Missing is a sequel in concept to Searching, which turned an enormous profit in 2018. The thriller (out January 20th) takes place solely on a computer screen with different directors and and a fresh cast. Nick Johnson and Will Merrick make their debuts behind the camera after editing Searching. Aneesh Chaganty, helmer of the first, produces. Storm Reid headlines alongside Joaquim de Almeida, Ken Leung, Amy Landecker, Daniel Henney, and Nia Long.
Over four years ago, Searching made $26 million domestically and $75 million worldwide. The important point? It was reportedly made for under $900,000. That was probably the hummus budget for Avengers: Endgame that same year. I haven’t seen a price tag for this follow-up, but I imagine it’s low.
This may not quite make the nearly $8 million that Searching took in over the four-day Labor Day frame. Its overall stateside gross could fall short of its predecessor. If it triples those earnings across the globe, it should still be a success story for Sony.
Hollywood looks to be awoken from its box office slumber when Avatar: The Way of Water surfaces on December 16th. After plenty of delays in the release date, James Cameron’s sequel to his 2009 record breaking phenomenon comes with a reported budget in the neighborhood of $400 million. Clocking in at 3 hours and 12 minutes, the 3D sci-fi epic is the only newcomer on the pre-Christmas weekend and it should dominate the marketplace. Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Joel David Moore, CCH Pounder, Giovanni Ribisi, Dileep Rao, and Matt Gerald reprise their roles from part 1. Joining the Pandora universe for the first time are Kate Winslet, Cliff Curtis, Edie Falco, Jermaine Clement, and Brandon Cowell. Sigourney Weaver appears in a different part from 13 years ago.
It’s dangerous to underestimate Cameron. This is only his third feature in a quarter century. 1997’s Titanic withstood shaky buzz during its filming and became the highest grossing film of all time. That record stood for 12 years until it was broken by (you guessed it) Avatar, which also had troubling word-of-mouth until it didn’t. With $785 million domestically (which includes a September re-release which did impressive business), Avatar still ranks fourth all-time stateside behind Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Avengers: Endgame, and Spider-Man: No Way Home. The international tally is $2.1 billion and that ranks as #1.
There are legitimate questions as to the sequel’s potency. 13 years is a long time between entries. Are younger viewers excited for a trip back to the planet with all the blue people? Disney and 20th Century Studios need this to make a splash as a third Avatar arrives in two years with fourth and fifth (and possibly more) editions planned.
One number is easy to know. The Way of Water will have no problem dwarfing the $77 million that Avatar made for its debut before it became the must-see picture for months. It was #1 for 7 weeks. The sequel is expected to take in double that figure with $160 million generally being considered the floor. The ceiling could be $200 million (and perhaps higher) though its length could hinder that possibility. There’s also some older moviegoers who may not feel the need to rush out opening weekend to view it.
I believe $175-185 million is likely for the Sully family as they land in theaters once again. My projection gives it the 14th biggest domestic premiere of all time between Iron Man 3 and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. That’s also the 3rd largest opening haul of 2022 behind Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Black Panther: WakandaForever.
Avatar: The Way of Water opening weekend prediction: $173.1 million
The 29th time is not the charm for the MCU with Thor: Love and Thunder, a franchise entry meant to be bursting with joy. It somehow feels middling the majority of the time and it’s a significant downgrade from Taika Waititi’s predecessor Thor: Ragnarok from 2017.
Our Asgardian God of a title character (Chris Hemsworth) has been through a lot in the last half of a cinematic decade. He’s lost his family (including Loki more than once) in earlier Thor and Avengers tales. That even caused him to turn to the bottle and humorously pack on the pounds during Avengers: Endgame.
He found a new lease on life with the Guardians of the Galaxy during those previous Avengers epics. That’s where we find him at the outset, but it doesn’t last long. The Guardians are off on a new adventure while old acquaintances pop up for Thor. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who hasn’t been seen since 2013’s The Dark World, reappears in a cancer stricken state. She discovers that her ex’s hammer Mjolnir gives her super strengths. Her old beau needs all the help he can get with a new nemesis. Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale) is on a mission to off all the Gods (hence the name) after his own leader causes his young daughter to perish. That killing spree will eventually include Thor and the newish King of Asgard Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson).
