Box Office Predictions: October 3-5

The first box office weekend of October is bound to be a highly unpredictable one as three new pics enter the marketplace: David Fincher’s Gone Girl, the horror prequel Annabelle, and faith-based Nicolas Cage thriller Left Behind. You can read my detailed individual prediction posts on each of them here:

Here’s where the unpredictability comes in and it applies to all three new films…

Gone Girl is riding a wave of favorable reviews and it’s based on a very well-known 2012 Gillian Flynn novel. Yet movies like this can sometimes open decently and develop sturdy legs in subsequent weekends. My prediction for Gone Girl is definitely on the high end of expectations.

Annabelle, the prequel/spinoff of last summer’s hit The Conjuring, could easily surpass my prediction, which is definitely on the low end of expectations. It’s conceivable that these two newcomers could fight it out for #1, though my estimates do not reflect that.

Left Behind is another wild card. It is based on a series of well-known novels and its Christian themes could certainly give it a better opening than I’m predicting.

Add all that up and it equals a weekend where surprises would not be surprising. As for holdovers, I anticipate current #1 The Equalizer should lose about half its audience, with smaller declines for the animated The Boxtrolls and YA flick The Maze Runner.

And with that – we’ll do a top 6 predictions for the weekend:

1. Gone Girl

Predicted Gross: $39.6 million

2. Annabelle

Predicted Gross: $21.2 million

3. The Equalizer

Predicted Gross: $16.7 million (representing a drop of 51%)

4. The Boxtrolls

Predicted Gross: $11.4 million (representing a drop of 34%)

5. The Maze Runner

Predicted Gross: $9.8 million (representing a drop of 44%)

6. Left Behind

Predicted Gross: $7.6 million

Box Office Results (September 26-28)

It was a terrific weekend for yours truly with newcomers, while I didn’t give a couple of holdovers enough credit and gave another a bit too much.

As expected, Denzel Washington’s The Equalizer easily topped the charts with a rock solid $34.1 million, right in line with my $34.8M projection. The action thriller managed the fourth best September debut ever and the third best for star Washington.

YA hit The Maze Runner slipped to second with $17.4 million, holding up quite better than my $14.6M estimate. The budding new franchise has earned $57 million in ten days and is definitely a treat to pass $100M when all is said and done.

The animated feature The Boxtrolls took third with $17.2 million. My prediction… $17.2M! I’ll give myself a pat on the back for that one and this represents a decent opening for the pic.

In fourth, ensemble comedy This Is Where I Leave You made $6.8 million in week two, outpacing my $5.8M projection. It’s made an OK $22 million in ten days.

Fifth place belonged to Dolphin Tale 2 in its third frame with $4.7 million. I incorrectly had it outside the top five.

That’s because I had the Liam Neeson actioner A Walk Among the Tombstones earning $6.1 million in weekend #2, yet it only managed $4.1M. This major disappointment has grossed only $20 million so far and should top out with only about $30M.

That’s all for now, friends. ‘Till next time…

Left Behind Box Office Prediction

While much audience anticipation should be focused on Gone Girl and Annabelle this weekend, there is another title heading to theaters Friday. It’s the apocalyptic thriller Left Behind starring Nicolas Cage, based on a bestselling series of books catered to faith based readers.

This is not the first adaptation of the novels to the screen as a version starring Kirk Cameron (!) opened in 2005. This reboot costars Chad Michael Murray and former “American Idol” Jordin Sparks. As far as making a prediction for how this will perform, here’s the main challenge: there’s no current theater screen count at press time.

If this opens on 2000 screens, my predicted number will certainly be different than if it opens on 700. In other words, I’m in a guess work frame of mind here. I’ll say this: this will probably be the only time I wager an estimate on a Nicolas Cage flick where his role was originally played by Kirk Cameron.

