Paramount Pictures is hoping that horror fans are ready to Smile on September 30th. The supernatural fright fest marks the directorial debut of Parker Finn with a cast including Sosie Bacon (daughter of Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick), Jessie T. Usher, Kyle Gallner, Caitlin Stasey, Kal Penn, and Rob Morgan.
This is a genre that’s been well served in September with Barbarian and Pearl (and The Invitation in late August). The trend will continue with Halloweens Ends in mid-October. There could be a bit of fatigue, but Smile may have a feather in its cap. The mysterious and creepy teaser spot played all summer long in front of a little film called Top Gun: Maverick… the one that’s made over $700 million domestically.
A premiere in the $20 million range is not out of the question. However, I’ll say mid to high teens is where this lands.
Smile opening weekend prediction: $17.7 million
For my Bros prediction, click here:
Bros Box Office Prediction
Blogger’s Note (09/14): I’m revising my estimate up from $2.4 million to $3.4 million.
Shot in secret during the filming of this spring’s horror pic X, Ti West’s prequel Pearl is in theaters Friday. Mia Goth returns in the villainous title role with a supporting cast including David Corenswat, Tandi Wright, and Matthew Sunderland. It premiered at the Venice Film Festival days ago to pleasing reviews (87% on Rotten Tomatoes). That’s just slightly under the meter of its predecessor which nabbed 94%.
While X had the critics on its side, its box office performance was so-so. The $4.3 million opening culminated in an overall domestic gross of just under $12 million. While that might seem low, it’s a tidy profit for A24 considering the reported $1 million budget.
I’m sure Pearl wasn’t pricey either, but I suspect this won’t even reach X figures. I’ll say between $2-3 million sounds about right.
Pearl opening weekend prediction: $3.4 million
For my The Woman King prediction, click here:
The Woman King Box Office Prediction
For my See How They Run prediction, click here:
See How They Run Box Office Prediction
Nikyatu Jusu’s directorial debut Nanny first drew viewers earlier this year at Sundance and will be screened in Toronto next week. Anna Diop stars as a Senegalese caretaker working for an affluent NYC family. Their arrangement appears, judging from the trailer, to morph into arthouse horror territory. Costars include Michelle Monaghan, Sinqua Walls, and Morgan Spector.
After its festival run, Nanny is slated for a limited November 23rd theatrical run before its streaming rollout on December 16th via Amazon Prime. Reviews are continuing to pop up as it plays other fests throughout the country and the Rotten Tomatoes score is 90%. It won the US Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. The last two winners of that award were the Best Picture nominated Minari in 2020 and last year’s CODA which, of course, took home the Academy’s biggest prize. I would also note that the five winners before that came nowhere near a BP nod.
Diop is receiving raves along with appreciation for Jusu’s original screenplay. Nanny would really need some high profile love from critics groups before I’d consider entering this into Academy chatter. It isn’t outside the realm of possibility, but I wouldn’t count on it. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…
The fall movie season kicks off in horrific fashion with Barbarian, Zach Cregger’s directorial debut which premiered at Comic-Con in July to solid buzz. Whether its festival reaction translates to positive box office numbers is questionable.
Georgina Campbell, Bill Skargard (who’s had huge success in the genre with It and its sequel), and Justin Long star in a pic whose plot is being kept rather secretive. Early word-of-mouth suggests horror fans might be best served by entering this one cold.
September is not looking overly encouraging for blockbuster possibilities. It is, however, filled with scary flicks. Barbarian starts the trend with Pearl out a week later and Smile arriving at month’s end. Barbarian needs that chatter from its screenings to seep into the mainstream and I’m not sure it has. One comp could be Malignant, which premiered on the same post Labor Day weekend last year. It made just over $5 million though it was simultaneously streaming on HBO Max.
This should benefit a little from being theatrical only. I’ll say Barbarian will be lucky to make close to double digits, but may to settle for $6-8 million.
Barbarian opening weekend prediction: $7.1 million
Sony is hoping that horror fans and perhaps a young female audience RSVP for The Invitation when it arrives in theaters August 26th. Taking influence from Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel, Jessica M. Thompson directs. Nathalie Emmanuel, best known for her appearances in the latest Fast and Furious installments, headlines. Costars include Thomas Doherty, Stephanie Corneliussen, Alana Boden, and Hugh Skinner.
Horror flicks have been a bright spot in the COVID era and that includes 2022 (Scream and The Black Phone for example). This one faces challenges. It’s not based on existing IP other than the loose vampire connection. Most importantly, the late August release date is generally seen as a dumping ground for studios.
The Invitation may be fortunate to reach double digits (though that could be good enough for a #1 opening). I’ll say it falls a bit under that mark.
The Invitation opening weekend prediction: $8.1 million
For my Three Thousand Years of Longing prediction, click here:
Three Thousand Years of Longing Box Office Prediction
John Logan’s directorial debut They/Them tries to mix social commentary with the slasher genre. The result doesn’t feel sharp or incisive and it especially doesn’t provide many scares. Logan has written many a screenplay (from Gladiator to The Aviator to Skyfall) and it’s a little shocking how much of a misfire this blend ends up being.
A group of teens and young adults arrive at the Whistler Camp run by Owen (Kevin Bacon) and wife Cora (Carrie Preston). It’s billed as a conversion camp for the LGBTQ community though Owen insists the experience is all about finding your true self. Their educational methods are soon discovered to be on the bizarre and barbaric side with non-binary Jordan (Theo Germaine) as the most vocal critic. Another skeptic is Molly (Anna Chlumsky), a newly employed nurse at the facility. She’s the only member of the staff not drinking the Kool-Aid.
