards (Miles Teller), Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan), Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), and Sue Storm (Kate Mara)—are “infected” during an interdimensional-travel experiment. The event turns Reed into the elastic Mr. Fantastic, Johnny into the Human Torch, Ben into the Thing, and Sue into the Invisible Woman. “It’s as if you got into a car accident,” Mara says, “and a part of you is different for the rest of your life.”

Both the 2005 original, Fantastic Four, and the 2007 sequel Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, performed well at the box office, but critics (and moviegoers) pretty much hated them. So Twentieth Century Fox wanted a fresh vision for this reboot, something that director Josh Trank, who had delivered a 2012 sleeper hit for the studio with his found-footage superpowers flick, Chronicle, provided. His immediate take on the Four was how terrifying it would be to have your arms suddenly turn into rubber, or your skin burst into flame. “I just kinda jumped to ‘body horror’ in my head,” he says. “Chronicle is about the evolution and strengthening of unique powers. This movie is really viewing them as a curse.”

Based on footage shown to EW, Trank may have succeeded in rescuing the Four from obscurity. “We have all the ingredients to make something special,” Jordan says. “Now we have to just wait and see how that cake turns out.” —Tim Stack

9. Spy

STARRING Melissa McCarthy, Jason Statham, Rose Byrne

DIRECTED BY Paul Feig

RATED R

RELEASE DATE June 5

BOX OFFICE PREDICTION $165 million

Melissa McCarthy: action hero? No joke. (Well, kinda.) Turns out the comedian who has no problem hurling her body down a flight of stairs for a laugh can also hold her own in a mano-e-mano brawl armed with only a pocketknife and a baguette. In Spy, McCarthy’s third collaboration with Paul Feig (Bridesmaids and The Heat), all of McCarthy’s greatest attributes are on display when she plays Susan Cooper, a top-of-her-class CIA agent who’s been stuck guiding agents in the field (including a smarmy Jude Law) as the voice in their earpieces until she gets her own shot at espionage. The role allowed McCarthy to turn up the action in addition to rocking some frumpy old-lady wigs and garish cat T-shirts. “I love Susan Cooper,” says McCarthy. “It seemed real that somebody can be smart and capable and maybe not so confident. I loved that the audience gets to see her trying to push herself beyond anything she ever thought she was capable of.”

The same can be said for McCarthy, who now considers herself an action junkie after spending numerous days in Budapest hanging in harnesses and learning elaborate fight choreography. “I knew she could do it, but then you think, ‘Oh, do we have to adjust stuff?'” says Feig. “We didn’t have to adjust anything.”

That meant hanging her from a helicopter with Jason Statham clinging to her. “I have no upper body strength and Jason Statham is climbing up me, hanging onto my boobs,” she says. “I just kept thinking, if someone told me 10 years ago that Jason Statham would be hanging off of me, primarily holding onto my chest, I would have said, ‘That’s crazy.’ And there we are, and he’s laughing, saying, ‘Sorry, luv,’ and I’m like ‘Just do it!'” —Nicole Sperling

8. Terminator Genisys

STARRING Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jason Clarke, Jai Courtney

DIRECTED BY Alan Taylor

NOT YET RATED

RELEASE DATE July 1

BOX OFFICE PREDICTION $170 million

Destiny is a terrible burden. Just ask John Connor. Ever since Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator first zapped down to Earth in his birthday suit 31 years ago, fans of the franchise have relied on the idea of John Connor as the savior of the human race. But in Terminator Genisys, Connor’s heroism is less certain. And that mystery made Jason Clarke (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) excited to take on the iconic character. “The script expands on our preconceived notions of who John Connor is,” he says. “So I knew I couldn’t just show up and lay down some hard military guy. There’s a lot more going on than that.”

The time-travel-heavy plot toggles between 1984, 2017, and 2029 and introduces both a new Sarah Connor (Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke) and a new Kyle Reese (Insurgent’s Jai Courtney). The filmmakers also pay homage to the original Terminator with a re-creation of Schwarzenegger’s naked arrival scene. The goal was to remind audiences what they love about these movies—which, according to Schwarzenegger, who reprises his role in Genisys, all comes down to the title character. “How cool is it not to feel pain? How cool is it to be like a machine?” he says. “You can be indestructible. It’s a heroic character. I think people admire all this stuff.” Not that he’s biased. —Nicole Sperling

