The last month of summer begins this weekend, giving us only a few more chances to get out of the doldrums that have plagued the box office for much of July with two movies that will try to turn things around. Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy, directed by James Gunn and with a wildly diverse cast, is going to be the big “must see” event of the weekend, leaving a lot of people wondering how much is possible for a Marvel movie with very little starpower and based on a lesser-known group of characters. By comparison, EVERYONE knows who James Brown is, so one wonders whether the musical biopic Get on Up (Universal), directed by The Help‘s Tate Taylor, has a chance at bringing some counterprogramming to find an underserved audience.
It’s now been six years since Marvel Studios introduced Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark in Jon Favreau’s Iron Man and the success the studio has had ever since is undeniable, so now’s as good a time as any for them to take a big chance on filmmaker James Gunn and a movie based on the cosmic superhero team, Guardians of the Galaxy (Disney/Marvel). While the name “Guardians of the Galaxy” was originally used on a Marvel Comics team from the future first introduced in 1969, it was the revival of the name with a group of cosmic heroes in 2008 that first paved the way for a superhero movie unlike any other, “Guardians” being a space opera in the vein of geek faves like “Star Wars” and “Star Trek.” While those movies have their share of odd alien creatures–Wookies, Ewoks and Klingons and the like–none of them have quite achieved the teaming of a gun-toting “raccoon” and a word-thrifty talking tree as part of the group.
While Rocket and Groot may seem like odd movie heroes, the fact they’re voiced by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, two of the biggest movie stars out there, goes a long way to make them interesting to moviegoers. That’s not to discount the humanoid members of the cast which includes Chris Pratt (“Parks and Recreation”), Zoe Saldana (Avatar, Star Trek) and wrestler David Bautista, who all bring so much to their roles even though none have proven box office clout as of yet. That’s really one of the things that sets “Guardians” apart, because while the “Iron Man” movies had Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Samuel L. Jackson and eventually Scarlett Johansson, and “Captain America” had Chris Evans (and the latter two in the sequel), “Guardians” is really going by the fact that it just looks a fun and exciting movie.
Much of that comes from the sense of humor imbued by James Gunn, who may not have been that known to the public at large before signing onto this movie, although he still has quite a few credits on hit movies, having written both “Scooby-Doo” movies for Warner Bros, as well as Zack Snyder’s debut, the remake of Dawn of the Dead. “Guardians” is somewhat of a departure as his two previous movies as a director, the horror flick Slither and the edgy superhero comedy Super (both cult favorites, neither which made a huge amount of money), but Gunn is the type of filmmaker who really gets out there to promote to his fans on social media, something which can’t be said for some of the other recent Marvel directors.
We can’t completely dissuade “Guardians'” star power, because Chris Pratt has appeared in three Oscar-nominated Best Pictures (Moneyball, Zero Dark Thirty and Her) as well as the Emmy-nominated “Parks and Recreation.” Besides starring in the global blockbuster Avatar–which is ahead of Marvel’s The Avengers in terms of domestic and worldwide gross–Saldana also starred in numerous genre films, including The Losers, another movie based on a comic book misfits, and Luc Besson’s Colombiana. Both actors have a fanbase as does Bautista from his wrestling and martial arts background. And the cast includes a wide array of award-winning actors, including John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace and many more.
The combination of outer space action and humor is going to help the movie a lot, but there’s also the Marvel factor where moviegoers have come to rely on the studio for solid moviegoing fun and entertainment that’s worth the high price of tickets. As usual, early reviews have been spectacular and it will be interesting to see if it can match the Fresh % as previous Marvel films like The Avengers and Iron Man, which both scored over 90% Fresh. Reviews may have helped Captain America: The Winter Soldier fare better than its predecessor, but that also had the “Avengers” factor to give it a boost, something that “Guardians” is lacking. $55 million is really the low end for a Marvel movie, even for those made by Fox like Fantastic Four and X-Men: First Class, but “Guardians” has the same curiosity factor as first appearances like Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, both which opened with $65 million and that is the general barometer for “Guardians'” opening. Possibly the only thing keeping it from opening bigger is the late summer release. Anticipated sequels like Rush Hour 2 and The Bourne Ultimatum couldn’t hit $70 million opening, although granted, those movies came out 13 and 7 years ago, respectively. The fact that nothing has been able to open bigger than that since then with higher ticket prices needs to be noted, though.
If there is any movie that’s likely to be underestimated (and overestimated) this summer, it’s this one, but we think it has a good chance at opening in the range of Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger with Marvel fans and the already-converted geek factor generating a solid opening weekend in the mid-to-high $60 millions. It may be harder to get other moviegoers, particularly women of a certain age and it may not be seen as kid-friendly as the Spider-Man movies either, but solid word-of-mouth and repeat viewings should be good for $160 to 170 million domestic and probably $500 to 600 million globally. Since Marvel Studios have already committed to a sequel for 2017, they must already be confident their gamble will pay off.
