Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Labor Day Box Office

Quick! Tell me everything you remember about the 2009 rom com All About Steve? Search that memory! My guess is not much. It stars Sandra Bullock and Bradley Cooper and it’s certainly not what most moviegoers remember about the two actors from that particular year. To be fair, they both hit career milestones 12 years ago. Bullock won an Oscar for The Blind Side. Cooper became a household name that summer in The Hangover. 

All About Steve won some awards as well. Not the kind that gets bragged about. The pic took home two Golden Raspberry trophies for Worst On Screen Couple and for Bullock as Worst Actress. Its Rotten Tomatoes score stands at 6%. And it’s largely a forgotten blip on the filmographies of two accomplished performers.

Yet it does currently stand at #10 when it comes to biggest Labor Day openings in box office history. That’s because Labor Day weekend has traditionally not been a time for studios to release hoped for blockbusters. In normal times, that frame is generally seen as one in which the summer season is winding down and the fall projects are gearing up. It’s kind of an in between time.

The distinction for highest premiere over the holiday belongs to 2007’s Halloween (the reboot by Rob Zombie). It made $30 million out of the gate.

When you get down to Steve in tenth, the take is a mere $14 million for the four-day gross. There’s other pics you might have conveniently forgot about on that list. How about the ping pong comedy Balls of Fury with George Lopez and Christopher Walken? It’s #8 (also with $14 million). There’s the musical doc One Direction: This Is Us which is perched in fourth with $18 million. Jeepers Creepers and its sequel both make appearances.

Why the Labor Day history lesson? Because Disney is about to go against the grain and release their newest Marvel Cinematic Universe product in what has usually been a quiet time.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings opens September 3rd and hopes to blow away Halloween‘s current record. It should have no problem doing just that. However, it also risks having the designation of being the MCU’s smallest opener. The current mark belongs to The Incredible Hulk at $55 million.

Current projections have Rings doing about $50 million for the Friday to Monday frame. It may certainly exceed that and early word-of-mouth is encouraging (my official prediction will be up on Tuesday or Wednesday). Unlike Black Widow, the house that Mickey built is not making Rings simultaneously available for a $30 fee on Disney Plus.

There’s a case to be made that the 25th MCU flick faces challenges no other has. Black Widow had the advantage of a well-known character at the center. That helped propel the stand-alone entry to an $80 million bow as COVID continues to be a hindrance to earning power. Shang-Chi introduces a whole new group of players to this multi-billion cinematic universe. That didn’t hurt Guardians of the Galaxy or Black Panther, but they both had sizzling buzz leading to their unveilings.

So what will be talked about more in two weeks? The nearly certain record Rings will accomplish with its record Labor Day haul? Or the possibility that it sets a low mark for its practically never miss franchise? One thing is clear: Machete will drop down to spot 10 in all-time Labor Day beginnings. And there will nothing to see in the top ten about All About Steve.

The Suicide Squad Review

I had no doubt while watching James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad that it’s a more realized vision of exactly what its director wanted. This was apparently not the case with David Ayer’s 2016 Suicide Squad and maybe we will see his Justice League style extended cut one day. For this latest DC Extended Universe pic, Warner Bros reportedly let Gunn do his thing without interference.

The result is a hard R rated and often gleefully bizarre experience. There are some truly funny moments and inspired action sequences mixed with a host of repetitive ones. At one point, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) makes light of a character named Milton who just got popped. The joke is that she doesn’t remember him being part of the team because he’s so forgettable. Milton isn’t the only one. Frankly, I’m struggling a bit with my overall take. This Squad is unquestionably an improvement over its predecessor. Yet I never quite got immersed in its raunchy comic book violence or irreverent attitude in the way I did with Deadpool or Gunn’s own Guardians of the Galaxy. 

Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) is still head of A.R.G.U.S., the government organization that has its own unique prison work release program. Felonious super villains are sent on black ops missions in the name of homeland security (or so they’re told). Many of the cast mates (including Will Smith’s Deadshot) are MIA this time around. Harley’s back as is Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney). So is Waller’s right-hand man and Squad leader Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman).

From the jump, we discover that no character may live past a scene or two and this does contribute to an unpredictable vibe. The newbies recruited include human weapons depot Bloodsport (Idris Elba), meaning of the word peace conflicted Peacemaker (John Cena), rodent whisperer Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), and Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian). His name? Just like it sounds. Our primary CG creation is King Shark (voice by Sylvester Stallone), who’s half man/half Jaws. If he reminds you a bit of Groot from Guardians, mission accomplished.

