Liam Neeson has a reprieve from interchangeable action flicks this weekend with Marlowe. The neo-noir crime pic reunites the lead (playing the title character detective created by Raymond Chandler) with his Michael Collins director Neil Jordan (Oscar winner for his screenplay for The Crying Game 30 years ago). William Monahan, himself an Academy recipient for his The Departed script, handles writing duties. The supporting cast includes Diane Kruger, Jessica Lange, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Alan Cumming, Danny Huston, and Colm Meaney.
Despite the pedigree, Marlowe isn’t turning up many positive reviews. The Rotten Tomatoes score is an underwhelming 24% and early box office returns are meager. Set in 1939 L.A., it was feasible that categories such as Production Design or Costume Design would be in the mix. However, based on initial reactions, this should be long forgotten come nominations time. My Oscar Predictions posts will continue…
My look back at the cinematic summers of 30, 20, and 10 years ago culminates with 2012. A decade ago, the Marvel Cinematic Universe went from a successful franchise to the phenomenal juggernaut that it remains today. That’s due to the release of a little something called The Avengers. On a side note, it’s worth mentioning that the biggest grosser 30 years ago (Batman Returns), two decades ago (Spider-Man), and in this post all share comic book roots.
Before we get to Iron Man and company, I’ll recount the other features in the top ten moneymakers before covering additional notable titles and some flops. If you missed my write-ups about the seasons of 1992 and 2002, you can find them here:
Some three decades after Alien terrified audiences, Ridley Scott returned to the franchise. However, this was more of a mixed bag in terms of critical and audience reaction. The production design and Michael Fassbender’s performance were praised while the script drew its share of critics. Nevertheless Scott would be back in the mix five years later with Alien: Covenant.
9. Snow White and the Huntsman
Domestic Gross: $155 million
Hot off the Twilight franchise and hot off playing Thor in The Avengers, Kristen Stewart and Chris Hemsworth battled Prometheus costar Charlize Theron’s evil stepmom in this fantasy adventure. Reviews were so-so but it performed well enough to warrant a less appreciated prequel The Huntsman: Winter’s War in 2016.
8. Ice Age: Continental Drift
Domestic Gross: $161 million
The fourth entry in the animated franchise featuring the vocal stylings of Ray Romano and John Leguizamo kept the grosses hot. Sequel Collision Course would follow four years later.
7. Men in Black 3
Domestic Gross: $179 million
The third teaming of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones (with Josh Brolin playing a convincing younger version of him) earned $11 million less than 2002’s part II. That sequel made less than the 1997 original. The series was revamped in 2019 with Men in Black: International with none other than Chris Hemsworth, but audiences tuned out.
6. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted
Domestic Gross: $216 million
Ben Stiller and Chris Rock returned for the third time voicing their respective lion and zebra. Spin-off Penguins of Madagascar came out two years later while a proper fourth entry never materialized from DreamWorks.
Domestic Gross: $218 million
Moving from Fox’s hugely successful animated sitcom Family Guy the big screen, Seth MacFarlane’s story of Mark Wahlberg and his crude talking bear Ted was the breakout comedy of the season. Follow-ups A Million Ways to Die in the West and the Ted sequel were not as well received.
Domestic Gross: $237 million
The first Pixar film led by a female hero is also the inaugural studio entry (co)directed by a woman. It would go on to win Best Animated Feature at the Oscars.
3. The Amazing Spider-Man
Domestic Gross: $262 million
After not moving forward with a fourth title directed by Sam Raimi and starring Tobey Maguire, the Spidey franchise was rebooted with Marc Webb behind the camera and Andrew Garfield donning the red. The dollars followed although reviews were mixed and a 2014 sequel was widely considered a disappointment.
2. The Dark Knight Rises
Domestic Gross: $448 million
While perhaps not quite reaching the heights of 2008’s The Dark Knight, the culmination to Christopher Nolan’s trilogy sent Christian Bale’s Caped Crusader off in stirring fashion and with hugely profitable earnings.
