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.

Oscar Predictions: 892

Abi Damaris Corbin’s debut dramatic thriller 892 has premiered at Sundance and features a performance from John Boyega that’s already drawing critical kudos. The pic recounts the events surrounding Lance Corporal Brian Brown-Easley’s attempted robbery of a Marietta, GA bank in the summer of 2017. Costars include Nicole Beharie, Connie Britton, and Michael K. Williams in one of his final roles.

Boyega is, of course, best known as Finn from the most recent Star Wars trilogy. He recently nabbed a Golden Globe for Steve McQueen’s acclaimed TV anthology Small Axe. With 892, reviews are calling it some of his finest work.

Yet the notices themselves (81% on Rotten Tomatoes) don’t point to this being a major awards contender and it could be a struggle for Boyega to garner any momentum in next year’s Actor derby. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…

The Many Saints of Newark Review

The Sopranos richly earned its reputation as a game changer that kickstarted a golden era of TV drama over two decades ago. James Gandolfini’s portrayal of Tony Soprano certainly deserves all the praise it got. The late actor’s work influenced so many antiheroes that followed on the small screen. You loved to hate him and kind of hated to love him, but he was a fully realized character that played out over six celebrated HBO seasons.

The main problem with The Many Saints of Newark, a prequel set in the late 1960s and early 70s, is that it’s difficult to fully realize those that populate it in just two hours. The hook drawing fans in is viewing Tony in his formative years. I couldn’t help but think of Star Wars episodes I-III (particularly The Phantom Menace). Did we really need to see Darth Vader as a precocious youngster? We catch glimpses of Tony’s journey to the dark side as he begins to abandon thoughts of a pro football career in favor of a Mafioso life. Yet the players around him don’t have time to breathe and that makes for a disappointing watch.

Many Saints (which translates to Moltisanti in Italian) begins in the tumultuous year of 1967 when Newark is in the midst of race riots. For the DiMeo crime family, they’re hoping for business as usual but the political strife keeps interfering. Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola) welcomes his gregarious father (Ray Liotta) and his gorgeous Italian bride (Michela De Rossi) back to the mainland. The organization’s enforcers include some familiar names from the show with more youthful faces: Junior (Corey Stoll), Sil (John Magaro), Paulie (Billy Magnussen) and Pussy (Samson Moeakiola). And there’s Johnny Soprano (Jon Bernthal), who’s nefarious activities are about to land him behind bars for a chunk of son Tony’s upbringing.

Played by William Ludwig in the ’67 portion and Michael Gandolfini (James’s real-life offspring) in the 70s, Tony is drawn to Dickie’s magnetism. With his father away and his deeply troubled mother Livia (Vera Farmiga, impressively adopting Nancy Marchand’s voice and mannerisms) not making life easy, we witness the seeds sown for Tony entering that thing of theirs.

Well… we kind of do. The screenplay (from show creator David Chase and Lawrence Konner) often focuses on Harold (Leslie Odom Jr.). He’s a low-level African-American employee of Dickie’s. The racial upheaval of the era causes him to develop his own little empire and that puts him at odds with the boss. Harold’s subplot is a fine example of one that could be fascinating given more time and context. Here it seems rushed and that includes an out of nowhere love triangle that seems forced to move plot points along.

Just as the older Tony housed multiple contradictions, so does Dickie. He fancies himself a good person, but his actions keep getting in the way. If Tony had mom issues, Dickie is chockfull of stepmom ones. And daddy ones. His most confessional relationship is with his dad’s identical brother Sally (also Liotta) who’s been locked up for years. Sally, in many ways, serves in the Dr. Melfi role from The Sopranos. He gets to hear the angst ridden thoughts of a crime leader who struggles with virtuous ideas while also being a madman.

Nivola gives an impressive performance as a character I ultimately didn’t care much about. As for Gandolfini, he’s the spitting image of his father and there are moments of wistful recognition in that (as well as short peeks at the rage). The script is littered with winking nods to the series past (or future I guess). Some are mildly fun while others come off as unneeded. The latter includes a surprise narrative structure that I won’t spoil. I left Newark appreciative of the rich experience that The Sopranos provided in its six course meal. The power dynamic of Dickie Moltisanti and Harold would be familiar in any Mafia tale. It’s just not as appetizing and it wasn’t enough to pull this viewer back in.

