As we arrive at the end of July with just one month to go in the summer, this weekend is going to be one more test of whether starpower makes a difference when it comes to box office hits as we have two action movies featuring top stars as well as a smaller box office comedy starring two Oscar-winning actors who have never appeared in a movie together, although both of them may be considered past their prime.
Before we get to that, Scarlett Johansson stars as the title character in French action director Luc Besson’s sci-fi action thriller Lucy (Universal), which co-stars Morgan Freeman in his third movie of the year. This is an intriguing movie that features Johansson as a woman who finds herself turned into a mule for a drug that ends up giving her the power to access 100% of her brain, essentially superpowers.
Johansson is definitely riding high as an A-list star right now, having reprised the role of the Black Widow in this year’s highest-grossing film domestically, Captain America: the Winter Soldier, as well as receiving accolades for her performance in Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin, and she had a small role in Jon Favreau’s Chef. Johansson’s come quite a long way since her indie roots appearing in movies like Ghost World although before becoming Marvel’s Black Widow in Jon Favreau’s Iron Man 2, an earlier foray into summer action in Michael Bay’s The Island in the same weekend nine years ago, failed to find much of an audience. It bombed with just $35 million, but that was a long time ago and Johansson has become a lot more popular both among men and women. The question is whether she can join Angelina Jolie in a very small group of women able to open an action movie featuring a female star.
Lucy teams Johansson with the French action director who has created some pretty amazing female action characters from La Femme Nikita to former wife Milla Jovovich’s character in The Fifth Element and Zoe Saldana as Colombiana. Besson’s name isn’t being used too much in conjunction with marketing, maybe because Johansson and Freeman should be enough to get moviegoers into seats, but also because his movies don’t often open that big here, other than the “Taken” movies.
One would expect that having a big name star with an intriguing sci-fi concept would be enough to get people into theaters, but we can’t completely forget about Johnny Depp’s Transcendence earlier this year, which bombed with a domestic gross of just $23 million. We don’t expect that to happen in this case since this movie just looks a lot more like what moviegoers are looking for in the summer.
Expect Lucy to open somewhere in the mid-$30 millions although there may be too much straight competition for it to sustain enough legs to make much more than $100 million, although we definitely shouldn’t underestimate Johansson’s popularity.
In any other summer, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s take on the mythological hero Hercules (Paramount) might be one of the summer’s biggest action movies but opening so late and against the stronger Scarlett Johansson action movie is not going to help matters. It also won’t help that this is the second Hercules movie of the year after the Kellan Lutz version that bombed earlier this year.
One does have to give Johnson credit for his climb towards becoming a bonafide action star who has brought a lot to everything he’s done, having had a particularly busy 2013 with franchise hits G.I. Joe: Retaliation and Fast & Furious 6 and smaller movies like Snitch and Michael Bay’s Pain & Gain. Between his success as a movie star and wrestling career, as well as his presence on social media, Johnson has become one of the most popular A-list celebrities, although there’s still a question about whether the material is something that might appeal to his fans. The sword and sandal action genre has not been faring particularly well this year with the aforementioned Hercules movie being followed by Paul W.S. Anderson’s bomb Pompei. (Biblical epics like Darren Aronofsky’s Noah have done better.)
Director Brett Ratner still has a lot of baggage among moviegoers, particularly the geek crowd that would normally drive the business for this one, who have generally been unhappy with some of his more high profile movies like X-Men: The Last Stand. It’s been a long time since Ratner has made an action movie after having had success with his “Rush Hour” series of buddy comedies, starring Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker.
Hercules is being released in 3D and IMAX 3D, which could potentially help its box office via higher ticket prices, if not for the fact that moviegoers are becoming more skeptical about spending so much money on movies. It also won’t help that, like Transformer: Age of Extinction, Paramount is waiting until the last minute to screen the movie for critics–actually, not until Thursday night–which never shows confidence that the movie’s performance might be helped by reviews.
Unfortunately for Johnson, Hercules seems like it’s going to be one of the summer’s big busts, grossing in the low $20 millions at most and probably ending up below $60 million before leaving theaters as it faces way too much stronger competition in the coming weeks.
