By Todd Cunningham - LOS ANGELES (TheWrap.com) - If there's any hope for Hollywood's summer of 2012 to match the record box office of last year, it's going to need some help.
Even though it's only early August the summer's story is largely written, highlighted by the record-breaking run of "The Avengers" and the success of "The Dark Knight Rises" in the face of horrific tragedy.
Universal's "The Bourne Legacy" and "The Expendables 2" from Lionsgate are coming up and both are tracking strongly and look like $100 million movies. But barring an unforeseen breakout hit, the summer's domestic grosses will likely fall short of last year's record $4.4 billion haul.
A late-season surprise along the lines of last year's "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" or "The Help," both of which over-performed and played well into September, would come in handy.
So which upcoming movies offer the best hope? Here are some that while not necessarily tracking as hits right now - they wouldn't be surprises then, would they? - might fit that bill:
Will Ferrell and Zach Galafianakis have been working overtime to promote the comedy from Warner Bros., in which they star as two Southern politicians vying for a Congressional seat. They may be reaching critical mass in terms of audience awareness and tracking is on the rise.
"I think the timing on this is perfect," BoxOffice.com editor-in-chief Phil Contrino told TheWrap. "President Obama and Mitt Romney are going at it in real life and people want to laugh about it. If it came out in October, I think people would be sick of it." If any movie has a chance of cracking the $100 million club, this is the most likely. Jay Roach ("Little Fockers") directs. It opens August 10.
This dramedy will skew older but, as this summer's success of "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" shows, that can be a good thing. Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones star as a long-wed couple seeking to reinvigorate their marriage under the guidance of hotshot couples counselor Steve Carell.
"Women over 35 are so terribly ignored during the summer that there's almost certainly an appetite for this film," Contrino said. Sony would love to see this perform like another Streep film that came out in August, "Julie and Julia," which made $94 million in 2009. It opens August 8 and will vie with "Bourne Legacy" and "The Campaign" on August 10, but those movies are targeting different demographics.
This one makes the list based on its pedigree. It will be the second stop-action animated film from Focus Features and Laika Entertainment, the team behind 2009's "Coraline." That movie was an Academy Award nominee for best animated feature and rang up $75 million at the box office. This one, the tale of a boy who tries to save his hometown by battling ghouls, ghosts and grown-ups, isn't tracking that strongly.
It opens August 17, so Focus will be hoping parents still have some money left after ponying up for "Brave," "Madagascar 3" and the latest "Ice Age" entry.
This remake of the 1976 movie of the same name follows three singing teenage sisters from Detroit during the Motown era. "American Idol" star Jordin Sparks stars in the musical drama, along with Derek Luke, Mike Epps, Cee-Lo Green and the late Whitney Houston. This was to be Houston's film comeback - she hadn't appeared in a movie since 1996's "The Preacher's Wife" - but she died in February while the project was in post-production. Songs from the original movie by Curtis Mayfield will be featured, along with new music from R. Kelly. Sony can count on a solid opening fueled by fans of Houston, but staying poser will be the key to whether this plays more like "Dreamgirls" or "Cadillac Records."
Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as a Manhattan bicycle messenger who is pursued throughout the city after he picks up a package. David Koepp directs and co-wrote "Rush" with John Kamps. Koepp knows his way around a high-concept movie, having written 2002's "Panic Room." Gordon-Levitt's star is in ascendancy, coming off "The Dark Knight Rises" with "Looper" and "Abraham Lincoln" on the way later this year. Sony is opening it on August 24.