Universal / Bleecker Street / Sony / Open Road
Pacific Rim: Uprising (Universal / Legendary)
Black Panther (Marvel Studios / Disney)
Sherlock Gnomes (Paramount)
Tomb Raider (Warner Bros.)
I Can Only Imagine (Roadside Attractions / Lionsgate)
This has been a weird month at the box office, and it’s going to get even weirder, as we have five new wide releases, and I’ve actually seen three of them! No, that’s not why it’s weird, so much as one wondering how much interest there might be in three of the movies with two of them being sequels, and only one of those sequels anyone… well, demanded might be too strong a word.
Universal / Legendary
Let’s begin with those sequels, as Universal and Legendary Pictures releases Pacific Rim: Uprising nationwide. There really isn’t much you need to know about the movie other than it being another movie where giant robots fight giant monsters.
Guillermo del Toro directed the original Pacific Rim, which was distributed by Warner Bros. in the summer of 2013. It opened with $37.3 million and just passed $100 million domestically. That probably wouldn’t have been enough to greenlight a sequel if it hadn’t made three times that amount overseas, helped by China, where the movie made more than it did in the States. Del Toro went off to make a couple other movies and won an Oscar for one of them.
The sequel is directed by Steven S. DeKnight, best known for creating Starz’ Spartacus series and being the showrunner on the first season of Marvel’s Daredevil on Netflix. While not having del Toro at the helm might seem like a detriment, DeKnight’s sequel makes up for it by starring John Boyega from the Star Wars movies as the son of Idris Elba’s character from the first movie. One presumes that fans of those movies and Boyega’s earlier film Attack the Block would be the same audience that would dig PacRim. He’s joined by Scott Eastwood, star of Suicide Squad and last year’s The Fate of the Furious, who adds to the film’s starpower even if he isn’t a proven draw necessarily.
Reviews will probably be mixed at best, because this is the type of movie made for entertaining moviegoers, not for catering to critics. (They’ll have Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs – see below.) Personally, I loved Pacific Rim: Uprising, but as I told DeKnight, he would have to have made an absolutely awful movie on the par with any of Michael Bay’s Transformers for me not to have loved it.
That aside, American moviegoers have gotten very finicky lately, and if a movie doesn’t have superheroes or isn’t Star Wars, they just don’t care, and that’s why Americans probably don’t deserve a movie like Pacific Rim: Uprising, but that’s just my opinion. The action sequel will probably end up somewhere in the $25 to 30 million range, which will be enough for it to take the top spot from Marvel’s Black Panther. We’ll have to see how it fares after opening weekend but $75 to 80 million might be where it’s heading domestically with a better chance overseas.
I don’t necessarily think Black Panther is quite over yet, and it should be good for another $15 to 17 million in second place. With $600 million in the can, everything else is just cake as it passes Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Marvel’s The Avengers this weekend to become the fifth-highest grossing movie.
|Opening Weekend||Current Gross||Total Facebook Likes||Twitter Activity (Past Week)*|
|Pacific Rim: Uprising||N/A||N/A||2,023,203||N/A|
|I Can Only Imagine||$17.1m||$21.1m||470,777||N/A|
*Apologies, but we did not receive Twitter information with enough time to include in this week’s preview.
Seven years ago, Disney released an animated movie called Gnomeo and Juliet. I never saw it, because the movie sounded like a dumb kids’ movie, yet it came close to making $100 million in North America. (It actually made $99,967,670 domestically… so close.) For some reason, Disney wised up rather than trying to make or release a sequel, so Paramount stepped up to release the equally dumb-sounding Sherlock Gnomes.
The family film features a mostly British voice cast that includes James McAvoy as Gnomeo, Emily Blunt, Michael Caine, Maggie Smith and none other than non-Brit Johnny Depp voicing the title character, which is a little odd since he wasn’t in the original Disney movie, since Disney has greatly helped Depp’s career with the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Jason Statham and Patrick Stewart somehow got out of having to voice characters in the sequel, and original director Kelly Asbury has been replaced by John Stevenson, who co-directed DreamWorks Animation’s Kung Fu Panda.
The commercials make the film look cute enough basically for small children, and the lack of family-friendly fare in theaters should help Sherlock Gnomes do far better than it might have otherwise. That and the start of spring break in some areas, which should give it a third place finish with between $12 and 15 million on its way to about half what the original movie made. (Note: Sherlock Gnomes won’t have any Thursday previews tonight but will just open on Friday proper.)
