Dark Phoenix Box Office Prediction

Closing out the latest chapter of the X-Men Universe that began in 2011, Dark Phoenix rises or falls in theaters next weekend. The fourth official entry in the current franchise iteration is a direct sequel to 2016’s XMen: Apocalypse. This one is focused more on the Jean Grey character played by Sophie Turner, but it brings back Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique, James McAvoy as Charles Xavier, and Michael Fassbender as Magneto. The familiar cast additionally includes Nicholas Hoult, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Kodi Smit-McPhee, and Evan Peters with Jessica Chastain joining the fray for the first time. Simon Kinberg, responsible for penning three previous X pics, makes his directorial debut.

Phoenix comes at a time where the franchise is going through a major transition. With Disney’s recent acquisition of Fox, it is believed the X-Men characters will be cast anew and melded with the vaunted Marvel Cinematic Universe at some juncture. The series is coming off Apocalypse, which didn’t impress critics and had a $155 million overall domestic gross that ranked well under predecessor Days of Future Past. The next X title (spin-off The New Mutants) is out next spring and has been delayed on numerous occasions.

Anticipation seems muted here. Phoenix has the very real possibility of having the lowest premiere ever in the franchise’s history. That distinction for a non spin-off currently belongs to the 2000 original, which started with $54 million (not adjusted for inflation). Just below that is 2013’s The Wolverine at $53 million.

The opportunity for Disney to reinvigorate the series is coming, but I’ll project this latest entry will mark an overall low in earnings.

Dark Phoenix opening weekend prediction: $45.3 million

For my The Secret Life of Pets 2 prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/05/29/the-secret-life-of-pets-2-box-office-prediction/

Best Year’s Ever

As one year turns to the next in short order, it got me thinking. What are some examples of actors and directors who had remarkable calendar frames over the past few decades? The guidelines are pretty simple – the individual must have had two (and in a couple of cases, three or more) pictures that made an impact during 19(fill in the blank) or 20(fill in the blank).

And wouldn’t you know it? My ruminations quickly turned into a lengthy list that I’ve paired down to a top 25. Let’s call this Best Year’s Ever and count down from #25 to #1!

25. Channing Tatum (2012)

It was a busy year for the performer to say the least. Tatum was in Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire, but three major roles made him the star he is today. There was the hit romance The Vow, hit comedy 21 Jump Street, and his signature and semi-autobiographical title role in the summer sleeper Magic Mike (also from Mr. Soderbergh).

24. John Travolta (1996)

Two years following his major comeback in Pulp Fiction and a year following his Golden Globe nominated lead in Get Shorty, Travolta’s hot streak continued with three hits: John Woo’s action thriller Broken Arrow and fantasy dramas Phenomenon and Michael.

23. Clint Eastwood (1971)

The last two months of 1971 were fruitful for the legend. In November, he made his directorial debut with the well-reviewed psychological thriller Play Misty for Me. This began a career of dozens of behind the camera works, including Best Picture winners Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby. In December, Eastwood starred as Dirty Harry which spawned his lucky cop franchise.

22. Sigourney Weaver (1988)

Weaver won two Golden Globes 30 years ago – Best Actress (Drama) for Gorillas in the Mist and Supporting Actress for Working Girl. She would be nominated for two Oscars as well, but come up short. All part of a remarkable decade that included Ghostbusters and Aliens.

21. Joe Pesci (1990)

Pesci won an Oscar for his unforgettable supporting work in Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas. That same fall, he was a burglar terrorizing Macaulay Culkin in the holiday classic Home Alone.

20. Kevin Spacey (1995)

Current scandals aside, there’s no denying Spacey was the movie villain of 1995. He won an Academy Award as (spoiler alert!) Keyser Soze in The Usual Suspects and as a demented serial killer in Seven. Earlier in the year, he costarred with Dustin Hoffman and Morgan Freeman in  Outbreak and headlined the critically approved indie comedy Swimming with Sharks.

19. Nicolas Cage (1997)

Leaving Las Vegas awarded Cage his Oscar two years prior. By the summer of 1997, he was a full-fledged action hero with two blockbusters in the same month: Con Air and Face/Off.

18. Will Ferrell (2003)

Ferrell’s transformation from SNL favorite to movie star happened here with the spring’s Old School as Frank the Tank and in the winter as Buddy in Elf.

17. Morgan Freeman (1989)

The nation’s Narrator-in-Chief had a trio of significant roles nearly three decades ago – his Oscar nominated chauffeur in the Best Picture winner Driving Miss Daisy, a dedicated and stern principal in Lean on Me, and a Civil War officer in Glory.

