Every January you’ll hear the same thing, that it’s all about the crappy movies that studios are dumping OR it’s about the Oscar contenders they’re hoping people will go see once movies start winning Golden Globes and the Oscar nominations are announced. In the case of this weekend, we have a little bit of both, and this is a week where basically everyone is back at work or school with less time to go to the movies, although a couple of “awards contenders” will be making a play for business where the movies have yet to play.
Of the movies expanding this weekend, Peter Berg’s military drama Lone Survivor (Universal), starring Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Eric Bana, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster, stands the best chance at making an impact, because the marketing has done a good job selling it as a dramatic real-life action thriller set in Afghanistan, the type of film older guys (20 and up?) may be interested in seeing once they’ve gotten past all the holiday fare.
Although the book was written by Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell and he’s played here by Mark Wahlberg, the movie is really more of an ensemble piece about a group of soldiers fighting for their lives and yet the movie’s best and easiest selling point will be that Wahlberg is the movie’s star (and producer), and he’s been doing the rounds quite extensively to pimp it. Wahlberg has been having a really nice run at the box office in the past couple of years with only a couple of recent and notable flops. He had a pretty significant hit on this weekend two years ago with Contraband, his first pairing with Iceland’s Baltasar Kormakur, which grossed more than $66 million domestically. A few months later, Wahlberg starred with a talking teddie in Seth MacFarlane’s Ted, which was an enormous summer hit for Universal, grossing $550 million worldwide. Last year, Wahlberg’s year started off poorly with Broken City, followed by Michael Bay’s Pain & Gain, but it was his reteaming with Kormakur on 2 Guns, an action-comedy that pit him against Denzel Washington, which became another hit for Wahlberg and Universal.
Peter Berg is coming off the absolutely abysmal Battleship (as is his star Taylor Kitsch) and hopefully that won’t hinder moviegoers from checking out his latest movie, since it is one of his best films. That’s not to take anything away from the rest of the cast who are all good actors, but none of them really can get people into the theaters like Wahlberg can.
True stories ripped from the headlines like the recent Sony hit Captain Phillips, pairing Tom Hanks and director Paul Greengrass, have generally fared well among moviegoers, and having Luttrell’s book as a starting point will certainly add more interest. In some ways it also can be compared to Ben Affleck’s Argo in terms of being a potential awards movie that could appeal more to mainstream audiences.
The movie first received buzz when it premiered at the AFI Fest in Los Angeles a few months back and it was quickly earmarked as an underdog Oscar contender. Since then, reviews have generally been good–most of the negative ones have been politically-tinged, questioning the veracity of the source material–and Universal has wisely screened it quite heavily to mainstream audiences to build word-of-mouth for its release on Friday. (I’m sure they’ve been able to air lots of commercials during the seasonal football games that have been taking place over the past few weeks to further generate interest.)
Releasing the movie wide in January after a limited release in December has a strong precedence as well – the first one being Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down, which grossed just $1.5 million in limited release in late 2012, but then it expanded nationwide on January 18 to the tune of $28.6 million. Last year, Sony took a similar approach with Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, expanding it nationwide after a short limited release in December, and as you can see below, it won the weekend over two new movies.
Lone Survivor doesn’t have quite the buzz of some of those other movies we’ve mentioned, but it’s definitely going to be the most viable option this weekend for guys and I expect it to be #1 with somewhere in the $20 million range, similar to some of Wahlberg’s other movies.
Two other movies are expanding wider after receiving platform releases in December – Spike Jonze’s Her (Warner Bros.), which has far more awards prestige, but is far quirkier and a harder sell than John Wells’ star-studded adaptation of Tracy Letts’ dysfunctional family stageplay August: Osage County (The Weinstein Company).
We’ll focus on Her first since that seems to be getting a more significant release into somewhere around 1,700 theaters with a lot more awards buzz out of the gate. Spike Jonze certainly has his fans thanks to his early movies Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, both done with Charlie Kaufman, and a few years back, he tackled Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, which took in almost $100 million worldwide after opening with $32.7 million domestically.
Her is an odd technological take on the romantic comedy with Joaquin Phoenix playing a writer who gets a new OS for his computer and smartphone, but this is an artificial intelligence voiced by Scarlett Johansson who is sensitive and funny and Phoenix’s character ends up falling in love with her and they end up dating. Yeah, it’s a weird premise, but the movie has been receiving rave reviews, ended up on many critics’ year-end lists and even won the National Board of Review’s top prize. With a number of guild nominations recently announced, that also might generate interest, but we have to look at a couple things that might significantly hurt its chances.