Opening in considerably less theaters than the other two movies is And So It Goes (Clarius Entertainment), the new romantic comedy from Rob Reiner, which pairs Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton in a “meet cute” storyline that will have very little appeal to anyone under 40 and probably little interest to guys either. The movie has been delayed a few times by new distributor Clarius but they certainly seem to have spent some time on advertising and promoting the movie and the older women who like romantic comedies and such probably won’t have much interest in the other new movies. Because of this, I think it can probably bring in $4 to 5 million this weekend and possibly gross up to $20 million theatrically if audiences like it more than critics, as we don’t expect it to get very good reviews.
Review (Coming Soon!)
Lastly, we have a movie that’s not getting nearly as wide a release, only 400 theaters, and that’s the comedy concert film The Fluffy Movie (Open Road), starring stand-up comic Gabriel Iglesias, which documents his sold out comedy world tour. Iglesias has been seen in a number of movies including Channing Tatum’s Magic Mike and Marlon Wayans’ A Haunted House 2 as well as providing his voice for a couple of animated flicks. He generally has a fanbase and these sorts of comedy movies have done well for the likes of Kevin Hart, Martin Lawrence and others, so there’s a good chance the vast Latino-moviegoing audience may see this over some of the other offerings. Opening in just 400 theaters might limit whether it gets into the Top 10, but we can see it opening with $2 to 3 million.
Also, Zach Braff’s Wish I Was Here (Focus Features) will expand nationwide after a limited release in select cities last weekend, where it probably should have done better than $7,200 per theater in 68 theaters. If it expands to 600 theaters, that average is going to drop considerably and we can see it doing around $1 to 1.5 million in its first expansion but not much more.
This weekend last year saw the release of one studio blockbuster sequel and one smaller indie movie getting a moderate release. The champion of the weekend, as expected, was Hugh Jackman’s return to the role that made him famous, The Wolverine (20th Century Fox), which took in a relatively disappointing $53 million its opening weekend in 3,924 theaters, about $13.5 thousand per venue. It was well ahead of the #2 movie, James Wan’s The Conjuring, which dropped to second place with $22.2 million, a strong 47% hold for a summer release and a horror movie. The animated Despicable Me 2 crossed $300 million as it took third place, followed by DreamWorks Animation’s Turbo. Maggie Carey’s raunchy sex comedy The To Do List (CBS Films), starring Aubrey Plaza, a Sundance favorite, took in $1.6 million in 591 theaters or $2,707 per location. The Top 10 brought in an okay $151.7 million, which once again, this weekend will probably not match.
This Week’s Predictions –
1. Lucy (Universal) – $35.2 million N/A
2. Hercules (Paramount) – $22.3 million N/A
3. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (20th Century Fox) – $19.2 million -47%
4. The Purge: Anarchy (Universal Pictures) – $12 million -59%
5. Planes: Fire & Rescue (Walt Disney Pictures) – $11 million -37%
6. Sex Tape (Sony) – $7.7 million -47%
7. Transformers: Age of Extinction (Paramount) – $5.5 million -45%
8. And So It Goes (Clarius Entertainment) – $4.5 million N/A
9. Tammy (Warner Bros.) – $4.2 million -43%
10. 22 Jump Street (Sony) – $3.2 million -32%
— The Fluffy Movie (Open Road) – $2.1 million N/A
This Week’s Limited Releases:
This week’s “CHOSEN ONE” is A Most Wanted Man (Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions), the final finished film by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, based on John Le Carré’s 2008 spy thriller novel of the same name. Directed by Anton Corbijn (Control, The American), this has a similar tone to the 2011 adaptation of Le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but being based on a story set post-9/11, it feels far more current than the Cold War spy thriller.
Taking place in Hamburg, Germany in 2002, Hoffman plays Gunter Bachmann, the head of a section of German intelligence that works under the radar to make contacts within the country’s Muslim community, attempting to find those involved with terrorism at an earlier stage. When a Chechen exile named Issa Karpov turns up in Hamburg, labeled by Interpol as a militant jihadist, Gunter must work within the system to try to keep Karpov from over-zealous agencies reacting to 9/11, along with a lawyer trying to protect innocent Muslims, played by Rachel McAdams.
The story is far more complex than that, but getting too deeply into the many twists and turns of this subdued political thriller would surely ruin what makes it so riveting. Much of the film’s intrigue revolves around the opinion of whether Karpov–a terrific performance by unknown Girogriy Dobrygin–is capable of terrorist activity or whether he’s just a confused young man angry about his estranged Russian military father, a war criminal who left him a fortune in inheritance, possibly out of guilt after raping and killing his mother when he was a young boy.