16. Steven Soderbergh (2000)

The prolific filmmaker made two Best Picture nominees with Erin Brockovich and Traffic (he would win Best Director for the latter). Both surpassed the century mark at the box office and Julia Roberts won Best Actress for Brockovich and Benicio del Toro took Supporting Actor in Traffic.

15. Halle Berry (2001)

Ms. Berry had a revealing role in the summer action fest Swordfish. She then became the first (and thus far only) African-American to win Best Actress for Monster’s Ball. This was all sandwiched between XMen hits.

14. Hugh Jackman (2017)

Berry’s XMen cast mate Jackman retired his Wolverine character to critical and audience admiration with Logan in the spring. At the end of the year, his musical The Greatest Showman was an unexpected smash.

13. Leonardo DiCaprio (2002)

Five years after Titanic, the jury was still out as to whether DiCaprio’s leading man status would hold up. His roles in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York and Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can left little doubt. He’s been one of Hollywood’s most dependable stars since.

12. Francis Ford Coppola (1974)

In 1972, Coppola made perhaps the greatest American film of all time with The Godfather. Two years later, its sequel came with enormous expectations and exceeded them. Like part one, it won Best Picture. As if that weren’t enough, he made another Picture nominee in ‘74 with the Gene Hackman surveillance thriller The Conversation.

11. Michael Douglas (1987)

His signature role as greedy tycoon Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street won him an Oscar and gave him one of the most famous cinematic speeches ever. He also lit up the screen in the blockbuster thriller Fatal Attraction, which was the year’s second largest grosser.

10. Julia Roberts (1999)

She started the decade with a smash star making turn in Pretty Woman. Julia Roberts ended it with two romantic comedy summer $100 million plus earners: Notting Hill with Hugh Grant and Runaway Bride (which reunited her with Pretty costar Richard Gere). She’d win her Oscar the next year for Erin Brockovich.

9. Tom Cruise (1996)

1986 wasn’t too shabby either with Top Gun and The Color of Money. Yet it’s a decade later that serves as Cruise’s year with the franchise starter Mission: Impossible in the summer and Cameron Crowe’s Jerry Maguire, which earned Cruise a Golden Globe award and an Oscar nod. They were the third and fourth biggest hits of the year, respectively.

8. Sandra Bullock (2013)

Nearly two decades after her breakout role in Speed, Bullock had a banner 2013 alongside Melissa McCarthy in the summer comedy The Heat and her Oscar nominated turn as a stranded astronaut in the fall’s Gravity.

7. Sylvester Stallone (1985)

Sly was the undisputed champion of the box office (not to mention sequels and Roman numerals) in 1985, notching the second and third top hits of the year behind Back to the Future. They were for his two signature characters with Rambo: First Blood Part II and Rocky IV.

6. Robert Downey Jr. (2008)

A decade after all the wrong kind of headlines for his drug addiction, Downey Jr. pulled off perhaps the most impressive comeback in movie history. 2008 saw him as Tony Stark in Iron Man, the film that kicked off the MCU in grand fashion. Later that summer came Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder, which earned Downey a rare Oscar nod for a comedic performance.

5. Tom Hanks (1993)

There’s more than one year to consider for Hanks… 1995 (Apollo 13, Toy Story) comes to mind. Yet 1993 saw him with Meg Ryan in the now classic Sleepless in Seattle and winning an Oscar in Philadelphia as a lawyer diagnosed with AIDS. His status as a romantic and dramatic lead was solidified in a matter of months. A consecutive Academy Award followed in 1994 for Forrest Gump.

4. Mel Brooks (1974)

The director managed to make two of the most beloved comedies of all time in one year… Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. The two features combined contain some of the funniest scenes ever filmed.

3. Jennifer Lawrence (2012)

Already an Oscar nominee two years prior for Winter’s Bone, Lawrence’s road to superstardom was paved in 2012. In March came The Hunger Games, the year’s third top earner that spawned three sequels. In December came Silver Linings Playbook, where she won Best Actress.

2. Jim Carrey (1994)

In 1993, Carrey was known as a great cast member of Fox’s groundbreaking sketch show “In Living Color”. By the end of 1994, he was the most bankable comedic star in America as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber all hit screens.

1. Steven Spielberg (1993)

In a list filled with lots of choices, the #1 selection was rather easy. The highest grossing filmmaker of all time’s 1993 was astonishing. Dino tale Jurassic Park in the summer was a marvel technical achievement that began a franchise. At the time of its release, it became the largest grosser in history with the top opening weekend yet seen. Six months later, Holocaust epic Schindler’s List won seven Academy Awards (including Picture and for Spielberg’s direction).