7. Mad Max: Fury Road

STARRING Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult

DIRECTED BY George Miller

RATED R

RELEASE DATE May 15

BOX OFFICE PREDICTION $180 million

To Mad Max aficionados, it should come as no surprise that George Miller, the franchise’s creator, is a fan of roller coasters. The 69-year-old Australian auteur—who began his adult career as an emergency-room doctor, only to segue into rogue feature filmmaking in the late ’70s—doesn’t just enjoy the ebbs and flows of a good thrill ride atop a solid metal behemoth. He has learned how it transforms its passengers through flips and turns. Behold the 110-minute adrenaline-fueled Mad Max: Fury Road, which stars Tom Hardy as the new Mad Max and Charlize Theron as his catalyst, Imperator Furiosa, who are thrown together in a race across an apocalyptic wasteland. “I wanted to tell a very simple, linear story—a chase that virtually starts as the movie begins and continues for over 100 minutes,” says Miller, who conceived the idea 15 years ago. “Max gets swept up into this, but reluctantly … There aren’t many words spoken. It’s about what happens to the characters when they are thrown together in this absolute chaos and mayhem.” —Nicole Sperling

6. Ted 2

STARRING Mark Wahlberg, Seth MacFarlane, Amanda Seyfried, Morgan Freeman

DIRECTED BY Seth MacFarlane

RATED R

RELEASE DATE June 26

BOX OFFICE PREDICTION $190 million

Before Ted, only people with a Teddy Ruxpin and a knack for electronic tinkering could expect to experience such a foulmouthed stuffed bear. When the film hit theaters in 2012, offering the chance to watch Mark Wahlberg bro down in Boston with a beer-swilling plushie, it became one of the highest-grossing R-rated comedies of all time, raking in a wicked-pissah $549 million worldwide. What was the secret? “It could be as simple as the world just likes a cute fuzzy thing that behaves badly,” creator Seth MacFarlane posits. “It’s like that line in Time Bandits when Napoleon says, ‘Little things hitting each other: That’s what I like!’”

Now the not-so-cuddly living toy is back with his best buddy for a second adventure. “The powers that be, as soon as they start smelling money, they’re thinking, ‘Why not four or five of them in a row?’” says Wahlberg. “But this is my first sequel to a movie that I’ve done, so I only wanted in if we had a good story.” That story is Ted’s quest for “legalization.” To have a baby with his new wife, he must get his bid for personhood recognized by the courts. That’s a process Wahlberg never went through with his previous stuffed companions. “I did carry a monkey with me everywhere I went when I was a kid,” the actor says. “But he didn’t smoke pot and bang chicks in grocery-store freezers.” Well, at least as far as he knows. —Keith Staskiewicz

[pagebreak]

5. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

STARRING Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson

DIRECTED BY Christopher McQuarrie

NOT YET RATED

RELEASE DATE July 31

BOX OFFICE PREDICTION $195 million

Over the course of the Mission: Impossible films, Tom Cruise has dangled from ceilings, jumped from motorcycles and helicopters, and scaled the tallest building in the world. So it’s safe to say the series isn’t meant for someone who has difficulty with heights. Then again… “I have crazy vertigo,” says Rebecca Ferguson (Hercules), the latest addition to the franchise. She plays an operative with ambiguous allegiances who aids Cruise’s Ethan Hunt in his fight against the Syndicate, a mysterious shadow organization that operates as an anti-IMF. “Of course, the first scene we did, Tom and me, was throwing ourselves off a Vienna rooftop. I was going to say, ‘It couldn’t get worse,’ but it definitely did.”

At least she didn’t have to hang on to the side of an Airbus A400M cargo plane as it took off—something director Christopher McQuarrie (Jack Reacher) reserved for his star. “They brought me this plane, and I was looking at the model,” says McQuarrie. “And I said to Tom, ‘What if you were on the outside of this plane?’ I was kinda half joking when I said it, and he just looked at me and said, ‘Yeah, I could do that.’” Cruise, always one to do his own stunts, was actually strapped to the plane as it was flying at 3,000 feet while filming the sequence, which gives us vertigo just thinking about it. —Keith Staskiewicz

