It’s pretty amazing how November comes along and all of a sudden people want to go to the movies again… well, except for the movies released last weekend, but that’s because studios have much more enticing fare like this week’s offerings, which includes the finale to one of the biggest global franchises of the past five years, as well as a few movies that will try to make a mark against it.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2
Director: Francis Lawrence (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The Hunger Game: Mockingjay Part 1, Constantine, I Am Legend, Water for Elephants)
Writer: Peter Craig, Danny Strong
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Willow Shields, Sam Claflin, Jena Malone, Natalie Dormer, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland
Genre: Action, Science Fiction
What It’s About: After rescuing a brainwashed Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) from the Capitol, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) lead an elite team into the Capitol to take the fight directly to President Snow (Donald Sutherland) as the war over Panem reaches a climactic point.
After the huge success of the movies based on Stephenie Meyer’s “The Twilight Saga,” every studio was looking for young adult properties to adapt into film, and Suzanne Collins’ best-selling The Hunger Games and its two follow-up books became the perfect source material for what’s become a true box office phenomenon. The original The Hunger Games opened with $152.5 million in March 2012, instantly entering the top openings of all time, and its sequel The Hunger Games: Catching Fire opened even bigger two years ago this weekend. It immediately raised Jennifer Lawrence to superstar status (helped by her Oscar win for Silver Linings Playbook) although we have yet to see if it’s helped her co-stars Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth.
Last year, the third movie in the series and the first half of Mockingjay opened with $122 million which was a lower opening than the previous two movies, and it also received a lower CinemaScore of “B+” compared to the “A” of previous ones, which shows that maybe audiences had grown tired of the series.
The “Harry Potter” movies started this annoying trend by splitting J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows into two parts, Part 1 opening in November 2010 and Part 2 following in July 2011. Part 1 opened with $125 million, the biggest opening for the series, but the sequel opened even bigger with $169 million, which at the time was the biggest domestic opening of all time. It went on to gross $381 million domestic and $1.3 billion worldwide, which was a new high for the series. Following suit, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 opened with $138 million a few months later on its way to $281.3 million worldwide while the sequel opened slightly bigger and grossed slightly more exactly one year later.
It’s hard to determine where The Hunger Games falls on the scale between “Harry Potter” and “The Twilight Saga,” although the latter is a better direct comparison because both parts were released during the same season rather than one in November and one in the summer. Mockingjay Part 2 will probably fall somewhere in between because moviegoers will probably know by now that it’s better to wait until “Part 2” in order to appreciate the full story rather than the set-up of “Part 1.”
Like with Spectre (and unlike “Part 1”), this installment actually has some other movies attempting to steal some of its business and that could theoretically keep it from setting a new opening record for the series like the finale of “Deathly Hallows.” On the other hand, Part 2 is generally better than Part 1 and already has better reviews, so fans of the books will probably be more excited to see how things end leading to a significantly bigger opening, especially with October and last weekend being so slow.
The definition of an event movie, the final chapter in “The Hunger Games” series should bring out a lot more fans of the books than its predecessor allowing for an opening in the $140 million range give or take a million on its way to $350 million or more domestic, although it’s likely to be kept from $400 million by the X-factor that is Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
The Night Before
Director: Jonathan Levine (50/50, Warm Bodies, The Wackness)
Writer: Jonathan Levine, Evan Goldberg, Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie, Lizzy Caplan, Jillian Bell, Michael Shannon, Mindy Kaling
Genre: Comedy, Holiday
What It’s About: Three best friends, Ethan, Isaac and Chris (Gordon-Levitt, Rogen, Mackie), have an annual Christmas tradition to spend Christmas Eve together, partying while visiting New York holiday landmarks like the tree at Rockefeller Center. With Isaac having a baby, this will probably be their last year for the tradition so they go one last big Christmas Eve bender while trying to get to the elusive Nutcracker Ball party.
The first movie stepping up to “The Hunger Games” this weekend is the latest R-rated stoner comedy from Seth Rogen, reteaming him with his 50/50 co-star Joseph Gordon-Levitt and director Jonathan Levine, who came up with the concept for and co-wrote this unconventional holiday comedy.
Following in the footsteps of Cheech and Chong, Rogen and his writing/production partner Evan Goldberg have become the main purveyors of stoner comedies going back to their early films Superbad and The Pineapple Express, which were huge hits in the summers of 2007 and 2008 with Rogen coming off the Judd Apatow hit Knocked Up in 2007. The duo continued their successful relationship with Sony with another semi-hit in 2011’s The Green Hornet, which culminated in the duo writing and directing 2013’s apocalyptic comedy This Is the End, which opened against the juggernaut of Man of Steel and still managed to debut with over $20 million and grossing $100 million. Last summer, they produced the hit comedy Neighbors, which teamed Rogen with Zac Efron (who can’t seem to get a hit otherwise) and that grossed $150 million.
