It’s usually not a confident signal when the distributor releases a trailer for a film one week before its release. Yet that is the case with 20th Century Studios and The Empty Man, a horror pic out this Friday. Based on a 2014 graphic novel, David Prior directs with a cast including James Badge Dale, Marin Ireland, Stephen Root, Ron Canada, and Joel Courtney.
Originally slated for August before its COVID related delay, there was even some jesting whether this feature actually existed before real footage emerged a couple of days back. Whether audiences know of its existence is a good question. As new titles have trickled out in October, we’ve seen The War with Grandpa and Honest Thief start off in the $3-4 million range.
Empty could benefit from the lack of product out there, especially in its genre. However, the low key approach in its marketing (to be kind) makes me think it won’t hit those marks.
The Empty Man opening weekend prediction: $2.1 million
Disney/Pixar’s second 2020 release Soul has long been seen as their most viable Oscar contender over this spring’s Onward. Today’s buzz after it held the first screening at the London Film Festival confirms that. The jazz infused tale from Pete Docter and Kemp Powers is being called two familiar adjectives in the studio’s lexicon – heartfelt and crowd pleasing. Soul, after experiencing delays due to the COVID pandemic, is slated for a Disney+ debut on Christmas Day.
Featuring the voices of Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Questlove, Phylicia Rashad, Daveed Diggs, and Angela Bassett, several reviews are already claiming it’s in the upper echelon of Pixar pics. Docter is no stranger to Academy love. All three of his directorial efforts – Monsters Inc., Up, Inside Out – were nominated for Best Animated Feature. The latter two emerged victorious and Up is one of three animated flicks to achieve a Best Picture nomination.
The question is not whether Soul will make the final cut in Animated Feature. It absolutely will and it’s absolutely the strong front runner to win. A better debate is whether this is the fourth animated effort to contend for the big prize. I don’t believe that’s automatic. Inside Out also garnered sterling critical reaction in 2015 and fell short of that achievement. However, Soul has solidified its position as a legit hopeful.
Additionally, expect Best Sound and the Original Score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross to be in the mix. Bottom line: Soul helped it cause to play beyond Animated Feature. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…
Liam Neeson is a notorious bank robber trying to go good in the aptly titled Honest Thief, one of the few major theatrical releases hitting screens this month (and 2020 for that matter). The action pic is directed by Mark Williams with a supporting cast including Kate Walsh, Robert Patrick, Anthony Ramos, Jeffrey Donovan, and Jai Courtney.
The Open Road production should see a decent number of screens (probably 2000+) as there’s just not much fresh product in the marketplace. Neeson, of course, began a run of similar genre fare over a decade ago with the release of the surprise hit Taken. The grosses have dwindled in recent years. 2019’s Cold Pursuit managed just $11 million for its start.
We are in different times with smaller expectations in this COVID world. For example, this weekend’s The War with Grandpa starring Robert De Niro appears headed for an opening weekend take in the $3-4 million range. I’m not sure Thief makes off with quite that amount, but it might be close.
Honest Thief opening weekend prediction: $3.2 million
If you felt obligated to write out a 2020 movie release schedule in pencil lately, it would be decimated with cross outs and erasure marks. Quite frankly, it’s tough to keep up with for movie lovers. In the past few days, it’s become even more pronounced and it’s more evidence that theaters simply aren’t ready for tentpole releases.
This was evident in July when Christopher Nolan’s Tenet wildly underperformed stateside. It served as a signal to studios that it’s better to wait and most of the delays have moved into 2021. Dune, the eagerly awaited latest effort from Denis Villeneuve, is the latest push. Originally scheduled for November and then delayed to December, Warner Bros. (who put out Tenet) has now slated it for October 2021.
The Dune activity occurs just after the new 007 pic No Time to Die announced a new Easter 2021 date. It was originally meant to hit theaters in February of this year. This follows Black Widow moving to May 2021 (original date was May 2020) and that meant the MCU’s Eternals traveled from February 2021 to November 2021. And that was around the time Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story received a year long delay to Christmastime ’21.
Still following? Yeah, I know. So what’s left for 2020? In short, nothing soon except for cinematic table scraps like The War with Grandpa with Robert De Niro (this Friday) and Honest Thief with Liam Neeson (next Friday).
Pixar is scheduled to unveil Soul in November. We shall see if they decide not to go the Disney+ route like they did with Mulan and other titles. The Croods: A New Age is supposed to come out over the Thanksgiving holiday. And December still has heavy hitters like Wonder Woman 1984, Death on the Nile, Free Guy, and Coming 2 America.
The bottom line – who knows? Everything is tentative in these uncertain days. Streaming options will continue to increase. I wouldn’t be surprised if Tenet is available for a high price on such services in short order. For 007 fans and those awaiting Dune, there’s more time to anticipate.
