Box Office Predictions: April 26-28

Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson look to nab the top spot at the box office this weekend with Pain and Gain. On Monday, I wrote a post outlining my thoughts on how it’ll open. The full rundown is linked below and I’m projecting a $23.8 million debut.

The weekend’s other newbie is The Big Wedding, with its all-star cast. Again, my Monday post on its box office viability is linked below. I’m going with $11.2 million.

As for the holdovers, the big question is how well Tom Cruise’s Oblivion holds up in its second weekend. It opened last weekend to an impressive $37 million debut. There are some signs of trouble brewing: it received a weak B- Cinemascore grade and it now has direct competition for the male audience with Pain. A drop of over 50% is a strong possibility.

42 and The Croods should experience relatively minimal declines and remain in the top five. And with that, my predictions for the last weekend before the BIG summer movies start rolling out:

1. Pain and Gain

Predicted Gross: $23.8 million

2. Oblivion

Predicted Gross: $17.3 million (representing a drop of 53%)

3. 42

Predicted Gross: $11.5 million (representing a drop of 34%)

4. The Big Wedding

Predicted Gross: $11.2 million

5. The Croods

Predicted Gross: $6.5 million (representing a drop of 31%)

Updates will be posted throughout the weekend with the full wrap-up Sunday!

What About Bob?: The Decline of De Niro

Twenty years ago, as I was just beginning to develop my love of film that has only grown through time, I was given a book about the films of Robert De Niro. It wasn’t just about his most famous picturesIt devoted extensive chapters to each and every one of the films Mr. De Niro had made up until that point which (at the time) was his first quarter century on the silver screen. It’s called The Films of De Niro by Douglas Brode.

For most of my life, when people ask me who I believe is the greatest actor of all time – my answer is De Niro. Unfortunately, this answer has little to do with – oh, let’s say the last 15 years or so of his career. At least.

At a certain point (especially with the dawn of the 21st century) Mr. De Niro simply seemed to stop caring about what movies he chose to do. Whereas a film lover used to anticipate each De Niro performance to see what this brilliant actor would do with each successive role, this ceased to be the case in relatively recent history.

I will not extensively go over the first 20-30 years of his career where we saw one amazing performance after another. We know the pictures are many. Mean Streets. The Godfather Part II. Taxi Driver. The Deer Hunter. Raging Bull. The King of Comedy. Midnight Run. GoodFellas. Cape Fear. Heat. Casino.

The slide may have started in the late 90s/early 2000s with two wildly successful comedies that were both good. Analyze This in 1999 and then Meet the Parents in 2000. They both turned De Niro into a briefly bankable comedic actor. His attempts to capitalize sometimes worked (Meet the Fockers was an enormous hit, even though I felt it didn’t hold a candle to the original). However, most of his follow-up comedies were mediocre at best: the lame Analyze This sequel Analyze That, the wasted opportunity buddy cop flick Showtime with Eddie Murphy, and the dreadful third entry into his franchise Little Fockers. 

There were way too many instances during the last few years where my reaction was: “Why is De Niro doing that?” Some examples: two substandard horror/suspense flicks – 2004’s Godsend and 2005’s Hide and Seek. A poorly received re-teaming with Al Pacino in 2008’s Righteous Kill. Being part of the critically reviled ensemble piece New Year’s Eve in 2011. Playing second fiddle to both Jason Statham in 2011’s Killer Elite and 50 Cent in 2012’s direct-to-DVD Freelancers. Worst of all, in most of these titles, De Niro doesn’t even seem to be trying.

The big ensemble rom com The Big Wedding, opening this weekend, seems destined to join the growing list of forgettable De Niro films and performances. You never know. Maybe it will be the greatest wedding themed comedy of all time. Maybe it will be an influential De Niro performance that is studied and revered. Maybe it will be the best thing Katherine Heigl has done since Seth Rogen accidentally got her pregnant. Maybe it will be Diane Keaton’s best performance in a romantic comedy since the brilliant Annie Hall 36 years ago. Maybe I’ll get offered millions of dollars to take this blog public this weekend. You never know.

