It’s hard to believe it’s already October, but the “slower” pre-holiday fall box office should continue to thrive with the latest from Ridley Scott which puts him back into the realm of science fiction, while Lionsgate hopes to offer some competition with their Mexican cartel action-thriller Sicario, which has been doing gangbusters (ha ha) in limited release.
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Director: Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner, Prometheus, Gladiator, Robin Hood, American Gangster, Thelma and Louise and dozens more)
Writer: Drew Goddard
Cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie
Genre: Science Fiction, Adventure, Thriller
What It’s About: During a exploratory mission to Mars, botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is left behind, presumed dead, when a sudden storm hits the small group, forcing them to evacuate. By the time NASA realizes Watney is alive, his crewmates have already traveled halfway back to Earth, so they need to devise a way of saving him while he must figure out how to survive until they get him.
In 2011, Andy Weir self-published his first novel “The Martian” and the attention it received got it picked up and reissued in 2014 by a larger publisher where it became a popular bestseller. It was no surprise when 20th Century Fox greenlit an adaptation to be directed by Ridley Scott after the success of Alfonso Cuaron’s outer space epic Gravity grossed $723 million globally and ended up winning seven Oscars.
Adapted by Drew Goddard, the filmmaker behind The Cabin in the Woods, it’s the first major release starring Matt Damon since 2014’s Monuments Men, although Damon did have a cameo in Christopher Nolan’s similar Interstellar that was kept fairly hush-hush. Damon’s biggest movie to date is 2007’s The Bourne Ultimatum, which grossed over $200 million, and he’s also been a part of a number of big franchises like the Ocean’s 11 trilogy, but he’s mostly worked as part of ensemble casts. The science fiction movie he headlined, 2013’s Elysium, grossed $93 million domestic (and double that overseas) after an opening of $29.8 million, and he’s generally considered a solid draw at the box office given the right material.
The movie also stars Interstellar’s Jessica Chastain, who has also established herself with movies like Mama and Zero Dark Thirty, both which were substantial hits, the latter getting her a second Oscar nomination. Later this month, she’ll also be starring in Guillermo del Toro’s horror flick Crimson Peak, which should also show whether she can get people into theaters similarly to Mama. The movie also stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, who also received an Oscar nomination for 2013’s 12 Years a Slave; Jeff Daniels, who has gotten attention for his role on HBO’s “The Newsroom” and he also appears in Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs (which will platform next week), and many more – another great cast for Ridley Scott.
Scott is coming off two big bombs with last year’s Exodus: Gods and Kings, which only grossed $65 million domestically (although like many of Scott’s movies, it made its money back internationally where it grossed over $200 million) and before that, the drama The Counselor, starring Michael Fassbender, grossed just $16.9 million. Before that, Scott returned to science fiction and the “Alien” world with Prometheus, which grossed $127 million domestic after a $51 million opening.
And that’s pretty much the barometer being used for The Martian, although a better case would be for it to do as well as Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, which opened this same weekend two years ago with $55.7 million. Like Gravity, The Martian is getting a big push for its 3D, which will help because ticket prices are higher, but it won’t be getting the IMAX screens (because most of those screens are being used for Everest and The Walk), so that might keep it from defeating Gravity and taking the October opening record.
As it happens, the movie got an inadvertent bit of promotional push yesterday when NASA announced that there’s liquid water on Mars, which immediately got tied into the fact that The Martian was coming out Friday.
The Martian is probably good for $48 to 50 million this weekend, maybe even more, because the combination of material, genre, filmmaker and Matt Damon seems like the type of thing that could really do well among a wide range of mostly male moviegoers even with an October release. It should do decently over the weeks to come as well, so it probably can gross $150 million or more.
Drew Goddard Interview (Coming Soon!)