Warner Bros.’ Tomb Raider should take a steep plunge to fourth place with around $11 million, followed by last week’s breakout Christian hit I Can Only Imagine with another $9 to 10 million, although it will have some faith-based competition this weekend. Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time and last week’s Love, Simon should follow.
That leaves us with three other “miscellaneous” new movies in wide release…
Sony / Bleecker Street
It’s hard to believe that a movie by Steven Soderbergh might lose out to yet another faith-based film, but Soderbergh’s lower-budget thriller Unsane, starring Claire Foy, Juno Temple, Jay Pharoah and Joshua Leonard, might be a difficult sell for some reason.
I enjoyed the film for what it was — one of Soderbergh’s lower-budget movies ala 2009’s The Girlriend Experience or Bubble a few years earlier — but being a horror-thriller gives this film a bit of a step-up, not to mention the fact Soderbergh’s Fingerprint Releasing (via Bleecker Street) will release the movie into 2,000 theaters across the country.
It’s hard to tell whether Claire Foy’s fans from Netflix’s The Crown will show any interest in the movie – she and the show certainly have been in the news a lot lately — but this will be a good test to see if she can be a draw, because many actors have broken out by starring in thrillers.
Bleecker Street released Soderbergh’s previous film Logan Lucky last summer into 3,000 theaters where it opened with just $7.6 million, and that’s still the distributors biggest hit with its $27.8 million gross (and that amount is despite having big stars like Channing Tatum and Daniel Craig). Unsane will only be released into around 2,000 theaters and without a proven star, it’s likely to end up more in the $5 to 6 million range.
Soderbergh’s film is also taking on a far more powerful figure in Sony’s Paul, Apostle of Christ, a biblical drama in the vein of Son of God and the bomb Samson. The title is fairly self-explanatory, but the story takes place after the death of Jesus Christ, starring James Faulkner as Paul and Jim Caviezel, who played Christ in The Passion of the Christ.
The latter, directed by Mel Gibson, is still the highest-grossing Christian movie with $370 million domestic gross and no other faith-based film has come even close. The aforementioned Son of God grossed $59.7 million in 2014 with the powerhouses of 20th Century Fox and Mark Burnett Productions behind it. Two years ago, Focus Features’ The Young Messiah bombed with just $6.5 million TOTAL with a similar Mach release. Unlike most recent faith-based films Paul, Apostle of Christ actually screened for some critics in advance — they didn’t like it.
It’s fairly obvious what Christian and Catholic moviegoers might see in Paul, Apostle of Christ, which is conveniently being released in the lead-up to Easter on April 1, and it should do somewhere in the range of Catherine Hardwicke’s The Nativity, which opened with $7.8 million, although that also opened in 3,000 theaters. Opening in just 1,400 venues, Paul will likely end up slightly lower, but it should still come out ahead of Unsane in the lower half of the top 10.
Open Road Films
That brings us to Midnight Sun, Open Road’s Y.A. romance drama starring Bella Thorne as a girl afflicted with a disease that doesn’t allow her to be out in sunlight. Yes, her name is Bella, this is a Y.A. movie but don’t expect it to be another Twilight. She kills time by writing and playing songs, and a hunky boy, played by Patrick Schwarzenegger, falls for her.
It’s the type of movie that teen girls would love, particularly Thorne’s fanbase from the Disney Channel show Shake It Up, and the film’s teen-friendly PG-13 rating could make it a good alternative for a demo that might not be interested in other choices.
The problem is that the teen and ‘tween audience that might be interested in this movie are also highly unreliable when it comes to going to the movies – they either will rush out to see a movie or they won’t. It doesn’t seem like Open Road has bothered to screen the movie much for critics, but we’re not likely to see reviews before the movie’s previews tonight regardless. Expect this to just sneak into the top 10 with between $4 and 5 million, though it’s the weakest of this week’s offerings.
