'Fast & Furious 6' vs. 'The Hangover III': The summer's biggest box office showdown revs up

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Image Credit: Universal/Warner Bros.

We're a full month away, but do you know what are you doing this Memorial Day? If two studios have their way, you'll be spending a big chunk of it in a movie theater where a pair of highly anticipated sequels will be facing off. On May 24, the Warner Bros. comedy The Hangover Part III and the Universal action-adventure Fast & Furious 6 will premiere with hopes of drawing on their similarly young, male core demographic—while not stomping on each other's toes in the process. "It's as close to a coin-flip weekend as you'll ever see in the summer season," says Phil Contrino, VP/chief analyst of BoxOffice.com. "Eighteen-to 34-year-old males—that's the bread and butter for both [franchises]

. Those people will have to make a decision that weekend.” Past performances show the franchises to be extremely well matched: Fast Five opened with $86.2 million in April 2011, while The Hangover Part II opened with $85.9 million on Memorial Day weekend that same year.

Despite the direct competition, each studio professes confidence that its film is poised for holiday box office supremacy. Universal, emboldened by the success of Fast Five (which nabbed $209 million domestically), announced Fast & Furious 6‘s May 24 release before Warner Bros. declared Hangover III would hit the same day. But Dan Fellman, Warner Bros.’ president of domestic distribution, rejects the idea that his studio moved onto someone else’s turf. “Who owns a date? It was my date,” the exec tells EW. “Everybody knew we were making Hangover III, and Hangover II opened on Memorial Day.”

The challenge now for both films’ distributors is getting young men and their dates in the door during those first three days. Universal kicked off Fast & Furious 6‘s advertising campaign with a crash-‘n’-explosions-filled Super Bowl trailer, which generated massive social-media response. “We’re using the social footprints of our cast as a really important outlet for how we connect,” says Josh Goldstine, Universal’s president of marketing, who allowed stars like Vin Diesel (who has 40 million Facebook fans and counting) to post on-set photos during production.

Warner Bros. is also ramping up Hangover III‘s marketing campaign, selling it as a must-see conclusion to a hard-partying trilogy starring Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, and Ed Helms. The film’s “It All Ends” posters are a tongue-in-cheek reference to Harry Potter‘s similarly conclusive campaign. In all likelihood, both movies will do well, so Hangover III director Todd Phillips isn’t losing sleep over his speedy competition. “That’s how it is every summer,” he says. “Every weekend is crazy.”

Right now, I think Fast & Furious 6 has the clear edge on opening weekend. Thanks to the positive reception (both critically and financially) of Fast Five, the street-racing franchise is on the upswing, and with eye-popping stunts like the explosive plane crash showcased in its trailer, Fast & Furious 6 has more must-see appeal on the big screen. I also helps that the series has played increasinlgly well with Latin and urban audiences.

The Hangover Part III, meanwhile, comes on the heels of a sequel that most saw as an uninspired retread of the original. Part II‘s $254.5 million domestic haul was impressive, but it trailed the original Hangover‘s gross ($277.3 million) by 8 percent. I’m thinking that declines will negatively affect Hangover once again, though if the film turns out to be good, it could easily achieve a higher multiplier than Fast & Furious 6 since comedies tend to hold very well in the summer.

Early box office prediction:
Fast & Furious 6 – $110 million opening (May 24-27), $235 million total
The Hangover Part III – $85 million opening (May 24-27), $215 million total

And, just for fun, here are a few other notable box office showdowns to keep an eye on:

This is the End vs. Man of Steel (June 14)
No one is going to argue that This is the End has any chance of outgrossing Man of Steel, but both are shaping up to do major business this summer, thanks to unexpectedly glowing pre-release buzz. Right now, Man of Steel should open well above $100 million and soar past $300 million. Meanwhile, This is the End could play much like The Devil Wears Prada, which also opened against a Superman movie in 2006 and wound up with a $125 million domestic finish.

Monsters University vs. World War Z (June 21)
Until Paramount decides to finally unveil an actual ZOMBIE in their marketing campaign, I think Monsters U has the clear advantage thanks to always-lucrative family business. Monsters Inc. earned $255.9 million in 2001, and with the aid of nostalgia and sequel appeal, I think University has a clear shot at $260 million. World War Z, meanwhile, has been plagued with worrisome production stories.

The Heat vs. White House Down (June 28)
It’s boys with guns against girls with guns in late June. While White House Down seems like it’s arriving late to the party following the success of fellow White House thriller Olympus Has Fallen, which has earned $89.5 million and counting, The Heat stars the red hot Melissa McCarthy, who helped Identity Thief earn $132.7 million already this year, alongside reliable box office draw Sandra Bullock. I think both films could easily reach $100 million, but right now, I’m giving this one to The Heat.

The Lone Ranger vs. Despicable Me 2 (July 3)
Disney’s western, which stars Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp, cost a reported $250 million and just may be the biggest gamble of the summer. After all, the highest grossing western of the last 20 years, True Grit, earned only $171 million domestically. Universal’s animated sequel, meanwhile, will almost certainly surpass $200 million considering the original earned $251 million in 2010.

2 Guns vs. 300: Rise of an Empire (August 2)
Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg make for a pretty appealing action pair, which may bring more business to 2 Guns than its derivative trailer suggests it deserves. Conventional wisdom suggests that 300: Rise of an Empire should be a sure bet — its predecessor basically invented the March blockbuster weekend with its $70.9 million bow — but the original is arrived six years ago, and the heat on the franchise has cooled considerably. It’s way too early to call, but if I had to guess right now, I think both of these miss $100 million.

I’d love to hear your predictions for this summer’s upcoming crop of box office hopefuls, so leave them in the comments below. And feel free to get in touch on Twitter, too:

Read more:
Justin Lin won’t direct ‘Fast & Furious 7′
Dive deep into the ‘Fast & Furious 6′ trailer
Check out the new ‘The Hangover Part III’ trailer

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