Luckily, us Bob fans have seen a silver lining just in the past year and it was, of course, called Silver Linings Playbook. His supporting role opposite Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence earned De Niro his first Oscar nomination in 21 years (since Cape Fear). It was a breath of fresh air to see Bob playing a well-written role opposite first-rate actors in a picture of supremely high quality. That had become a rarity in recent years.

It’s discouraging to think of that conversation when the latest generation of moviegoers discuss the greatest living actors today. They mention legitimate names like Day-Lewis and Crowe and Washington and Depp and Downey, Jr. and Penn and Gosling and DiCaprio. And if I were to chime in with De Niro, they might say, “What about him??” What About Bob? Thank goodness a certain Oscar-nominated film came out last year to remind them. And, frankly, remind myself.

John Hughes, Harold Ramis, and John Landis: The Kings of 80s Comedy

The 1980s era is considered a golden age of comedy for many, including yours truly. The reasons are plenty – this time period saw the emergence of several “Saturday Night Live” stars into the world of film, including Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Chevy Chase, John Belushi, and Dan Aykroyd, among others. Stars from SNL Canadian counterpart “SCTV” had alums such as John Candy and Martin Short make their break onto the silver screen. And legendary comics like Steve Martin and Robin Williams made some of their best cinematic contributions during this era.

Dig a little deeper, though, and there’s no question that three names in particular – John Hughes, Harold Ramis, and John Landis – may be more responsible than anyone for the abundance of memorable comedies in this era. Between these three artists, their directorial and writing contributions to over two dozens titles between 1978-1993 define that time. In some cases, their participation in certain projects overlapped and they sometimes worked together. Looking back at the list of films these three participated in during a relatively short time frame is astonishing. And I mean seriously astonishing.

We’ll begin with the late John Hughes because he was the most self-contained unit of the trio. Between 1984 and 1989, Hughes directed and wrote the following six pictures: 

Sixteen Candles

The Breakfast Club

Weird Science

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Uncle Buck

I know, right? What an output. Added to that, Mr. Hughes wrote some movies he didn’t direct. They are:

Mr. Mom

European Vacation

Pretty in Pink

The Great Outdoors

Christmas Vacation

Home Alone

Incredible! And that’s just one of the three dudes I’m talking about! Hughes also wrote the original Vacation, which was directed by…

Harold Ramis. You may know him best as Egon Spengler in Ghostbusters. More recently, he played Seth Rogen’s dad in Knocked Up. Great performances aside, Ramis is one of the greatest comedy directors and writers ever. During the era in question, Ramis directed:



Groundhog Day

How’s that for three classic comedies? Mr. Ramis also wrote or co-wrote:

Animal House




Back to School

Ramis’s writing work on the brilliant Animal House was assisted by equally brilliant direction from John Landis. In addition to that, Landis also directed:

The Blues Brothers

Trading Places

Spies Like Us

Three Amigos

Coming to America

That’s three immensely talented men responsible for the bulk of a wonderful era in comedy. Oh sure, there were others. Ivan Reitman directed Ghostbusters and its sequel and also directed Schwarzenegger’s hit comedies Twins and Kindergarten Cop. The team of David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker brought us Airplane!, Ruthless People, and The Naked Gun. Franz Oz directed Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and What About Bob?

Hughes, Ramis, and Landis top the list, however. Without them, we wouldn’t know:

The Griswold family…

Or Ferris Bueller…

Or Sonny&Cher waking Bill Murray up every morning…

Or Delta House and Faber College…

Or The Blues Brothers…

Or Kevin McAllister taking on Harry and Marv…

Or “It’s in the hole!” and “Be the ball”…

Or “He slimed me…”

Or Randy Watson singing “The Greatest Love of All” with his band Sexual Chocolate…

Or “You mess with the bull… you get the horns”…

I think you get the picture. When we look at what’s followed in the comedy genre since then, there are names in more recent time periods that stand out. Judd Apatow. Adam McKay. Wes Anderson. Todd Phillips. Kevin Smith. The Farrelly Brothers. Ben Stiller.