This could potentially reach the Christian audience it’s going after, but I don’t see this doing much at all. I’ll reserve to right to change my prediction if the theater count forces me to do so, but for now…

Left Behind opening weekend prediction: $7.6 million

For my Gone Girl prediction, click here:

For my Annabelle prediction, click here:

Runner Runner Movie Review

There is probably a fascinating motion picture to be made about the seedy underworld of online gambling (a thriving multi-billion dollar industry), but Brad Furman’s Runner Runner isn’t it. To add to the disappointment, we have two lead actors involved that clearly have better things to do and have spent the last several years doing them. Runner Runner isn’t worth their time or ours.

Justin Timberlake plays Richie, a poker whiz who’s going for his Master’s Degree at Princeton when his financial woes lead to him to Costa Rica to seek out Ivan Block (Ben Affleck), who runs the largest online gaming site in the world. They become friends and business partners, but Richie soon learns his new glamorous life is a lot more dangerous than he thought. In short, Ivan is Gordon Gekko. Richie is Charlie Sheen’s character. In the Daryl Hannah role of the girl who’s caught between both men is Gemma Arterton of Quantum of Solace and Hansel&Gretel: Witch Hunters fame. And there’s Anthony Mackie as a FBI agent hot on Ivan’s trail.

The most memorable item about the pic is its lovely scenery with Puerto Rico doubling for Costa Rica. That’s about where my praise ends. The performances aren’t bad, but the actors aren’t given much to work with. Affleck is essentially recreating his character from a stronger effort, 2000’s Boiler Room. Timberlake is serviceable, but we’ve seen him much better in The Social Network when he has a character that’s more fully developed. Arterton’s thinly written love triangle with the two principles is perfunctory.

Runner Runner‘s main failure is the director and writers utter failure to generate any suspense. Ivan Block is a bad guy, but the audience never feels that Richie’s life is truly in danger. As mentioned, the picture’s subject is ripe for examination but you won’t find it in this by the numbers and lazy effort. 2008’s 21, with Jim Sturgess and Kevin Spacey, focused more on blackjack and it’s nothing special either, but at least it was directed with energy.

The good news is that Mr. Timberlake and Mr. Affleck have been doing remarkable work over the last few years, in their respective musical and directorial careers. Runner Runner is the type of movie that they don’t need to waste their time with anymore, but unfortunately they did. My advice is just to ignore it and pop in Argo or look forward to Gone Girl or cue up “Mirrors” and “Suit and Tie” to appreciate what they’re capable of.

** (out of four)

Annabelle Box Office Prediction

When The Conjuring became one of summer 2013’s unexpected hits, one of its most memorable characters wasn’t a human one. Rather it was the creepiest and most demonic doll since Chucky named Annabelle. And now she’s got her own self-titled prequel/spinoff picture opening Friday.

Conjuring director James Wan serves as producer while that film’s cinematographer John R. Leonetti directs. Human stars include Annabelle Wallis, Ward Horton, and Alfre Woodard. Let’s face it, though: the real star is Annabelle the doll and this pic will succeed or fail based on whether audiences want to see her in her own self-contained flick.

My guess is that many horror fans may simply wait to get their Conjuring fix until the actual sequel opens in October 2015. Still, Annabelle should top $20 million in its debut while not reaching close to the $41 million The Conjuring earned out of the gate.

Annabelle opening weekend prediction: $21.2 million

For my Gone Girl prediction, click here:

For my Left Behind prediction, click here:

Gone Girl Box Office Prediction

It’s earning highly positive reviews and is based on a huge bestseller by Gillian Flynn. One of the finest directors working today is behind the camera. David Fincher’s Gone Girl seems poised to make a major splash at the box office when it opens this Friday.

Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike star in this thriller where a wife’s disappearance might not be all that it seems. Costars include Neil Patrick Harris and Tyler Perry. Upon its release just two years ago, Gillian Flynn’s book became a must-read and she herself wrote the picture’s screenplay. Fincher, the great director of Seven, Fight Club, and The Social Network, has taken up the task of adapting it. He last found success directing a beloved novel with 2011’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Fincher’s current largest opening of all time is 2002’s Panic Room, which made $30 million out of the gate. Gone Girl seems likely to surpass that.