Offered as counter-programming and likely to appeal more to older African-American audiences is the James Brown biopic Get on Up (Universal), starring Chadwick Boseman (42) as the Godfather of Soul, and reuniting The Help director Tate Taylor with two of his stars, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer. Also featured in the movie is Nelsan Ellis, Lafayette from the popular HBO show “True Blood,” and Dan Aykroyd.
If you’re a fan of music, there’s no denying the legacy of the late James Brown, the man who practically invented funk and soul, inspiring hundreds of other artists, both black and white, and not just the obvious like Prince, Janelle Monae and Bruno Mars, but also groups like the Red Hot Chili Peppers and more. There’s a certain generation who were raised on the music of James Brown, who continued to perform well into his 60s, every once in a while having a resurgence like when his song “Living in America” was featured in Rocky IV. Things went downhill for Brown later in life when he was jailed for drunken and disorderly behavior that led to a police chase, but the man was still idolized by millions right up until his death in 2006.
Universal have done their best at getting the word out to the primary audience for a James Brown movie and they’re taking a similar route as they did with 2004’s Ray biopic, which took Jamie Foxx all the way to Oscar night where he won for his portrayal of Ray Charles. That opened in late October that year, gearing up for awards, but other films targeting African-Americas have done very well in August including Tate Taylor’s previous movie The Help in 2011 ($26 million open and $170 million domestic gross) and Lee Daniels’ The Butler last year ($24.6 mil. open, $116 mil. gross). Granted the former ended up far more Oscar nominations and awards buzz than the latter, but again, the formula has already been created for this sort of release so that it should fare better than Clint Eastwood’s Jersey Boys from a few months back.
The moderate release into just over 2,000 theaters may seem odd, but those theaters are specifically focused to the urban areas where the movie would generate the most interest, and it’s not facing that much competition from surprisingly white bread Guardians of the Galaxy–with apologies to the film’s more colorful characters Gamora and Drax. (Incidentally, that theater count is similar to the number of theaters for Ray but less than the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line.)
Facing facts, James Brown was a FAR more popular entertainer than Ray Charles–Mick Jagger was such a big fan that he co-produced the movie and was heavily involved as an advisor!–and that alone is going to help Get on Up be seen, if not opening weekend then definitely over the course of August and longer if it starts generating awards buzz for Chadwick Boseman’s performance. Expecting a big drop for Universal’s hit Lucy, Get on Up should be able to take second place with an opening in the high-teens to $20 million, but word-of-mouth should be solid (as will reviews) and we wouldn’t be surprised if the movie receives Taylor’s second A+ CinemaScore in a row. Look for the movie to claw its way to $100 million over the next few months.
This weekend last year saw the release of the action-comedy Two Guns (Universal), pairing Denzel Washigton with Mark Wahlberg, and it opened decently with $27 million in 3,000 theaters to take first place. Opening on Wednesday was Sony Animation Studios’ The Smurfs 2 (Sony), the sequel to their 2011 hit, but after a disappointing $10 million in its first two days, it wound up in third place with $17.5 million for the weekend with Hugh Jackman’s The Wolverine dropping to second place with $21.3 million. The Top 10 took in $118 million and guess what, kids? This weekend is more than likely to be up from last year for the first time in well over a month. The box office slump is dead!! (For now )
This Week’s Updated Predictions –
UPDATE: With great advance ticket sales and about 500 more theaters than we estimated, it’s looking good for Marvel’s “Guardians” to top the $70 million mark this weekend, which should allow it to take the August opening record. As far as the significant expansions of limited releases, Roadside Attractions doubles the theaters for Philip Seymour Hoffman’s swan song A Most Dangerous Man, while Focus Features adds another 128 for Zach Braff’s Wish I was Here. The most notable expansion may be Richard Linklater’s Boyhood into 311 theaters, which may be enough for it to capitalize on stellar reviews and word-of-mouth to get into the lower half of the Top 10.
1. Guardians of the Galaxy (Disney/Marvel) – $71.2 million N/A (up $4.7 million)
2. Get on Up (Universal) – $18.6 million N/A (up .4 million)
3. Lucy (Universal) – $16.5 million -63%
4. Hercules (Paramount) – $12.5 million -58%
5. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (20th Century Fox) – $8.2 million -51%
6. Planes: Fire & Rescue (Walt Disney Pictures) – $5.5 million -42%
7. The Purge: Anarchy (Universal Pictures) – $4.5 million -55%
8. Sex Tape (Sony) – $3 million -50%
9. And So It Goes (Clarius Entertainment) – $2.7 million -42%
10. A Most Wanted Man (Roadside Attractions) – $2.5 million -7% (down .1 million)
— Boyhood (IFC Films) – $2.5 million +54%
— Wish I Was Here (Focus Features) – $1.1 million 0%
This Week’s Limited Releases:
While I won’t have time to write too much more about it until later this week, this week’s “CHOSEN ONE” by default would probably be Calvary (Fox Searchlight), the new film from John Michael McDonagh (The Guard), once again starring Brendan Gleeson. This time, he’s playing Father James, the priest of a small village who is being blackmailed by one of his parishioners. As he deals with the day-to-day of being the townspeople’s primary spiritual leader, Father James gets involved with a number of the folk’s dirty secrets while trying to find out who is threatening him. A dark comedic thriller that makes a fairly scathing indictment of the Catholic Church but one with a terrific performance by Gleeson, especially when acting opposite Kelly Reilly (“Flight”) as his damaged daughter before becoming a man of the cloth, McDonaugh certainly has exceeded the potential of his first movie. The film’s stunning look and feel is enhanced greatly by long-time Stanley Kubrick cinematographer Larry Smith
Hopefully we’ll have a full review before it opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday.