From the late 70s to the early 90s – it was Hughes, Ramis, and Landis. And we’re all lucky for that. And we’ve laughed hard (many times) because of them and will continue to every time we catch Bluto in the commissary. Or Neal Page trying to make it to Thanksgiving dinner. Or the hilarious car chases with Jake and Elmwood. Or…



The Big Wedding Box Office Prediction

The real box office battle is likely to occur between newcomer Pain and Gain and Oblivion‘s second frame this coming weekend, but there is a potential wild card with The Big Wedding, the ensemble comedy feature that debuts Friday.

Featuring an all-star cast that includes Robert De Niro, Katherine Heigl, Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon, and Robin Williams, Wedding has seen a curiously muted marketing campaign. It feels a bit as if Lionsgate has little confidence with it.

That could be a sign that, for a lack of a better term, The Big Wedding sucks. That definitely wouldn’t be a shock – the trailer isn’t very funny and it looks derivative of a lot of other flicks.

The signs point to a weak opening – little fanfare, blah trailer. The cast, filled with famous faces, doesn’t contain one actor who can open a movie nowadays. The only thing this Wedding has in its favor: there is a serious dearth of movies out right now with appeal to the female audience. That factor alone could push it to a larger than expected opening.

Anything above $14-15 million would have to be looked at as a pleasant surprise and a strong showing from females could get it there. Anything below $10 million is pretty embarrassing… and it also wouldn’t surprise me if that happened. I’ll give this Wedding the benefit of the doubt that it reaches double digits, but not by much.

The Big Wedding opening weekend prediction: $11.2 million

Pain and Gain Box Office Prediction

Michael Bay’s action-comedy Pain and Gain hits theaters this weekend and will attempt to nab the #1 spot over the second weekend of Tom Cruise’s Oblivion, which grossed a very solid $38 million this weekend.

Pain and Gain stars Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who have been omnipresent at the multiplexes in recent months. Wahlberg had a monster hit last summer with Ted and a considerable box office disappointment with January’s crime drama Broken City. The Rock, meanwhile, has been very busy. In February, it was the mid-size hit Snitch. In March, the G.I. Joe sequel. Pain and Gain for April. And for May, it’s the sixth installment in the Fast and Furious franchise.

Director Bay is mostly known for gargantuan budgeted action spectacles like Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, and the Transformers films. Pain and Gain comes with a relatively tiny $25 million budget so its highly likely to be profitable.

The combo of Wahlberg and Johnson could bring out the male and female audience. The trailers have been decent. There is, of course, still competition for the male audience with Oblivion and the female audience with this weekend’s other new entry The Big Wedding. 

Pain and Gain has the potential to open bigger than my prediction. Anything over its $25 million budget for an opening weekend would be terrific. Anything below $16-17 million would be considered fairly disappointing. I’m going a little closer to the high end.

Will my predicted opening weekend gross be enough to vault it to #1? You’ll have to wait until Wednesday for my Top 5 predictions, but my prediction here is:

Pain and Gain opening weekend prediction: $23.8 million

Later this evening, my forecast for the other opener this weekend, The Big Wedding.


Movie Perfection: Melissa McCarthy Becomes a Movie Star

It’s not often that you see a performer literally become a movie star before your eyes on the silver screen, but such an occurrence took place two summers ago.

The film was Bridesmaids, the hilarious Kristin Wiig pic that became the comedy event of 2011, to the tune of an incredible $169 million domestic at the box office. We all know by now it vaulted Wiig from SNL standout to movie star.

To many, including me, the revelation was Melissa McCarthy as Megan, Maya Rudolph’s hilarious and straight talking future sister-in-law. Her performance was the highlight of the picture, so much so that it earned McCarthy a Supporting Actress Oscar nomination. That’s usually unheard of for a comedic performance.

And while her performance was filled with generous laugh out loud moments (airplane scene, wedding dress shopping scene), it’s a quieter scene between her and Wiig that gave Bridesmaids its heart.

The scene takes place after Wiig’s character Annie has hit rock bottom. She’s moved in with her mother (who likes to paint celebrities), alienated her about to married best friend in grand giant cookie smashing fashion, and given up on a promising relationship with a kind policeman. It is McCarthy’s character who manages to snap Annie out of her funk with a truly inspirational speech that is both humorous and touching. I remember watching this scene in the theater and when Megan finally tells Annie to stop blaming the world for her problems, the theater practically broke out in spontaneous applause.