I hope your New Year is your best yet, readers! Have a happy one…

Deadpool 2 Movie Review

Two years ago, Deadpool was a breath of filthy fresh air in the superhero genre with Ryan Reynolds triumphing in bringing the title character to the big screen (as we forget XMen: Wolverine ever existed… sort of). No one was sure whether a very R rated comic book protagonist could succeed with audiences, but he did and then some. The inevitable sequel risks the chance of having a been there, done that vibe. For a while, Deadpool 2 comes dangerously close to being that. The self referential  jokes and carefree energy threatens to make part II nothing more than a featherweight viewing with a few clever gags thrown in. Luckily, Deadpool gets his groove back in time to make it something a little more. Does it match the quality of its predecessor? No, but there’s certainly moments (especially in the second half) that work very well.

We open with Wade Wilson, aka Mr. Pool, having a demented ball fighting sex traffickers and other baddies while in his blissful romance with soul mate Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). Some complications interrupt his happy-go-lucky routine and he soon finds himself in a bad way. He finds teenage mutant Russell (Julian Dennison) with flames for fists that he struggles to protect from future traveling soldier Cable (Josh Brolin, summer 2018’s villain du jour). Deadpool also assembles a motley crew of a team known as X-Force (which even he knows is a derivative monicker). For those who’ve witnessed our hero in action before, we know that none of this is exactly pulled off with expert precision. It is a joy to welcome back some of his unconventional crime fighting partners, particularly Karan Soni’s taxi driving sidekick.

The first half of Deadpool 2 is equipped with some humorous cameos and quips galore. And so is the second half. The difference is that for the first hour or so, the pic seems a bit unfocused and content to coast on its meta merits. It isn’t until some of the new characters motivations are explained that the follow-up gathers that needed focus. Once that happens, the gags work better. It also helps that the action sequences seem to jump up a notch towards the end.

One item that doesn’t change is the commitment that Reynolds brings to his beloved character. He clearly loves playing the part and it shows. Brolin, like his Thanos In Avengers: Infinity War, plays an antagonist with some actually understandable motivation for the second time in a month. He’s no Thanos, but he’s a reasonably interesting dude. Part II delves more into Deadpool’s connection with the X-Men and occasionally in ways that induce well-earned laughter.

The originality factor that made Deadpool such a welcome addition to an always growing genre over can’t be replicated here. However, enough of the winking dirty charms we experienced in 2016 are present.

*** (out of four)

Logan Movie Review

A recurring theme in the X-Men universe has been to celebrate being different. This normally applies to the mutants being discriminated against. That’s certainly present in James Mangold’s Logan. However, unlike previous franchise entries, this one strives to be celebrated for its own efforts to be different. It’s a hard R rated venture where Hugh Jackman’s title character has developed a drinking problem and considerably more F bombs in his vocabulary (it’s the first word he utters). His claws shed the kind of blood you won’t witness in a typical PG-13 comic book adaptation.

This is a somber affair with a tone that is legitimately jarring at first. Deadpool may have been the first hugely mainstream R flick of the genre, but that’s all they have in common. Logan is different for sure, but I found that to be cause for celebration only some of the time.

There is little for Logan to be happy about as we open. It’s 2029 and the world’s mutant population is aging. No mutant has been born in a quarter century. The former Wolverine spends his days driving a limo in Texas for fat cats and bachelor parties. He drinks a lot and does his best to hide those infamous claws.

He also serves as caretaker for a frail Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), whose brainiac abilities have been threatened by brain disease. Logan is assisted by albino mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant in a fine performance). Our title hero’s past glories are sought again when he comes into contact with a mutant who isn’t supposed to be exist.

Laura (Dafne Keen) is a young girl with mutations similar to Logan’s. It turns out the military is raising youthful mutants for their own destructive purposes in Mexico. She escapes and Logan is asked to take her to a North Dakota location where others of her kind have set up a safe haven coined Eden. Logan isn’t eager to do so, but soon enough he, the girl, and Professor X are on a savage road trip. Standing in their way is Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), head of a military organization termed the Reavers and Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant), the scientist who’s experimented on the new mutants. In a series that has seen villains both memorable and not, this pair resides more in the latter category.