In what has become a common theme in Marvel’s stories, the main villain sorta has a point with his murderous schemes. We see that most of the Gods, including Russell Crowe’s Zeus, have turned into lazy do-nothings. However, when Gorr snatches a bunch of Asgardian kids, the fight is on.
Ragnarok was able to find a measured balance between dramatic elements and Waititi’s comedic sensibilities. Thunder feels downright goofy most of the time with its screaming goats and Guns n Roses greatest hits soundtrack playing over the battles. Just a little patience from the director might’ve made it more tolerable. More often than not, it falls into self parody territory. Maybe it’s on purpose. That doesn’t make it worthwhile.
What’s clear is that Waititi was given plenty of freedom to paint his canvass with this fourth official pic in the Thor series. I wish that translated to a more fruitful experience. Thor and Jane’s romance in the first two movies was never exactly a highlight so their reunion left me ambivalent. To be honest, Portman almost seems a bit bored during her transformation to the Mighty Thor. Bale doesn’t seem disinterested but his bad guy is of the one note and forgettable variety.
Thor: Love and Thunder does have a few jokes that land (I chuckled at character mispronouncing Jane’s full name). Yet I couldn’t escape this thought when the credits rolled the first and second and final time… I’d rank this 29th MCU saga 29th.
With an eye popping budget of $200 million (a reported record for Netflix), spy thriller The Gray Man begins streaming tomorrow. Anthony and Joe Russo (no strangers to gargantuan price tags thanks to Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame) direct Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans. Costars include Ana de Armas, Jessica Henwick, Rege-Jean Page, Wagner Moura, Julia Butters, Dhanush, Alfre Woodard, and Billy Bob Thornton.
The high priced endeavor is garnering mixed reviews with the positive ones not exactly over the moon. Its Rotten Tomatoes score is 49%. Unlike the Russo’s MCU extravaganzas, the visual effects here shouldn’t attract the attention of Academy voters. Same goes for Sound or anything else. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…
Each Thor pic has outdone the last and Disney hopes that trend continues when Thor: Love and Thunder hits theaters on July 8th. The sixth MCU entry in the past 14 months, the franchise shows no signs of slowing down as this follows juggernauts Spider-Man: No Way Home and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
This particular series is only the second to have a fourth feature (the other being Avengers). Taika Waititi, who made 2017’s predecessor Ragnarok, returns behind the camera with Chris Hemsworth once again hammering away as the title character. Natalie Portman’s Jane is back after sitting out part 3 and other familiar faces include Tessa Thompson, Jaimie Alexander, and Jeff Goldblum. The Guardians of the Galaxy are also in the mix. Newcomers to the fold are Christian Bale as main villain Gorr the God Butcher and Russell Crowe as Zeus. Expect plenty of cameos as well.
The first Thor (only the 4th of now 29 MCU flicks) grossed $65 million out of the gate with an overall gross of $181 million. Two and a half years later, The Dark World improved upon that with $85 and $206 million, respectively. Ragnarok easily surpassed that with $122 million and $315 million eventually.
Love and Thunder should continue the trend. Since the character’s last stand-alone effort, Thor was prominently placed in the massive Avengers sagas Infinity War and Endgame. That said, Multiverse from early May was a direct benefactor of following No Way Home when it premiered with $187 million. Its Spidey predecessor swung the second largest domestic opening of all time behind Endgame.
I don’t believe Thunder will reach the stratosphere of Multiverse. Somewhere between $140-$160 million seems doable. If buzz continues to grow louder in the coming days, I reserve the right to revise up. My current take puts it in the range of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 ($146 million) and Captain Marvel ($153 million). I’ll put it slightly over both.
Thor: Love and Thunder opening weekend prediction: $155.7 million
Sam Raimi’s horror sense and gory sensibilities (Evil Dead style) permeates Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. On paper this is a sequel to 2016’s predecessor which introduced Benedict Cumberbatch as the cocky mythical surgeon Stephen Strange. As with most sagas in the MCU, his character has been in plenty of other adventures in the interim (most notably the gargantuan Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame). The fifth word is the most key in the title. As Spider-Man: No Way Home (with its understandably audience pleasing cameos) showed just a few months back, this cinematic universe is now comprised of scores of them. Multiverse has a limited amount of fun with this development that’s far less memorable.