4. Minions

STARRING Sandra Bullock, Jon Hamm, Michael Keaton

DIRECTED BY Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda

RATED PG

RELEASE DATE July 10

BOX OFFICE PREDICTION $240 million

Since their debut in 2010’s Despicable Me, and subsequent part in 2013’s Despicable Me 2, minions have become a pop-culture superpower, launching endless varieties of toys, Halloween costumes, and even amusement park attractions. So of course they got their own spin-off. Set in 42 B.G. (i.e., Before Gru, the villain/hero of Despicable Me), Minions tells the origin story of the three main little yellow guys (Kevin, Stuart, and Bob) as they look for an evil mastermind to serve. They find one in Scarlet Overkill (voiced by Sandra Bullock). So how did directors Pierre Coffin, who also voices the three central minions, and Kyle Balda handle an entire movie with creatures who speak their own hybrid tongue? They approached it like a silent film to effectively convey emotion and move the story forward—without relying on dialogue. “You should be able to turn off the sound and understand everything that’s happening,” says Coffin, who adds that the ability to understand what the minions are thinking and feeling through their actions gets to the very essence of animation. Balda echoes, saying, “It all really depends on their poses and their acting—like a Chaplin film.” —C. Molly Smith

3. Inside Out

STARRING Amy Poehler, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Bill Hader

DIRECTED BY Pete Docter

RATED PG

RELEASE DATE June 19

BOX OFFICE PREDICTION $275 million

Pixar’s latest addition to its lineup of lovable characters is the effervescent Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler), who lives inside the mind of an 11-year-old girl named Riley. Since Riley’s birth, Joy has guided a quirky group of anamorphized emotions that includes Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Fear (Bill Hader) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith). With Joy in control, Riley is optimistic and upbeat. But when puberty kicks in, she turns moody, forcing Joy to begin her own journey of letting go and growing up. It’s an emotional adventure that strikes a chord with writer-director Pete Docter. (UpMonsters Inc.) “[When] my daughter grew up, she became a different person,” he says. “It’s wonderful, but it’s different. It fundamentally changes the way you speak to her, relate to her. That’s what Joy goes through in this story.” Luckily, Docter’s animation style lends itself to making the pains of puberty both relatable and adorable. —Nina Terrero

2. Jurassic World

STARRING Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson

DIRECTED BY Colin Trevorrow

NOT YET RATED

RELEASE DATE June 12

BOX OFFICE PREDICTION $295 million

John Hammond’s dream is finally a reality. Jurassic World, the fourth film in the Universal franchise, is set 22 years after the original. The dinosaur island theme park that Hammond was developing has finally come to fruition. It is a thriving vacation destination. But this will all, of course, go to hell. In keeping with the previous films, Jurassic World is a tale of humans who get cut (or chomped) down to size when they try to outwit nature in the name of the almighty dollar. “We have seen that we will repeat our mistakes if there’s money on the table,” says director Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed). “It’s not about the danger of playing God. These animals are real, and they’re on our planet.”

To boost attendance at the swank new park, operations manager Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) introduces a genetically modified dino into the mix. But of course the big baddie escapes and unleashes a rampage—right when Claire’s young nephews (Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson) happen to be visiting the island. She must rescue her family members with the help of Owen (Chris Pratt), an ex-military bad ass studying raptors on Isla Nublar. 

Producer Frank Marshall and exec producer Steven Spielberg liked what they saw in Trevorrow, whose last film cost just $750,000. “Colin understood the [Jurassic] movies,” Marshall says. “That’s what Steven and I felt was the most important thing—he’s a storyteller.” Trevorrow is aware of the tall order. “There are a lot of people in my generation who dreamed of being filmmakers who would love to have this job, and I feel a responsibility to all of them to make this everything that we all wish it could be,” he says. “If I can pull that off, that’s my gift back to Steven.” —Tim Stack

1. The Avengers: Age of Ultron

STARRING Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, James Spader, Chris Evans

DIRECTED BY Joss Whedon

RATED PG-13

RELEASE DATE May 1

BOX OFFICE PREDICTION $555 million

Age of Ultron pits Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Captain America, Black Widow and Hawkeye against a genocidal artificial-intelligence they created to protect the world (performed with sinister charm by James Spader). The film adds two other characters to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch and Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Quicksilver, two twins from the fictional war-torn land of Sokovia, who harbor a grudge against the man they blame for their family’s deaths: Tony Stark. It also introduces the “synthezoid” human known as The Vision (played by Paul Bettany), who has powers beyond anything the current team of heroes has faced. Meanwhile, there’s some serious interpersonal drama brewing between the superheroes themselves. For starters, that romance hinted at in the trailer between Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff and Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk alter ego, Bruce Banner, is real. Why match up Black Widow with the big green guy? Director Joss Whedon answers in song, crooning, “‘Tale as old as time…'” from Beauty and the Beast.  —Anthony Breznican

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