As mentioned, reviews have been strong and it currently sits at 86% on Rotten Tomatoes. Positive word of mouth should propel Gone Girl to a nice and lengthy run at the multiplexes. I’ll predict this gets off to a very steady beginning and should easily top the charts next weekend.

Gone Girl opening weekend prediction: $39.6 million

For my Annabelle prediction, click here:

For my Left Behind prediction, click here:

Throwback Thursday Reviews: Cape Fear (1991)

Upon its release in 1991, Cape Fear had the unique and odd distinction of being both Martin Scorsese’s most conventional picture and his most experimental. Here the master filmmaker was working in the mainstream world of crafting an audience pleasing thriller. Yet Scorsese was most known for titles that weren’t developed for mass consumption and were made with a more personal touch. Some of them turned out to be masterpieces – Mean Street, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, GoodFellas.

Cape Fear was a different animal. A remake of a 1962 B movie thriller that starred Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum. This would allow Scorsese to pay homage to it and Hitchcock’s catalog while modernizing it. Robert De Niro stars as Max Cady, a recently released convict with plans to exact revenge on his defense attorney Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte), who hid evidence that could have exonerated him. Unlike the 1962 predecessor, Sam’s family is not near picture perfect. Far from it. His wife Leigh (Jessica Lange) is still scarred from her husband’s past infidelities. Danielle (Juliette Lewis) is their bored and sometimes rebellious teenage daughter. One of the things that makes the picture most interesting is that Max is not just going after Sam for vengeful purposes. He has designs to emotionally wound the family even more and he succeeds.

The film is filled with nods to genre pictures that Scorsese undoubtedly feasted on as a young man. Anyone who’s read about him knows he’s an encyclopedia of the trade he’s exceled in for nearly half a century. And Cape Fear‘s greatness is due to the infectious joy that we feel due to Scorsese’s joy in creating it.

Yes, it’s a mainstream thriller with all the conventions we’ve come to expect. A phone ringing unexpectedly during a tense moment. Cady disguising himself in a manner which I still recall had crowds understandably gasping in the theater. However, Cape Fear comes equipped with a brilliant director and first-rate actors participating. De Niro (Scorsese’s go to actor before DiCaprio) is often terrifying in the role of the Southern menace wreaking havoc on the Bowdens. The actor infuses his character with a demented religious fervor and a workout regiment that shows him in a way you’ve never seen him before or since. He received an Oscar nomination and deserved it.

Nolte’s work is worth lots of praise, too. He successfully strays away from making the character heroic and it’s a great twist to have the protagonist written and portrayed in that way. Lange is equally impressive as the frustrated wife and Lewis is a revelation as Danielle. The most famous sequence in the pic involves Max’s first encounter with her. It’s been noted that the scene is improvised and it isn’t your typical scary movie scene, but it might be the most chilling thing of all. For those who’ve yet to see it, I won’t spoil it. The subplot involving Sam’s law clerk (Ileanna Douglas) and her encounter with Max is unforgettable and horrific as well. Their pairing provides our first glimpse of what our main character is capable of.

In a nod to the ’62 original, its stars Robert Mitchum, Gregory Peck, and Martin Balsam all appear in welcome cameos. Joe Don Baker (one of the terrific characters actors of our time) provides some fine and often humorous moments as a P.I. trying to help Sam out.

As you’d expect in a Scorsese pic, the technical aspects from music to cinematography and so forth are impeccable. Cape Fear may not get mentioned in the same conversations as the director’s beloved group of classics. That’s OK, but it’s a remarkable viewing experience in its own right. And on this Throwback Thursday – it’s one you need to seek out if you haven’t watched it. Or watch it again for that matter to see one of cinema’s best directors put his delicious spin on a well-worn genre.

**** (out of four)

Oscar Watch: Gone Girl

There was never a question as to whether David Fincher’s adaptation of the massive bestselling Gillian Flynn novel Gone Girl would generate tons of publicity. However, it’s definitely been more of an open question whether the film would generate Oscar buzz. That question appears to have been answered as the first reviews have been released ahead of its October 3rd debut.

