Oscar Predictions: The Black Phone

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…

The Black Phone Box Office Prediction

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

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Elvis Box Office Prediction

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness Box Office Prediction

In what Hollywood is hoping looks more like a traditional summer season, it’s the MCU kicking it off with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. The 28th feature in the biggest franchise of all is technically the follow-up to 2016’s Doctor Strange with Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role. It is, however, the character’s sixth appearance overall in the cinematic universe with the most recent being December’s massive Spider-Man: No Way Home. 

Speaking of Spidey, Sam Raimi, maker of Tobey Maguire’s 2002-2007 trilogy, directs (taking over from Scott Derrickson). Costars back in the mix are Elizabeth Olsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Rachel McAdams. Newcomers to the MCU include Xochitl Gomez and Patrick Stewart (in an undisclosed role that could turn out to be quite familiar).

Madness has the big advantage of following a juggernaut in No Way Home. That has served as an advantage to other MCU properties. For instance, Captain Marvel in 2019 was the follow-up to Avengers: Endgame and it made $153 million out of the gate. That was slightly better than the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel from two years earlier. Assisting Multiverse is that the good Doctor had a sizable part in the previous Spidey adventure.

Five and a half years ago, the first Strange took in $85 million for its start with an eventual domestic haul of $232 million. In the MCU world, it’s way more normal for sequels to outdo their predecessors and that will certainly apply here. It should have no trouble achieving the largest premiere for 2022 – currently held by The Batman at $134 million.

No one is really thinking this will approach the $260 million weekend of No Way Home, but $200 million is definitely feasible. Underestimating the MCU is usually not wise so I’ll say it hits that mark. My projection would get it the 7th largest domestic debut of all time (right behind Jurassic World and just ahead of The Avengers).

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness opening weekend prediction: $208.5 million

Doctor Strange Movie Review

Marvel’s Doctor Strange is their latest superhero origin story and it focuses on a brilliant yet arrogant protagonist who learns that his real purpose is to help humanity and not just use his powers for his own personal glorification. If that sounds a bit like Iron Man, the first entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you wouldn’t be wrong. The challenge for Disney’s multi-billion dollar franchise after 14 films is to inject enough newness and other positive aspects to support its existence. In that sense, the sometimes visually stunning and very well-cast Strange passes the test.

Our newest fella to join the caped club (and it’s a pushy and sometimes humorous cape we eventually discover) is first seen as genius neurosurgeon Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). He’s an egotistical NYC doc who’s a wizard with his hands. His two most prized possessions are irreparably injured in a wreck that serves as the most expensive anti-distracted driving commercial ever shot. The doc’s colleague and former flame Christine (Rachel McAdams) tries to help, but his desperate search to cure his idle hands leads him to Nepal. That is where he finds a mystical compound led by the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), who informs him that true healing comes from a lot more than surgery.

Together with her trusty sidekick Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), they show the doctor a whole new universe that involves plenty of training and plenty of other crazy dimensions that are packed with some pretty sweet visual effects. Scott Derrickson, known primarily for horror titles like The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Sinister, directs his biggest budget several times over and assures himself future tent poles.

There’s a main villain and he’s Kaecilius, played by a game Mads Mikkelsen. MCU movies have often seen the bad guy be the weakest link and that holds true somewhat here. The character is a former Ancient One protege gone astray and there’s nothing too memorable about him. It’s not a major hindrance at all, however, as Strange is a genuine origin story that needs some time to establish this part of the MCU (The Avengers are only referenced in passing). Plus, don’t we know at this point that the primary villain in these origin stories rarely end up being the chief nemesis anyway?

Casting is key. This series of movies we now see at least two of per year may have never gotten off the ground without the impeccable casting of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark. And Cumberbatch is a fine choice in this title role, effortlessly balancing the drama and humor of the screenplay. Swinton and Ejiofor add some heft as well. The slight romantic subplot between Strange and Christine is typical and unremarkable, though their interaction does provide a couple of solid operating room laughs.

