Top Gun: Maverick – Lightyears Ahead of Expectations

I’ve been at this box office predicting game for quite some time. If it gets stale for even a moment, something will come along to shock you. That happened this weekend. Twice.

First there’s the massive underperformance of Disney/Pixar’s Lightyear, which is barely topping $50 million for second place behind Jurassic World: Dominion. I’ll have more to say about that tomorrow,  but it’s not often a tentpole release comes in over $30 million behind your (and many other prognosticators) estimates. It made less than half of the fourth Toy Story tale three years ago.

Today, however, it’s all about Top Gun: Maverick. If you’d told me a month ago that the long gestating Tom Cruise sequel would score the second (you read that correctly) best fourth weekend of all time, I wouldn’t have believed it. That’s second only to the fourth frame of Avatar. Better than any Star Wars episode. Better than any MCU adventure. Better than Titanic. 

Maverick, with its soaring reviews and word-of-mouth, has undeniably become a phenomenon. Its $44 million estimated haul this weekend brings its domestic tally to an astonishing $466 million. That’s already $200 million over Cruise’s previous largest stateside hit – 2005’s War of the Worlds. A gross of over $600 million in the US and Canada seems assured in addition to a worldwide total topping $1 billion.

To say this is lightyears ahead of expectations is one heckuva understatement. This is the rare breed of picture that is appealing to all ages and genders and is clearly warranting repeat viewings. I suspect Oscar voters will take notice. Categories like Editing, Sound, and Visual Effects are obviously on the table. So too is Lady Gaga’s theme song “Hold My Hand” which might be an early frontrunner to win. And with these mind boggling earnings – Oscar voters could vault this into Best Picture contention and Tom Cruise could be in the mix for Best Actor. That’s far from guaranteed… yet it was unthinkable before its release.

The word phenomenon doesn’t come around much with box office forecasting. When 2002’s Spider-Man made $114 in its first weekend, that word applied because no pic had done so before. The domination of Titanic when many thought it would be a flop definitely fits the bill. So does James Cameron’s follow-up Avatar (ironically its sequel seems destined to compete with Maverick for some tech Oscars). The MCU juggernaut has a handful of examples.

Top Gun: Maverick is a phenomenon and in its fourth outing, the buzz is towering over everything else in 2022.

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

Morbius Box Office Prediction

Sony and Marvel are hoping there’s plenty of buyers in the Morbius club as the dark superhero tale finally premieres on April 1st. Led by Jared Leto in the title vampiric role, Daniel Espinosa directs with a supporting cast including Matt Smith, Adria Arjona, Al Madrigal, and Tyrese Gibson.

This is the third entry in Sony’s Spider-Man Universe after the two Venom flicks from 2018 and last year. Both of them were massive hits and, of course, we are on the heels of Spider-Man: No Way Home being the third largest domestic earner in history.

Morbius was originally set for release all the way back in summer of 2020 before its numerous COVID related delays. Shot for a reported $75 million, it should have no trouble making its money back (especially when including international grosses). Yet I’m skeptical it approaches the $80 million that Venom started with or $90 million that its sequel earned out of the gate a few months back.

Estimates are in the $40-$50 million range and my hunch is that projecting a debut in the middle end of that range is the call.

Morbius opening weekend prediction: $45.8 million

Oscars 2021: The Case of Kirsten Dunst

As the alcoholic Montana inn owner in Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog, Kirsten Dunst is the fourth Supporting Actress entry for my Case Of posts. If you missed the first three, they’re here:

Oscars 2021: The Case of Jessie Buckley

Oscars 2021: The Case of Ariana DeBose

Oscars 2021: The Case of Judi Dench

The Case for Kirsten Dunst:

Despite not turning 40 until next month, Dunst has been a fixture on the big screen for over a quarter century. She’s had sizable hits like Bring It On and the original Spider-Man trilogy and critically appreciated performances such as The Virgin Suicides and The Beguiled. This marks her first Oscar nomination some 27 years after a Golden Globe nod for her breakout role in Interview with the Vampire. With Dog leading all nominated films at 12 mentions, voters may decide it’s time to recognize her. Dunst also turned up in the key precursors (Globes, SAG, Critics Choice).