** (out of four)

Summer 2011: The Top 10 Hits and More

We have arrived at part III of my recaps of the summer seasons that came 30, 20, and 10 years ago. That means 2011 is upon us. If you missed my sizzling throwbacks to 1991 and 2001, you can find them here:

Summer 1991: The Top 10 Hits and More

Summer 2001: The Top 10 Hits and More

As is tradition, I will recount the top 10 hits as well as other notable features and some flops in a season where moviegoers bid a fond farewell to their iconic wizard:

Let’s get to it, yes?

10. Bridesmaids

Domestic Gross: $169 million

Kristin Wiig made one of the most successful jumps from SNL to movie stardom in this critically hailed pic that also earned Melissa McCarthy her silver screen breakout and even an Oscar nomination. It might not be the highest grossing comedy on here, but it’s definitely still the most talked about.

9. The Help

Domestic Gross: $169 million

Based on Kathryn Stockett’s bestseller, the 1960s set period piece from Tate Taylor brought the book’s readers and many others to the multiplex. Four Oscar nods followed including Best Picture and a Supporting Actress victory for Octavia Spencer.

8. Captain America: The First Avenger

Domestic Gross: $176 million

The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first big branch out occurred during this summer where we would get our first glimpse at this OG avenger in the form of Chris Evans and another one who sits at the throne of spot #6. The sequels actually improved on what we see here, but the Captain gets rolling with this.

7. Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Domestic Gross: $176 million

Rupert Wyatt’s reboot of the franchise is deservedly better regarded than Tim Burton’s re-imagining that transpired in 2001. Debuting the fantastic motion capture work of Andy Serkis, this would spawn two follow-ups that also pleased audiences and critics and did considerable monkey business.

6. Thor

Domestic Gross: $181 million

Chris Hemsworth’s Asgardian heartthrob hammered into the public consciousness alongside Natalie Portman and Anthony Hopkins and managed $5 million more box office bucks than the Captain. The third sequel is currently in production.

5. Cars 2

Domestic Gross: $191 million

Despite grossing nearly $200 million, this Pixar sequel is not one of the studio’s most fondly remembered vehicles with just a 40% Rotten Tomatoes rating. A third Cars did zoom into theaters six years later.

4. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Domestic Gross: $241 million

With a reported budget of $379 million, Johnny Depp’s fourth headlining of the franchise still sports the largest price tag of all time. The actor’s final participation in the series would come in 2017 with Disney still looking to reboot it without their signature player.

3. The Hangover Part II

Domestic Gross: $254 million

Crowds were still clamoring for the drunken exploits of Bradley Copper, Ed Helms, and Zach Galifianakis. Critics weren’t near as kind to part II, but audiences didn’t begin to tire of the hijinks until part III two years later.

2. Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Domestic Gross: $352 million

Michael Bay’s third saga of the Autobots and Decepticons marks Shia LaBeouf’s last appearance in the franchise and includes drop-ins from acting heavyweights John Malkovich and Frances McDormand. Mark Wahlberg would take over starring duties three years later.

1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2

Domestic Gross: $381 million

After nearly a decade of enchanting kids and their parents alike, the franchise stemming from J.K. Rowling’s beloved novels received a fittingly massive send-off with this billion dollar plus worldwide earner.

Now for other noteworthy titles from the summer:

X-Men: First Class

Domestic Gross: $146 million

Bryan Singer’s handed over directorial reigns to Matthew Vaughn for this reinvigorating reboot of the series that introduced the younger versions of Charles Xavier, Magneto, and Mystique in the bodies of James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, and Jennifer Lawrence. Numerous sequels of varying quality followed.

The Smurfs

Domestic Gross: $142 million

Sony Pictures wasn’t blue about the financial returns for this half live-action/half animated adaptation of the popular comics and animated series. A sequel came in 2013.

Super 8

Domestic Gross: $127 million

In between Star Trek pics and before rebooting Star Wars, J.J. Abrams helmed this sci-fi original which paid tribute to the Spielberg efforts of the 1980s. Critics gave it their stamp of approval and it’s notable for one heckuva train crash sequence.

Horrible Bosses

Domestic Gross: $117 million

This raunchy comedy about workers exacting revenge on their wretched superiors showed us a whole different side to Jennifer Aniston and spawned a 2014 sequel.

Crazy, Stupid, Love

Domestic Gross: $84 million

Before their collaboration on La La Land earned lots of Oscar nods five years later, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling teamed up for this rom com with Steve Carell and Julianne Moore that exceeded expectations with audiences and many critics.

Midnight in Paris

Domestic Gross: $56 million

It was a different time 10 years ago for Woody Allen, who scored his last big hit with this fantastical comedy starring Owen Wilson. Woody would win the Oscar for Original Screenplay and it landed three additional nominations including Picture and Director.