Instead this sequel often serves as a continuation of Disney Plus’s first Marvel streaming series WandaVision with Elizabeth Olsen. If you didn’t watch that, you’re going to be a little lost. Olsen’s Wanda, on the TV show, created an idyllic home life with Vision (Paul Bettany) and two cute kids with superhero powers. The problem – it was a completely invented reality and Wanda was causing harm to others by continuing the charade. She comes to her senses eventually. Multiverse finds Wanda being taken over by her alter ego the Scarlet Witch after acquiring a book of magic spells. Her character motivations stretch credibility with the same elasticity as a certain cameo where she battles familiar MCUers with some different faces.
Wanda/Scarlet’s plans to reunite with her made up kiddos jeopardize life in plenty of multiverses. None of them involve her wanting to reunite with the love of her life Vision (there’s that credibility issue). It does involve Doctor Strange teaming up with America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez). I’m sure her persona will be fleshed out in future installments. For now she’s a teen with the ability to jump multiverses who possesses powers she’s just beginning to harness. Strange first makes her acquaintance while attending the wedding of his former flame Christine (Rachel McAdams). A CG monster interrupts the reception on the streets outside and an eye popping (literally) battle ensues. The Scarlet Witch wants America for her own nefarious purposes so the Doc must protect her across multiple dimensions.
Actually… only a couple of dimensions as Multiverse never gets much screen time to explore the possibilities other than a brief and very cool sequence. Therein lies part of the problem. While I know we’re dealing with intergalactic mayhem that can mean all sorts of unanticipated cameos and landscapes, Madness can feel surprisingly low stakes. It doesn’t help with the aforementioned matters of Scarlet’s clunky story treatment.
What does occasionally assist in the entertainment value is Raimi being in the director’s chair. Taking over for Scott Derrickson, the veteran filmmaker doesn’t shy away from jump scares and his unique brand made notable four decades ago in Evil Dead. There are unquestionably some impressive and spellbinding visuals. There’s also a pop-in by Bruce Campbell that is more satisfying than higher profile cameos. Unfortunately this suffers from a malady similar to Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 with villainous plots that don’t quite ultimately work. Chiwetel Ejiofor unceremoniously returns as a version of Mordo, Strange’s former ally turned foe.
All this Strange magic while Stephen pines for Christine makes for a middle of the universe to lower tier universe experience. I appreciate Kevin Feige and the team allowing Raimi so much creative control. However, while previous confrontations were fought in fewer dimensions, I felt they covered more meaningful ground. As the MCU moves forward across all these galaxies (sometimes with inspiration and sometimes trudging on shaky foundations), we’ll have lots of opportunities to see how the mix turns out. I still have guarded optimism.
The summer box office season officially kicks off in the manner it has many times lately… with an expected Marvel Cinematic Universe juggernaut. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness looks to accomplish some records after previous franchise entry Spider-Man: No Way Home set plenty of its own. You can peruse my detailed prediction post on Benedict Cumberbatch’s return as the mystical doc here:
My estimate would give Multiverse the 7th largest domestic premiere of all time and the highest ever for the month of May (topping The Avengers). It would be #4 in terms of MCU entries – behind Avengers: Endgame, No Way Home, and Avengers: Infinity War.
No other film is daring to open against this and family friendly entries The Bad Guys (after two weeks on top) and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 should slide a spot. Everything Everywhere All at Once is holding extremely well from week to week and it could rise to fourth over Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore.
Here’s how I think the top 5 will look:
1. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
Predicted Gross: $208.5 million
2. The Bad Guys
Predicted Gross: $10 million
3. Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Predicted Gross: $7.1 million
4. Everything Everywhere All at Once
Predicted Gross: $4.4 million
5. Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore
Predicted Gross: $4.3 million
Box Office Results (April 29-May 1)
Before Marvel begins its domination, it was a pretty quiet weekend with The Bad Guys repeating in first. The DreamWorks Animation effort made $16.2 million, topping my $14.4 million projection for $44 million in 10 days.
Most holdovers managed to slightly exceed my expectations. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 stayed in second at $11.5 million compared to my $10.8 million call. Total is $161 million.
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore continued its ho-hum run in third with $8.3 million, just above my $7.7 million take. The three-week tally is a disappointing $79 million.
The Northman was fourth in its sophomore outing with $6.3 million. I went with $5.6 million and it’s at $22 million.