The Case Against Kirsten Dunst:

Ariana DeBose. The West Side Story actress won the Globe and SAG and is widely seen as the strong favorite. Dog‘s best opportunity at an acting victory is with Kodi Smit-McPhee in Supporting Actor and not Dunst, her real life beau Jesse Plemons, or Benedict Cumberbatch.

Previous Nominations:

None

The Verdict:

Dunst appears to be the runner-up in this race, but she’s still a long shot considering DeBose’s momentum.

My Case Of posts will continue in Supporting Actor with Dunst’s Spider-Man costar J.K. Simmons for Being the Ricardos

Spider-Man: No Way Home Review

Spider-Man’s neighborhood grows exponentially in No Way Home, our third iteration of Tom Holland’s web slinger adventures with Jon Watts back directing. Not all the visitors he encounters are of the friendly sort. As you may recall, the conclusion of predecessor Far From Home had the scheming Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) reveal Peter Parker’s identity to the masses. That has serious repercussions as Peter/Spidey’s anonymity is gone and the Daily Bugle and others paint him as a bad guy.

It might be easier to erase that divulgence so Peter visits his old avenging buddy Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to cast a spell to accomplish that. It doesn’t go as planned and it opens to a portal to a multiverse of characters who knew of Spider-Man’s alter ego. THIS IS WHERE WE GO INTO SPOILERS SO CONSIDER YOURSELF WARNED.

Crashing into this trilogy are the antagonists from Spider-tales of old. As in the Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield entries that we witnessed from 2002-2014. The sinister company consists of the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), Doc Ock (Alfred Molina), Electro (Jamie Foxx), Lizard (Rhys Ifans), and Sandman (Thomas Haden Church).

With the great power of the Marvel Cinematic Universe comes a responsibility to tap into our nostalgic leanings and No Way Home does it in heavy doses. Seeing Dafoe’s maniacal Goblin and Molina’s Doc from the first two Maguire installments is a kick. As for the rest, they came from lesser pics (Maguire’s last and both Garfield excursions). That said, Foxx’s characterization is a lot more fun than what we saw in The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

My reviews of Homecoming and Far From Home concentrated on the best moments being the most grounded. Holland (the most effective Spidey in my view) and his interactions with love interest MJ (Zendaya), Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), and bestie Ned (Jacob Batalon) were highlights. That holds true here, but No Way Home is anything but grounded. The third go-round is bigger in every sense.

In many ways, it’s the most satisfying since Maguire’s original double feature. Is it gimmicky? Absolutely and there’s an overload of exposition to plow through in the first act. Yet it also reminds us how unique Spider-Man is in the realm of superheroes. It’s also a plus that the villains in this series are complicated ones (for the genre at least) whose motivations are varied and often understandable.

I could go even further down spoiler territory and it’s fair to say the most amazing moments are ones I won’t delve into. No Way Home does provide humorous retribution for one hero in particular (you’ll know when you see it). This is grand entertainment that occasionally approaches the scale of the wars and endgame of Spider-Man’s former team. He’s got a fresh troupe of buddies to collaborate with to save humanity in this trilogy capper. The teamwork provide multiple thrills.

*** (out of four)

Oscar Predictions – Spider-Man: No Way Home

When Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man trilogy kicked off nearly 20 years ago, it managed to nab a Best Visual Effects nod (losing to Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers). Two years later, the 2004 sequel won the prize. Since then, the five Spidey features that followed (Maguire’s third, both Andrew Garfield iterations, and the first two Tom Holland MCU flicks) didn’t show up in the race. Will Spider-Man: No Way Home change that?

The 27th entry (and fourth this year) in the Marvel Cinematic Universe debuts Friday and I have it pegged for the fourth best domestic opening of all time (behind Avengers: Endgame, Avengers: Infinity War, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens). The review embargo lifted early this morning and it stands at an impressive 97% on Rotten Tomatoes.