Director: Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Enemy, Incendies)
Writer: Taylor Sheridan
Cast: Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Victor Garber, Jon Bernthal
Genre: Crime, Thriller, Drama
What It’s About: FBI Agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is recruited by Matt Grazer (Josh Brolin) to join a DEA task force that’s commissioned to take down a deadly Mexican druglord in Juarez, but she soon learns that this team and its mysterious member Alejandro (Benico Del Toro) may be just as bad in the way they go about fighting their war on drugs.
Two weeks ago, Lionsgate opened the latest film from Prisoners director Denis Villeneuve in six theaters in New York and L.A. following a premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, and it achieved the highest per-theater average of the year with $66,900 per theater. Last week, Lionsgate expanded the movie into 59 theaters and it still did well enough to jump into the Top 10 with a little under $2 million. This weekend it will expand nationwide into over 2,500 theaters as it tries to take on other movies that received raves out of the Toronto International Film Festival.
Dennis Villeneuve is an Oscar-nominated French-Canadian filmmaker who started getting more attention in 2013 when his thriller Prisoners, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman, opened with $20.8 million on its way to $61 million domestic and the same amount internationally. (His next movie with Gyllenhaal, the odder indie Enemy, only grossed a million in limited release.)
Sicario doesn’t have quite the powerhouse box office power as Prisoners, although Emily Blunt is on quite a roll after last year’s Edge of Tomorrow starring Tom Cruise (another kick-ass role in a time travel movie similar to her previous movie Looper). Josh Brolin is coming off his role in Universal’s Everest, which doesn’t seem to be playing as strong post-opening as some thought it might, but he still is an actor who can help bring in people in the South in places like Texas (where the movie should also be popular among the Latino community). Benicio Del Toro hasn’t been in many movies lately that prove him to be any kind of draw even though he appeared in one of 2014’s biggest movies, Guardians of the Galaxy. His last big headliners were Oliver Stone’s Savages in 2012 and Universal’s attempt to revive The Wolfman two years earlier. The latter grossed more with $62 million domestic.
Probably the best comparison for Sicario will be Steven Soderbergh’s 2000 movie Traffic, which grossed $124 million and received numerous Oscar nominations (including Soderbergh’s only win), although that had a platform release later in the year (over Christmas weekend) and then did a lot of business due to its awards attention with $15.5 million grossed in its second weekend in early January 2001 where it expanded into 1,510 theaters. Sicario actually had a significantly better platform release than Traffic even without the holiday/awards bump, although we have to take into account 15 years of ticket inflation.
We must also remember that having played in cities like New York and L.A. for two weeks will cut into its opening weekend business, because it’s hard to see it faring as well in the suburbs and the Midwest where there isn’t as much of a Latino audience to help drive business. It’s also going to lose a lot of its male audience to the much stronger offering, The Martian, which also will do better among women.
In most cases, Sicario would do big business, but facing the competition of The Martian and returning films like Everest puts it in an awkward position where it will probably end up somewhere in the $11 to 13 million range, which isn’t terrible but also isn’t that great, although word-of-mouth should be good enough to get it to $40 to 50 million total.
This Weekend Last Year
It was the battle of the thrillers and it was an amazingly close race as David Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl (20th Century Fox), starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, took on Annabelle (New Line/WB), the spin-off/prequel to the horror hit The Conjuring. It ended up being a photo finish between the two as Annabelle won Friday with $15.5 million, beating Gone Girl by two million, but by Sunday the latter had pulled ahead and Gone Girl won the weekend by less than $400,000 with $37.5 million. Meanwhile, Nicolas Cage starred in the faith-based remake of Left Behind (Freestyle Releasing) and it bombed with $6.3 million in 1,820 theaters to settle for sixth place behind returning movies. The Top 10 grossed $136 million, but since The Martian won’t come close to the $74 million of last year’s Top 2, this weekend may fall slightly short of last year.
This Week’s Updated Predictions
The Martian should dominate with numbers in the range of Prometheus and Gravity, although the other new wide release Sicario is likely to be hurt by the amount of competition, allowing Hotel Transylvania 2 to take second place. Sony’s IMAX-only release The Walk should crawl into the Top 10 before its nationwide release next week.