First of all, Phoenix’s track record has been spotty at best and even his starring role in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master last year led to a huge platform release, but the movie topped out at $16.3 million and he hasn’t really had any sort of significant hit since 2005 when he played Johnny Cash in Walk the Line. And let’s face it, he doesn’t exactly exude sex appeal, especially on the posters that makes the movie look like The 40-Year-Old Virgin 2 – that’s likely to lose potential female moviegoers right there.
It might be crazy for Warner Bros. to try to expand this movie nationwide so soon, though they’re obviously hoping to capitalize on the critical buzz and next week’s Oscar nominations that there should be enough interest in bigger cities among 20-something hipsters. It’s also a premise that probably far too many people can relate to at this point, because so many people are now more in tune with their smart phones and tablets than they are with other people. I’m just not sure the marketing really has done a good job selling the movie based on the premise, making it look more like Don Jon if you removed Scarlett Johansson from the screen. While the movie has already grossed $3 million during its limited run, it should be a popular choice among younger women and for date night, so we’re thinking it can make between $7 and 8 million more.
Now as far as August: Osage County, it has the pedigree of Tracy Letts’ play and it has an amazing cast that includes the ubiquitous Meryl Streep as well as Julia Roberts, who has not appeared in many movies in the past few years. The high pedigree of the cast includes the likes of Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewis, Margo Martindale and Sam Shepard, which adds to the fact that this is meant to be a high quality adaptation of the award-winning play.
That said, reviews for the movie have been mixed at best and while it was thought to be an early Oscar contender, it’s basically been dribbling its way through awards season with Golden Globe nods for Streep and Roberts and a SAG Ensemble nomination for the cast. The Weinstein Company obviously is releasing this wider in hopes one of the actresses wins a Globe (they won’t) or that it’ll carry over into Oscar nominations, but more than anything it’s being sold on the fact that it’s Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts in their first film together. There’s a good precedence for Meryl Streep with this sort of movie, since she appeared in the adaptation of Doubt, which platformed earlier and got its wide release over Christmas weekend 2008 to about $5.3 million in 1,267 theaters before motoring along to $33.4 million. The Weinstein Company was back in bed with Streep for 2011’s The Iron Lady, which is taking more of the approach of August, expanding into 800 theaters on Jan. 13 to the tune of $5.4 million.
Now for whatever reason, this movie is being sold as a comedy but it’s a darkly cynical movie that’s very hard to find any humor in it, and while there will certainly be older women more interested in this than any of the other choices, we don’t see a very big expansion. Depending on the theater count, this probably will be settling into the same $4 to 5 million range outside the Top 10, waiting to see if the Academy gives it enough love for a second weekend bump.
No Oscars or other awards will likely be coming anywhere near The Legend of Hercules (Summit), the first “swords and sandals” movie of 2014 which teams director Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2, Deep Blue Sea, going downhill from there) and starring “The Twilight Saga’s” Kellan Lutz as the Greek demigod from mythology who takes on a series of seemingly impossible tasks. Heck, forget about awards, we’re not even sure that actual moviegoers will want to part with their cash to see this, because no one can possibly have any sort of high hopes for a movie pairing those two. Apparently, Summit Entertainment must feel the same because they’re dumping the movie with a fairly low-key early January release into just 2,000 theaters. It also doesn’t put much confidence in a movie when they schedule the press screenings at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday night, essentially when the movie is opening anyway. With so many great movies in theaters and a few critically praised films expanding nationwide this weekend, this will likely end up somewhere in the mess that’s the lower half of the Top 10, that is if it isn’t bumped completely.
(If you get a chance, you should check out my special “Battle Cry” I wrote about the amount of “swords and sandals” movies coming out this year, of which The Legend of Hercules is the first. You can read that here.)