This speech works because it’s well-written. More than that, it works because McCarthy delivers it so well and so convincingly. It elevates her character from simply comic relief to being the soul of the film. I would put forth that this scene is why McCarthy got that Oscar nomination. She deserved it.

And her movie career has only improved in the past two years. This spring, McCarthy headlined Identity Thief, which was a huge hit. This summer’s The Heat with Sandra Bullock is likely to be another blockbuster.

It all started here, however. McCarthy’s speech gave us the opportunity to watch a new movie star blossom in real time. It’s a brilliant performance in a perfect scene.

2013 Summer Movie Preview Sci-Fi: Elysium, After Earth, World War Z, Pacific Rim

Summer 2012 was a, shall we say, interesting season for sci-fi titles where reaction ranged from a collective “meh” (the Total Recall remake) to a collective “what the hell was that?!?!” (Prometheus).

Summer 2013 brings us a slew of sci-fi titles from directors who are known for excelling at the genre. Of course, the highest profile entry has already been covered in my sequels preview, the J.J. Abrams directed Star Trek Into Darkness, the follow-up to the blockbuster 2009 original.

Who would’ve thought that when we knew him best for comical rap songs and clowning with Uncle Phil and Aunt Viv that Will Smith would turn into the premiere sci-fi star in the world? That’s what happened though and all we need to do is look at the evidence: Independence Day ($306M), Men in Black ($250M), Men in Black II ($190M), I, Robot ($144M), I Am Legend ($256M), and Men in Black 3 ($179M).

And even though that sterling track record shows Smith’s near infallibility in the genre, his new pic After Earth (June 7) may be a real test of his box office muscle. For starters, there was a time when the name M. Night Shyamalan got audiences into the theater. Lately though, the director’s films have been met with critical scorn and audience ambivalence, from 2006’s Lady in the Water to 2008’s The Happening to 2010’s The Last Airbender. 

After Earth stars Smith and his real-life son Jaden star in this post-apocalyptic thriller that apparently gives Shyamalan a plot without his signature twists and turns. With a $130 million price tag, the film will need robust business domestically and overseas. I find the trailer to be pretty underwhelming and filled with the stilted dialogue delivery that has unfortunately become an M. Night staple.  We’ll see if the Smith/Shyamalan combo is a winning one, but After Earth is a likely candidate for disappointing box office results.

World War Z (June 21) stars Brad Pitt and involves a worldwide zombie takeover. The pic, from Quantum of Solace director Marc Forster, has reportedly been a troubled production and the budget allegedly bloomed to nearly $200 million. The trailers are decent, but a legitimate question is whether audience will flock to see zombies taking over Earth when they get that on a certain beloved AMC TV show. Originally scheduled to be released last December, World War Z underwent reshoots last fall. I’m certainly curious to see it, but its box office forecast is a bit of a mystery at press time.

Guillermo del Toro is one of the most accomplished science fiction directors working today, having made the Hellboy flicks and Pan’s Labyrinth. On July 12, del Toro helms Pacific Rim, which involves giant frickin robots fighting giant fricking monsters. They had me at del Toro… Pacific Rim may not reach Transformers level numbers, but I’m willing to bet it’s a lot better. I’m in!

Director Neill Blomkamp burst onto the sci-fi scene with the great District 9 in the summer of 2009. It even managed to earn a Best Picture nomination. The futuristic thriller Elysium starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster is his very eagerly awaited follow-up. It’s out August 9th. I was a huge admirer of District 9 and Elysium is one of my most anticipated pictures of the season.

Combining sci-fi with comedy, R.I.P.D. (July 19) teams Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds as members of the Rest In Peace Department, officers killed in the line of duty who come back to fight crime. On paper, this sounded pretty interesting until I saw the trailer this week. Frankly, it looks like a low-rent Men in Black knock off and if this is the best they could do with the trailer, I’m skeptical.

Finally, August 23rd’s The Colony casts Laurence Fishburne and Bill Paxton in an ice age thriller that looks like it could be an effective little B movie… or totally forgettable.

And there’s your sci-fi fix for this upcoming summer season! The 2013 Summer Movie Preview will continue with the action/adventure genre and titles from Ryan Gosling, Channing Tatum, and Denzel Washington.