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Which summer movie will emerge triumphant?

Now we’re not ones to encourage any illegal wagering, but putting your money on ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End’ would be the smart bet. By Stuart Levine
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

If the movie studios are going to make a few kazillion dollars this summer, shouldn’t you cash in as well?

That’s why we’re here to help you fill out your summer box office pool, to determine which movies will trounce the competition. This way, you can sit and watch “Pirates of the Caribbean” with a smile, knowing it’s not only Captain Jack landing the loot.

1.  “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” (May 25): After the first “Pirates” movie made $305 million and last year’s sequel earned an additional $423 million, we’re not going out on a ledge — or would that be a plank? — to assume “At World’s End” is going to be huge.

“Dead Man’s Chest” received mostly awful reviews, but that certainly didn’t stop audiences from plunking down their $10 to watch Johnny Depp escape inane wily predicaments. The point being, “Pirates” seems review proof and no matter how the critics chime in, “At World’s End” will be the summer’s most plentiful bounty.

Summer projection: $335 million (through Labor Day)

2.   “Spider-Man 3” (May 4): Unlike “Pirates,” “Spider-Man” actually takes itself seriously and can rightly be called the best comic book-turned-movie of all time. Whether he likes it or not, Tobey Maguire will now and forever be linked to the tight, red costume he’s worn in all three of these films, one that may cut off his circulation but has made him a very rich man.

The advantage of this third installment is that it gets out of the gate earlier than anyone else and has two weeks of open real estate before another blockbuster hits the multiplex. Expect to see Spidey spin a web of nearly $200 million before the competition knew what him them.

Summer projection: $298 million

3. “Shrek the Third” (May 18): Anyone noticing a pattern here? Billion-dollar franchises, I guess, comes in three’s. Of these May goliaths, “Shrek” has the advantage of being the most family friendly, as the two others might scare off the tykes — meaning repeat business should be expected as well.

On the down side, the trailers lack the wow factor and it’s difficult to say how much the story will differ from before. Even if the film falls short of financial expectations at theaters, DVD, video games and Princess Fiona dolls will surely make this one an ogre-achiever.

Summer projection: $290 million

4. “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” (July 13): There a few sure things in life: Republicans fighting with Democrats, Simon Cowell dissing an “American Idol” contestant and geeks lining up for days outside the theater — wearing pointy wizard hats — waiting to see the next “Harry Potter” movie.

Hard to believe that it’s the fifth “Potter” movie already but if book readers keep coming out in droves, Warner Bros. will keep pumping them out until Harry’s as old as Dumbledore. The four “Potter” pictures have grossed a combined $1.1 billion — yes, that’s billion, with a b.

The only downside here is that “Phoenix” is only the second movie of the franchise to be released in summer, not winter. “Prisoner of Azkaban” was the other, and that earned the lowest of any of the films.

Summer projection: $270 million

5.  “Evan Almighty” (June 22): The sequel to “Bruce Almighty” finds Steve Carell replacing Jim Carrey. While Carrey is a consistent box office performer — at least for comedies — Carell’s no slouch either and Universal is counting on him to pull off some of his well-earned “40-Year-Old Virgin” mojo.

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That one earned $109 million and, more than any other film in his career, got Carell noticed as a legitimate movie star. The premise — Carell has to build an ark because God (Morgan Freeman, reprising his holy role from the first), gives him a heads up that the great flood is on the way. If the spiritual stuff goes way over the kids’ heads, the animals should keep ’em laughing the whole way through.

Summer projection: $250 million

6. “Transformers” (July 4): OK, here’s the upside: It’s July 4 and there are outer space creatures to be killed. That’s proven to be a pretty potent combo. Back in 1996, Will Smith saved the world from intergalactic bad boys on the same holiday weekend en route to a $306 million winner. Like then, the weekend lasts five days (the 4th falls on a Wednesday), so look for a giant opener.

After that initial surge, however, the question remains which Michael Bay movie is this? Is it more “Armageddon, “The Rock” and “Pearl Harbor” — all super box office performers — or “The Island,” his most recent film that turned into one of the biggest bombs of the past few years? A movie so bad the producers blamed Scarlett Johansson and Ewan McGregor for part of its failure.

It’s got a lot of buzz among the fanboys but it’s still tough to predict if it play beyond that core group. One thing’s for sure, if this one’s no good, Bay won’t be working anytime soon.

Summer projection: $235 million

7. “The Bourne Ultimatum” (Aug. 3): Having Paul Greengrass back behind the camera guarantees this will be a first-class action film, and it’s those amazing chase scenes that have made “Bourne” a bonafide crowd pleaser. Both with women, who like to watch some Matt Damon eye candy, and to guys who get to live through his international free-wheeling exploits.

The August date doesn’t do it any favors, though. It has less of a chance to rack up dollars through Labor Day, when the kids go back to school, and if summer movies have been bad up to that point, the public might start to feel cheated and not willing to head back to the theaters, spending their spare cash on something else.

Summer projection: $200 million

8. “Ratatouille” (June 29): Two rules of summer: Wear plenty of sunscreen and never bet against Pixar. The animation giant knows a thing or two about how to produce a ’toon that entertains not only junior, but makes mom and dad laugh as well.

With a resume that starts with “Toy Story” 12 years ago — and includes such winners as “Monsters, Inc.,” “Finding Nemo,” The Incredibles” and “Cars” — the Pixar brand has become synonymous with quality. Don’t expect that to change with the rat-infested “Ratatouille.”

Summer projection: $195 million

9.  “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry” (July 20): Give Adam Sandler credit for trying to stretch his acting wings into more serious fare but, hey, the man’s gotta eat. A Sandler comedy means a big paycheck for Adam and a box office guarantee.

“Click” earned $137 million last summer, “The Longest Yard” $158 million before that and even a February release of “50 First Dates” captured $120 million of the public’s money. The Cal Ripken Jr. of film, give the guy props for consistency. And imagine if this one’s actually funny? “Chuck” will earn a buck.

Summer projection: $190 million

10. “Knocked Up” (June 1): I’ve actually seen this one already but have a hard time remembering certain scenes since I was wiping the tears from my face. It’s that funny. Slobbish Seth Rogan has a one-night stand with “Grey's Anatomy” star Katherine Heigl and neither are ready for parenthood.

Writer-director Judd Apatow, who had the same duties on “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” might be the hottest comic property in Hollywood. He’s got eight projects in the works right now and knows as well as anyone how to blend sincerity with hilarity.

Summer projection: $175 million

Stuart Levine is a senior editor at Variety. He can be reached at .