Marvel Studios / Disney
Black Panther (Marvel Studios/Disney)
Fifty Shades Freed (Universal)
Peter Rabbit (Sony)
The 15:17 to Paris (Warner Bros.)
Jumaji: Welcome to the Jungle (Sony)
Early Man (Summit)
NOTE: All the numbers listed above are for the four-day holiday weekend.
There isn’t a ton to say about this weekend except that a.) it’s an extended four-day Presidents Day weekend (for some), and b.) Marvel Studios will prove definitively that they can release a movie in any month, and it will make lots and lots and lots of money.
Marvel Studios / Disney
Black Panther is Marvel’s latest stand-alone movie meant to re-introduce the Wakandan royal superhero to those who first saw him in Captain America: Civil War, and it’s directed by Ryan Coogler, who had great success with his debut feature Fruitvale Station in 2013 and even more with his 2015 Rocky spin-off Creed,
Once again played by Chadwick Boseman, Black Panther is being hailed as the second coming of G-d by the critics. What’s interesting is that Black Panther has never been one of Marvel’s most popular characters, not anywhere in the same realm as Spider-Man, Wolverine or even Deadpool, and didn’t even have his own comic for many, many years.
Even so, superhero movies and those from Marvel in particular are hot properties these days, and Black Panther is significant for being a movie about an African superhero directed by an African-American with a mostly African-American cast, including the likes of Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurai from The Walking Dead, Michael B. Jordan, Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out), Steling K. Brown, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker and newcomer Letitia Wright (who I’ve heard steals the movie). In other words, it’s not something you might normally expect from Walt Disney Pictures, but the movie has been highly anticipated for years, and according to reviews, the movie delivers.
Granted, we all know that Black Panther isn’t the first “black Marvel superhero to lead his own movie,” because that was actually Blade, who Wesley Snipes turned into a popular franchise for New Line before the company was merged into Warner Bros, Marvel’s arch-rival. The original Blade opened in 1998, grossed $70 million and paved the way for more Marvel movies after the company sold off most of its properties to stave off bankruptcy. Ten years later, Kevin Feige would help shepherd the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” with the $300-million grossing Iron Man, starring Robert Downey Jr., and the rest is history.
If you asked me last year, I would tell you there was no way Black Panther does anywhere close to Iron Man opening weekend. And yet, things have changed, as the Disney marketing machine has been working overtime, while at the same time, grassroots campaigns across the country have raised money to take poor black kids to see Black Panther.
The most important benchmark or comparison for Black Panther will likely be Fox’s 2016 movie based on Marvel’s Deadpool, starring Ryan Reynolds, which opened over the Presidents Day weekend in 2016. It set a new Thursday night record for an R-rated movie with $12.7 million, which shouldn’t be hard for Black Panther to beat with its PG-13, but Deadpool went on to gross $152.2 million over the extended holiday weekend (and $132.4 million not including Monday). (Oddly, Deadpool wasn’t even the first Marvel superhero movie to claim Presidents Day weekend. That would be Ben Affleck’s Daredevil movie, which people are still trying to forget… especially Jennifer Garner.)
That kind of opening doesn’t seem hard to fathom when you consider that Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War – which let’s face it, was actually a third Avengers movie – opened with $179 million just two years ago, and that went on to gross $400 million. Can Black Panther follow suit?
One expects that Black Panther will bring in a larger African-American audience than some of Marvel’s more white-bread superheroes like Thor and Captain America and Ant-Man and Doctor Strange—when put into that context, Black Panther really is very much a game-changer for Marvel, and it’s a risk that’s likely to pay off big time.
The problem is that the movie is already being overhyped by (mostly white) fanboy critics, and it’s really going to have to deliver with the amount of hype that’s being heaped upon it. (Note: Disney will not invite me to see any of their movies in advance, so I cannot comment on the film beyond the little bit I’ve heard, which isn’t a lot since I don’t generally read reviews. Drew McWeeny loved it, though.)
By default, Black Panther will automatically be the highest-rated movie playing in theaters with its 97% Fresh Rotten Tomatoes score, and it’s being framed very much as an important social event. (It’s not. It’s just a superhero movie. Let’s get that straight.)