And Gone Girl looks like a contender. Both Variety and Entertainment Weekly have given it rave reviews. Most importantly, it’s been noted that lovers of the novel (and there are many) will dig this adaptation. That means the picture is likely to be a huge box office performer and that certainly won’t hurt its awards talk.

Director Fincher is one of the finest filmmakers working today. His resume boasts Seven, The Game, Fight Club, Panic Room, Zodiac, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Yet only two of his efforts have received Best Picture nominations – 2008’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and 2010’s The Social Network. His latest could be his third and nab him his personal third Directing nod.

As for the actors, I’ve maintained for some time that Rosamund Pike is poised to receive a Best Actress nomination as Amy Dunne and it would be surprising at this juncture if she doesn’t. As for Ben Affleck in the Best Actor race, that’s a little more tricky due to it being an incredibly competitive category. Right now, there appears to be four “shoo-ins” for Best Actor recognition: Steve Carell in Foxcatcher, Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game, Michael Keaton in Birdman, and Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything. That leaves just one slot open and there are plenty of other names that could fill it. I would say Affleck is currently a long shot, even though critics are lauding his work.

In my initial round of Oscar predictions a couple of weeks ago, I included Pike but left off the movie and its director in their categories. That may very well change when round #2 is posted in a couple of weeks.

Top 25 Greatest South Park Episodes of All Time: Nos. 5-1

We’ve reached the final installment of my personal favorite “South Park” episodes of all time. As previously mentioned, picking 25 out of 248 was seriously challenging. I’d love to hear your favorites and please feel free to comment below. The Season 18 (where has the time gone?) premiere airs on Comedy Central tomorrow evening.

If you missed the four previous installments, please find them here:

And now the crème de la crème of my SP universe:

5. “Chickenlover”

Original Air Date: May 27, 1998 (Season 2)

There is a criminal on the loose in South Park and Cartman wants to track him down. Famously, this is the show with a “Cops” parody in which Cartman informs us all to “respect his authoritah!”.

4. “Trapped in the Closet”

Original Air Date: November 16, 2005 (Season 9)

One of the most notorious episodes of all time, this SP mercilessly took on Scientology, Tom Cruise, R. Kelly, and John Travolta. Shocking and tear inducing funny, there’s a reason this created such an uproar.

3. “The Death Camp of Tolerance”

Original Air Date: November 20, 2002 (Season 6)

Mr. Garrison tries to get fired for his sexual preferences. There’s a gerbil named Lemmiwinks involved. It’s highly inappropriate as SP can often be. And it’s unforgettably hilarious.

2. “Scott Tenorman Must Die”

Original Air Date: July 11, 2001 (Season 5)

Perhaps the most famous episode of all time, this season 5 gem was a game changer in the show’s history. Why? Because it turned Cartman from just a bratty and foul-mouthed kid to a seriously demented and perhaps evil character. It was glorious… and Radiohead makes a cameo, too!

1. “Imaginationland – Part I – III”

Original Air Dates: October 17, 24, and 31, 2007 (Season 11)

The three-part “Imaginationland” episode arch tops my list for many reasons. It’s downright uproarious and endlessly clever. The “Imaginationland” song. The Saving Private Ryan themed war montage. The hilarious nod to James Cameron’s The Abyss. The skewering of Mel Gibson, M. Night Shyamalan, and Michael Bay. The longing for Cartman to get Kyle to perform a deed made on a bet (I won’t get into the dirty details). The Stargate references. Popeye is in it. So is Morpheus. And Luke Skywalker and Jesus and Aslan and Gandalf. And the Woodland Christmas Critters! I mean, come on! “Imaginationland” is stunningly great and the pinnacle of a show that has produced one classic episode after the next.

And there you have it, folks! I hope you enjoyed the list…

Comment away

Box Office Predictions: September 26-28

Two new releases should top the box office this weekend as the Denzel Washington action pic The Equalizer and animated flick The Boxtrolls make their debuts on Friday. For my individual prediction posts on each, click here:

I fully expect Denzel to easily rule the weekend with a just OK opening for Boxtrolls. If that animated title fails to meet its somewhat meager expectations, this week’s champ The Maze Runner has a shot at staying #2. I expect holdovers A Walk Among the Tombstones and This Is Where I Leave You to both lose about half their audience in weekend two.

