What will be the highest-grossing film of summer 2023?

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Believe it or not, the summer movie season is here. The release of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 on May 5 marks the start of the most packed summer at the movies since before the pandemic, with Indiana Jones, Ariel, Batman, Optimus Prime, and Ethan Hunt all set to battle it out for box office supremacy. So what film will come out on top as the highest-grossing of the season worldwide? Here are our predictions for what the top 10 of the summer will look like and what the worldwide gross of each film may be: 

Honorable mentions

Just barely missing out on the top 10 is Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, which could easily still make it in. The original Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is beloved, so much so that you may be surprised to learn it only grossed $384 million worldwide, making it just the 25th highest-grossing movie of 2018. There's reason to think the sequel will improve upon that performance, though, thanks to a subsequent streaming bump for the original, but perhaps not quite enough to compete with some of the heavy hitters being released this season. Box office watchers might also keep an eye on Haunted Mansion, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, and Meg 2: The Trench, all of which could outperform expectations, especially if one or more of these other contenders wildly disappoints.

10. 'Oppenheimer' — $430 million

Christopher Nolan is among a handful of directors whose name is a brand in and of itself, which should benefit his latest project, Oppenheimer. Centered on the "father of the atomic bomb," it's another Nolan movie based on actual events; the last time he tackled history was in Dunkirk, which grossed $527 million worldwide. Oppenheimer may come in below that, though, given it looks a bit more like a traditional biopic. Indeed, this could be the riskiest Nolan proposition in years considering it doesn't have a high concept hook like Tenet or Inception, nor is it driven by stunning battle sequences like Dunkirk. But Nolan did use IMAX cameras, suggesting the movie may not be totally free of visual grandeur. Ultimately, Oppenheimer could live or die depending on how much of a standard biography it turns out to be and whether audiences feel it's truly worthy of the big-screen experience. 

9. 'Barbie' — $450 million

The biggest wild card of the summer is Greta Gerwig's Barbie. The movie has been fervently anticipated by extremely online film fans thanks to the involvement of the Little Women director and those campy, candy-colored trailers. But will general audiences be equally intrigued? There's sure to be skepticism among those assuming that a movie based on a doll line will be nothing more than a 90-minute commercial. So the question is whether the marketing can effectively sell it as something more than that, especially to audiences who have no idea who Gerwig is. If Barbie is as much of a blast of summer escapist fun as the trailers promise, it has the potential to become the 2023 equivalent of The LEGO Movie, which was viewed with similar skepticism but grossed $468 million in 2014 thanks to strong word of mouth. But this one's a real coin toss, as Barbie could just as easily become the latest example of internet hype not translating into real-world interest, especially if the adult humor in the most recent trailer keeps families away. 

8. 'Transformers: Rise of the Beasts' — $550 million

The Transformers movies were once slam dunk box office monsters, with 2011's Transformers: Dark of the Moon and 2014's Age of Extinction both passing the $1 billion mark. But audiences seemed to lose interest in the series by the most recent mainline installment, The Last Knight, which only took in $605 million. That made it the worst-performing movie in the series not counting the spinoff Bumblebee, which made $467 million. Six years have passed since The Last Knight — was that enough of a cooling-off period for audiences to miss Transformers? Perhaps a bit, and the fact that this is the first film in the main series not directed by Michael Bay could give it a fresh-enough perspective to not feel like more of the same. Still, six years isn't that long of a break, and keeping in mind the series' previous downward trajectory, we wouldn't expect Rise of the Beasts to reach the heights that Transformers did a decade ago.

7. 'Elemental' — $600 million 

Could this be a rebound summer for Pixar? The animation studio had a rough season last year, as its Toy Story spinoff Lightyear wildly disappointed with a disastrous $226 million worldwide haul. If part of the reason for that was that audiences were conditioned during the pandemic to wait and watch Pixar movies on Disney+, then the studio's next film, Elemental, could also be in trouble. But if Lightyear's failure was specific to issues with that movie and its confusing "the real Buzz Lightyear that the toy is based on" hook, then Elemental could see the studio bounce back. Set in a city where the elements of fire, water, land, and air live together, it looks like sort of a cross between Inside Out and Zootopia, both of which were huge hits, as the former grossed $858 million and the latter took in $1 billion. But if Elemental performs closer to Lightyear, some soul-searching about the state of the Pixar brand will be in order. 

