March continues to be the winter/spring month where studios seem to favor releasing some of their bigger potential tentpoles, partially thanks to previous hits like The Hunger Games and the original 300. This week, we have the start of a potential franchise based on a series of popular Young Adult novels and the sequel to Disney’s revival of Jim Henson’s popular Muppets, both of them trying to take advantage of many schools being on spring break in hopes they’ll do decent business.
The big release of the weekend would be Divergent (Summit), the first movie in a potential series based on Veronica Roth’s bestselling young adult series of novels which is looking to be the “next Twilight” oh, wait no.. now every movie based on a young adult novel would rather be the “next Hunger Games.” This one stars a very odd mix of actors with Shailene Woodley and Theo James in the main roles, joined by the ever-present Miles Teller and Ansel Elgort as the other teens, Ashley Judd, Maggie Q, Ray Stevenson, Jai Courtney and Kate Winslet?? Yeah, seeing the name of an Oscar-winning actress on the cast list definitely threw me for a loop the rest of them? Not so much.
Directed by Neil Burger, who had a minor hit with the Bradley Cooper thriller Limitless a couple of years back, Divergent is basically a movie made for fans of the book and it’s hard to determine whether any interest in this movie has spilled over to those who haven’t read it. However much you love or hate or have no opinion on Roth’s books, you have to admit that “Divergent” is an absolutely terrible name both for a book and a movie. It’s not something that jumps off the digital marquees to anyone but those who have read the book, so you’re not really going to see much casual business beyond those who already know the material.
Fandango is claiming that Divergent sold more tickets for opening day than the original Twilight movie and is among one of the biggest first day advance ticket sellers when tickets went on sale last week. That be as it may, but comparing this movie to the very first “Twilight” movie seems irrelevant, firstly because that opened under $70 million but also those were different times when Fandango wasn’t quite at the height of ticket sales where it is now, over five years later, so yeah, of course it’s going to be outselling the first Twilight.
Either way, there is a young female fanbase for the books, enough that we think Divergent stands a good chance at bringing in somewhere in the low $60 millions, although most of that business will be on Thursday and Friday – expect it to do north of $25 million in its first day alone. It doesn’t seem likely this will have as much repeat or word-of-mouth business as “The Hunger Games,” so we think this one will probably end up with around $150 million.
Undaunted by taking on a possible new franchise juggernaut, Disney has decided that March spring break is the best time to release the sequel Muppets Most Wanted (Walt Disney), which bring back Kermit, Miss Piggy and all the favorites, joined by humans Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey and Ty Burrell, for a European adventure involving an amphibian criminal mastermind named Constantine, who looks a lot like Kermit.
Disney successfully revived the Muppets as movie characters back in 2011 when they opened The Muppets the day before Thanksgiving and it raked in $41.5 million in its first five days on its way to $88.6 million. That’s not a huge blockbuster compared to some of Disney’s other Thanksgiving releases but still a good showing that people still want to see the Muppets on the big screen, something that wasn’t quite evident from the diminishing returns with each successive Muppet movie between 1979’s The Muppet Movie ($65 mill. gross) and 1999’s Muppets in Space ($16 mil. gross).
As far as the here and now, the Muppets continue to be hugely popular, not just among the adults who grew up with them but also with their kids and even teenagers as the Jim Henson studios have tried to make them hipper by teaming them with celebrities and big name music acts. They’re definitely much hipper than they used to be and that will certainly help get a wide variety of fans into theaters even if the premise looks somewhat lame. The presence of hipster faves like Tina Fey and Ricky Gervais should help with the 20-to-30 somethings as well, whether or not they have kids.
Schools closing for spring break across the country will be a big help for the movie’s opening day as well as its possibility for legs as families look for other things to see besides Mr. Peabody & Sherman, The LEGO Movie and Frozen, which are all currently capitalizing from spring break. We expect that Muppets fans young and old will be out to see this, as well as those who have no interest in Divergent, so Muppets Most Wanted has a good chance at close to a $30 million opening on its way to roughly the same amount as its predecessor ($80 to 90 million).
Also this weekend, there’s another new movie called God’s Not Dead (Freestyle Releasing), which I know next to nothing about except that it’s one of those independently-produced Christian movies that’s getting an insanely wide release into 780 theaters. I honestly haven’t seen anything about this so all I know is that it’s a movie and that Kevin Sorbo and Dean Cain are in it and one assumes most of the promotion for the movie is happening in the South and MidWest and other places. Despite its moderate nationwide release, we think this will probably top out around $2.5 million for the weekend, although it would be ironic if it bumps Son of God from the Top 10.
This weekend last year really took advantage of schools being on spring break with two movies opening decently over $30 million, and DreamWorks Animation having a mini-comeback with the release of the stone age family comedy The Croods (DreamWorks Animation/Fox), featuring the voices of Nicolas Cage and Emma Stone, which opened with $43.6 million in over 4,000 theaters, more on par with some of the animation house’s previous movies. Taking a solid second place was the Gerard Butler action-thriller Olympus Has Fallen (FilmDistrict) with just over $30 million in 3,000 theaters – little did they know that they were killing Roland Emmerich’s summertime White House invasion movie in the process. Tina Fey and Paul Rudd starred in the comedy Admission (Focus Features), which got a more moderate release into 2,160 theaters where it brought in $6.2 million to open in fifth place. The Top 10 grossed $127 million which should be easy to beat if Divergent and the Muppets movie do as well or better than we think.