Everything Everywhere All at Once actually had a 2% increase with $5.5 million to round out the top five (I said $4.2 million). The A24 Oscar hopeful has made an impressive $35 million.
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent was sixth with $3.8 million (I predicted $3.5 million) for $13 million in two weeks.
Finally, Liam Neeson’s streak of low grosses stayed intact as Memory opened in 8th with $3.1 million. That’s in line with his recent (non) earners and just below my $3.3 million projection.
In what Hollywood is hoping looks more like a traditional summer season, it’s the MCU kicking it off with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. The 28th feature in the biggest franchise of all is technically the follow-up to 2016’s Doctor Strange with Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role. It is, however, the character’s sixth appearance overall in the cinematic universe with the most recent being December’s massive Spider-Man: No Way Home.
Speaking of Spidey, Sam Raimi, maker of Tobey Maguire’s 2002-2007 trilogy, directs (taking over from Scott Derrickson). Costars back in the mix are Elizabeth Olsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Rachel McAdams. Newcomers to the MCU include Xochitl Gomez and Patrick Stewart (in an undisclosed role that could turn out to be quite familiar).
Madness has the big advantage of following a juggernaut in No Way Home. That has served as an advantage to other MCU properties. For instance, Captain Marvel in 2019 was the follow-up to Avengers: Endgame and it made $153 million out of the gate. That was slightly better than the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel from two years earlier. Assisting Multiverse is that the good Doctor had a sizable part in the previous Spidey adventure.
Five and a half years ago, the first Strange took in $85 million for its start with an eventual domestic haul of $232 million. In the MCU world, it’s way more normal for sequels to outdo their predecessors and that will certainly apply here. It should have no trouble achieving the largest premiere for 2022 – currently held by The Batman at $134 million.
No one is really thinking this will approach the $260 million weekend of No Way Home, but $200 million is definitely feasible. Underestimating the MCU is usually not wise so I’ll say it hits that mark. My projection would get it the 7th largest domestic debut of all time (right behind Jurassic World and just ahead of The Avengers).
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness opening weekend prediction: $208.5 million
You have to go back to 2008’s The Dark Knight to find the last Batfilm to receive an Oscar nomination. It landed the most of them. While famously missing Best Picture (it’s often called the flick that caused the Academy to expand beyond five nominees), it garnered eight nods and won Supporting Actor (Heath Ledger) and Sound Editing. The other nominations were for Sound Mixing, Art Direction, Cinematography, Makeup, Film Editing, and Visual Effects. 1989’s Batman was 1 for 1 in its nominations with Art Direction while follow-up Batman Returns was up for Makeup and Visual Effects and Batman Forever received a mention for Sound Effects Editing. Batman Begins from 2005 made the Cinematography final five. Batman and Robin, The Dark Knight Rises, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Justice League all failed to show up at the big show.
That history lesson is, of course, given to you because reboot The Batman with Robert Pattinson opens Friday and the review embargo lifted today. Early critical reaction has resulted in an 87% Rotten Tomatoes score thus far. Some write-ups are calling it masterful. Others are more mixed in the praise with some complaints of over length in particular.
So what are its Oscar prospects? As I see it, pretty strong in many of the races mentioned above. That includes Sound (now just one competition), Visual Effects, Production Design (what was Art Direction), Makeup and Hairstyling, Cinematography, and even Original Score (from Michael Giacchino). Director Matt Reeves, taking over the franchise, has experience in the VE derby with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and War for the Planet of the Apes.
Those down the line nods could be plentiful for The Batman. However, I don’t see it getting Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, or nominations for its actors. It won’t be for lack of social media chatter. We have seen numerous comic book adaptations receive fervent support online (from The Dark Knight to Deadpool to Avengers: Endgame to Spider-Man: No Way Home). Only Black Panther and Joker have made the BP cut. I don’t envision The Batman being the third, but tech nods should happen. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…
Two significant Academy precursors are coming our way tomorrow when the Directors and Producers Guilds of America reveal nominees. Both groups could shed major light on who and what we will see on Oscar nomination morning in less than two weeks.
The DGA nominates five directors for their top prize and it is a reliable preview for usually 4 of the 5 eventual hopefuls at the big show. In the past five years, the DGA’s list corresponds with the Academy’s on the 4 of 5 ratio. The exception was 2018 when it was 3/5. You have to go back to 2009 to find the last year in which there was a perfect match.