Logan isn’t really about its bad guys though. It’s more focused on the demons that Logan is battling himself. Oh… and he’s actually literally battling himself too in the form of a nifty genetically engineered version of himself created by those villains. The toned down story (albeit with plenty of hardcore violence) allows Jackman to go places he’s never entered into before with his signature character. Same goes for Stewart’s Professor X. The movie’s points on being a caretaker may resonate with many viewers not accustomed to seeing it in a comic book adaptation. Both actors give impressive performances, as does young Keen in her often silent work.

Ironically, it’s when we realize that the new mutants have been so inspired by the X-Men tales that came before it that Logan generates its greatest power. In other words, that would be the kind of stories we saw in the previous movies that this strives to be so dissimilar from. The final act is most potent and I felt at times it takes a little longer than it should to get there. When it finally does, Logan provides a fulfilling conclusion to Jackman’s work as Logan/Wolverine as the claws draw to a close.

*** (out of four)

Ranking the Superhero Summers

We’re past the midway point of the 2017 summer box office and one thing is clear: it’s been a rather terrific season for the superhero flick genre. In fact, there’s a very good chance the summer’s top 3 earners will belong in that classification. That’s not the first time this has happened (more on that later), but it’s still pretty remarkable.

This got me thinking – what have been the greatest and worst superhero summers of this 21st century? After all, it was the summer of 2000 that got the superhero genre alive and kicking again and it’s never let up. 17 summers ago, it was the release of X-Men that helped revive a genre that had hit a low point three summers earlier with Batman & Robin. In 2002, it would be Spider-Man that would set the opening weekend record and ensure that no summer following would be missing some comic book character headlining. **2001 is the only summer of this century in which there’s no superhero pic.

This leads to my newest list: ranking the superhero summers with explanations provided below. We’re talking 17 summers, so I’m counting down from the worst to the best in my humble opinion.

17. 2009

The Movie: X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Just one flick in this particular summer. The Marvel Cinematic Universe had just kicked off the year before, so there was no follow-up ready. Instead, we got Wolverine’s first spin-off and it’s the worst of the whole bunch by a significant margin.

16. 2007

The Movies: Spider-Man 3, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

The third Spidey entry closed the Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire on a very weak note and the Four sequel was none too impressive either (to be expected after a middling at best predecessor).

15. 2010

The Movie: Iron Man 2

Tony Stark’s return to the screen after 2008’s juggernaut suffered from being overstuffed with two many villains, etc… One of the lesser MCU entries.

14. 2006

The Movies: X-Men: The Last Stand, Superman Returns

Two pics that failed to meet expectations – The Last Stand suffered a big quality drop-off after the second X and Superman Returns (the first Supes flick in nearly 20 years) couldn’t live up to the hype.

13. 2015

The Movies: Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, Fantastic Four

Disappointing as it featured two of the weaker MCU entries and a seriously misguided Fantastic Four reboot.

12. 2013

The Movies: Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, The Wolverine

IM3 was an improvement over part 2, The Wolverine was an improvement over Origins. Man of Steel? A letdown in many respects, just like Superman Returns.

11. 2004

The Movies: Spider-Man 2, Catwoman

Would probably rank higher because Spidey 2 is arguably the best of the bunch, but loses points due to the catastrophe that is Halle Berry as Catwoman.

10. 2016

The Movies: Captain America: Civil War, Suicide Squad, X-Men: Apocalypse 

A mixed bag. Civil War is one of the finer MCU pics, Squad is that mixed bag, and Apocalypse was a major disappointment.

9. 2003

The Movies: X2: X-Men United, Hulk

X2 is perhaps the strongest X entry, but Ang Lee’s Hulk (while having its moments) was often a pretentious bore.

8. 2000

The Movie: X-Men

Only X-Men in this summer, but it deserves props for kicking off the genre in a major way once again.

7. 2002

The Movie: Spider-Man

Even more than X-Men, Sam Raimi’s first Spidey ensured a heaping of genre entries for years to come.

6. 2014

The Movies: Guardians of the Galaxy, X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Guardians was pure joy, Past was a solid X pic. Loses points for the mess of a Spidey sequel.

5. 2005

The Movies: Batman Begins, Fantastic Four

OK, so Fantastic Four was not so good. Yet this is in my top 5 because Batman Begins not only kicked off the heralded Nolan trilogy, but it’s my personal fave superhero pic of the century.

4. 2011

The Movies: Thor, Captain America: First Avenger, X-Men: First Class

Though not of these flicks are great, they’re all solid in my view. Thor and Captain helped usher in the MCU era as we know it and First Class rebooted its franchise in a pleasing way.