While nearly all critical notices are positive, I don’t think this will be the second MCU title to nab a Best Picture nomination behind Black Panther. While Best Sound is feasible, Home‘s best hope at Academy inclusion is in Visual Effects. MCU movies vying for that prize is not unusual. The inaugural pic in the biggest franchise of all (2008’s Iron Man) made the cut. So have Iron Man 2, The Avengers, Iron Man 3, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Infinity War, and Endgame. None have won.

So despite the last quintet of web slinger sagas not being honored for their effects, Home should have no problem? I don’t think it’s quite that simple. There are two Warner Bros sci-fi extravaganzas (Dune and The Matrix Resurrections) that should get in. That leaves three slots. Warner has another hopeful with Godzilla vs. Kong. Marvel itself has Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Eternals (and Black Widow to a lesser degree) vying for spots. Shang-Chi especially could get in (the Critics Choice Awards included it on their ballot). Don’t Look Up, Finch, and No Time to Die are other possibilities. It’s worth noting that whether Home makes the five, Dune is the very heavy favorite to take gold.

Here’s my hunch: by the time Academy voters cast their final votes, Home appears bound to have heightened box office numbers to their highest achievements in the pandemic era. That fact alone might get it some recognition from the Oscars and that would be for its visuals. Another interesting stat: of the ten current largest stateside premieres ever, only two (Avengers: Age of Ultron and Jurassic World) didn’t score at least one nomination from the Academy. That puts this in a decent position. My Oscar Predictions posts for the films of 2021 will continue…

Spider-Man: No Way Home Box Office Prediction

Bloggers Update (12/16): revising prediction up to $213.7M The Marvel Cinematic Universe is poised for the largest opening weekend of the pandemic era with Spider-Man: No Way Home out December 17th. In fact, it could debut higher than the current two record holders (Venom: Let There Be Carnage and Black Widow) combined. The 27th feature in the massive MCU franchise, this is officially the third entry in this Spider-Verse starring Tom Holland as the web-slinger (though he’s appeared in Avengers tales too). Jon Watts directs again and returning faces include Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Jon Favreau, Marisa Tomei, and J.B. Smoove. That’s not all. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange is in on the action and villains of previous Spidey series come to the party. They include Alfred Molina, Willem Dafoe, Jamie Foxx, Thomas Haden Church, and Rhys Ifans. There’s also the possibility of other Spider-Men turning up.

This has led to No Way Home having the distinction of being the event film of the year with the most moneymaking potential. It might be the fourth MCU title in 2021 (after Widow, Shang-Chi, and Eternals), but it’s easily the most breathlessly anticipated. Early ticket sales indicate we’ll see grosses not witnessed since 2019. Two and a half years ago, Spider-Man: Far From Home kicked off during the long July 4th weekend and earned $185 million. 2017’s Homecoming made $117 million over a traditional Friday to Sunday rollout.

The pre-Christmas unveiling should prove to be shrewd timing. Some estimates having this going north of $200 million. That would be music to the ears of an industry that needs it after almost two long years. I’m not quite ready to declare $200 million and I’ll hedge with just under it.

Spider-Man: No Way Home opening weekend prediction: $213.7 million

For my Nightmare Alley prediction, click here:

Nightmare Alley Box Office Prediction

 

Chaos Walking Box Office Prediction

The sci-fi adventure Chaos Walking, on its surface, seems to have a lot going for it. It’s based on a well regarded series of YA novels by Patrick Ness (who cowrote the screenplay). Doug Liman, maker of successful pics like The Bourne Identity, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and Edge of Tomorrow, directs. The two stars are instantly recognizable faces from recent franchises blockbusters: Daisy Ridley (Rey from Star Wars) and Tom Holland (the current Spider-Man). And Lionsgate ponied up a reported $125 million to make it.