1. The Avengers
Domestic Gross: $623 million
Setting record after record upon release, the melding of Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye transfixed filmgoers. It’s been Marvel’s world and we’ve been living in it ever since.
And now for some other pics worthy of discussion:
Domestic Gross: $113 million
Steven Soderbergh’s saga of male exotic dancers was based loosely on Channing Tatum’s real life experiences. It turned him into a superstar while giving Matthew McConaughey a memorable showcase. The micro budgeted pic (a reported $7 million) spawned a 2015 sequel and there’s a third scheduled to hit HBO Max next year.
The Bourne Legacy
Domestic Gross: $113 million
Audiences weren’t clamoring for Jeremy Renner to replace Matt Damon in this franchise, but the stateside and overseas grosses were still pretty acceptable. That said, Renner’s tenure lasted this pic and this pic only.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Domestic Gross: $46 million
While it performed even better overseas, this British import with Judi Dench was a sleeper hit stateside that begat a 2015 sequel.
Domestic Gross: $45 million
Wes Anderson scored with critics and crowds with this coming-of-age dramedy that premiered at Cannes and then found an audience in the weeks that followed.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Domestic Gross: $12 million
This indie drama from Benh Zeitlin was truly a little movie that could. Shot for under $2 million, it eventually nabbed Oscar nods for Picture, Director, Actress (Quvanzhane Wallis at age 9), and Adapted Screenplay.
They’re not all winners so let’s get into some critical and/or commercial failures from the period:
Domestic Gross: $79 million
Johnny Depp’s box office happy days were beginning to fade as his 8th collaboration with Tim Burton was perhaps the least memorable. This horror comedy failed to enlighten viewers.
Domestic Gross: $65 million
Action fans weren’t taken with this Peter Berg directed board game adaptation starring Liam Neeson and Rihanna with a bloated budget of over $200 million.
Domestic Gross: $58 million
And your action sci-fi fans weren’t signing up for Colin Farrell taking over for Arnold Schwarzenegger in this unneeded remake.
Rock of Ages
Domestic Gross: $38 million
Based on the Broadway musical, there was a deaf ear turned to this adaptation despite Tom Cruise getting solid notices for his performance. Lucky for him, he’d rule this current summer with Top Gun: Maverick.
That’s My Boy
Domestic Gross: $36 million
Adam Sandler and Andy Samberg’s comedic partnership drew a 20% Tomatoes meter and ambivalence from usually devoted Sandler fans.
Domestic Gross: $35 million
That wasn’t the only high-profile comedic flop as this sci-fi mashup with Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, and Jonah Hill fared even worse in numbers and rotten reviews (17% RT).
And that’ll close it out, ladies and gents! It’s been a pleasure revising these cinematic seasons of days past.
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.
Can Memory reverse the string of forgettable Liam Neeson pics we’ve seen lately or will it fall in line with his recent underwhelming performers? Slated for April 29th, this casts him as an assassin dealing with cognitive lapses. Martin Campbell (who kicked off the Brosnan and Craig 007 eras with Goldeneye and Casino Royale) directs. He most recently helmed the lackluster The Protege with Maggie Q and Michael Keaton. Costars include Guy Pearce (who starred in the acclaimed Memento which covered similar themes) and Monica Bellucci.
It’s been nearly a decade and a half since Neeson resurged his career with Taken. This second life as an action star resulted in some hits, but there’s been more misses recently. The Marksman and Blacklight took in $3.7 and $3.5 million, respectively, in the COVID era. I see no reason why Memory wouldn’t suffer a similar fate and the gross may even dip a bit.
The video game adaptation Uncharted with Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg looks to rule the #1 spot over the four-day President’s Day weekend while Channing Tatum’s directorial debut Dog hopes for a solid second place showing. They’re the newbies coming on Friday and you can peruse my detailed prediction posts on both of them here:
While reviews are mixed (50% currently on Rotten Tomatoes) for Uncharted, it should easily take a commanding lead for the POTUS frame. My low to mid 30s take puts it at about two and half times the gross of Dog, which finds Mr. Tatum in his first starring role in nearly half a decade.
