There was movie news today and it was significant. It may cause a thriller centered on the “Driver from Hell” to become a trivia answer and a historical footnote. The upstart Solstice Studios has announced that Unhinged, which casts Russell Crowe as a psychopath with serious road rage issues, will park into theaters on July 1.
This would normally not be a post worthy item. However, by vaulting its release date from September to early July, Unhinged is primed to be the first major new theatrical item to open wide during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Obviously, significant questions abound. How many theaters will be operating at the time? Will some states not even have multiplexes even open? Most importantly, will audiences be ready to make their trip to see Mr. Crowe terrorize his fellow motorists?
The last couple of months has seen an unprecedented shift in release dates for pictures. Many summer blockbusters moved to fall or 2021. That has caused some ’21 releases to push back to 2022. It’s been a startling domino effect.
However, Unhinged breaks the streak by actually moving up and becoming a potential litmus test for the remainder of summer and calendar year as a whole. And July still has some heavy hitters that have yet to blink, most notably Christopher Nolan’s Tenet and Disney’s live-action Mulan treatment. How will it go? Only time will tell.
The post Thanksgiving box office weekend is usually a sluggish frame when studios avoid releasing hoped for hits. 2019 is no different as Playmobil: The Movie is the only new wide entry out. The animated comedic adventure is based on the line of German toys and it’s already been delayed from January to April to August to now. Not a positive sign. Neither is the 24% Rotten Tomatoes score.
Lino DiSalvo makes his directorial debut and he’s best known for his involvement in Disney’s Frozen. That film’s sequel should be making 10-15 times more in its third weekend than this will in its rollout. There are some recognizable faces providing voiceover work including Anya-Taylor Joy, Jim Gaffigan, Gabriel Bateman, Adam Lambert, Kenan Thompson, Meghan Trainor, and Daniel Radcliffe.
There simply seems to be no discernible buzz going for this. As mentioned, there’s a much higher profile kids flick that should be raking in the bucks as Playmobil searches for young eyeballs. I believe it won’t get them and that even $5 million is probably out of reach.
Playmobil: The Movie opening weekend prediction: $2.8 million
While the iconic products that come to life in Pixar’s ToyStory4 look to dominate the box office next weekend, another cinematic toy and a far more demented one returns to theaters with the reboot of Child’sPlay. Remaking the 1988 cult classic that spawned six sequels, demonic doll Chucky slashes his way back into multiplexes for the first time in almost 15 years. While Brad Dourif voiced Chucky for over three decades, Luke Skywalker himself Mark Hamill now takes over. Aubrey Plaza, Gabriel Bateman, Brian Tyree Henry, and Tim Matheson are among the cast with Lars Klevberg directing.
Despite all the follow-ups, the first Play still remains the highest earner of the franchise at $33 million ($72 million adjusted for inflation). The last two installments of the series (2013’s CurseofChucky and 2017’s CultofChucky) went straight to the On Demand/DVD route. This is the studio’s hope for solid returns at the theatrical level.
1998’s BrideofChucky achieved the biggest opening of them all at $11.8 million. The new Play should be able to top that and I’ll predict a high teens start is where this lands.
Child’sPlay opening weekend prediction: $17.6 million
The low-budget horror pic LightsOut comes from producer James Wan, who’s mastered the art of using sound effects to max effect in his Conjuring franchise. Here, director David F. Sandberg and screenwriter Eric Heisserer leave it to their production crew as well to generate the vast majority of scares. In something named LightsOut, you could correctly surmise that the lighting technicians are of key value here. Their work is often impressive.
If only there were a compelling story to match the occasionally nifty crew contributions. The pic opens with an effective intro where a textile warehouse owner meets his demise due to a shadowy female figure who appears only in the darkness. Flash forward to the man’s widow (Maria Bello) living with her grade school age son Martin (Gabriel Bateman) and trying to cope with his death. Her grieving patterns are a bit off kilter as she seems to be conversing with that same otherworldly creature who took her husband away. This overall creepiness leads Martin to seek out his half sister Rebecca (Teresa Palmer). She left years ago due to her own father’s abandonment and Mom’s strange behavior. Together, the siblings uncover a lot of backstory to explain what is happening. Tagging along is Rebecca’s boyfriend (Alexander DiPersia), who gets a gold star for sticking around when the going gets rough.
I give LightsOut some credit for attempting to fashion a narrative that goes out of its way to justify its character’s behavior, particularly with Bello. She veers between pharmaceutically chill and understandably freaked out. It helps that the performances are uniformly solid. A problem here is that once the existence of Diana (she’s the spirit wreaking all this havoc) is addressed, Lights sort of lumbers on with the same scare tactics repeatedly. There’s only so many times the flick of a lighting switch and the boo moment that follows doesn’t become redundant. It’s an issue that plagued the Conjuring sequel with its familiar sound effects jump moments from the original. In the plus column is that director Sandberg keeps it brisk at just 81 minutes. For a horror flick freaky Friday night, you could do a lot worse than this. Still, there’s plenty else that illuminates the genre in superior ways.
With its tiny budget of just a reported $5 million, horror pic Lights Out looks to make a tidy profit for Warner Bros when it debuts next Friday. It may star Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Billy Burke and Maria Bello, but the biggest name involved is James Wan. He serves as a producer and is the man behind the Conjuring and Insidious franchises.
The film premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival last month to positive notices and it currently stands at an illuminating 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. Critical praise does not equal potent box office returns in this genre, but Lights Out should still manage double digits for its start and that’s enough for its studio to see a decent return.
Lights Out opening weekend prediction: $10.2 million