UPDATE: I have no idea if the bad weather on the East Coast is going to affect business at the box office but I still think The Martian is going to do over $50 million and Sicario will have to settle for third.
1. The Martian (20th Century Fox) – $52.5 million N/A
2. Hotel Transylvania 2 (Sony Pictures) – $29 million -40%
3. Sicario (Lionsgate) – $13.0 million +600% (up .7 million)
4. The Intern (Warner Bros.) – $11 million -38%
5. Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (20th Century Fox) – $7.1 million -50%
6. Everest (Universal) – $7 million -48%
7. Black Mass (Warner Bros.) – $5.7 million -48%
8. The Visit (Universal) – $3.4 million -49%
9. War Room (Sony/Tristar) – $3 million -30%
10. The Walk (Sony/Tristar) – $2.6 million N/A
Joe Wright’s reinvention of Pan (Warner Bros.), as in Peter Pan, starring Levi Miller Hugh Jackman, Rooney Mara and Garrett Hedlund, comes out, while Robert Zemeckis’ The Walk (Sony) will expand nationwide after its IMAX release this weekend.
This Week’s Must-Sees
The Walk (Sony/Tristar Pictures)
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Kingsley, Charlotte Le Bon, James Badge Dale, Ben Schwartz
Genre: Adventure, Drama
What It’s About: In 1974, French high-wire artist Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) decided to try to walk across a wire strung before the then-unfinished twin towers of the World Trade Center and begins planning his “coup” along with his girlfriend Annie (Charlotte Le Bon) and a number of accomplices. The Walk is opening in IMAX theaters in select cities on Wednesday, Sept. 30 before expanding nationwide on October 9.
He Called Me Malala (Fox Searchlight)
Director: Davis Guggenheim
Stars: Malala Yousafzai, Ziauddin Yousafzai, Toor Pekai Yousafzai
What It’s About: On October 9, 2012, 15-year-old Pakistani student Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head while riding the school bus home after being targeted by the Taliban for standing up for education for girls and women. By a miracle she survived and began using her sudden fame to travel around the globe to help getting the word out, eventually being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize at the age of 17, the youngest person to ever receive it. An Inconvenient Truth director Davis Guggenheim spent over a year following Malala around during this period for this documentary, which will open in select cities on Friday and then expand nationwide on October 9.
Other Limited Releases of Note:
Director: Peter Sollett
Stars: Julianne Moore, Ellen Page, Michael Shannon, Steve Carell
What It’s About: New Jersey police detective Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore) has just met and begun a relationship with Stacie Andree (Ellen Page) and as they move in together, Laurel is diagnosed with cancer and discovers that she’s not allowed to give her pension to her domestic partner Stacie, so she calls upon her partner Dane (Michael Shannon) and activist Steven Goldstein (Steve Carell) to fight against the county officials. It will open in select cities on Friday and then expands nationwide on October 9.
Freeheld Review (Coming Soon)
Video Interviews with the Cast (Coming Soon!)
Labyrinth of Lies (Sony Pictures Classics)
Writer/Director: Giulio Ricciarelli
Stars: Alexander Fehling, Andre Szymanski, Johann von Bulow, Friederike Becht, Gert Voss
What It’s About: 20 years after the end of World War II, a journalist (Andre Szymanski) discovers that a local teacher is a former Auschwitz guard, and that there’s a denial among Germans about those who were involved in the concentration camps, so a local prosecutor (Alexander Fehling) takes it upon himself to fight against the system that is trying to cover up the crimes committed by Nazis who are still free among them. The German selection for this year’s Oscars which premiered during the festival season last year (at Cannes and then Toronto), will open Friday in New York and L.A.
Taxi (Kino Lorber)
Director: Jafar Panahi
Stars: Jafar Panahi
What It’s About: The banned Iranian filmmaker behind films like The Circle, Crimson Gold and Offside is now driving a cab through the streets of Tehran, picking up passengers and filming their conversations and getting involved in their lives. The film which is only part documentary won the Golden Bear at Berlin this year and will get a release in New York at the IFC Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinema and L.A. this weekend.