As for holdovers, the long weekend should allow for smallish drop-offs. We’ve seen that play out previously during the mid February time period. Death on the Nile, following its mediocre start, might flirt with staying in double digits (I have it just under) with Spider-Man: No Way Home (that other Holland pic), Marry Me, and Jackass Forever filling out the rest of the chart.
Here’s how I envision the top 6 and these are estimates over the Friday to Monday holiday:
Predicted Gross: $33.7 million
Predicted Gross: $13.3 million
3. Death on the Nile
Predicted Gross: $9.8 million
4. Spider-Man: No Way Home
Predicted Gross: $7.3 million
5. Marry Me
Predicted Gross: $6 million
6. Jackass Forever
Predicted Gross: $5.7 million
Box Office Results (February 11-13)
As mentioned, Kenneth Branagh’s Death on the Nile (his follow-up to 2017’s Murder on the Orient Express) went a bit off the tracks with $12.8 million. That’s shy of my $14.3 million projection and it’s less than half of what Orient accomplished out of the gate.
Jackass Forever dropped to second with $8 million. The 65% drop was the largest of the five picture franchise and under my prediction of $11.3 million. The prankster sequel stands at $37 million after ten days.
Jennifer Lopez and Owen Wilson couldn’t get audiences to fall for them as Marry Me debuted in third with $7.9 million. That didn’t match my expectation of $11.2 million. Its simultaneous Peacock streaming start might have caused many couples to simply view from home.
Spider-Man: No Way Home was fourth with $7.5 million (I said $7.1 million) for $759 million overall. The MCU smash is just $1 million away from Avatar and becoming the third largest domestic earner of all-time (obviously it will hit that mark this week).
Liam Neeson’s latest revenge thriller Blacklight performed in line with his other COVID genre tales Honest Thief and The Marksman. The fifth place tally was $3.5 million, in range with my $3.8 million estimate.
Finally, Moonfall took a giant step down to #8 and fell 70% with $2.9 million in its sophomore outing (I was a little more generous with $3.5 million). Sing 2 and Scream managed to leap it for the sixth and seventh spots. The putrid gross is just $15 million.
It’s been pretty easy to predict each weekend’s #1 film for a while – a lot of Spidey, a one-week interruption by Scream, and Johnny Knoxville and his pranksters in Jackass Forever. That gets a little more complicated this time around as three new pics enter the marketplace: Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express follow-up Death on the Nile, the Jennifer Lopez/Owen Wilson musical rom com Marry Me, and the latest Liam Neeson revenge saga Blacklight. You can peruse my detailed prediction posts on the trio right here:
Let’s start with Blacklight. Had this Neeson led tale (his granddaughter gets taken in it) come out in February a decade ago, we might be having a different conversation. However, grosses for these genre exercises with the actor have dwindled over the past couple of years (see Honest Thief and The Marksman). Therefore my $3.8 million estimate puts it at the tail end of the top five.
Then there’s Marry Me. It’s shrewdly placed during Valentine’s Day weekend where couples could be searching out something to view on date night. They will have the opportunity to do so with Marry Me in the theater and on Peacock and that could eat into the earnings. I have it barely topping double digits, but will admit that it could over perform and even snatch the #1 spot.
Jackass Forever is the fifth feature in the 20-year-old franchise and the fifth to open at #1. Looking over previous sophomore frame dips for earlier pics, I was surprised at their low drops. For 2002’s Jackass: The Movie, it was 44%. 2006’s Jackass: Number Two fell 49% while 2010’s Jackass 3D was the steepest at 57% (it was coming off a massive $50 million premiere). Spinoff Bad Grandpa in 2013 only had a 37% decline. I’ll say Forever loses about 50% That could be good enough for anywhere from the 1-3 slot depending on how Nile and Marry pan out. There could be a photo finish for that two spot.
Murder on the Orient Express tracked a solid $28 million haul just over four years ago. Yet it didn’t leg out particularly well and I question whether audiences are truly excited for another dose of Hercule Poirot and his many suspects. I suspect it should still make around half of what its predecessor took in. That would get it to #1, but we’re in a situation where we could have three genuine contenders for the top spot.