Speaking of missions, it is to stop a recent coup in the fictional South American land of Corto Maltese. Now that their government has been overthrown, someone needs to destroy a secretive laboratory housing an experiment called Project Starfish. Part of the Squad’s goal is to capture The Thinker (Peter Capaldi), a scientist who’s involved with the mysterious Starfish happenings. The eventual revelation of what that is pure B movie escapist joy that I won’t spoil.

Regarding our brand new characters, it’s a mixed lot. Elba’s Bloodsport has a character arc and motivations not unlike Smith’s Deadshot and it’s not terribly interesting. I will say his brief interaction with his daughter (Storm Reid) humorously didn’t go the way I thought it would. Cena uses his comedic chops effectively at times with his morally confused antihero. Gunn pushes pretty hard to make Ratcatcher 2 a heartwarming protagonist amidst the exploding heads and bodies being literally ripped apart. It could have gone the wrong way, but Taika Waititi’s casting as her dad helps save the day. King Shark’s contribution to that mayhem is rather amusing.

In one way, the more things change (and change they do from 2016) – the more they stay the same. This would be with Robbie’s Quinn, who retains the title of best performance and most enjoyable demented personality. For a while, she gets her own subplot that involves being romanced by the Corto Maltesian dictator (Juan Diego Botto) and being an unreliable torture subject. Those scenes work well and Robbie gets the lions share of the credit. Like in Suicide Squad, she’s the brightest star in The Suicide Squad. 

*** (out of four)

Squad Goals Thwarted

Uh oh. That is likely to be the prevailing refrain coming from not only Warner Bros today, but Hollywood as a whole. The August box office has kicked off with only one wide release this weekend and it’s a high profile one in The Suicide Squad. This is the hard R rated reboot of the franchise from director James Gunn, who’s had massive success in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the Guardians of the Galaxy and its sequel.

Hopes were riding high after this Squad received unexpectedly laudatory marks from critics with a 92% Rotten Tomatoes score. The 2016 Suicide Squad managed only 26% and still became a financial success story. In fact, its $65 million opening Friday set the August record five years back. It went on to gross $133 million for the weekend and $325 million overall domestic.

With the Delta variant rising across the country and the 2021 version being available on HBO Max, no one expected this to match the original. However, when it made $4 million on Thursday night, that seemed to correlate with a premiere close to $40 million (where I had it pegged).

What a difference a day makes. Reports have The Suicide Squad earning just over $12 million for Friday (this includes the Thursday preview numbers). And that means a debut in the mid 20s is where it’s headed. That is absolutely on the lowest end of forecasts.

In short… that’s bad. Usually comic book movies are critic proof if the reviews are mediocre (like Suicide Squad). One would think the unanticipated praise would’ve been a boost. Not so. To make it worse, 2020’s spin-off Birds of Prey focused on Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn character took in $33 million out of the gate. I can’t imagine Warner Bros ever imagined The Suicide Squad would fall short of that.

So what happened? There will be many theories. First off, 2016’s Squad was a hit, but audiences didn’t exactly love it and perhaps they weren’t clamoring for a reimagining. The original Squad had a PG-13 rating and that means youngsters had a better opportunity to turn out. The new Squad being on HBO Max. The absence of the franchise’s biggest star Will Smith.

These are all viable explanations and they might all be contributors (especially the general ambivalence for what we witnessed five years ago). Studios are really hoping the overriding rationale isn’t the Delta variant. If so, don’t be shocked if we see other major releases start getting delayed again. That would be a reversal from where things seemed headed even last month. There’s a whole lotta movie lovers hoping No Time to Die or Dune or Halloween Kills and more stick to their fall plans.

Family fare like Space Jam: A New Legacy and Jungle Cruise opened slightly above projections and both were available on streaming. Theaters owners had reason to feel hopeful. To be clear, one failure may not change the dynamic and The Suicide Squad could represent a blip where the aforementioned circumstances caused the lackluster performance. Yet there’s little doubt that radars across Tinsel Town are at full attention and that this never-ending story of uncertainty carries on.

Oscar Watch: The Suicide Squad

I’m not sure what I anticipated for The Suicide Squad when its review embargo lifted, but it definitely wasn’t this. Five years after David Ayer’s Suicide Squad posted impressive box office returns but poor critical reaction, the Squad’s new comic book adventure appears to be a major improvement. James Gunn, maker of both Guardians of the Galaxy flicks for the MCU, has taken over directorial duties. Opening next Friday in theaters and HBO Max streaming, the difference in reviews is quite startling.