For weeks, my Oscar projections in Best Director has remained consistent: Paul Thomas Anderson (Licorice Pizza), Kenneth Branagh (Belfast), Jane Campion (The Power of the Dog), Steven Spielberg (West Side Story), and Denis Villeneuve (Dune). That’s probably the safest lineup to predict for DGA as well, but I’m hesitant to do so since it’s been over a decade with the two corresponding.
So who’s vulnerable and who could rise up? It’s hard to see Campion (the Oscar frontrunner), Villeneuve, or Spielberg missing. Same generally goes for Branagh though there’s whispers that Belfast could be slipping a bit (still not enough for me to take him out). That leaves Anderson and there’s some precedent. In 2017, the Academy nominated him for Phantom Thread while DGA omitted him. He’s the easiest to leave off their ballot.
Who takes his place? I doubt that it’s Ryusuke Hamaguchi for Drive My Car. In recent times, the Academy has been more generous with nods for filmmakers and their international features. Last year, they nominated Thomas Vinterberg (Another Round) and in 2018 they did the same for Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War) while DGA ignored them.
If there’s a surprise fifth nominee in store, watch out for Guillermo del Toro (Nightmare Alley), Maggie Gyllenhaal (The Lost Daughter) or Sian Heder (CODA). However, I think it could come down to Joel Coen (The Tragedy of Macbeth) and Adam McKay (Don’t Look Up). The latter is a two-time DGA nominee (The Big Short and Vice) and Don’t Look Up is a buzzy streaming success story that’s been widely viewed. Coen, on the other hand, could be honored for the technical mastery of Macbeth.
This is a close call, but I’m ever so slightly leaning toward McKay and I’ll go that route. Therefore – my official DGA predictions are:
Kenneth Branagh, Belfast
Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog
Adam McKay, Don’t Look Up
Steven Spielberg, West Side Story
Denis Villeneuve, Dune
Runner-Up: Paul Thomas Anderson, Licorice Pizza
Second Alternate: Joel Coen, The Tragedy of Macbeth
Let’s move to the PGA, shall we? Over the last five years, these are the matches between the Producers and the Academy when it comes to their Best Picture awards:
It’s important to keep in mind that the Academy, for the past several years, can have anywhere between 5-10 BP contenders (the magic number has been 8 or 9). Yet in 2021, the Oscars are reverting back to a set 10 (the PGA always nominates 10 except for 2017 when they had 11 for some inexplicable reason).
That means there’s only been three films (Darkest Hour and Phantom Thread in 2017 and The Father in 2020) that received Oscar nods and didn’t materialize on the PGA list.
My current 10 selections for BP from the Academy are as follows: Belfast, CODA, Don’t Look Up, Dune, House of Gucci, King Richard, Licorice Pizza, The Power of the Dog, The Tragedy of Macbeth, West Side Story.
I’m estimating that only Gucci and Tragedy could be truly vulnerable to miss the PGA cut (anything else being left off would constitute a pretty big surprise). If that happens, CODA or Richard might be the ones.
In my view, Tragedy is exactly the kind of feature that PGA may not recognize. Gucci is more of a question mark as the Producers generally like to nominate pictures that performed well at the box office. To that point, the PGA has a history of honoring moneymakers that the Academy does not. Recent examples include Bridesmaids, Skyfall, Gone Girl, Straight Outta Compton, Deadpool, Wonder Woman, Crazy Rich Asians, A Quiet Place, and Knives Out.
That could absolutely open the door for No Time to Die or Spider-Man: No Way Home… or both. I’m slightly more hesitant to include Spidey being that neither Avengers: Infinity War or Endgame got PGA love. However, I’m not oblivious to the fact that this guild may want to mention the picture that broke pandemic era box office records.
Outside of the blockbuster mold, you could also see titles like Being the Ricardos, Drive My Car, The Lost Daughter, Nightmare Alley, or Tick, Tick… Boom! factor in.
I’m keeping Gucci in (with extreme uncertainty) and projecting 007 in the mega-earner slot so here’s my PGA ten:
Don’t Look Up
House of Gucci
No Time to Die
The Power of the Dog
West Side Story
Runner-Up: Spider-Man: No Way Home
Second Alternate: The Tragedy of Macbeth
So there you have it! I’ll have reaction up on both DGA and PGA tomorrow on the blog…