My box office predictions have been in a dormancy stage as chains struggle to obtain new product in these COVID times. It picks up again next weekend with the release of The War with Grandpa as uncertainty continues with the financial viability for theatrical releases.
This comedy starring Robert De Niro has had a checkered history even before the virus. Shot in 2017, it was originally scheduled for a 2018 debut. However, its original distributor was The Weinstein Company and the release was shelved due to the high profile legal troubles of its founder. 101 Studios eventually picked it up and here we are.
Tim Hill directs and he’s mostly known for kid friendly and animated fare such as Alvin and the Chipmunks and this year’s The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run. Costars include Uma Thurman, Christopher Walken, Rob Riggle, Oakes Fegley, Cheech Marin, and Jane Seymour.
When Tenet underperformed stateside in July, it set off a wave of delays. That includes just this week as No Time to Die experienced another push (this time to Easter 2021). Simply put, audiences have yet to develop a comfort level with a return to multiplexes.
Don’t look for Grandpa to change that. The film’s trailer was greeted with some eye rolling as this looks like a return to De Niro comedic mediocrity (just months after a more acclaimed turn in The Irishman). The Coronavirus questions persist: how many venues will this actually play in? This is even more of an issue now that Regal Cinemas has announced the closure of over 500 theaters. Amidst all of this, I believe Grandpa will struggle to hit $2 million for a quiet start.
The War with Grandpa opening weekend prediction: $1.9 million
There is one new entry populating the multiplexes this weekend and it’s the rom com The Broken Hearts Gallery, which will attempt to bring in a teen audience. You can peruse my detailed prediction post on it here:
I have already downgraded my estimate for it from an initial $4.3 million to just $2.3 million. That should be good enough for a second place showing behind Christopher Nolan’s Tenet.
And now… about Tenet. All eyes were on the time shifting mega budget epic over the long Labor Day weekend. There’s good news and bad news. By Labor Day, Warner Bros reported that the pic had taken in $20.2 million domestically. That is well below the $36.9 million that I had it pegged at by that date. And it’s absolutely on the lowest end of its expected range.
On the flip side, Tenet stands at a sturdy $152 million gross worldwide thus far. The expectation is that its weekend to weekend drop-offs in the United States should be fairly minor as moviegoers are just getting accustomed to heading back out to their local theater.
On the other hand, the pic received a so-so B Cinemascore grade from audiences. That indicates some crowds weren’t wowed by the experience. Having said that, Tenet is the only major release playing for the entire month of September before Wonder Woman 1984 arrives early next month (we hope).
I will say Tenet should only dip to the mid teens for this upcoming frame with the caveat that we are truly in unknown territory. As for the scant holdovers, The New Mutants dropped 57% in its sophomore frame. That steep fall meant a gross of $3 million over the holiday compared to my more generous $3.8 million take. Its total is $11.7 million. Russell Crowe’s Unhinged was third with $1.8 million. My guess? $1.8 million! The overall tally is $11.4 million.
Here are my top 3 estimates for the weekend ahead:
After its theatrical release was scrapped due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Disney’s live-action version of their 1998 animated tale Mulan is set to stream on Disney+ beginning tomorrow for a fee of $30. With a reported budget of around $200 million, this is certainly one of the highest profile features to ever (if ever) hit the PVOD circuit.
Over the past decade, the Mouse Factory has made billions of dollars with this sub genre of bringing their well-known drawn properties to a human scale. And there’s already a history of these pics garnering technical nominations at the Oscars.
The review embargo for Mulan lapsed on the eve of its release and reaction thus far is mostly on the positive side. Niki Caro’s remake is generating praise for its action sequences and overall visuals. Some of the reviews are a bit less kind. The Rotten Tomatoes meter is currently 73%. That’s a marked improvement over last year’s Aladdin (57%) and The Lion King (52%). Yet it falls short of the highs of The Jungle Book (94%) or Cinderella (84%). It’s actually right in range with 2017’s Beauty and the Beast, which scored 71%.
Let’s take that trip down memory lane for Disney’s output in this genre, shall we? In 2010, Alice in Wonderland won both Art Direction (now Production Design) and Costume Design and was nominated for its Visual Effects. 2014’s Maleficent also received a nod for its costuming and that happened a year later with Cinderella. In 2016, The Jungle Book was victorious for its Visual Effects. Beauty and the Beast received nominations the next year for Production Design and its costumes. Christopher Robin got a Visual Effects nod in 2019. And last year, The Lion King picked up a Visual Effects mention while Maleficent: Mistress of Evil was nominated for Makeup and Hairstyling.
You’ll notice that none of these pictures landed attention in the major categories and I don’t expect that Mulan will change that. When it comes to down the line nominations, I do expect this will contend in Production Design and Costume Design especially. Visual Effects and Makeup and Hairstyling are also possibilities and maybe even Cinematography. And there’s also the matter of Best Original Song. Christina Aguilera, who sang the track “Reflection” over the end credits 22 years ago, has composed some original works here. She recently put out the single “Loyal Brave True” and it certainly could contend.