How much so? 2016’s Suicide Squad ended up with a 26% Rotten Tomatoes score. Putting The in front of the title for 2021’s version apparently upped the quality considerably. Its Tomato meter stands at (get this) 98% with 55 reviews up at time of posting. Gunn’s iteration is said to be a hard R rated blast that is more of a redo than reboot of the franchise. Sounds like mission accomplished.

No, I don’t think this will get a Best Picture nomination. I do believe it could play in down the line races (two in particular). You may have forgotten that the first Squad is actually an Oscar winner for Makeup and Hairstyling and The Suicide Squad could easily show up there again. Gunn is no stranger to that category as the first Guardians nabbed a nod there. Both Guardians also made the final five in Visual Effects and Squad could too. The competition in that race should be serious and some of the other hopefuls also come from Warner Bros. (Godzilla vs. Kong, Dune, the fourth Matrix).

Bottom line: reviewers are crowing that the latest makeup of the Squad is a vastly superior experience. It may only get a Makeup and Hairstyling nomination to show for it. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

The Suicide Squad Box Office Prediction

Putting the “The” in front of the title isn’t the only change for The Suicide Squad as the DC Comics adaptation hits theaters August 6th. Arriving five years after Suicide Squad, James Gunn (best known for making both Guardians of the Galaxy pics for the MCU) takes over directing duties from David Ayer. Will Smith is nowhere to be found though Margot Robbie reprises her role as Harley Quinn. Other returnees include Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, and Jai Courtney. New cast members in the mix are Idris Elba, John Cena, Sylvester Stallone, Peter Capaldi, Michael Rooker, and Pete Davidson.

The tenth feature in the DC Extended Universe series, the film will be a test of just how much audiences wish for a return engagement in this particular subsection of the franchise. In 2016, Suicide Squad (despite mostly poor reviews) exceeded expectations with its opening weekend. It grossed a frontloaded $133 million out of the gate with an eventual domestic haul of $325 million. In the spring of 2020, spin-off Birds of Prey, centered on Robbie’s character, was a different story. Prey made a full $100 million less than Squad for its start at $33 million with an $82 million overall stateside gross.

The Suicide Squad, like all Warner Bros product in 2021, will open simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max’s streaming service. The studio has seen some positive results this year with that strategy including Godzilla vs. Kong (nearly $50 million in its five-day Easter debut) and Space Jam: A New Legacy at a better than expected $31 million.

Gunn’s Squad tale will not approach what was achieved five years ago. Yet I do suspect it will outdo the low 30s made by Prey. Hitting $50 million is achievable, but Delta variant complications and the availability of HBO Max could put it under that figure in the low to possibly mid 40s range.

The Suicide Squad opening weekend prediction: $40.8 million

Oscar Watch: The Tomorrow War

Chris Pratt is no stranger to his pictures getting nominated in the Visual Effects race at the Oscars. However, this is limited to his participation in the Marvel Cinematic Universe via Guardians of the Galaxy and its sequel and Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. Neither Jurassic World or its sequel made the VE cut.

Mr. Pratt headlines another sci-fi spectacle with The Tomorrow War, debuting on Amazon Prime today. Budgeted in the $200 million range, the pic comes from Chris McKay (making his live-action directorial debut after helming The Lego Batman Movie). Costars include Yvonne Strahovski, Betty Gilpin, and J.K. Simmons. Originally slated for a December 2020 theatrical release, Tomorrow was relegated to streaming due to its COVID delay. It’s now out on Independence Day weekend and some critics have compared it to the 1996 summer blockbuster that shares its name with the holiday.

When it comes to awards attention, Visual Effects is the only possibility here. Reviews are middling as it currently sits at 55% on Rotten Tomatoes. The VE branch can be an unpredictable one (remember that Love and Monsters nod last year?). That said, my hunch is that Tomorrow will be ignored by voters months down the line. The competition should be steep (more so than last year) with Dune, Eternals, Top Gun: Maverick, and others.

Bottom line: expect the MCU to still be Pratt’s filmography represented when it comes to souped up special effects.

Oscar Watch: Black Widow

In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, unless the film is named Black Panther, your best hope is to contend in Visual Effects at the Oscars and probably lose. This brings us to Black Widow, the 24th entry in the MCU that opens July 9th in theaters and on Disney Plus streaming. The stand-alone pic focused on Scarlett Johansson’s title character had its review embargo lifted today and results are mostly positive thus far. The Rotten Tomatoes score currently stands at 86%.