Spider-Man should stay in the top five with Moonfall potentially dropping out. The Roland Emmerich disaster tale managed just a C+ Cinemascore grade to go with its weak opening. A sophomore fall in the 60% range appears likely.
It’s also worth noting that there’s a certain game between the Bengals and Rams taking place Sunday. We usually don’t see three high-profile releases on Super Bowl weekend and it’s fair to assume grosses will take a hit on that date.
Here’s how I see it shaking out for your top 6:
1. Death on the Nile
Predicted Gross: $14.3 million
2. Jackass Forever
Predicted Gross: $11.3 million
3. Marry Me
Predicted Gross: $11.2 million
4. Spider-Man: No Way Home
Predicted Gross: $7.1 million
Predicted Gross: $3.8 million
Predicted Gross: $3.5 million
Box Office Results (February 4-6)
The Jackass franchise is five for five when it comes to opening #1 at the box office. Jackass Forever performed in line with estimates at $23.1 million, a touch ahead of my $21.8 million projection. It ranks fourth in terms of the quintet of debuts (just ahead of the original), but it’s certainly an impressive number given the circumstances.
As for Roland Emmerich’s disaster pic Moonfall… not so much. The big budget ($140 million) lunar saga cratered with only $9.8 million (I went higher with $12.8 million). As mentioned above, expect a precipitous drop in its sophomore frame.
Spider-Man: No Way Home was third with $9.5 million, swinging a bit above my $8.1 million take. The total has reached $748 million as it inches ever closer to 3rd domestically all-time (currently held by Avatar with $760 million).
Scream was fourth with $4.7 million (I said $4.4 million) and it’s scared up an overall tally of $68 million.
Sing 2 rounded out the top five with $4.2 million compared to my $3.6 million estimate. Total is $139 million.
Some 13 years after Taken kicked off a whole new action phase for its star, Liam Neeson is back in revenge mode with Blacklight (out February 11th). And this time… wait for it!… it’s his granddaughter who’s been snatched by nefarious criminals. Mark Williams, who worked with Neeson in Honest Thief, directs and the supporting cast includes Emmy Raver-Lampman, Taylor John Smith, and Aidan Quinn.
One look at the Blacklight trailer illuminates Neeson in his late career comfort zone. Post Taken, that’s resulted in moneymakers like Unknown, Non-Stop and, of course, the Taken sequels.
Lately, however, the grosses have slowed. Some of that might have been a result of releases that occurred in this COVID era. The aforementioned Thief in fall 2020 premiered to only $3.6 million. Last year, The Marksman took in $3.7 million over the four-day MLK frame. Pre pandemic, in 2019, Cold Pursuit started with $11 million (still far off from earlier efforts).
I don’t see a compelling why Blacklight would approach double digits (or even high single ones) and it won’t help that male viewers will be distracted by the Bengals vs. Rams on Sunday of its debut weekend. It might outdo Thief and The Marksman, but maybe not.
It’s a line uttered in a humorous way early on in Tom McCarthy’s Stillwater to Bill Baker (Matt Damon) by his mother-in-law trying to read her novel. He’s an Oklahoma oil rig worker living a mundane existence punctuated by extraordinary overseas excursions. Bill’s family circumstances are high-profile for such a low-profile man. Daughter Allison (Abigail Breslin) is in a French prison for the murder of her lover and roommate. Mom is tragically no longer in the picture. Mom-in-law seems to be footing most of the bill for Allison’s defense which appears hopeless after half a decade.
Bill is a stranger in a strange land each time he visits Allison, who steadfastly maintains her innocence. He’s searching for answers to free her and he has very few of them. They’re certainly not in French. Part of the struggle is his unwillingness to learn the language across the pond. Yet he also cannot seem to communicate well with his captive daughter and they both speak perfect English.
Stillwater attempts to be many things in its 140 minutes. It works best as a character study for Bill as he becomes more accustomed to his surroundings. This is especially true when he meets theater actress Virginie (Camille Cottin) and her adorable daughter Maya (Lilou Siauvaud). His relationship with Maya gives him a chance to be the father figure that he wasn’t before.