Bottom line: Mulan is unlikely to be the first live-action Disney remake to compete for the big prizes, but it should carry on the tradition of its technical achievements being noticed. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…
Blogger’s Note (09/08): I am downgrading my original estimate from $4.3 million down to just $2.3 million. Simply put, this probably would have been better off going the streaming route.
Sony Pictures is hoping that a young audience will turn out for next weekend’s The Broken Hearts Gallery. The romantic comedy comes from first time director Natalie Krinsky and was originally scheduled for a July release before the COVID-19 pandemic altered the plans. Executive produced by Selena Gomez, it stars Geraldine Viswanathan (best known for Blockers and HBO’s Bad Education) and Dacre Montgomery (Billy from Netflix’s Stranger Things). Costars include Utkarsh Ambudkar, Molly Gordon, and Bernadette Peters.
I’m a bit skeptical that this has any breakout potential. Many similar pics in this genre are based on novels with a hoped for built-in audience. Gallery doesn’t have that advantage or much star power to lure its intended demographic into the multiplex. The best hope for Sony is that this crowd is simply starved for anything to go see.
I don’t believe that’ll be enough to get this over $3 million.
The Broken Hearts Gallery opening weekend prediction: $2.3 million
Blogger’s Note (09/02): On the eve of its premiere, I am upping my four and five day estimates for Tenet up to $30.3M and $36.9M, respectively.
It is quite safe to assume that Labor Day weekend has never been the most interesting box office frame before in a calendar year. Traditionally it’s a slow one when studios don’t bother to put out potential hits as the blockbusters of summer wind down and companies ready their fall product.
2020 has upended all of that due to the COVID-19 pandemic and Christopher Nolan’s Tenet is by far the highest profile release this holiday weekend has ever witnessed. After a delay from July, the twisty thriller with John David Washington and Robert Pattinson is finally set to invade IMAX and regular screens on Thursday (with previews slated throughout this week). You can peruse my detailed prediction post on it here:
Tenet rolled out in numerous international markets (as well as our neighbor to the north) this past weekend and it blew away expectations with $53 million. That bodes quite well for its U.S. bow this week. A four-day weekend in the mid to high 20s is my best guesstimate with upwards of $30 million when factoring in the Thursday tally. And if this projection changes, I have a feeling it will go up.
This juggernaut will easily rule the weekend. In fact, based on minimal competition in September, it will probably be #1 for the entire month. As for current holdovers, The New Mutants should dip to 2nd with Unhinged in third position. I expect the sophomore dip for Mutants to be more pronounced than that of Unhinged.
And with that, I am moving from a top 2 predictions last weekend to a whole top 3 as the box office comeback kicks into high gear for September! All estimates are for the four-day long frame unless otherwise indicated.
Predicted Gross: $30.3 million (Friday to Monday prediction); $36.9 million (Thursday to Monday)
2. The New Mutants
Predicted Gross: $3.8 million
Predicted Gross: $1.8 million
Box Office Results (August 28-30)
Fox’s long-delayed and critically drubbed The New Mutants was a trouble production well before anyone knew what the coronavirus was. Originally set for 2018, this title in the X-Men Universe finally limped into theaters. That said, considering the circumstances, its performance was right at about the significantly lowered expectations at $7 million. I said $6.9 million.
Unhinged dropped to second with $2.6 million and that’s on pace with my $2.8 million estimate. The Russell Crowe road rage pic has taken in $8.8 million in two weeks.
In addition to her successful music career, Janelle Monae has transitioned nicely into the cinematic universe over the past few years. In fact, her three highest profile supporting performances – Moonlight, Hidden Figures, Harriet – have all garnered Oscar attention and nominations for her costars.
So it stood to at least wonder if her first major starring role could accomplish the same. The horror pic Antebellum was slated to hit theaters in April. Like so many other features in these COVID times, that plan was scuttled and it’s now set to debut on streaming services on September 18th. From directors Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz, it casts Monae as both a modern day author and a slave in the era of the Underground Railroad. The supporting players include Eric Lange, Jena Malone, Jack Huston, and Gabourey Sidibe.
There’s been a recent trend of actresses being lauded for their work in this genre. Both Lupita Nyong’o (Us) and Toni Collette (Hereditary) likely just missed inclusion in the final five for Best Actress in 2017 and 2018, respectively. The review embargo for Antebellum expired today and it certainly doesn’t appear as if Monae will join that club. The Rotten Tomatoes score is a meager 36% and several critics are calling this is a misfire.
Bottom line: while Monae’s involvement in projects has captured the attention of awards voters, she’ll need to wait for her turn as the focus. This one isn’t it. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…