Johansson’s costars (Florence Pugh particularly) are getting the bulk of critical kudos. That said, no actor in an MCU flick has made the cut in those categories and it won’t start here. 10 of the previous 23 franchise blockbusters (Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Avengers, Iron Man 3, Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame) have landed slots in Visual Effects. As far as victories go – they are 0 for 10. In fact, only Panther (which nabbed a Best Picture nod) has won anything. It went 3 for 7 on Oscar night 2019 by taking Original Score, Costume Design, and Production Design.

Just over half of Marvel’s creations have received zero recognition from the Academy. Black Widow should face an uphill battle in Visual Effects. Late year arrivals like Dune and Top Gun: Maverick are just two possibilities outside of this cinematic universe. Then there’s the matter of 3 more hopeful MCU titles: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Spider-Man: No Way Home, and (perhaps especially) Eternals. Bottom line: there’s a better chance of Black Widow not showing up anywhere at next year’s ceremony. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

A Marvel Cinematic Oscar History: Best Supporting Actress

Wrapping up my look back at the 110 Oscar nominees and 20 winners that have appeared in the Marvel Cinematic Universe since Iron Man in 2008 and continuing through its next two releases (Black Widow and The Eternals), we arrive at Best Supporting Actress. If you missed my posts for the lead races and Supporting Actor, you can find them here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/04/12/a-marvel-cinematic-oscar-history-best-actor/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/04/14/a-marvel-cinematic-oscar-history-best-actress/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/04/16/a-marvel-cinematic-oscar-history-best-supporting-actor/

Supporting Actress has the least number of nominees (19), but equals the most victories with six (tying Best Actor). We start with those six gold recipients:

Tilda Swinton, who appeared in Doctor Strange, won in 2007 for Michael Clayton

Marisa Tomei, Aunt May in the Spider-Man pics, was a surprise victor in 1992 for My Cousin Vinny

Cate Blanchett, the villainess in Thor: Ragnarok, in 2004 for The Aviator

Lupita Nyong’o, of Black Panther, for 2013’s 12 Years a Slave

Rachel Weisz, who’s in the forthcoming Black Widow, for 2005’s The Constant Gardner

Angelina Jolie, who will appear in The Eternals, in 1999’s Girl, Interrupted

As for the 13 other nominees:

Scarlett Johansson, aka Black Widow, for last year’s Jojo Rabbit

Natalie Portman, Thor’s flame, for 2004’s Closer

Glenn Close, who appeared in Guardians of the Galaxy, is a three-time nominee in this category for 1982’s The World According to Garp, 1983’s The Big Chill, and 1984’s The Natural

Rachel McAdams, also of Doctor Strange, for 2015’s Spotlight

Marisa Tomei was nominated twice more after her Vinny win for 2001’s In the Bedroom and 2008’s The Wrestler

Cate Blanchett received two additional nods for 2006’s Notes on a Scandal and 2007’s I’m Not There

Annette Bening, from Captain Marvel, for 1990’s The Grifters

Florence Pugh, costar of the upcoming Black Widow, for last year’s Little Women

Rachel Weisz received another nod for 2018’s The Favourite 

And that concludes my look back on the MCU and its Oscar pedigree. Hope you enjoyed!

A Marvel Cinematic Oscar History: Best Supporting Actor

Continuing with my series showcasing the voluminous amount of Oscar nominees and winners that have appeared in the 25 Marvel Cinematic Universe pictures (including the upcoming Black Widow and The Eternals), we arrive at Best Supporting Actor.

If you missed my previous posts covering the lead performers in Actor and Actress, you can find them here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/04/12/a-marvel-cinematic-oscar-history-best-actor/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/04/14/a-marvel-cinematic-oscar-history-best-actress/

Supporting Actor, of the four acting categories, contains the most nominees at 36. However, there are only 4 wins represented. As a reminder, the MCU has given us 110 total nominees and 20 golden recipients.

Let’s start with the four gentlemen who made a trip to the podium:

Sam Rockwell, who costarred in Iron Man 2, took gold in 2017 for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri 

Tommy Lee Jones, who appeared in Captain America: First Avenger, emerged victorious in 1993 for The Fugitive

Benicio del Toro, who memorably appeared in Guardians of the Galaxy, won in 2000 for Traffic

J.K. Simmons, who popped up in Spider-Man: Far From Home reprising his role as J. Jonah Jameson from the original Spidey trilogy, won in 2014 for Whiplash

And now the 29 additional performers who received nods:

Tony Stark himself, Robert Downey Jr., received a nomination in 2008 for Tropic Thunder

Jeff Bridges, the Iron Man villain, is a four-time nominee for 1971’s The Last Picture Show, 1974’s Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, 2000’s The Contender, and Hell or High Water in 2016