While much of the focus of the film is going to be put on how fantastic Hoffman is in one of his final roles–and rightfully so, since Bachmann is another terrific flawed character for the greatly missed actor–Corbijn has assembled an astounding cast that includes a few known actors doing great work, like Willem Dafoe (as Issa’s banker) and Robin Wright, playing CIA agent Martha Sullivan. I was also impressed with the lesser-known Nina Hoss as Bachmann’s left-hand woman in the operation, though I felt Corbijn wasted Daniel Bruhl in a minor negligible role.
A lot of times, these types of political thrillers can be confusing due to the amount of characters or on the flipside, they can be dull because they move at a snail’s pace due to a lack of action. The performances and character dynamics really drive the story as we’re kept on edge wondering whether Bachmann can use Issa to bait and trap another wealthy Muslim who may be funding terrorist activities. As one would expect from one of the greatest spy novelists of the 20th Century, the espionage aspects of the story feel real, just as the movie itself looks as fantastic as one might expect from one of the most acclaimed rock photographers of the ’80s and ’90s. Unlike other spy thrillers, which tend to feel cold or clinical, there is a good deal of emotion between Bachmann dealing with his own issues and Issa trying to find freedom from constant persecution.
A pleasant departure from the summer’s action-heavy fare, Corbijn’s film benefits greatly from having one of the world’s finest actors in a near-perfect role for him, which goes a long way to create a character and plot-driven film that pays the greatest homage to the author’s work.
A Most Wanted Man opens in select cities on Friday.
Indie filmmaker Joe Swanberg (last year’s Drinking Buddies) returns with Happy Christmas (Magnolia) in which he plays Jeff, a young father happily married to Melanie Lynskey, the two of them getting an unexpected guest in Jeff’s younger sister Jenny (Anna Kendrick) who proceeds to turn their quiet lives upside down. Also starring Lena Dunham and Mark Webber, it opens in select cities Friday and more cities next week following its run on VOD. You can find the full theatrical release schedule on the Magnolia site.
Woody Allen’s movie for the year is the period romantic comedy Magic in the Moonlight (Sony Pictures Classics), starring Colin Firth as magician Stanley Crawford, who is called to the South of France by his friend and colleague (Simon McBurney), who has his doubts about a woman claiming to be able to talk to the dead. Once Stanley meets the psychic in question Sophie (Emma Stone), he become so enamored, he starts to question his own stoic beliefs. It opens in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. on Friday.
John Stamos stars in Mike Young’s comedy My Man is a Loser (Lionsgate) as a playboy ladies’ man named Mike who gives his buddies (Michael Rapaport, Bryan Callen) advice on how to spice things up with their wives, advice that ends up backfiring until his beautiful friend (Tika Sumpter) teaches Mike a few things about relationships.
Action, Thrillers and Horror:
Ben Gatai’s thriller Beneath (IFC Midnight) involves a group of coal miners trapped underground after a cave-in trying to survive as they’re murdered off gruesomely by an unknown assailant. It opens at the IFC Center in New York on Friday.
Jonathan English’s action-adventure Ironclad: Battle for Blood (XLrator Media), a sequel to his 2011 movie that no one requested a sequel for, replaces most of that movie’s cast with relative unknowns (except for maybe Michelle Fairley) as it shows another brutal battle featuring one of the survivors of the previous movie’s Great Siege of Rochester.
Very Good Girls (Tribeca Film, WellGo USA), the new film from screenwriter Naomi Foner (Bee Season) stars Dakota Fanning and Elizabeth Olsen as best friends Lily and Gerry, who plan on spending their last summer together losing their virginity before heading off to college.
Opening at the Film Forum in New York on Wednesday is Jonathan Demme’s adaptation of the 19th Century play The Master Builder (Abramorama) by Henrik Ibsen, starring Wallace Shawn (The Princess Bride) as an egotistic architect reaching his final days after a life of bullying others.
Next week, the month of August kicks off with Marvel Studios’ highly-anticipated outer space superhero flick, Guardians of the Galaxy (Disney/Marvel), directed by James Gunn and starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista and the voices of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, as well as the James Brown biopic Get on Up (Universal), directed by The Help‘s Tate Taylor. Being that Comic-Con starts on Wednesday, next week’s column may be slightly later than usual, but we’ll see.
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Copyright 2014 Edward Douglas