And with that – my predictions for the weekend’s top five:

1. The Equalizer

Predicted Gross: $34.8 million

2. The Boxtrolls

Predicted Gross: $17.2 million

3. The Maze Runner

Predicted Gross: $14.6 million (representing a drop of 55%)

4. A Walk Among the Tombstones

Predicted Gross: $6.1 million (representing a drop of 52%)

5. This Is Where I Leave You

Predicted Gross: $5.8 million (representing a drop of 49%)

Box Office Results (September 19-21)

The YA adaptation The Maze Runner opened  #1 as expected with a stealthy $32.5 million, ahead of my $26.1M estimate. As predicted above, it should suffer a fairly significant drop in its second weekend but with a reported $30M budget, it’s off to a great start and a sequel is already scheduled for 2015.

Not a good weekend for Liam Neeson as his A Walk Among the Tombstones suffered a disappointing debut with only $12.7 million, well below my $21.4M projection. With its weak B- Cinemascore grade, audiences clearly weren’t “taken” with it, so to speak.

The ensemble comedy This Is Where I Leave You had a middling opening with $11.5 million, just below my $12.3M prediction. The trailers and TV spots just weren’t successful in making it look like a must-see, despite the star power of Jason Bateman and Tina Fey.

Last weekend’s #1 No Good Deed, as expected, suffered a precipitous drop grossing $9.7 million – just below my $10.7M projection. Still, it’s earned a solid $39 million in ten days. In its sophomore frame, Dolphin Tale 2 rounded out the top five with $8.8 million – under my $10.8M estimate. The sequel, which isn’t matching its predecessor, has made $26 million so far.

Finally, I predicted the Kevin Smith directed horror pic Tusk would make $2.3 million on its limited number of screens, but it didn’t come close. It earned a paltry $886,000 playing in 602 venues.

That’s all for now, folks!

Top 25 Greatest South Park Episodes of All Time: Nos. 10-6

This evening we’ve arrived at part four of my personal favorite “South Park” episodes and that means we’ve breached the top ten! If you missed the first three installments covering 25-11, you can peruse them here:

Let’s get into it:

10. “Good Times with Weapons”

Original Air Date: March 17, 2004 (Season 8)

The Season 8 premiere of the show has Parker and Stone going wild playing in the field of Japanese anime. The episode’s song “Let’s Fighting Love” is perhaps my favorite musical montage ever on the program.

9. “Woodland Critter Christmas”

Original Air Date: December 15, 2004 (Season 8)

The next spot belongs to the season finale of Season 8 and it’s the Christmas episode that makes Mr. Hankey look positively G-rated. The boys befriend a group of adorable animals only to find out they’re evil Satan worshipers. It’s even weirder than it sounds and side splittingly funny.

8. “You’re Getting Old”

Original Air Date: June 8, 2011 (Season 15)

An absolute stunner of an episode that generated significant publicity because it seemed to signal Parker and Stone’s frustration with having to keep the show going. The final montage set to Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” is surprisingly emotional for a raunchy animated series.

7. “Butter’s Very Own Episode”

Original Air Date: December 12, 2001 (Season 5)

Besides Cartman and Randy Marsh, my favorite SP character would be Butters. In season 5, he got his own episode dedicated to him where he’s presumed dead and his parents are suspected. This leads to a scathing and brilliant condemnation of the Ramsey parents, O.J. Simpson, and Gary Condit in one of the funniest closing scenes in the program’s tenure.

6. “The Jeffersons”

Original Air Date: April 21, 2004 (Season 8)

No one is better at mocking celebrities than this show and their take on Michael Jackson (five years before his death) is incredible. The musical number “Wishing Tree” is classic.

Tomorrow – I’ll announce my all-time top five… stay tuned!