Fandango has reported huge advance sales, more than 2016’s Batman v Superman, and things have gotten a little crazy with predictions getting bigger and bigger as the movie’s release approaches. (One of the trades stated that a competing studio thinks the movie will make $200 million i.e. “Avengers money” over the extended weekend, but that would have it opening ahead of Marvel threequels Iron Man 3 and Captain America: Civil War without having the stars of either movie.)
Even so, I think Black Panther should be good for around $55 million or more on its opening Friday, including Thursday previews (maybe $15 to 17 million or more), but even with schools and government employees off on Monday, the movie will still be frontloaded due to advance hype. It still should be able to make $160 to $165 million or maybe slightly more over its first four days, setting a new opening record both for Presidents Day and the month of February. That kind of opening should be good for a domestic gross of $350 million, but don’t be surprised if Black Panther ends up joining Marvel’s $400 million club, as well.
|Opening Weekend||Current Gross||Total Facebook Likes||Twitter Activity (Past Week)|
|Fifty Shades Freed||$38.6m||$56m||14,770,070||168,418|
|The 15:17 to Paris||$12.5m||$16.8m||50,851||N/A|
|Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle||$36.2m||$369.1m||412,412||N/A|
*This amount is almost three times Captain America: Civil War in the same period of time.
Summit / Lionsgate / Aardman
Multiple Oscar-winning animation filmmaker Nick Park returns with Aardman’s latest feature Early Man, released wide by Summit through Lionsgate on Friday. It’s entering a market where the only real family films are Peter Rabbit and Jumanji, but the two Sony releases have been quite dominant, making one wonder if Early Man stands a chance even during a weekend with school being out on Monday.
Early Man features the voices of Tom Hiddleston, Eddie Redmayne and Maisie Williams from Game of Thrones, and it’s basically about a caveman named Dug (Redmayne) who leads his fellow cavemen in a soccer match against the dominant team of the tyrannical Lord Nooth (Hiddleston).
Park won a number of Oscars for his Claymation and stop motion animated shorts, notably those featuring Wallace and Gromit, but in 2000, Park and his Aardman co-founder Peter Lord had a big hit when teaming with DreamWorks for Chicken Run, featuring the voice of Mel Gibson. That movie grossed $106.8 million as computer animation was reaching a larger audience thanks to the movies by Pixar and DreamWorks Animation.
Aardman has lost some of their gusto to Portland’s LAIKA, who have had a number of relative hits including 2009’s Coraline based on Neil Gaiman’s book. Its other four movies, including Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride have ended up in the $50 million range.
Aardman’s most recent release was the Shaun the Sheep Movie in 2015, which grossed just $19.5 million with a late summer release. There really isn’t much about Early Man that points to it doing much better.
It’s pretty clear to me that American kids just aren’t as into stop motion or the quirky British humor of Aardman, which might make it tough for Early Man to break out over the holiday weekend, probably grossing $6 to 7 million tops over the four-day weekend.
Pure Flix Entertainment
Faith-based distributor Pure Flix releases the biblical epic Samson, which as you might guess, is about the bible hero Samson. You know the guy — super strong, long hair – although one wonders whether this early superhero can strike the fancy of modern audiences and compete against stronger films like Black Panther.
The two most recent biblical epics were the Focus Features release The Young Messiah in 2015 and Fox’s Son of God a year earlier, the latter basically being an adaptation of Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s television series The Bible. Son of God opened with $25 million and grossed $59.7 million domestic, but The Young Messiah barely made $6.5 million total. Neither of them (or any Christian movie) has fared as well as Mel Gibson’s blockbuster The Passion of the Christ, which grossed $370.8 million back in 2004. Gibson has been threatening a sequel for a number of years, but one wonders if it can tap into the zeitgeist as well as Passion did.
Anyone who has attended Sunday school will know who Samson is, and one expects there to be some group sales to take students to see the movie, but otherwise, does anyone really care?
Pure Flix is releasing the movie into a moderate 1,249 theaters, about 500 theaters less than The Young Messiah, so it’s going to have an even tougher time making a mark. It should still be able to make around $4 million over the holidays ending up in the bottom half of the top 10.