And then came The Interview. The duo’s second film as directors seemed like an odd concept for a movie with Rogen and long-time pal James Franco playing news guys who are invited to North Korea to interview Kim Jong-un (played by Randall Park) and while it probably wasn’t going to make much money opening over Christmas, Sony was hacked and lots of sensitive material was released publically and the hackers threatened to cause even more trouble if they released the movie. It was thought that North Korea itself was responsible for the hack and terrorist threats, and though it was never fully confirmed, it did its damage and The Interview was pulled for release and then only released through smaller independent theaters and released on VOD at the same time. Because of this, it only grossed $6.1 million theatrically and Rogen’s recent appearance in Steve Jobs hasn’t helped that to fare much better as it’s been pulled from theaters topping out at $17.4 million.
Rogen really needs to get a hit to get back on track, and his co-stars haven’t really proven themselves as big draws with Rogen’s last movie with Gordon-Levitt, 50/50, grossing just $35 million, and Gordon-Levitt’s directorial Don Jon ended up with less than that, while his recent movie with Robert Zemeckis, The Walk, bombed just a few weeks back.
Holiday comedies can definitely be hit or miss, but this is definitely the right season for them as seen by how well the awful-looking Love the Coopers did last weekend despite awful reviews. The Night Before is by no means the first stoner holiday comedy, the most recent one being A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, which opened on November 4, 2011 to just $12.9 million on its way to $35 million, slightly less than its predecessor in the series.
Reviews should generally be good (check out those quotes from ComingSoon.net’s Silas Lesnick!) and it should bring in Rogen’s built-in audience, although it’s probably going to be a lighter opening followed by more people checking it out over Thanksgiving via word-of-mouth.
Facing the last chapter of The Hunger Games is a bear for this funny holiday comedy and that might keep it from really exploding its opening weekend. It should open with $14 to 16 million, which should give it a chance at second place. More importantly, having Thanksgiving and the holidays should help with its legs as people get into the proper holiday spirit, which should allow it to make $55 to $60 million or even more in theaters.
Distributor: STX Entertainment
Writer/Director: Billy Ray (Breach, Smashed Glass, writer Captain Phillips)
Cast:Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts
Genre: Drama, Thriller, Mystery
What It’s About: In this English remake of the Oscar-winning Argentinian film of the same name, investigators Ray and Jess (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Julia Roberts) have their worlds shaken up when her daughter is murdered and thirteen years later, Ray uncovers a lead that might help him find the vicious murdered and bring closure to the team.
Back in 2010, a movie that practically no one had seen from Argentina called The Secret in their Eyes, based on the book by Eduardo Sacheri, won the Oscar foreign language award over a couple other more critically-acclaimed films. While it did make $6.4 million for distributor Sony Pictures Classics, it was one of the foreign films that could easily be translated into English which is what Oscar-nominated screenwriter Billy Ray (Captain Phillips) decided to pursue as his third film as a director.
Obviously, he must have written an intriguing script because superstar actress Julia Roberts signed on, making this her first movie since 2013’s August Osage County, which got her a fourth Oscar nomination and grossed $10 million in its first week of wide release in just 905 theaters after a platform release over the holidays. It ended up grossing $37.8 million, which was basically on par with some of Roberts’ recent films like Duplicity and Larry Crowne (directed by Tom Hanks)
Chiwetel Ejiofor also signed on as a follow-up to his own Oscar-nominated role in 12 Years a Slave, also from 2013, which helped put the actor on the map despite years of slaving (ha ha) away in smaller roles in movies like Roland Emmerich’s 2012. The movie even has Nicole Kidman in a smaller role as their supervisor, but at this point, it’s hard to see her as much of a box office draw after numerous bombs and movies being dumped to cable and On Demand without theatrical releases.
While Roberts probably is the biggest draw of the bunch, there’s little to say that audiences might want to see this over other things in theaters, because it doesn’t look particularly appealing or exciting.
Secret in Their Eyes is only the second release from fledgling studio STX Entertainment, who had a decent-sized hit earlier this year with Joel Edgerton’s thriller The Gift, and they’ve been a big player in terms of picking up high-profile movies at festivals since then. Their first actual film production The Boy will be released in January. It doesn’t seem like Secret in Their Eyes has been quite as easy to market as The Gift, so it’s relying entirely on Roberts’ star power and her fans wanting to see her, and based on how well Our Brand is Crisis did a few weeks back, that doesn’t seem that promising a prospect.