The aforementioned newness here is the effects, including various scenes of Inception-like architectural bravura that may leave Nolan proud. That, coupled with the performers, elevate Strange to a level well worthy of recommendation. It may not be until after the credits (and mid and post credit bonus sequences) roll, that you realize how familiar its story actually is. And I suppose that’s a credit to the franchise makers of how strong and steady their hand actually is.

*** (out of four)

Doctor Strange Box Office Prediction

The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s mega billion dollar alliance with Disney rolls along as Doctor Strange opens in theaters next weekend. Based on the character created by Steve Ditko over a half century ago, this is the 14th entry in the MCU that began with Iron Man in 2008.

And that first Tony Stark pic over eight years ago is the film many critics are comparing the Doctor to. Benedict Cumberbatch is the title character with a stellar supporting cast that includes Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, Benedict Wong, Michael Stuhlbarg, Benjamin Bratt, and Mads Mikkelsen. Scott Derrickson (most known for horror flicks such as The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Sinister) directs. Advance word of mouth for the reported $165 million has been quite encouraging, with reviewers praising Cumberbatch’s performance, the striking visuals, and an origin story said to be satisfying in the way that Iron Man’s was. It stands at 97% currently on Rotten Tomatoes.

This is only the second MCU feature to open in the autumn season. 2013’s sequel Thor: The Dark World premiered to $85.7 million in early November. That’s probably the range that Strange is looking to debut at, but I’m not sure it’ll quite get there. I certainly don’t see it reaching the $94 million accomplished by Star Lord and his Guardians of the Galaxy or the $98 million that Robert Downey Jr.’s signature character got the first time out of the gate. Yet I see it outpacing the $65 million that Thor opened to in his first solo saga and $57 million from Ant-Man in summer 2015. The buzz for this one seems stronger.

Ultimately, I think this manages a mid to high 70s opening weekend. Low 80s is reachable. Regardless, this should be a new franchise for the Mouse Factory’s comic book division.

Doctor Strange opening weekend prediction: $77.3 million

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Oscar Watch: Doctor Strange

A movie from the Marvel Cinematic Universe getting its own Oscar Watch post, you say? Yes indeed as Doctor Strange has screened for critics and the advance word of mouth is quite encouraging. The superhero tale with Benedict Cumberbatch stands at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.

While reviews have been positive and the box office should be potent when it debuts November 4, I’m not getting carried away enough to proclaim it’ll play in Best Picture. Let’s be real: if The Dark Knight couldn’t land a nod, it’s highly doubtful this would. Yet Strange has established itself in the Visual Effects race based on the buzz. Critics have gone out their way to praise the apparently Inception like special effects.

Before the reviews, Strange was a question mark as to whether it’d get recognized in that category. Now it looks like it should join The Jungle Book as a sure thing. There’s plenty of other contenders making their way to screens in the next two months plus: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Arrival, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Passengers, and A Monster Calls. There’s also Marvel’s other entry this year, Captain America: Civil War, which should find itself in the mix.

Today’s prognosis on the Doctor, though, proves room may be needed for it in this potentially crowded race.

Deliver Us from Evil Box Office Prediction

Horror flicks have not performed well as of yet in 2014 with failures such as Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, Oculus, and Devil’s Due all failing to make an impact with audiences. This Fourth of July weekend, Jerry Bruckheimer’s production company attempts to reverse that trend with Deliver Us from Evil.

Scott Derrickson, who made well-received horror pics The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Sinister, directs this tale of a New York cop (Eric Bana) who investigates demonic possession activities in the city. Edgar Ramirez, Olivia Munn, and Joel McHale (!) costar.

Horror films are historically tricky to predict. Some can make way more in their opening weekends that prognosticators like myself believe, but Evil seems to be flying somewhat under the radar. There’s also the fact that in the summer season – there’s a whole lot of competition out there. Transformers should still rule the box office over the holiday weekend. Ironically, Mark Wahlberg was originally attached to this project before dropping out, allowing Bana to come on board. Over the five-day weekend, it’s prospects of topping $20 million seem decent, though I wouldn’t be shocked if it falls even below that.

Deliver Us from Evil opening weekend prediction: $13.1 million (Friday-to-Sunday), $20.6 million (Wednesday-to-Sunday)

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