This weekend last year saw the release of two new wide releases, but it was the wide expansion of Oscar-winning filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty (Sony), starring Jessica Chastain, which would have the biggest impact as it hit nearly 3,000 theaters to the tune of $24.4 million to take the #1 spot from Texas Chainsaw 3D, which dropped all the way down to #9. Not that it stopped the return of Marlon Wayans’ latest horror spoof from making money as A Haunted House (Open Road Films) beat the latest “Scary Movie” to theaters by a number of months and pulled in an incredible $18.1 million in just 2,160 theaters for second place. After being delayed into the New Year, the Ryan Gosling-Josh Brolin-Emma Stone crime flick Gangster Squad (Warner Bros.), directed by Reuben (Zombieland) Fleischer had to settle for third place with $17.1 million in over 3,000 theaters. Still, it was a good January weekend at the box office with the Top 10 pulling in $112 million, which may be hard for this weekend to beat unless some of the expanding movies fare better than predicted.
This Week’s Updated Predictions –
UPDATE: More than the three limited releases expanding nationwide will be getting more theaters as the Coen Brothers’ Inside LLewyn Davis expands into 729 theaters and the Coenesque Nebraska, directed by Alexander Payne, goes into 521. This will give more people a chance to see two films that have received Golden Globes before they winners are announced on Sunday. Oddly enough, both of the movies mentioned have grossed nearly $7 million in limited release.
Other things of interest includes the fact that Disney is getting Saving Mr. Banks into more theaters, building on the buzz it generated over the holidays, while other studios are starting to let their movies from Christmas and before slip out of theaters to make room for all these prestige/awards films.
1. Lone Survivor (Universal) – $20.5 million +2392% (up .1)
2. Frozen (Walt Disney) – $11.5 million -42%
3. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (New Line/WB) – $8.3 million -47%
4. Her (Warner Bros.) – $8 million +1036%
5. The Legend of Hercules (Summit) – $7.8 million N/A (up .8 million and two places)
6. American Hustle (Sony) – $7.5 million -40% (Up .4 and one place)
7. Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (Paramount) – $7.4 million -60% (down one place)
8. The Wolf of Wall Street (Paramount) – $7.0 million – 46%
9. Saving Mr. Banks (Disney) – $5.7 million -35%
10. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (Paramount) – $5.4 million – 49%
— August: Osage County (The Weinstein Company) – $4.2 million +3741%
—Inside Llewyn Davis (CBS Films) – $3.3 million
— Nebraska (Paramount) – $1.5 million
Before we get to the limited releases, we want to mention a very special event airing on EPIX this weekend. First of all, the cable network will be premiering the documentary Milius, directed by Joey Figuero and Zak Knutson, on Saturday, January 11, at 8 p.m. along with airing some of Milius’ more famous films including Apocalypse Now, Dillinger, Flight of the Intruder, the original Red Dawn and Farewell to the King. It’s a great documentary by the duo who mainly have been directing Kevin Smith specials for the network, but they have been able to amass an astounding collection of filmmakers from Milius’ era, including Spielberg, Lucas, Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, all talking about Milius’ contributions to their work as well as his unconventional lifestyle while becoming one of Hollywood’s hottest screenwriters.
Here is the full schedule of Saturday’s schedule on EPIX with Milius airing at 8 p.m. and again at 1:45 a.m. It’s a great day of movie watching for anyone into the movies of the 70s and 80s. (Sadly, they won’t be showing the original Conan the Barbarian, though.)
9am – Apocalypse Now
11:30am – Red Dawn (1984)
1:30pm – Flight of the Intruder
3:30pm – Dillinger
5:25pm – Apocalypse Now
8pm – Milius
9:45pm – Red Dawn (1984)
11:45pm – Farewell to the King
1:45am – Milius
3:35am – Flight of the Intruder
Zoe Bell (Death Proof) and Rachel Nichols star in Josh C. Waller’s Raze (IFC Midnight) as two women who wake up in a concrete bunker, having been kidnapped by a group who have created a murderous fight club, threatening to murder the women’s families if they don’t fight each other to the death. Also starring Doug Jones and Sherilyn Fenn as the overseers of this nightmare scenario, it’s available On Demand and in select cities Friday.
At first “Raze seems like another claustrophobic high concept thriller ala “Saw” Or “Buried,” and then at other times it feels like one of those B-movie women’s prison flicks that Roger Corman used to make all the time though with better production values. Even with those references, you soon realize that there’s something far deeper going on because first-time director Josh Waller actually makes an effort to flesh out the characters before having them beat the hell out of each other.
It is a super-violent movie that lets you know straight-away what you’re in for, but there’s more to it than just a bunch of bloody catfights for the sake of exploitative entertainment. That’s why it can’t just easily be categorized and cast aside as a B action movie.