On top of all that, Wes Anderson’s second animated film Isle of Dogs is released into a couple dozen theaters by Fox Searchlight on Friday. With an amazing voice cast that includes Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Scarlett Johansson and just about every actor who has worked with Anderson previously, including Bill Murray and Jeff Goldblum, it should do very well. I personally was kind of bored by the movie, but I’m also interested in seeing it again in case I missed something, because it shows a vast improvement in craft over Anderson’s last animated film The Fantastic Mr. Fox. (I hope to have an interview with Bob Balaban to share either tomorrow or Monday.)
|Pacific Rim: Uprising||47%||N/A||N/A||45||N/A|
|I Can Only Imagine||65%||96%||7.5||29||A+|
|Paul, Apostle of Christ||30%||N/A||N/A||62||N/A|
There are a bunch of other lower-key specialty releases this weekend including a couple that I’ve seen and enjoyed.
Back to Burgundy from Music Box Films is the new film from French filmmaker Cédric Klapisch (Netflix series Call My Agent!), who made the wonderful star-studded French ensemble film L’Auberge Espagnole and its two sequels. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable dramedy about a man who returns to his family home in the French wine country of Burgundy after years to deal with the estate falling his father’s death. Along with his sister (Ana Girardot) and younger brother (François Civil), they try to take over the winemaking business to mixed results. I’m a huge fan of Klapisch’s previous films and while at first, I was worried this would just be another typical film about a guy who returns home to deal with family dysfunctions, but the wine making and tasting aspects of the film gives it another dimension in line with Alexander Payne’s Sideways. It will open at New York’s Angelika Film Center Friday and then in L.A. on March 30.
Stanley Tucci is back behind the camera directing Final Portrait, which Sony Pictures Classics will release in New York and L.A. tomorrow. Based on James Lord’s memoir A Giacometti Portrait, which Tucci also adapted, it stars Armie Hammer as Lord, an American visiting Paris in 1964 who is convinced by artist Alberto Giacometti, played by Geoffrey Rush, to sit for a portrait. What Lord doesn’t realize is that Giacometti is a perfectionist and the portrait will end up taking weeks to complete rather than days. This is another wonderful culture-filled film from Tucci ala his earlier film Big Night, and it also stars Tony Shalhoub and wonderful French actors Sylvie Testud and Clémence Poésy.
Joe Kelly and Ken Niimura’s graphic novel I Kill Giants has been adapted by filmmaker Anders Walter from a screenplay written and produced by Kelly, along with producer Chris Columbus. It stars Madison Wolfe as teenager Barbara Thorson who escapes her tough reality by escaping into a magical world of giants. Co-starring Sydney Wade and Zoe Saldana from Guardians of the Galaxy, RLJ Entertainment will release I Kill Giants into select cities and On Demand.
The week’s other major French film is by another master, Arnaud Desplechin’s Ismael’s Ghost, starring his regular star Mathieu Amalric, along with Charlotte Gainsbourg and Oscar winner Marion Cotillard. Magnolia Pictures is releasing an extended director’s cut — 20 minutes long than its Cannes premiere last year. This time it’s Cotillard’s Carlotta who returns home twenty-one years after running away to find her lover Ismael (Amalric) building his life with a new woman (Gainsbourg) while trying to make a film with his difficult protagonist (Lous Garrel).
This week’s IFC Midnight horror offering is Adam (Backcountry) MacDonald’s Pyewacket about a teen girl named Leah (Nicole Muñoz) who turns to the dark arts to deal with the death of her father and bad relationship with her mother (Laurie Holden from The Walking Dead), on whom she puts a death curse. It comes in the form of an evil being known as Pyewacket. It opens in select cities and On Demand.
This column is getting a little too long this week, but other offerings this weekend include Christian Duguay’s French film Bag of Marbles from Gaumont; Kaouther Ben Hania’s Tunisian drama Beauty and the Dogs, released by Oscilloscope; the EDM doc What We Started from Abramorama; Randall Wright’s Summer in the Forest, released by Mancurama, about a trio of kids with Downs’ Syndrome who form a community in the Paris woods; and Elis, Hugo Prata’s biopic about Brazilian singer Elis Regina, released by Cleopatra Entertainment.
And of course, what would this weekend preview without a couple of Netflix offerings streaming tomorrow? Daryl Hannah makes her feature directorial debut with the odd musical fantasy Paradox, starring Neil Young and Willie Nelson, while legendary hip hop pioneer Roxanne Shanté gets the biopic treatment with Michael Larnell’s Roxanne Roxanne, starring newcomer Chanté Adams as the rapper, as well as Nia Long, Mahershala and Adam Horovitz from the Beastie Boys.
That’s it for this week. 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