The Tree of Life

Domestic Gross: $13 million

Terrence Malick’s epic philosophical drama won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for Best Picture, Director, and Cinematography at the Academy Awards. Not your typical summer fare, but it certainly had reviews on its side.

And now for some titles that didn’t meet expectations commercially, critically, or both:

Green Lantern

Domestic Gross: $116 million

Five years before he entered the comic book flick pantheon with Deadpool, Ryan Reynolds didn’t have as much luck with this critically drubbed flop. Even the star himself has taken to calling it a waste of time for viewers.

Cowboys & Aliens

Domestic Gross: $100 million

Coming off the huge Iron Man pics, Jon Favreau cast James Bond (Daniel Craig) and Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) in this space western that didn’t impress crowds or critics and earned considerably less than its budget domestically.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins

Domestic Gross: $68 million

Audiences were mostly cool to Jim Carrey’s treatment of the popular late 30s children’s book though it did manage to top its $55 million budget. It probably would have made far more during the star’s box office heyday.

Spy Kids 4-D: All the Time in the World

Domestic Gross: $38 million

A decade after Robert Rodriguez kicked the kiddie franchise off to great results, part 4 marked a low mark for the series.

Larry Crowne

Domestic Gross: $35 million

The star power of Tom Hanks (who also directed) and Julia Roberts couldn’t elevate this rom com from a subpar showing (critics weren’t kind either). This is largely a forgotten entity on both actor’s filmographies.

Conan the Barbarian

Domestic Gross: $21 million

Before becoming known to the masses as Aquaman, Jason Momoa couldn’t fill the shoes of Arnold Schwarzenegger in this bomb that couldn’t swim close to its $90 million budget.

And that does it, folks! I’ll have recaps of the summers of 1992, 2002, and 2012 up for your enjoyment next season!

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/

Paramount Changes

And the release dates keep shifting due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier today, Disney announced sweeping changes to their future slate of projects (affecting Mulan and the Star Wars and Avatar franchises) and I covered it here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/07/23/mickey-mouse-blinks/

That follows word from Warner Bros. on their shifting of Tenet, which I covered here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/07/20/tenet-falls-back/

Now it’s Paramount’s turn. There were a number of changes announced this evening, but I’ll cover the two most significant. Tom Cruise’s return to one of his signature roles was originally slated for July 12th of this year. If you think about it, it would almost surely be the #1 or #2 movie in America right now in an alternate universe. The long gestating sequel was then pushed back to December 23rd. And now its release has been delayed nearly a full year with an expected date of July 2, 2021.

A Quiet Place II was right around the corner when COVID hit with a March 18th premiere. The virus changed that plan to a Labor Day rollout. This sequel is now scheduled for April 23, 2021 – postponing its release by over a year from its intended landing.

It’s fair to say that this week has seen the most heavy hitters fall back. And as we’ve learned in 2020, expect plenty more changes and adjustments ahead.

Mickey Mouse Blinks

Today marked even more release shifting in the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and it’s a lot of news of Disney. The Mouse Factory, to no one’s surprise, has moved their live-action remake of Mulan from August 21st to that date we’re all growing accustomed to… (say it together now) TBD.

That’s not all. Two of the studio’s biggest franchises saw their anticipated sequels, spin-offs, and reboots pushed back one year. The as yet untitled next episodes of Star Wars will not begin until December 2023 (with follow-up pics now slated for 2025 and 2027).

James Cameron’s four (yes, four) sequels to Avatar are delayed yet again. Part two is now pegged for December 2022 with parts 3, 4, and 5 now planned for December 2024, 2026, and 2028.

And… that’s not all. Kenneth Branagh’s Death on the Nile (his follow-up to Murder on the Orient Express) has been pushed back two weeks from October 9th to October 23rd of this year (we’ll see it that holds). Mr. Branagh has already seen a COVID change a few weeks back when his critically reviled Artemis Fowl scrapped its theatrical bow in favor of a Disney+ debut.

Some other developments: Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel changed from Christmas 2020 to October 2021. Wes Anderson’s eagerly awaited (and potential Oscar contender) The French Dispatch saw its October 2020 premiere altered to… (say it again) TBD.

This follows the announcement from Warner Bros. earlier this week that Christopher Nolan’s Tenet (long seen as the first real COVID test for theaters) is now a TBD property after its hoped for August rollout. After the Tenet news, the ball was passed to Mulan. Not anymore.

Now the paradigm shifts again… to Disney. One could say that the MCU’s Black Widow is now the first massive blockbuster scheduled to debut on November 6th. Let’s see if it stays that way in our new cinematic universe.