Between Black Panther taking over theaters and the poor reactions to all three of last week’s offerings, expect some big drops, and there’s a chance that Peter Rabbit could give Fifty Shades Freed a run for second place and possibly Jumanji remaining in fourth place over The 1517 to Paris.
|Fifty Shades Freed||12%||50%||4.3||32||B+|
|The 15:17 to Paris||24%||45%||5.0||45||B-|
|Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle||76%||90%||7.2||58||A-|
It’s another downish weekend for limited releases with a number of smaller and lower-profile movies being released with very few having any sort of significant impact.
Sony Pictures Classics
After an Oscar run that earned it a foreign language nomination, Sony Pictures Classes releases the Russian drama Loveless from director Andrey Zvyagintsev (Leviathan) into a few New York and L.A. theaters. It involves a couple about to get divorced whose young son vanishes, and though its done well on the festival circuit since debuting at Cannes, I was not really a fan as I found most of the main characters in the movie to be quite awful.
Bleecker Street is releasing Mark Pellington’s ensemble drama Nostalgia, starring Jon Hamm, Ellen Burstyn, Annalise Basso, Bruce Dern and Nick Offerman. It’s a rather dour and somber film about loss and grief and death and what to do with one’s belongings… so basically what I think about every single day, but not something I need to watch at the movies.
A bit more upbeat for sure, Sophie Brooks makes her feature film debut with The Boy Downstairs starring Zosia Mamet (Girls) as a young woman who accidentally rents an apartment above that of her ex-boyfriend. It sounds a bit high-concept, sure, but Brooks actually finds an intriguing way to follow the highs and lows of a relationship through flashback, something you can read more about in my interview with Ms. Brooks. FilmRise opens it in New York at the Village East Cinema on Friday, then in L.A. on Feb. 23.
British filmmaker Sally Potter (Orlando) returns with the dark comedy The Party, starring Timothy Spall, Kristin Scott Thomas, Patricia Clarkson, Bruno Ganz, Cherry Jones, Emily Mortimer and Cillian Murphy as a group of friends who gather for a party where all sorts of dark secrets emerge. It’s released by Roadside Attractions in select cities.
Cohen Media releases French filmmaker Francois Ozon’s latest Double Lover, his adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’ Lives of the Twins about a young woman named Chloé (Marine Vacth) who falls in love with her psychoanalyst Paul (Jérémie Renier), but when they move in together, she learns he might be keeping a secret. (I think the original title of the novel might give it away, though.) The movie is now playing at the Quad Cinema and AMC Empire in New York as well as in 21 other cities.
Also now playing exclusively at the Film Forum in New York is Ali Soozandeh’s animated drama Tehran Taboo that deals with the sexual double standard held against women in the Iran city, as seen through the eyes of a group of interlinked people, including a woman working as a prostitute to help raise her mute son. I’ll write more about this film on Saturday, but Kino Lorber will release it in Chicago and Boston next Friday and then in L.A. and other cities March 9. Full theatrical schedule.
IFC Midnight releases Derek Nguyen’s The Housemaid (not to be confused with the Korean thriller of that name) set in 1953 Vietnam about a young woman working as a maid for a French officer who runs a rubber plantation with whom she begins a relationship which awakens the ghost of his angry dead wife. It opens in select cities, on VOD and digital platforms.
Momentum Pictures will release Looking Glass, the new film from River’s Edge director Tim Hunter, which stars Nicolas Cage, Robin Tunney and Marc Blucas, and it revolves around Cage saving his wife from the gruesome secret connected to a motel.
Also, Cinema Guild will release Valeska Grisebach’s thriller Western, which follows a group of German construction workers who run into trouble with local villagers while working in Bulgaria.
Lastly, Netflix has a number of Valentine’s Day…um… week appropriate offerings, including Stephanie Laing’s rom-dramedy Irreplaceable You, starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and the new high school series Everything Sucks, so if you don’t feel like facing the throngs of moviegoers in theaters for Black Panther, stay home!
That’s it for now. Check back on Saturday morning for an update on how the movies above are faring, and then I’ll have the full weekend box office report on Monday.
(Sources: boxofficemojo.com, rottentomatoes.com, imdb.com, metacritic.com. Figures represent numbers at time of writing, and may have changed. Tracking Board does not report Rotten Tomatoes user ratings for movies that have not yet seen wide release.)
Edward Douglas | East Coast Editor