As we’ve seen a lot last month, movies that don’t have a lot of draw other than having box office superstars aren’t going to get people into theaters and opening a dramatic thriller against the finale of The Hunger Games, which will have more appeal to many of the women who normally might give this look, doesn’t give this much of a chance to open more with more than $10 million. It’s more likely to end up in the $7 to 9 million range with the chance of making $25 to 28 million total.
Also expanding nationwide this weekend is Tom McCarthy’s Boston-based journalism drama Spotlight (Open Road), starring Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Liev Schreiber, Rachel McAdams, Stanley Tucci and more. With some of the biggest critical raves of the year, it should be able to grab some business on its way to awards season, although as we saw with Steve Jobs a couple weeks back, critical raves don’t necessarily get moviegoers excited. It’s done decently in limited release, grossing just under $3 million and it should be able to bring in about $4 to 5 million or so as it expands into over 400 theaters on Friday.
This Weekend Last Year
Last year’s The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (Lionsgate) had the benefit of opening without any other new movies, but it still had the lowest opening for the series so far with $122 million in 4,151 theaters, or $29,366 per theater, and again, that was without any of the competition this week’s installment has. It went on to gross $337 million which was significantly less than the $400 million plus of the previous two movies, but it still ended up being the #2 movie for 2014 (bested only by American Sniper, which made most of its money in 2015, actually).
This Week’s Updated Predictions
While The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 will win the weekend with ease, there will probably be more of a race for second place as the holiday comedy The Night Before edges into the same general territory where SPECTRE and The Peanuts Movie will end up in their third weekends. Secret in Their Eyes and Spotlight should follow.
1. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 (Lionsgate) – $133.0 million N/A (down 2.4 million)
2. SPECTRE (Sony/MGM) – $16.3 million -54%
3. The Night Before (Sony) – $15.3 million N/A (up .3 million)
4. The Peanuts Movie (20th Century Fox) – $14.5 million -40%
5. Secret in Their Eyes (STX Entertainment) – $8.5 million N/A (up .1 million)
6. Love the Coopers (CBS Films) – $4.6 million -45%
7. Spotlight (Open Road) – $4.2 million +261% (up .2 million and one spot)
8. The Martian (20th Century Fox) – $3.8 million -45% (down .5 million and one spot)
9.The 33 (Warner Bros.) – $3.0 million -46%
10. Bridge of Spies (DreamWorks) – $2.3 million -47% (down .7 mllion)
It’s Thanksgiving weekend and Pixar Animation is back with their second movie of the year, The Good Dinosaur (Disney/Pixar), while Fruitvale’s Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan continue the “Rocky” legacy with Creed (Warner Bros.) and James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe try to revive another one with Victor Frankenstein (20th Century Fox). And we’ll have an important announcement next week as well.
This Week’s Must-Sees
Mustang (Cohen Media Group)
Director: Deniz Gamze Ergüven
Stars: Günes Sensoy, Doga Zeynep Doguslu, Elit Iscan, Tugba Sunguroglu, Ilayda Akdogan
What It’s About: Five Turkish sisters get in trouble with their father when they play innocently with a bunch of boys from school on the beach, so he confines them to their home, forces them to learn how to cook and do domestic duties and begins to create arranged marriages for them so that they can settle down and not turn into wild teenagers. It opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.
This is a really special film that’s been playing the festival circuit all year and not surprisingly is France’s submission for the Oscars, because it’s such a wonderful take on the coming-of-age film showing how young women of a different culture have to rebel against their elders in order to live their lives as free women rather than being married off. The cast of young women that Deniz has assembled are impressive not only due to their similarities that make them look like sisters, but also by the personalities they exude throughout the film. As the two older teenage sisters get married off, it’s down to the younger ones to try to rebel and escape, including the one sister that’s into soccer who sneaks out to attend the women’s only game. It’s just amazing to me that there can still be a society like this where women are so repressed and seeing films like this and the doc He Called Me Malala really makes me wonder when things are going to change. I was a little surprised by how much I enjoyed this because it does seem like something that might be more enjoyable for young women, but the story just connects and it’s an amazing feature length debut from the French filmmaker. (It makes a great bookend to another French film that played at Sundance called Girlhood.)
Carol (The Weinstein Company)
Director: Todd Haynes
Stars: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson, Kyle Chandler, Jake Lacy, Carrie Brownstein, John Magaro
What It’s About: After amateur photographer and shop clerk Therese (Rooney Mara) meets the glamorous Carol (Cate Blanchett) at the store, she becomes quite infatuated with her, but being the ‘60s, the women can’t fully pursue their relationship as Carol is in the middle of a custody battle with her estranged husband (Kyle Chandler).