Shanghai (The Weinstein Company)
Director: Mikael Hafstrom
Stars: John Cusack, Gong Li, Chow Yun-Fat, David Morse, Ken Watanabe, Franka Potente, Jeffrey Dean Morgan
Genre: Drama, Thriller
What It’s About: After sitting on the shelf literally for five years, this long-delayed WWII drama starring John Cusack (made before the awful recent Asian film Dragon Gate in which he starred), will get released in roughly 100 theaters in select cities with Cusack playing an American spy in Shanghai who is investigating the murder of a friend months before Pearl Harbor as he gets pulled into a web of conspiracy and deceit involving a Triad boss (Chow Yun-Fat) and his wife (Gong Li).
When a movie sits on the shelf for five years after production is done and gets released all over the world except for the States, it’s pretty worrying and rightfully so. While watching Shanghai, it’s pretty easy to figure out why it got made, because its 1941 setting in the beautiful city of Shanghai and its WWII backdrop would normally be perfect for the kind of Oscar fare the Weinstein Company thrives upon. And you can see where on paper, this could have been a slam dunk.
For the most part, Shanghai is a noir-inspired spy thriller with John Cusack playing Paul Soames, an American spy posing as a newsman in the one Chinese city that’s yet to be invaded by Japan. Instead, different nationalities including Germans and Japanese all live in their respective sectors with Pearl Harbor still months away and the Americans not in the war yet. When Soames’ colleague Conner (Jeffrey Dean Morgan in a blink and you miss him role) is murdered, he starts investigating to try to find out who killed him which puts him in touch with Triad boss Anthony Lan-ting (Chow Yun-Fat), his beautiful wife Anna (Gong Li) and Japanese soldier Tanaka (played by Ken Watanabe, of course).
That’s a pretty darn good cast and the premise itself (with a screenplay by Hossein Amini) also is a solid one, but in the hands of director Mikael Hafstrom (who has made two movies since this one), the results are a beautiful and well-crafted film that’s exceedingly dull.
Cusack isn’t that bad in this, at least not compared to his other recent Asian film Dragon Gate, but it’s really the Asian actors that shine, which shouldn’t be much of a surprise considering their prestigious previous films.
The film looks fine with lush production design that does a fine job glamorizing the setting and time period, although the movie is more John Woo than it is Wong Kar Wai with two or three action scenes, mainly shoot-outs, that seem out of place amidst the heavier drama. The movie never quite finds its footing in terms of the pacing because of this, although all the performances are generally fine.
Shanghai isn’t altogether awful, but knowing that it has the potential to be so much better in the hands of a stronger director makes it a frustrating affair that never lives up to what it could have been. It probably didn’t deserve to be delayed for as long as it did–it might be close to setting some kind of record–but it’s understandable why it was hidden and buried for so long.
Attack on Titan Part 1 (FUNimation Entertainment)
Director: Shinji Higuchi
Stars: Haruma Miura, Hiroki Hasegawa, Kiko Mizuhara, Kanata Hongō, Takahiro Miura, Nanami Sakuraba, Matoru Matsuo, Satomi Ishihara, Pierre Taki, Jun Kunimura, Shu Watanabe, Ayame Misaki, Rina Takeda
Genre: Action, Science Fiction, Adventure
What It’s About: Hajime Isayama popular best-selling Japanese manga series is brought to theaters as a live-action adaptation, taking place in a post-apocalyptic world where humanity lives within connected cities with giant walls that keep the giant humanoid creatures known as Titans from eating the humans. Three yung friends, Eren Jaeger, his adoptive sister Mikasa and their friend Armin who join the military Survey Corps to fight the Titans after a Colossal Titan breaches the walls killing Eren’s mother. It will open in select cities and it should do as well as FUNimation’s last release, Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection F based on the popularity of the manga.