Samuel L. Jackson, who has played Nick Fury in numerous MCU entries, got a nod in 1994 for Pulp Fiction

Edward Norton, who was the Hulk before Mark Ruffalo, is a two-time nominee for 1996’s Primal Fear and 2014’s Birdman

Tim Roth, bad guy in Norton’s The Incredible Hulk, for 1995’s Rob Roy

William Hurt, whose MCU appearances also began in The Incredible Hulk, for 2005’s A History of Violence

Sam Rockwell was nominated a year after his Billboards win in 2018 for Vice

Anthony Hopkins, Thor’s dad, for 1997’s Amistad and last year’s The Two Popes

Stanley Tucci, also of Captain America: First Avenger, in 2010 for The Lovely Bones

Mark Ruffalo is a three-time nominee: 2010’s The Kids Are All Right, 2014’s Foxcatcher, and in 2015 for Spotlight

Jeremy Renner, aka Hawkeye, in 2010’s The Town

Ben Kingsley, from Iron Man 3, is a two-time mention for 1991’s Bugsy and 2001’s Sexy Beast

Benicio del Toro also received a nomination for 2003’s 21 Grams

Bradley Cooper, Rocket from Guardians of the Galaxy, for 2013’s American Hustle

Djimon Hounsou, who first appeared in Guardians, for both 2003’s In America and 2006’s Blood Diamond

John C. Reilly, another Guardians performer, for 2002’s Chicago

Josh Brolin, aka Thanos, for 2008’s Milk

Sylvester Stallone, who appeared in the Guardians sequel, for 2015’s Creed

Matt Damon, who had a cameo in Thor: Ragnarok, for Invictus in 2009

Jude Law, from Captain Marvel, received a nomination 20 years earlier for The Talented Mr. Ripley

Jake Gyllenhaal, villain for Spider-Man: Far From Home, for 2005’s Brokeback Mountain

And that does it for now, folks! I’ll have Supporting Actress up in short order…

 

 

A Marvel Cinematic Oscar History: Best Actress

Today brings part two of my exploration of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the rather astonishing number of actors in the MCU that have received Oscar nominations or won. The total is 110 nominations and 20 wins. I started with the lead performers who received Best Actor nods and victories. If you missed that post, you can find it here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/04/12/a-marvel-cinematic-oscar-history-best-actor/

We move to Best Actress and the numbers there are bit lower. For Actor, it’s 33 nominations and 6 wins, encompassing 23 total men. For Actress, it’s 11 women who’ve received a tally of 22 nominations and 4 trips to the stage. The reasoning behind this could be simple. It wasn’t until the 22nd MCU pic (last year’s Captain Marvel) where a female received overall top billing. And Captain Marvel herself is among the 4 victorious thespians. I’ll remind you that I am including Marvel’s next two features (Black Widow and The Eternals) in the count.

Let’s break them down by winners first:

Gwyneth Paltrow, Iron Man’s main squeeze Pepper Potts, won in 1998 for Shakespeare in Love

Natalie Portman, girlfriend to Thor in those first two pics, won in 2010 for Black Swan

Cate Blanchett, nemesis to the Asgard God in Thor: Ragnarok, took the prize in 2013 for Blue Jasmine

Captain Marvel Brie Larson was a gold recipient in 2015 for Room

Here are the 18 nominees:

Scarlett Johansson, Black Widow, scored her first leading actress nod last year for Marriage Story

Natalie Portman was additionally nominated in 2016 for Jackie

Glenn Close, who appeared in Guardians of the Galaxy, is a four-time nominee in the lead category for 1987’s Fatal Attraction, 1988’s Dangerous Liaisons, 2011’s Albert Nobbs, and 2018’s The Wife

Cate Blanchett received three more nods for 1998’s Elizabeth, 2007 sequel Elizabeth: The Golden Age, and 2015’s Carol

Angela Bassett, mother to Black Panther, was nominated for her portrayal of Tina Turner in 1993’s What’s Love Got to Do With It?

Michelle Pfeiffer, costar of Ant-Man and the Wasp, is a three-time contender for 1988’s Dangerous Liaisons (alongside Close), 1989’s The Fabulous Baker Boys, and 1992’s Love Field

Annette Bening, from Captain Marvel, is also a three-time hopeful for 1999’s American Beauty, 2004’s Being Julia, and 2010’s The Kids Are All Right

Salma Hayek, from the upcoming The Eternals, scored a nomination for 2002’s Frida

Angelina Jolie, also from The Eternals, got a nod for 2008’s Changeling

I’ll have Supporting Actor up in short order!