In addition to the horror of Owen’s work, there’s a potential Friday the 13th situation happening with a masked killer on the grounds. That part of the storyline is put on the back burner mostly until the third act and the eventual twists are pretty obvious.
For the majority of its length, They/Them struggles mightily with its tone. We have glimmers of camp (including a cringe worthy Pink singalong) and then a therapy session that goes for Get Out vibes and fails. Some of the performances are decent. A small subplot about deeply closeted high schooler (Anna Lore) and her budding romance with the more confident Veronica (Monique Kim) might have been interesting in a different movie.
Despite the clever title with a double meaning (they slash them), the picture itself never solves its own identity crisis. By doing so, it certainly does a disservice to the issues it tries to explore.
*1/2 (out of four)
We’re used to the virgin in slasher movies. It’s typically a she and she’s usually the one that survives. Ti West’s homage to that genre and other ones has a little demented fun with that character. There’s not a virgin to be found in X, but there’s one who loses her porn flick virginity.
A prologue clues us in that we’ll see a significant body count in what follows. Set in rural Texas circa 1979, a troupe of six travels to a farmhouse to shoot an adult film. The director RJ (Owen Campbell) fancies it to be a cut above the rest of them (they always do in these pics). His girlfriend Lorraine (Jenna Ortega) is part of the skeleton crew who isn’t thrilled to be on the shoot. On the flip side, Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow) and her bf Jackson Hole (Scott Mescudi) are proud to be starring in the feature titled The Farmer’s Daughters. Mia Goth is Maxine, coke addled and desperate to be a star. She’s dating Wayne (Martin Henderson), executive producer of the big show.
The aforementioned farmhouse is owned by elderly couple Howard (Stephen Ure) and Pearl (played by Goth in heavy old age makeup). With a revivalist evangelical TV program playing on their set, we rightly assume they aren’t fully aware of what kind of shenanigans their guests are filming. A slow build leads us to discover plenty of secrets about the couple.
X is most obviously a sadistic love letter to 1974’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre though it telegraphs other influences. It even mentions 1960’s Psycho and how it became a different picture at midpoint. The same can be said here as the one day shoot is completed before a violent night rolls along. Halloween and The Shining get their due as do the cheapie grindhouse and skin flicks of the era it’s set in.
Where X deviates a little from the formula is its occasional rumination on aging. Pearl, in particular, is reminded of what she’s lost in her elder state by the youngsters on her property. Her reaction won’t win her (or the script) any acclaim from the AARP. It does, however, give this a slightly unexpected and intriguing dimension.
My reaction was mixed overall. I found the lighting to be almost too dark at times. That said, there’s one scene in particular (you’ll know) where you’ll be glad it is. While X is well-made and sometimes clever, its biggest fault is a common one for more high minded horror titles. I didn’t find it overly frightening. Furthermore, for a sendup of a brand where the killings are often violently creative – that’s in surprisingly short supply. The most passionate genre disciples will surely sing X‘s praises. I found myself somewhat less devoted.
**1/2 (out of four)
After helming critically appreciated genre titles The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Sinister (as well as the first Doctor Strange), Scott Derrickson is back in the horror lane this weekend with The Black Phone. Based on a short story by Joe Hill, the supernatural tale began garnering solid buzz when it premiered at Fantastic Fest last fall. Ethan Hawke is the most recognizable name in a cast that includes Mason Thames, Madeleine McGraw, Jeremy Davies, and James Ransone.
Scary movies always face an uphill battle for awards attention. Despite its 100% Rotten Tomatoes score, I don’t foresee Phone dialing up a Best Picture nod. On the other hand, particular acclaim has been afforded to its young costars Thames and McGraw. In order for them to grab any buzz in the supporting fields, the film’s box office reception would need to be fantastic. While I’ve got it performing well, I am not envisioning it reaching that kind of level. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…
After ringing up lots of positive reception last fall at Fantastic Fest, the supernatural horror pic The Black Phone arrives in theaters June 24th. Based on a short story by Joe Hill (son of Stephen King), Scott Derrickson directs. His biggest blockbuster is 2016’s Doctor Strange, but he’s a veteran of the genre including helming The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Sinister. His lead from the latter – Ethan Hawke – stars as a serial killer. Costars include Mason Thames, Madeleine McGraw, Jeremy Davies, and James Ransone.
In September 2021, Phone garnered serious buzz at the Austin fest. While some reviewers nitpicked pacing issues, the Rotten Tomatoes score is 100% with particular praise for its young performers Thames and McGraw. With a reported budget of under $20 million, this should be another profitable venture for Blumhouse. That production company is used to turning a tidy profit for many of their titles.
During the COVID era, frightening tales were generally immune from negative box office effects. I would look for Phone to earn its price tag back during the first weekend.
The Black Phone opening weekend prediction: $18.6 million
For my Elvis prediction, click here:
Elvis Box Office Prediction
Men is a later than usual addition to my box office predictions as it opens in just two days. This is Alex Garland’s latest feature after his acclaimed sci-fi pics Ex Machina (2015) and Annihilation (2018). More of a horror experience than his usual fare, the A24 distributed tale currently holds an 82% Rotten Tomatoes score. Jessie Buckley and Rory Kinnear star.
While that’s certainly solid, some critics have predicted that this won’t be an audience favorite. The best hope might be for a decent start as a hefty sophomore weekend drop is likely coming. It sounds as if it’s going quite wide at an estimated 2500 screens (something I wasn’t aware of until this late date). I could see Men debuting in the same range as X from the same studio. It grossed just over $4 million and that sounds about right here.
Men opening weekend prediction: $4.1 million
For my Downton Abbey: A New Era prediction, click here:
Downton Abbey: A New Era Box Office Prediction