6. 'The Flash' — $750 million

Never underestimate the power of nostalgia. The DC universe is in a state of disarray, and Shazam! Fury of the Gods was recently a big box office disappointment. On top of that, The Flash stars Ezra Miller, an actor who has been repeatedly arrested and accused of assault, grooming, and running a cult. But let's be honest: The average moviegoer has no idea who Ezra Miller is, let alone their alleged criminal history. What they do know is that The Flash features Michael Keaton's return as Batman, which was one of the most talked about moments from any Super Bowl spot this year. Warner Bros. clearly believes it has a major crowd-pleaser on its hands, and even Tom Cruise has supposedly gone to bat for The Flash. If they're right, this could be DC's biggest hit in years. But if audiences are tuning out DC because they know James Gunn plans to wipe the slate clean, even the Keaton hook might not be enough. 

5. 'Fast X' — $800 million

The most recent Fast & Furious installment, 2021's F9, didn't perform as well as its predecessor at the box office with a $726 million worldwide gross, though to be fair, it was certainly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Even prior to COVID, though, the eighth installment saw a decline from the seventh, so it's possible a bit of Fast fatigue may be setting in. But Fast X has the benefit of allegedly being the penultimate installment of the long-running franchise, making it sort of the Avengers: Infinity War of this series. Its performance could hinge on whether that hook will be effectively sold to audiences, giving the film a finale boost, or whether it will simply feel like another sequel. Either way, if only because COVID is no longer as much of a factor at the box office as it was in 2021, the worldwide gross of F9 should at least be this sequel's floor. 

4. 'Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One' — $850 million  

The surprise winner of the summer box office crown last year was Top Gun: Maverick, and few expected it would be such a juggernaut. So it's tempting to predict that history will repeat itself with Tom Cruise's next big movie, Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One. But before we get ahead of ourselves, keep in mind that the highest-grossing Mission: Impossible film to date, Fallout, still only made $791 million worldwide. Maverick has likely primed the pump and should boost interest in seeing Cruise perform more death-defying stunts, affording Dead Reckoning the chance to outgross Fallout. But reaching the top box office position for the second consecutive year may be an impossible mission for Cruise given this franchise doesn't have the same kind of nostalgia factor that Maverick did, nor has it been absent from screens for decades. Plus, could the Part One title leave audiences feeling like they'll be getting an incomplete movie and should just wait for Part Two? Still, if there is one man who can shock the world for yet another summer, it's Cruise, so don't count Mission out. 

3. 'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3' — $875 million 

Recent talk that Marvel is losing its grip over the box office may fade away rather quickly when Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 debuts. The original movie grossed $773 million in 2014, while Vol. 2 came closer to a billion in 2017, taking in $863 million. The wait for this third chapter was longer than anyone anticipated thanks to writer and director James Gunn's temporary firing by Disney. But that long hiatus may only benefit Vol. 3, creating pent-up demand to see these characters in their own movie again. Vol. 3 should also benefit from the fact that Gunn has repeatedly described it as the finale of his trilogy, making this effectively the Avengers: Endgame of Guardians. All the pieces are in place for it to crush, so should the film stumble like Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania did in February, it may officially be time for Marvel to hit the panic button. 

2. 'Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny' — $950 million

The Top Gun: Maverick of this summer doesn't have to be a Tom Cruise movie. Instead, it could simply be another sequel in a franchise that appeals to older audiences, centers around a major movie star, and hasn't been on the big screen in a long time. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny fits the bill. The series' most recent film, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, grossed $790 million in 2008, the equivalent of over $1 billion in today's dollars. If Dial of Destiny doesn't quite soar to those heights, it could be because audiences still feel burned over that 2008 film, which received a polarizing reception. But then again, Star Wars: The Force Awakens wasn't held back by the divisive reception of the prequels, which were released 10 years earlier compared to the 15-year gap between Crystal Skull and Dial of Destiny. Sometimes, time heals all wounds with movie fans. 

1. 'The Little Mermaid' — $1 billion 

Certain corners of the internet love to hate on Disney's live-action remakes, but it shouldn't be discounted how massive they have been at the box office. 2017's Beauty and the Beast grossed an enormous $1.2 billion, becoming the second biggest movie of that year, and it made more money than the most recent Guardians, Indiana Jones, Mission: Impossible, and Fast & Furious films. 2019's The Lion King also took in a mind-boggling $1.6 billion, while 2019's Aladdin made $1.05 billion. The Little Mermaid is up there as one of Disney's most beloved animated classics, so there's no reason to think its live-action rendition won't perform on the same level, especially if Lin-Manuel Miranda delivers a new song that's as much of a banger as "We Don't Talk About Bruno." Though there has been a racist backlash to the casting of a Black woman (Halle Bailey) as Ariel, the haters could very well be drowned out by the young Black girls flocking to the theater, delighted to see themselves represented on screen. Strap in for the summer in which the idea that Twitter is not real life is put to the test.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

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