The screenplay makes a wise decision by presenting Bill as a deeply flawed, but determined seeker of truth. The unwise decisions that strained his relationship with Allison don’t stop in America. This isn’t Liam Neeson pulverizing European henchman on his way to saving the day. The script here has taken a far different route.
Where the picture occasionally struggles is with the thriller aspects. For a solid portion of the runtime, the case of Allison is an interesting enough one. There are obviously shades of the Amanda Knox international trial and imprisonment. Plot contrivances, especially in the third act, arise and they are familiar language for the genre. They serve somewhat as a barrier to Stillwater‘s overall success. Not every little twist and turn feels necessary. Perhaps some pages in this screenplay didn’t need to be finished.
Damon’s sturdy performance as Bill slowly moving towards a meaningful life keep this afloat – even if the procedural aspects of finding the real killers feels almost incidental.
Disney has certainly had luck basing movies on their theme park quantities before and they hope it continues on July 30th with the release of Jungle Cruise. The adventure pic (with a reported budget north of $200 million) pairs Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Emily Blunt (fresh off her hit sequel A Quiet Place Part II) in the early 20th Century set tale. Costars include Jack Whitehall, Edgar Ramirez, Jesse Plemons, and Paul Giamatti. Jaume Collet-Serra, best known for Liam Neeson action flicks such as Unknown and Non-Stop or horror fare like The Shallows, directs.
As the studio has in 2021 with recent projects like Cruella and Black Widow, this will simultaneously premiere on Disney Plus for an extra viewing fee of $30. That strategy has been called into question in recent days considering the precipitous sophomore drop for Widow. Truth be told, the $30 doesn’t seem so high when factoring in families watching and that could negatively impact theatrical earnings.
The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise (and The Haunted Mansion to a lesser degree) has shown an appetite for these Mouse Factory ride based attractions turned films. The star power of Johnson and Blunt doesn’t hurt either and I wouldn’t be too surprised to see this swing to over $30 million. However, the streaming competition could easily prevent that and I’ll estimate high 20s as it sets sail at multiplexes and at home.
Jungle Cruise opening weekend prediction: $28.4 million
Liam Neeson’s The Ice Road finds its inspiration from two classic pictures in 1953’s The Wages of Fear and 1977’s Sorcerer. The plots are similar by placing truck drivers in dangerous situations with nearly impossible odds to succeed. In Wages and its remake, it regarded the transportation of finnicky nitroglycerin over rough terrain. Though explosives are involved here, Road mostly pertains to what lies beneath. This is where ears of fans for the History Channel’s Ice Road Truckers may perk up.
A mining disaster in Manitoba traps 26 workers. The only way in reaching the remote locale to rescue them is hauling hefty rigs over the frozen tundra. Signing up for the job is Neeson’s toothpick chomping Mike McCann and brother Gurty (Marcus Thomas), an ex-Vet suffering from PTSD and aphasia, a condition which limits his ability to communicate. Others along for the ride due to their particular sets of skills are Laurence Fishburne as a seasoned driver and Tantoo (Amber Midthunder), a rebel with a cause whose brother is among those closed in and about to run out of oxygen. There’s also Tom (Benjamin Walker), a company man supposedly there to assess insurance risk.
The Ice Road volleys back and forth between the motorists on their slick mission, the captive workers making life or death decisions as their breathing slows, and the corporate overlords more concerned with not ruining their profits. Neeson has, of course, made his own profitable second career with these mostly generic action thrillers. With Jonathan Hensleigh (writer of Die Hard with a Vengeance and Armageddon) behind the directorial wheel, we have another middling entry for the Taken lead.
As the credits rolled, it struck me how little real action or visual thrills there are here. Some of this could be budget related. When the ground cracks and mayhem occurs, we never see below the surface and that might have been cool (pun intended). Neeson doesn’t sleepwalk through the role nor does Midthunder. As for brother Gurty, he does have a pet mouse that comes in handy at one point. Ultimately this tale of ice and anonymous ski goggled henchmen is primarily stuck in mediocrity.