Yet closer inspection reveals a different story as it opens next Friday in multiplexes. Chaos was originally slated for release all the way back in pre-COVID March 2019. Poor test screenings allegedly forced reshoots which were overseen by Don’t Breathe director Fede Alvarez. The pandemic has shifted the drop date once again from January of this year to early March.

Now it appears the high budget Walking is limping its way into theaters in already uncertain times. In addition to its stars, the supporting cast includes Mads Mikkelsen, Demian Bichir, Cynthia Erivo, Nick Jonas, and David Oyelowo. I’m not even confident that the awareness level of its existence is enough to bring in the intended audience. This has been looked at as a potential major flop for some time and I don’t foresee this exceeding any expectations upon release.

Chaos Walking opening weekend prediction: $3.9 million

For my Raya and the Last Dragon prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2021/02/23/raya-and-the-last-dragon-box-office-prediction/

Oscar Watch: Cherry

Cherry marks the fourth collaboration between directors Anthony and Joe Russo and actor Tom Holland and it’s the first time the lead star isn’t sporting a Spider-Man outfit in it. The crime drama casts him as a soldier who’s turned to a life of crime. Costars include Ciara Bravo and Jack Reynor.

The pic hits theaters in limited fashion on February 26th which grants it 2020 Oscar eligibility. It streams on Apple TV starting March 12th. The review embargo has yet to lift, but social media reaction from critics is out. Bottom line: Cherry is highly unlikely to be picked by awards voters in any races.

Much of the reaction indicates this is a misfire. As mentioned, the Russos have had tremendous success in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and with Holland’s participation in Captain America: Civil War and the last two Avengers pics. Before the recent buzz, Holland was looked at as an outside possibility for Best Actor. Yet that chatter should dissipate quickly if it hasn’t already. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Summer 1990: The Top 10 Hits and More

In what has become tradition on this here blog, I use the summertime months to reflect on the cinematic seasons that came 30, 20, and 10 years prior. So while we wait for features to hit theaters in the summer of 2020 (something that is looking less and less certain), let’s take a gander at the hits, misses, and other significant product from the past.

The format is as follows: a rundown of the top ten hits as well as other noteworthy titles and some of the flops. We begin with 1990… a summer where we all got ghosted.

10. Flatliners

Domestic Gross: $61 million

Fresh off her star making role that spring in Pretty Woman, Julia Roberts teamed with then boyfriend Kiefer Sutherland in this psychological thriller from the late director Joel Schumacher. A far less successful 2017 remake would follow.

9. Bird on a Wire

Domestic Gross: $70 million

Despite mostly poor reviews, the drawing power of Mel Gibson and Goldie Hawn compelled this action comedy to a #1 debut and solid returns. Mr. Gibson wouldn’t fare as well later that summer when Air America with Robert Downey Jr. grossed less than half of Bird‘s earnings.

8. Another 48 Hrs.

Domestic Gross: $80 million

The re-teaming of Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte from their 1982 hit might have earned more than the predecessor, but $80 million was considered a bit of a letdown compared to expectations. The quality left a bit to be desired as well.

7. Days of Thunder

Domestic Gross: $82 million

Another high profile reunification is this racing pic with Tom Cruise and his Top Gun maker Tony Scott back together. While it wasn’t as successful as that blockbuster, it did just fine and it cast a mostly unknown actress named Nicole Kidman alongside her future (and eventually former) husband.

6. Presumed Innocent

Domestic Gross: $86 million

Harrison Ford has had plenty of summer hits, but this adaptation of Scott Turow’s novel was a considerably more adult project that earned mostly rave reviews. The courtroom drama was a sizable earner considering its meager $20 million budget.

5. Back to the Future Part III

Domestic Gross: $87 million

The Western themed threequel arrived just six months after Part II. While it received better critical reaction, its gross of $87 million couldn’t match the $118 million of what preceded it.

4. Dick Tracy

Domestic Gross: $103 million

Warren Beatty’s long in development version of the 1930s comic strip was a visual sight to behold. However, critical reaction was mixed. It managed to just outdo its reported $100 million budget stateside. Tracy provided a showcase for Beatty’s then flame Madonna and earned Al Pacino a Best Supporting Actor nod.

