Memorial Day weekend is always a busy one, but it's never been quite like this one. In one of the oddest showdowns in recent memory, Universal and Warner Bros. decided to go head-to-head with Fast & Furious 6 and The Hangover Part III, two high-profile sequels targeting similar audiences. While it's impossible to say exactly how much cannibalization will occur, there's ultimately only so much money to go around, and this bizarre move probably won't help either movie.
In that head-to-head matchup, Fast & Furious 6 does at least seem to have a pretty clear advantage. Its predecessor, Fast Five, easily became the highest-grossing entry in the franchise when it earned an impressive $209.8 million in 2011. It's also a fan favorite, which translates in to a lot of goodwill for the sixth entry. Universal wisely brought back all of the major cast members, and previews suggest that the outrageous vehicular action is once again in full effect (in particular, the "car exploding out of the front of a plane" scene has been talked about ad nauseum). Still, Fast Five faced comparatively light competition, and there's a sense that the franchise could have climaxed with that entry. Look for the sixth entry to come close to its predecessor's gross, if not very slightly exceed it. The Hangover Part III, on the other hand, is in a much tougher position. The first two movies were massive comedy hits with $277.3 million and $254.5 million, respectively; however, the second one was widely maligned, and was so successful largely because of the popularity of the first movie. In general, the track record for third entries is a drop from the predecessor, and that's exacerbated among comedies (for example, Little Fockers was off 47 percent from Meet the Fockers). While the previews for Hangover Part III do have a few stand-out moments, the premise is less clear this time around, and with the intense competition from Fast & Furious 6 there's no reason to expect it to buck the three-quel trend. A final domestic gross below $200 million seems likely.
Also opening on Memorial Day, Blue Sky Animation's Epic is the first family entertainment since The Croods opened at the end of March, which means starved family audiences will definitely give it a look. Unfortunately, the movie appears to be heavier on action than on comedy, which isn't usually a recipe for success for animated fare. With the strong release date—animated movies have generally performed well in this spot—the movie should ultimately earn at least $100 million, but it might not go much higher if some families hold out for more-appealing sequels Monsters University and Despicable Me 2. May 31
While the movies opening on May 31 only get to play for one day during the month, they do still technically qualify as "May" releases.
Will and Jaden Smith sci-fi adventure After Earth was supposed to open on June 7, but was very recently moved up a week to May 31 (not that there's necessarily causation here, but the move was announced right after the latest excellent Man of Steel trailer was released). The senior Smith has an exceptional box office track record—nine of his last 10 movies have earned over $138 million at the domestic box office—while Jaden last movie, 2010's The Karate Kid, was a massive hit with $176.6 million. Still, it doesn't seem like After Earth has been able to generate much enthusiasm so far, and it's going to have a tough time standing out after the major releases of the previous two weeks. On star power alone, it's hard to imagine this earning less than $100 million at the domestic box office—and it should be much, much bigger overseas—but it will almost certainly be one of Smith's lower-grossing movies.
On Memorial Day weekend, Sony Pictures Classics will release Richard Linklater's Before Midnight, which is the sequel to 2004's Before Sunset. While the first two Before movies earned $5.5 million and $5.8 million, respectively, they have found a loyal following in the post-theatrical realm, and with fantastic reviews it would be disappointing if this wound up at the same level.
At the end of the month, Fox Searchlight releases anarchist thriller The East, while CBS Films opens Sundance hit The Kings of Summer. Both have some pluses and minuses, though it would be surprising if either wound up noticeably breaking out.