Well, 2019 was one crazy year for movies. We saw Disney break all sorts of box office records with a series of $1 billion hits including Avengers: Endgame ($2.79 billion), the highest-grossing movie of all time. Warner Bros.’ Joker exceeded all expectations by becoming the first R-rated film to surpass $1 billion. A handful of highly-touted blockbusters out-right bombed across the industry and several major franchises are now on hold as their respective studios figure out what to do next.
Like I said: pure craziness.
As the end of the year draws near, it’s the perfect time to start looking ahead to try and predict which major movies will emerge as the highest-grossing hits of 2020.
Birds of Prey (February 7)
DC Films is enjoying an impressive rebound under president Walter Hamada, who was installed atop the studio following the disastrous Justice League. Dating back to 2017, three out of DC’s last four live-action movies have grossed at least $820 million worldwide. All three are currently among the 10 highest-grossing films of their respective release years.
Director Cathy Yan’s Birds of Prey, which follows Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn as she moves on from the events of Suicide Squad, is expected to be R-rated when it arrives in theaters in February. That hasn’t stopped Logan ($619 million), the Deadpool movies ($1.5 billion combined) or Joker ($1.05 billion) from putting up mammoth worldwide totals. One thing working against the film, however, is the unfamiliarity casual movie-goers may have with the supporting characters in Birds of Prey. That could cap its upside à la Shazam!.
Onward (March 6)
Since 2015, Pixar has released seven movies, four of which have become top-10 hits in their respective release years. On average, Pixar movies earn $655 million at the worldwide box office and three of the studio’s last five releases have surpassed the $1 billion mark. All of this is a long-winded way of saying that Pixar is always a sound bet to land near the top.
Onward is set in a once-magical world of elves, trolls, and mythical creatures that has lost its sense of magic in an age of modernization. Tom Holland and Chris Pratt star as teenage elf brothers who embark on a fantastical quest in an attempt to spend one day with their late father. Dan Scanlon (Monsters University) directs.
Mulan (March 27)
Including sequels, Disney has released 13 live-action reimaginings of classic animated tales. Four of them (Alice in Wonderland, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King) have surpassed $1 billion worldwide. On average, Disney’s live-action remake treatment has generated north of $690 million per picture.
However, director Niki Caro’s upcoming version is not a musical and is not expected to feature fan-favorite characters such as the Eddie Murphy voiced Mushu from the original. As a result, your average Disney fan may not race to the theater with the same enthusiasm reserved for, say, The Lion King. Still, we’re not betting against it.
No Time to Die (April 8)
2012’s Skyfall ($1.1 billion) and 2015’s Spectre ($880 million) are the two highest-grossing entries in the 24-film James Bond franchise, so it stands to reason that No Time to Die is due to make a pretty penny. As the final outing for star Daniel Craig as 007, there’s the added value of selling the film as a grand conclusion; Pierce Brosnan’s last Bond film happened to be his highest-grossing turn in the series.
007 also has history on his side. The last James Bond film that failed to land among the 10 highest worldwide grossers in its release year was 1989’s License to Kill. No Time to Die is working from a solid foundation.
Black Widow (May 1)
Marvel is the single-most consistently successful Hollywood creation in history. The studio does not miss. Including Sony’s Spider-Man films, the MCU boasts nine top-10 hits since 2015. Five of the last six MCU movies have crossed the vaunted $1 billion mark. But that doesn’t mean they’re invincible.
Fans have been clamoring for a Black Widow solo film starring Scarlett Johansson for years. But as the first entry in Phase IV and without the support of the epic 11-year Infinity Saga as a safety net, is it reasonable to expect the same record-breaking totals each time out? There’s no doubt that Marvel can maintain momentum in a post-Endgame world, but the immediate future will still be a tough test.
Fast & Furious 9 (May 22)
Domestic interest in the Fast & Furious franchise has been somewhat waning, with the last three entries (including August’s spinoff Hobbs & Shaw) yielding diminishing returns. But when your floor for North American ticket sales is around $170 million, you’re still flexing some solid muscle.
Any dip in audience enthusiasm here at home has been more than offset by consistent turnout in China, where the franchise is averaging nearly $330 million (!) per release since 2015. The Fate of the Furious and Furious 7 each earned upwards of $1 billion in overseas ticket sales alone. That’s downright astonishing.
Universal has released five Fast & Furious films this decade and all five of them have landed among their release year’s top-10 (as of this writing). Until one of these gasoline-fueled action adventures stalls out, we can’t discount them.
Wonder Woman 1984 (June 5)
2017’s Wonder Woman scored more than $820 million worldwide including a massive $409 million here at home. Opening in the same weekend and without any major competition within two weeks of its release on either side, Wonder Woman 1984 is poised for a similarly lucrative run.
Originally, the sequel was set to open in November, but Warner Bros. pushed the release to allow for more development time. Anticipation is high for 1984 after director Patty Jenkins delivered the crowd-pleasing original and DC’s recent rebound reinvigorated fan enthusiasm.
Soul (June 19)
Remember all the Pixar stats we threw out for Onward? The same applies here for Soul, which introduces Joe Gardner, a middle-school band teacher whose true passion is playing jazz. When Joe thinks his dream might be in reach, a single unexpected step sends him to a fantastical place where he’s forced to think again about what it truly means to have soul.
Soul will run into some tough competition shortly after its release, which may cap its upside, but Pixar has mastered the four-quadrant sweet spot that is largely demographic-proof. Pete Docter (Inside Out) and Kemp Powers (Star Trek: Discovery) are directing.
Tenet (July 17)
We’re living in the age of the branded franchise blockbuster. Every major movie is now part of a pre-existing library of content such as Marvel, DC and Star Wars. But a select few storytellers are universes unto themselves, capable of attracting audiences en masse through name power alone. Christopher Nolan is one example as a filmmaker that has managed to cultivate his own brand of prestige blockbuster cinema.
Outside of the Dark Knight trilogy, Nolan’s originals have similarly become bankable worldwide successes. Dunkirk ($525 million), Interstellar ($677 million) and Inception ($830 million) are all reasonable expectations for Tenet, which reportedly carries a massive budget around $225 million. As is customary for Nolan features, story details are few and far between (we have a complete breakdown of the film’s teaser, which was leaked and then quickly removed from the internet over the summer). What we do know is that it will be set within the world of espionage and likely connect to the time continuum and that it stars John David Washington, Robert Pattinson and Elizabeth Debicki.
Eternals (November 6)
Eternals may be fighting an uphill battle as casual movie-goers outside of die-hard comic book fans have little familiarity with the group of immortal aliens. Then again, a lack of mainstream awareness didn’t prevent Guardians of the Galaxy from breaking out and becoming one of Marvel’s blue chip franchises. Until MCU movies start flopping, it’s difficult to say with any certainty that any of them will struggle to turn a profit.
Eternals follows a group of super-powered individuals created by the Celestials to protect humanity from their god-like evil counterparts, the Deviants. Director Chloé Zhao (The Rider) has assembled a stellar cast that includes: Angelina Jolie, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Brian Tyree Henry, Salma Hayek, Kit Harington, and Gemma Chan.
Honorable Mentions: A Quiet Place 2, Candyman, Top Gun: Maverick, Jungle Cruise, Morbius, The King’s Man, Dune, West Side Story