Brand: A Second Coming (Ignite Channel)
Director: Ondi Timoner
Stars: Russell Brand
Genre: Documentary, Comedy
What It’s About: Comedian Russell Brand is the latest subject of the new doc from Dig! Director Ondi Dimoner as it follows his rise to fame against heavy criticism. After opening the South by SouthWest Film Festival earlier this year, it will open in New York this Friday after playing in L.A. last week.
This Changes Everything (Abramorama/FilmBuff)
Director: Avi Lewis
Stars: Naomi Klein
What It’s About: Produced by Alfonso Cuaron, this doc is based on Naomi Klein’s bestseller that looks at the challenge of climate change on a number of international fronts as she visits a number of communities who are being affected by it. It opens at New York’s IFC Center on Friday.
Addicted to Fresno (Gravitas Ventures)
Director: Jamie Babbit
Stars: Natasha Lyonne, Judy Greer, Aubrey Plaza, Molly Shannon, Fred Armisen, Ron Livingston, Jessica St. Clair, Malcolm Barrett, Allison Tolman, Kumail Nanjiani, Clea DuVall
What It’s About: A comedy about two codependent sisters–Shannon who is fresh out of sex rehab and her younger lesbian sister Martha—who gets her a job as a maid at a Fresno hotel, but when Shannon relapses, she accidentally kills a hotel guest and they have to cover it up.
Northern Soul (Freestyle Releasing)
Writer/Director: Elaine Constantine
Stars: Elliot James Langridge, Joshua Whitehouse, Lisa Stansfield, Steve Coogan
Genre: Musical, Drama
What It’s About: John Clark, a young man from Lancashire, England, who is introduced to soul music by a local DJ named Matt (Joshua Whitehouse), as the two of them start a movement in their community that eventually becomes known as “Northern Soul.” After playing at the Toronto International Film Festival in the “City to City” section, it will open in select cities.
Deathgasm (Dark Sky Films)
Writer/Director: Jason Lei Howden
Stars: Milo Cawthorne, James Blake, Kimberley Crossman
Genre: Horror, Musical
What It’s About: Brodie and Zakk bond over their love of heavy metal, but their love for metal summons demonic forces. After premiering at the South by Southwest Festival earlier this year, it will be in select theaters and On Demand starting Friday.
Hell and Back (Freestyle Releasing)
Director: Tommy Gianas, Ross Shuman
Stars: Mila Kunis, TJ Miller, Michael Pena, Susan Sarandon, Bob Odenkirk, Danny McBride
What It’s About: An R-rated animated film about three friends who go down into the underworld to rescue one of their own comes from the studio responsible for the likes of “Robot Chicken” and “Bojack Horseman.”
Partisan (Well Go USA)
Director: Ariel Kleiman
Stars: Vincent Cassel, Jeremy Chabriel, Florence Mezzara
Genre: Drama, Thriller
What It’s About: An 11-year-old named Alexander living in a sequestered commune of children run by the charismatic Gregori (Vincent Cassell) begins to question Gregori’s influence when his behavior starts getting erratic and dangerous. This Sundance Film Festival selection opens in select cities.
Narcopolis (IFC Midnight)
Director: Justin Trefgarne
Stars: Elliot Cowan, Elodie Young, Jonathan Pryce
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi, Thriller
What It’s About: An action-thriller about hard-boiled policeman Frank Grieves (Elliot Cowan) who gets drawn into a conspiracy involving a mega-corporation and their new super-drug. It opens in New York and plays on VOD.
Being that Halloween is less than a month away, it makes sense that there are a bunch of horror movies. I’m sorry but it’s WAY too early for a Christmas movie like…
A Christmas Horror Story (RLJ Entertainment)
Director: Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban, Brett Sullivan
Stars: William Shatner, George Buza, Rob Archer
What It’s About: A young boy summons the Krampus, the anti-Santa that punishes naughty children, and everyone has to fight to survive. Trying to get out there before the likely far superior Krampus is this limited release starring William Shatner.
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Copyright 2015 Edward Douglas