Daily Streaming Guide: March 21st Edition

My Daily Streaming Guide rolls along today with three new movies worthy of your binge watching consideration:

Amazon Prime

From 2007, David Fincher’s Zodiac finds the filmmaker in his dark and visually stylish wheelhouse. The man behind Seven and Fight Club meticulously details the case of the Zodiac Killer in the late 1960s and early 1970s with a top-notch cast including Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, and Robert Downey Jr. (one year before his first appearance as Tony Stark in the MCU).

Netflix

Speaking of stylish, Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive from 2011 has it in spades. It also defies genre placement. Ryan Gosling doesn’t have much dialogue, but this is one of his finest roles as a stunt performer who moonlights in underground criminal circles. A contemplative pic with violent outbursts, Drive is a stunner.

Hulu

On the cinematic front, J.J. Abrams is best known for revitalizing the Star Trek and Star Wars series. His stand-alone 2011 effort Super 8 has a Stranger Things vibe before that landmark show existed. With a heavy Spielberg influence, it would have been right at home being released in 1985. It’s a lot of fun and there’s a humdinger of a trash crash sequence.

And that does it for now, folks! Until next time…

A New Cinematic Universe

The world is different this week. We are all beginning to feel it and know it. The Coronavirus has impacted the economy, our day to day activity, and our way of life. That will continue for the foreseeable future. I have already written once before about COVID-19 and its impact on what this blog focuses on… the movies.

I know it may seem trivial. And, in many ways, it is. Yet this is a movie blog. It’s a blog mostly devoted to box office predictions and that’s certainly what gets the most views on here.

So some thoughts:

The box office, like numerous other sectors of our economic fabric, is going to suffer. When I last wrote about Coronavirus just days ago, the latest James Bond picture No Time to Die had been pushed from April to November. There were other release date changes, but that was the headline.

What we’ve seen in the past 24 hours has been an escalation and an extreme one. A Quiet Place Part II, Mulan, The New Mutants, and F9 have all moved to either indefinite status or to 2021. Other less tentpole titles have followed suit. Expect that to continue over the coming days.

Simply put – the American moviegoing experience is grinding to a halt. There are legitimate questions as to whether theaters will even stay open and with the announcements of the past week, it certainly would not be a massive shock at this juncture.

This blog may change until further notice. And we’re going through a period of time where we will need to get used to change. Again… maybe it sounds trivial and there are larger considerations to work through in our day to day operations…

Nevertheless, on this MOVIE blog… I’ll say this…

Let’s be kind to one another during this time. There will be stories of inspiration in the coming days through this darkness. We will see the humanity of our populace.

We are inspired by movies. Many of us may have some more time in the coming days and weeks to scour the vaults of streaming services and television. If your kids are home from school, maybe it’s time to inspire them with the Star Wars franchise or animated classics or The Goonies if they’ve never seen them. I know they inspired me.

If you’re a die-hard movie buff like I am, maybe it’s time to rewatch the pictures that inspired you. We could all use that lift right now.

Tom Hanks once said, “My job has always been to hold a mirror up to nature”. We’ve certainly seen him do that in many terrific performances. We wish him well. These are new challenges we face and we will prevail. Let’s be proud of the nature of our reflection in the mirror as we get through this.

Oscars 2019: The Case of Adam Driver

My Case of posts for the acting contenders at this year’s Oscar brings us to the third performer in Best Actor… Adam Driver in Marriage Story. Here’s his story:

The Case for Adam Driver

2019 capped off an amazing decade for Driver. In addition to his high-profile role in the HBO series Girls, his filmography over the past few years has been remarkable. To give you an idea, here’s some of the directors he worked with in the 2010s: Clint Eastwood, the Coen Brothers, Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, Steven Soderbergh, Jim Jarmusch, Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrams, Rian Johnson, Terry Gilliam, and Spike Lee. The latter filmmaker helped Driver get his first Oscar nod last year in Supporting Actor for BlacKkKlansman. 2019 saw his best year yet with his final portrayal as Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and critical praise for the political drama The Report. Yet it’s his role as the divorcing husband to Scarlett Johansson in frequent collaborator Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story that garnered his greatest reviews thus far.

The Case Against Adam Driver

He’s still young enough that there’s little overdue for a win sentiment happening. Marriage Story has fallen behind in numerous categories with the exception of Laura Dern in Supporting Actress. Joaquin Phoenix has swept the key precursors.

The Verdict

Driver will likely place second in the voting behind the rising of Phoenix over the past few weeks.

My Case of posts will continue with the third competitor in Best Actress… Saoirse Ronan in Little Women!