In fact, Zoe Bell ends up taking a back seat to the other actresses as she’s not allowed to fight after defeating her first combatant so effortless, and they decide to save her for the very end. Otherwise, the real standout is Rebecca Marshall as an absolute psychopath of a woman who relishes killing other women just for the sport of it, making her a very dangerous opponent to the women who actually have family members. There’s also a really nice turn by Doug Jones (sans prosthetics!) as the creepy overseer of this fight club with his wife, played by Sherilyn Fenn, in an ultra-crazy performance.
The writing could be better and some of the performances go over-the-top – and of course, it’s a lot of watching women beat the hell out of each other, which makes for a fairly grim affair because its hard to be entertained by such extreme levels of violence. What’s good is that it’s all tempered by more dramatic moments where we learn why these women are willing to do whatever it takes to survive the experience and we learn more about these women than the fact they are able to kick ass and kill each other. Frankly, is this premise really that much more disturbing or shocking than something like “Fight Club” or even “The Hunger Games”? Probably not, though I do feel somewhat hypocritical that I liked this movie as much as I did because it’s a similar exercise in how much violence one can endure, which is partially why I held so much contempt for the popular “You’re Next” for similar reasons.
Maybe one of the reason the movie works so well is that Josh Waller is a talented filmmaker with a unique vision, putting him among the ranks of Nicolas Refn, Jim Mickle and yes, even Wingard/Barrett, in an attempt to create a genre film that literally pulls no punches. He certainly has a good eye for a shot using a stark color palette and solid action choreography, but what really makes the film special is the amazing high-energy score by Frank Riggio, combined with sound architecture that would make it a great stand-alone soundtrack.
And even if the violence becomes too much for you, the balls-to-the-walls ending will absolutely thrill any fans of Tarantino and Rodriguezs recent revenge movies, making it true “grindhouse” through and through.
Francesca Gregorini’s The Truth About Emanuel (Tribeca Film) stars newcomer Kaya Scodelario as a troubled teenager who becomes obsessed with her mysterious neighbor (Jessica Biel) who looks a lot like her dead mother as the girl creates a fantasy world to escape from reality.
Alice Eve stars in Cold Comes the Night (Stage 6/Samuel Goldwyn Films) from Tze Chun (Children of Invention) playing a motel owner who is taken hostage with her daughter by a nearly blind criminal, played by Bryan Cranston, who gets the help of a crooked cop (Logan Marshall-Green, Prometheus) to recover his money.
Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Gross make their directorial debut with In Bloom (Big World Pictures), Georgia (the country, not the state)’s entry into the Oscar foreign language race, inspired by the former’s memories of her youth growing up with her teenaged friends during the troubled and violent era of the country.
Michael Sheen, Lena Headey, Sam Neill and Ioan Gruffudd star in The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box (RLJ/Image Entertainment), directed by Jonathan Newman, a family-friendly fantasy adventure based around 17-year-old Mariah Mundi whose younger brother is kidnapped and his parents vanish, forcing him to find clues among long lost artifacts and the deadly secrets of the Midas Box.
Blair Erickson’s thriller Banshee Chapter (XLRator Media), apparently based on real CIA documents, stars Michael McMillian as a man who has been experimenting with mind-altering drugs, drawn into secret government chemical research along with a journalist (Katia Winter) and a counter-culture writer (Ted Levine).
Geoff Marslett’s Loves Her Gun (Devolver Digital Films) stars Trieste Kelly Dunn as a jobless woman with a lame boyfriend who leaves New York after being attacked for the slower pace of Austin, Texas, getting involved in the local gun culture in order to feel safer.
Wordplay director Patrick Creadon’s latest doc If You Build It looks at the education system in the poor rural area of Bertie County, North Carolina where designer-activists Emily Pilloton and Matthew Miller work with local high school students to help transform their lives and community.
Next week, the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend sees the release of four new movies including Chris Pine’s return as the new face of Tom Clancy’s CIA hero in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (Paramount), Kevin Hart and Ice Cube’s police action-comedy Ride Along (Universal), the found footage horror film Devil’s Due (20th Century Fox) and the animated family movie The Nut Job (Open Road).
You can read stuff like this and regular box office, awards and festival coverage on the Weekend Warrior Blog and to keep up with the latest articles and posts, you can follow us on Twitter.
Copyright 2014 Edward Douglas