Other Limited Releases of Note:
Director: Brian Helgeland
Stars: Tom Hardy, Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, David Thewlis, Christopher Eccleston, Chazz Palminteri, Tara Fitzgerald, Taron Egerton
Genre: Crime, Thriller, Drama
What It’s About: Tom Hardy plays the dual roles of Ron and Reggie Kray, the notorious London gangsters that held the city in check during the ‘60s while they each dealt with their own personal issues.
#Horror (IFC Midnight)
Writer/Director: Tara Subkoff
Stars: Chloe Sevigny, Natasha Lyonne, Taryn Manning, Timothy Hutton
What It’s About: A group of privileged 12-year-old girls face a night of horror when their online social media game goes from cyber bulling to them being pursued by a killer. In case there aren’t enough technology-based horror films already out there, this will open at the IFC Center and L.A.’s Arena Cinema on Friday as well as On Demand and then in more cities in the weeks to follow.
Criminal Activities (RLJ Entertainment)
Director: Jackie Earl Haley
Stars: John Travolta, Michael Pitt, Dan Stevens, Christopher Abbott, Rob Brown, Edi Gathegi, Jackie Earle Haley
What It’s About: Oscar-nominated actor Jackie Earl Haley makes his directorial debut with this thriller about four friends who make an investment using the money of a notorious crime boss who isn’t happy when the “great deal” goes sour, so they’re forced to kidnap a family member of his competition for payback.
A couple other foreign films opening Friday (also at the IFC Center)…
Mediterranea (Sundance Selects)
Director: Jonas Carpignano
Stars: Koudous Seihon, Alassane Sy
What It’s About: A look at African refugees and best friends Ayiva and Abas as they risk everything to start a new life in Italy, facing horrible obstacles on their journey and trying to find work to provide for their families.
The Summer of Sangaile (Strand Releasing)
Writer/Director: Alanté Kavaïté
Stars: Aiste Dirziute, Julija Steponaityte, Nele Savicenko
What It’s About: A coming of age film about a 17-year-old obsessed with stunt planes but whose fear of heights keeps her from every flying in one until she meets the boisterous and daring Auste, and their relationship turns to romance. Having played at the Berlin and Sundance Film Festivals (where it won a directing award at the latter), this coming of age film that plays with similar themes as Todd Haynes’ Carol, is Lithuania’s official entry to the Oscars.
And a slew of documentaries are also released this weekend…
Censored Voices (Music Box Films)
Writer/Director: Mor Loushy
Stars: Amos Oz, Avraham Shapira
What It’s About: Based on the book of the same name, this doc presents for the first time ever the uncensored recordings between author Amos Oz and Israeli soldiers returning from the 1967 Six Day War, which ended with Israel’s victory to capture Gaza and the West Bank, combined with archival footage from the times.
Director: Camilia Nielsson
What It’s About: A look at the political process in Zimbabwe and its attempts to create a democracy following the tyranny of Robert Mugabe’s dictatorship with two political rivals trying to draft a new constitution for the country. It opens at New York’s Film Forum on Wednesday.
Very Semi-Serious (HBO Films)
Director: Leah Wolchok
Stars: Bob Mankoff, David Remnick, Roz Chast, Mort Gerberg
What It’s About: A documentary about the 90 year tradition of The New Yorker’s single panel cartoons following the magazine’s cartoon editor Bob Mankoff as he goes through hundreds of pitches and submissions each week to find the best and funniest work for each issue. The film also has interviews with cartoonists Roz Chast and Mort Gerberg and young hopeful Liana Finck, and it will get a limited release before its debut on HBO on December 7.
Kingdom of Shadows (Participant Media)
Writer/Director: Bernardo Ruiz
What It’s About: A look at the 23,000 individuals, the “disappeared,” who have gone missing in Mexico since 2007 due to the drug war going on there, as seen through the eyes of three different individuals trying to fight against the drug cartels.
I Am Thor (Dark Sky Films)
Director: Ryan Wise
Stars: Jon Mikl Thor
What It’s About: A look at the career of the bodybuilder and rock star who tried to make it big with his band THOR in the ‘70s and ‘80s with no luck, but he ends his retirement to try to mount a comeback to find the success he wasn’t able to get earlier in his career.
Frame by Frame
Director: Alexandria Bombach & Mo Scarpelli
What It’s About: This documentary looks at the photography revolution that thrived in Afghanistan after the Taliban regime (that considered taking photos a crime) fell from power, as seen through the work of four Afghan photojournalists who pursue a dangerous occupation. Like many of the movies above, it opens at the IFC Center on Friday.
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Copyright 2015 Edward Douglas