Foreign Films of Interest:
From Norway comes Martin Lund’s 2012 festival favorite, the comedy The Almost Man (Big World Pictures) starring Henrik Rafalesen as a 35-year-old who refuses to grow up and become an adult until his girlfriend’s pregnancy forces him to start partying as much and find a job. In the vein of last year’s Delivery Man starring Vince Vaughn, it opens at the Village East Cinemas in New York City on Friday.
There isn’t much to say about Ramon Zürcher’s German dysfunctional family drama The Strange Little Cat (KimStim Films) than that’s essentially what it is.
Documentaries of Note:
Speaking of amazing musical performers, Oscar-winning documentarian Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side and dozens of other docs)–who also happens to have a James Brown doc in the works–helms Finding Fela (Kino Lorber), a look into the life of influential Nigerian musician and activist Fela Kuti who created “Afrobeat” while at the same time fighting against his country’s dictatorial leadership to help bring change to Nigeria. Gibney’s latest opens at New York’s IFC Center on Friday with a special Q n A including Fela Kuti’s son Femi, following the 7pm show on Friday.
Rich Hill (The Orchard) from Andrew Droz Palermo and Tracy Droz Tragos follows three teenagers from Rich Hill, Missouri who face many difficulties as they try to get through their adolescence. The winner of this year’s Sundance Grand Jury Prize for doc, it opens at the Village East in New York on Friday, followed by August 8 in Missouri, August 15 in L.A. and August 22 in further cities.
Tim Garrick’s comedy Behaving Badly (Vertical Entertainment) stars Nat Wolff (The Fault in Our Stars) as Rick Stevens, who is desperately trying to win the heart of the girl of his dreams (Selena Gomez). Good luck, Nat! It’s already playing on VOD and available on iTunes before its limited release Friday.
Action, Thrillers and Horror:
Twelve years after Eli Roth’s debut, Cabin Fever: Patient Zero (RLJ/Image Entertainment), directed by comic artist Kaare Andrews, offers a prequel to that horror film as it follows a group of friends down to the Caribbean where they contract a flesh-eating virus while swimming in contaminated water.
James Franco directs and stars in his 500th movie of 2014, the adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s crime drama Child of God (Well Go USA Entertainment) about a man trying to live outside the social order, played by Scott Haze, as he falls deeper into a world of crime and degradation. Co-starring Tim Blake Nelson, it opens in select cities Friday.
Catherine Keener and Sir Ben Kingsley star in Mark Jackson’s drama War Story (IFC Films) about a war photographer (Keener) who is taken hostage and brutalized in Libya and ends up in Sicily in order to recover from her physical and mental wounds where she encounters a Tunisian immigrant who needs help. Following its premiere at Sundance and screening at Rotterdam, it opens in New York City on Wednesday at the IFC Center.
Directed by Anthony Fabian, Louder than Words (ARC Entertainment) is based on the true story of couple John and Brenda (David Duchovny, Hope Davis) who build a start of the art children’s hospital after the death of their young daughter Maria. Already available on VOD and iTunes, it opens in select cities and on VOD Friday.
French-Canadian filmmaker Charles-Olivier Michaud’s 4 Minute Mile (Gravitas Ventures) tells the inspirational story of high school student Drew (played by Kelly Blatz) that tries to overcome his inner city surroundings which is trying to force him into running drugs by taking the track and running for real. (I guess combining the two and becoming the fastest drug runner ever would be a different movie.) Also starring Kim Basinger as Drew’s mother, Analeigh Tipton as his love interest, Richard Jenkins as his track coach and Rhys Coiro as an influential local dealer, the film opens in select cities and on VOD Friday.
Next week is a busy one as the studios try to snag a few more moviegoers before we hit the official “dog days of summer.” Paramount is hoping that the word “dog” won’t be used when referring to the Michael Bay-produced reinveintion of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, their first live action movie in over 20 years. Taking it on are the tornado disaster flick Into the Storm (New Line/WB)–already being dubbed “Twister 2″the foodie dramedy The Hundred-Foot Journey (DreamWorks), starring Helen Mirren–and the “who the BLEEP knows what installment of the dance franchise this is?” installment of the dance franchise, Step Up All In (Summit).
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Copyright 2014 Edward Douglas