3. Die Hard 2

Domestic Gross: $117 million

The goodwill brought forth by the 1988 original allowed this decent sequel to outgross its predecessor and permit Bruce Willis to return in his signature role three more times. This would be the last Die Hard pic with the Christmas Eve theme as it scorched the summer charts.

2. Total Recall

Domestic Gross: $119 million

One year before he would rule the summer of 1991, Arnold Schwarzenegger had a massive hit with this sci-fi rendering of the Philip K. Dick short story. Recall also provided the first juicy role for Sharon Stone, who would become a sensation two years later in Basic Instinct. 

1. Ghost

Domestic Gross: $217 million

At the start of the new decade, no one would have pegged Ghost to rule the summer frame. Made for $22 million, the supernatural romance ended up making over half a billion worldwide. A pottery themed love scene between stars Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore would become iconic, Whoopi Goldberg would win Best Supporting Actress for her psychic role, and it was nominated for Best Picture.

And now for some noteworthy titles from the season:

Problem Child

Domestic Gross: $53 million

Just outside the top 10 at 11, John Ritter headlined this tale of a rambunctious kid who just needs a family. Budgeted at a measly $10 million, it was a surprise performer that spawned two sequels.

Arachnophobia

Domestic Gross: $53 million

Doubling its budget, this black comedy about deadly black spiders received mostly praise from critics and had a nice showcase role for John Goodman as an exterminator.

Darkman

Domestic Gross: $33 million

Sam Raimi would eventually direct Spider-Man over a decade later and break box office records. Yet this original story (made for only $16 million) was a cult hit that introduced a lot of filmgoers to Liam Neeson. Two direct to video sequels would follow (minus Raimi behind the camera and Neeson in front of it).

Mo’ Better Blues

Domestic Gross: $16 million

This jazz infused dramedy was Spike Lee’s follow-up to his groundbreaking Do the Right Thing one year prior. Blues received solid reviews, but is best remembered as the director’s first collaboration with Denzel Washington.

And now for some pictures that didn’t match expectations either financially or critically or both (including a host of underwhelming sequels):

Robocop 2

Domestic Gross: $45 million

Irvin Kerschner made one of the greatest part two’s ever with The Empire Strikes Back. He wasn’t so lucky here. It made slightly less than its 1987 predecessor and reviews weren’t nearly as positive.

Gremlins 2: The New Batch

Domestic Gross: $41 million

It’s become a cult favorite since its release, but The New Batch grossed over $100 million less than the 1984 smash success.

The Exorcist III

Domestic Gross: $26 million

Following 17 years after the phenomenon that was the original, part 3 simply didn’t land with audiences or critics. This is another example of a sequel that would pick up more fans in subsequent years.

Ghost Dad

Domestic Gross: $24 million

Sidney Poitier directed this supernatural comedy starring Bill Cosby. At the time, he had a smash TV comedy named after him. Yet audiences didn’t follow him to the multiplex for this critically drubbed effort.

The Freshman

Domestic Gross: $21 million

Marlon Brando seemed to have a fun time parodying his iconic Godfather role here alongside Matthew Broderick. It wasn’t a hit, but its reputation has grown since.

The Adventures of Ford Fairlane

Domestic Gross: $21 million

Andrew Dice Clay was one of the most popular and controversial stand up comics of this era, but his anticipated breakout to the silver screen landed with a thud.

Wild at Heart

Domestic Gross: $14 million

David Lynch’s follow-up to his heralded Blue Velvet starred Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern. It garnered decidedly more mixed reaction from critics.

The Two Jakes

Domestic Gross: $10 million

Jack Nicholson went behind the camera and reprised his acclaimed role as Jake Gittes from 1974’s Chinatown. This was a year following the star’s turn as The Joker in Batman, which dominated that summer. Audiences (and many critics) simply turned a blind eye to this long gestating sequel.

And that’ll do it for now folks! I’ll have the summer of 2000 up shortly.