This Week’s Predictions –
1. Divergent (Summit) – $62.1 million N/A
2. Muppets Most Wanted (Walt Disney) – $27.6 million N/A
3. Mr. Peabody & Sherman – $12.5 million -43%
4. 300: Rise of an Empire (Legendary/WB) – $9.0 million -53%
5. Need for Speed (DreamWorks) $8.5 million -52%
6. Non-Stop – $6 million -43%
7. The LEGO Movie (Warner Bros.) – $4.6 million -40%
8. Tyler Perry’s The Single Moms Club (Lionsgate) – $4.2 million -50%
9. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Fox Searchlight) – $3.5 million 0%
10. Son of God (20th Century Fox) – $2.7 million -51%
11. God’s Not Dead (Freestyle Releasing) – $2.5 million N/A
This Week’s Limited Releases:
Action, Crime, Thrillers and Horror:
E.L. Katz’s Cheap Thrills (Drafthouse Films), which won an Audience Award winner at the 2013 SXSW Film Festival, stars Pat Healy as a down on his luck man about to be evicted who runs into an old friend he hasn’t seen in years, played by Ethan Embry. Before they can spend too much time catching up, they encounter a couple (David Koechner, Sara Paxton) who convince them to go back to their places and take on a number of challenges to make money, leading them to new lows in terms of what they will do for cash.
City Island director Raymond de Felitta returns with Rob the Mob (Millennium), a crime-comedy of sorts based on a true story and starring Michael Pitt and Nina Arianda, a couple of small offense New York criminals who in the midst of the John Gotti trial decide that they can get away with robbing a number of mob hangout places
Interview with Raymond de Felitta (Coming Soon!)
David Morse stars in Josh C. Waller’s McCanick (Well Go USA) as narcotics detective Eugene McCanick, who along with his partner Floyd (Mike Vogel) go after a young criminal (the late Cory Monteith from “Glee”) just released from jail. Also starring Ciaran Hinds, it opens in select cities Friday.
Months after being picked up following its premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, Guillame Canet’s crime-thriller Blood Ties (Roadside Attractions) is finally released. Set in 1974 New York and starring Clive Owen as Chris, a former mobster released from prison on good behavior whose younger brother Frank (Billy Crudup) is a police officer. The film looks at the family dynamics between the family with the brothers’ father (James Caan). Also starring Mila Kunis, Zoe Salanda and Canet’s “partner” Marion Cotillard, it opens in select cities.
Denmark’s potentially mad filmmaker Lars von Trier returns with Nymphomaniac: Volume 1 (Magnolia), the first part of his sexual epic journey of a woman named Joe, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, who is found badly beaten by a man (Stellan Skarsgard) who takes her to his home, and she tells him her story. The younger Joe is played by Stacy Martin and the film also stars Shia LaBeouf, Christian Slater and Uma Thurman. Von Trier’s latest has already been playing On Demand and available on iTunes for a couple of weeks, but it opens theatrically in select cities on Friday, while Volume II will open theatrically on April 4 after its VOD release this coming Thursday, March 20.
My Review (Coming Soon!)
Apparently, a single week can’t go by without a movie starring James Franco as he appears in Maladies (Tribeca Film) from multimedia artist Carter (just one name), playing a 60s New York soap opera who goes with his sister (Fallon Goodson) to the seaside home of their friend (Catherine Keener) to work on his writing. It also stars David Strathairn and Alan Cumming.
Rob Meyer’s A Birder’s Guide to Everything (Screen Media Films) stars Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road) as David Portnoy, a 15-year-old birding fanatic who thinks that he’s made the discovery of a lifetime. So, on the eve of his father’s remarriage, he escapes on an epic road trip with his best friends to solidify their place in birding history.
Foreign Films of Interest:
One of the five foreign language films nominated for last year’s Oscars is Rithy Panh’s documentary The Missing Picture (Strand Releasing), in which he looks for missing pictures from when the Khmer Rouge ruled over Cambodia from 1975 to 79, using various media to recreate them.
Bertrand Tavernier’s The French Minister (Sundance Selects), which closed Lincoln Center’s “Rendezvous with French Cinema” this past Sunday, is based on the graphic novel “Weapons of Mass Diplomacy” by Abel Lanza, a comedy set in the French ministry of foreign affairs and starring Thierry Lhermitte, Raphaël Personnaz and Niels Arestrup. It opens at New York’s IFC Center on Friday, as does Jerome Bonnell’s Just a Sigh (Distrib Films), starring Emmanuelle Devos as a broke French actress who meets a handome stranger (Gabriel Byrne) on a train. The latter will open in L.A on March 28.
Documentaries of Note:
To no fault of anyone but my own messed-up schedule, I’ve been trying to no avail for months to see Jodorowsky’s Dune (Sony Pictures Classics), a documentary by Frank Pavich, which is a shame because I’m intrigued by cult 70s filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky’s work, films like El Topo and Holo Mountain, as well as a fan of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi “Dune.” Apparently, Jodorowsky tried to mount a film based on the series of novels starring Orson Welles, Mick Jagger and David Carradine before David Lynch’s failed attempt over a decade later. This document of that attempt opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday.
Academy Award-winner Freida Mock’s documentary Anita (Samuel Goldwyn Films) recounts the story of Anita Hill, the African-American whose 1991 testimony before a Senate committee about her sexual harassment by Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas put her on the world stage. It opens in New York on Friday.
Other movies out on Friday include Jim Wilson’s comedy Western 50 to 1 starring Skeet Ulrich, Eliza Hittman’s It Felt Like Love (Variance), Falcon Song (Gravitas Ventures) and John Doe: Vigilante (Main Street Films), all of which you can read about by clicking on their titles.
Next week, Darren Aronofsky and Russell Crowe go marching two-by-two into the ark built by Noah (Paramount), while Arnold Schwarzenegger leads a DEA task force against the cartel in David (End of Watch) Ayer’s new movie Sabotage (Open Road Films).
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Copyright 2014 Edward Douglas