3. 2012

The Movies: The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, The Amazing Spider-Man

Avengers is the granddaddy of MCU, Rises ended up the trilogy in a mostly satisfactory manner while Spidey was a slight letdown (though miles better than its sequel). As referenced earlier, these 3 pictures would mark the highest 3 earners of that season.

2. 2017

The Movies: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man: Homecoming

Three highly entertaining and well-done entries that marked the first super-heroine success.

1. 2008

The Movies: The Dark Knight, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Hellboy II: The Golden Army

The Dark Knight is considered by many to be the genre’s artistic peak and Iron Man was a fine start to a franchise that just keeps charging along. Incredible was a more satisfying (though still flawed) Hulk pic than five years earlier and Guillermo del Toro brought his visual splendor and humor once again to the Hellboy series. A rather easy pick for #1.

Or is it? What are your thoughts on the superhero summers?

X-Men: Apocalypse Movie Review

XMen: Apocalypse isn’t the only disappointing entry in the franchise, but it’s the only one directed by Bryan Singer that I’d classify as such. He directed the first two X entries in 2000 and 2002 and got the series off to a satisfying start. Singer would return in 2014 with Days of Future Past to mostly pleasing results. Apocalypse may have you feeling blue about where this series is at. The villain is shrug worthy, some of the actors seem to not be giving it their all, and some of the CG effects are questionable at best. It also makes the error of providing dull backstory material for characters we didn’t really need to know backstory for.

When Singer left the franchise for the first time in 2002, Brett Ratner took over with The Last Stand in 2006 and was crucified for his efforts. In fact, when Singer returned in 2014, much of Future Past erased Last Stand. Maybe Apocalypse is a bit of revenge for Ratner, because it’s worse than his X-perience. Quite a bit worse actually. Stand doesn’t quite deserve its bad reputation and Apocalypse does.

The whole proceedings get off to a shaky start with a prologue set in Egypt where the first believed mutant Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac, in heavy and ugly makeup) is entombed by his enemies. Flash to centuries later and it’s 1983. When Apocalypse breaks out of his long slumber, he is hell bent on exacting revenge on the human race and showing off his many mutant abilities. He doesn’t comment on the awful 80s fashion, but it probably doesn’t make him any more fond of the people he seeks to destroy.

Fighting Apocalypse are many familiar X-Men, including Professor X (James McAvoy, still with hair for awhile) and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence). Meanwhile, Magneto (Michael Fassbender) is laying low in Poland working in factory with lots of metal (oh the temptations!). He has a wife and daughter and a tragic family scene between them is actually rather well handled. While this trio of movie stars playing the most liked X characters get their screen time, Simon Kinberg’s screenplay also spends an unnecessary amount of ink on backstories for Cyclops, Nightcrawler, and Storm (younger versions of them all). These are unsought subplots that feel like filler and not much else. We also get a young Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) storyline that should be more interesting than it is.

All in all, there’s simply nothing very exciting about Apocalypse. Lawrence seems downright bored and her performance reflects that. Oscar Isaac is a tremendously talented performer who’s utterly wasted in a one-note villain role. The 60s vibe worked in X-Men: First Class and the 70s era feel of Future Past was pretty cool. Here, the 80s references add little.

There’s a sequence early on when Jean and friends leave Return of the Jedi disappointed and says everyone knows that the third one in a series is always the worst. Was screenwriter Simon Kinberg trying to warn us? Apocalypse isn’t terrible, but it’s the low point of this series so far.

** (out of four)

Oscar Watch: Logan

This evening, the third stand-alone Wolverine picture opens when Logan debuts. It’s reportedly Hugh Jackman’s final turn as the beloved and clawed X-Men and the film is receiving some of the greatest reviews a comic book flick has ever received.

Logan currently sits at 93% on Rotten Tomatoes and looks poised for stellar box office earnings. So now let’s turn to the crazy question. Could it end up on Oscar’s radar? Some notes of caution. No comic book adaptation has been honored with a Best Picture nod. That includes The Dark Knight and last year’s Deadpool. That said, the latter started garnering significant buzz for a nomination in recent months, but ultimately to no avail.

Even with its terrific critical notices, Logan is certainly a long shot to recognized for the big prize. Academy voters have simply shown an unwillingness to honor this genre in any meaningful way. On the other hand, perhaps Jackman could sneak into Best Actor if that race isn’t packed. That remains to be seen. He would also likely face competition from himself when he stars as P.T. Barnum in this fall’s musical The Greatest Showman.

Bottom line: previous acclaim for this genre hasn’t meant much to Oscar. Perhaps Logan could change that, but I wouldn’t bet on it.