There used to be a time when releasing a movie in September was the kiss of death, because everyone was back at work or school and no studio wanted to release movies with any potential for box office success during the slower fall months. Those times have changed and that should be proven this weekend with the return of Denzel Washington in what could potentially be his first franchise, as well as the newest film from LAIKA Studios, the stop-motion animation studio responsible for Coraline and ParaNorman.
At this point, Denzel Washington could easily be considered among the A-List both as an actor and a box office star, and where that really exploded was in 2001 when he starred in Antoine Fuqua’s Training Day, for which he won an Oscar. Washington has now reteamed with Fuqua for The Equalizer (Sony), a reimagining of the popular ’80s television show that has Washington playing a man with a special set of skills who seeks revenge against the Russian mob after the brutal beating of a young prostitute, played by Chloe Grace Moretz.
The title of the movie and Washington’s character Robert McCall are based on the popular CBS crime show of the ’80s, starring Edward Woodward, and the movie takes a similar approach, being set in Boston rather than New York City, but once again having McCall as a former special ops agent from a mysterious organization who uses those skills to help the locals deal with adversity.
Washington hasn’t had a movie open under $20 million in over ten years and he’s only gotten more popular in recent years with some of his biggest hits being American Gangster and Safe House, both opening over $40 million and grossing over $125 million domestically. (Oddly, both teamed him with name stars like Russell Crowe and Ryan Reynolds, neither of whom have been able to sell other movies in which they’ve been in recent years.) Washington’s last movie was last year’s 2 Guns with Mark Wahlberg which did a little less than his bigger films but still opened with $27 million on its way to $76 million domestic. (Training Day was more in that range but that was also over 13 years ago when ticket prices were considerably cheaper.)
Seeing how well Liam Neeson has done with this type of role, as well as Matt Damon with the “Bourne” movies, we can only imagine Washington playing this sort of role is going to make it another one of his massive hits. This is certainly a role that will appeal to Washington’s African-American male demographic similar to American Gangster and Book of Eli, and there’s no reason why this one couldn’t open over $30 million as both of those did.
Supposedly, Sony has already greenlit a sequel, which would make it the first and only time that Denzel has had anything to do with any sort of franchise and that also shows the type of confidence they have in this movie doing very well this weekend. Reviews have generally been decent as well, way better than they normally might be for this type of movie, which premiered at the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival earlier this month to raise awareness even more.
The Equalizer should open very well and while I’m slightly nervous about underestimating it, we also have to remember that it’s September so I’m going to temper my expectation of what Denzel in this kind of action-thriller can do its opening weekend. Expecting somewhere between $30 and 35 million is a given and I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets to $100 million domestic despite having a lot of potential competition coming up in October.
Offered as counter-programming is the stop-motion animated family film The Boxtrolls (Focus Features) from LAIKA Studios, which had great success with their previous offerings, Henry Selick’s take on Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and ParaNorman two years ago. Like Coraline, The Boxtrolls is based on a children’s book, Alan Snow’s “Here Be Monsters!,” and it features an all-star cast that includes Sir Ben Kingsley, Jared Harris, Richard Aoyade, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Elle Fanning (whose older sister Dakota voiced Coraline) as well as newcomer Isaac Hempstead Wright.
Stop-motion animation is still an acquired taste with a couple of big hits like the aforementioned Coraline, which took in $75 million and received an Oscar nomination in 2009, but that couldn’t compare to the underrated Chicken Run from Claymation maven Nick Park, which grossed over $100 million in the summer of ’00. Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, Selick’s debut feature film, ended up grossing $75 million, but that was after a number of annual rereleases in 3D. LAIKA’s ParaNorman ended up grossing $56 million after a $14.1 million opening, about the same as Park’s Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and Tim Burton’s The Corpse Bride. In 2012, the same year as ParaNorman, two other stop-motion animated movies–Frankenweenie and The Pirates! Band of Misfits–barely made $35 million.
The Boxtrolls is very British, almost as much as the DreamWorks Animation film Flushed Away–by one of the directors of ParaNorman, no less–which could be a turn-off for some Americans, particularly kids, although that hasn’t really hurt movies like “Wallace & Gromit” so maybe it won’t play a factor.
This may be Focus Features’ widest release to date, surpassing ParaNorman two years ago, although it’s hard to see this one opening over $20 million (which would be the biggest opening for a Focus film pre-FilmDistrict) although I could see this one doing decently in the $16 to 18 million range opening and close to $60 million total.
Also, Samuel Goldwyn Films will release the spiritual film The Song (Samuel Goldwyn Films)–see more info below–into over 300 theaters which should allow it to do well enough to end up just outside the Top 10 with between $1 and 1.5 million.
This weekend last year saw the release of a sequel to a hit animated movie and a mixed bag of other films, but Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 (Sony) won the weekend quite definitively with $34 million in 4,001 theaters, averaging $8,500 per location. After a week in limited release, Ron Howard’s Formula 1 racing movie Rush (Universal), starring Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl, expanded nationwide into 2,300 theaters where it scored third place with $10 million while David E. Talbert’s urban romantic comedy Baggage Claim (Fox Searchlight), starring Paula Patton, took fourth place with $9 million in 2,026 theaters. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut, the comedy Don Jon (Relativity), co-starring Scarlett Johannson, came in a close fifth with $8.7 million in 400 more theaters. The concert doc Metallica Through the Never (Picturehouse) opened in 308 IMAX theaters where it took in $1.7 million or $5,400 per location. The Top 10 grossed $91.6 million, which is around where this weekend’s offerings should end up.
This Week’s Predictions –
1. The Equalizer (Sony) – $33.5 million N/A
2. The Boxtrolls (Focus Features) – $17.5 million N/A
3. The Maze Runner (20th Century Fox) – $15.6 million -52%
4. This is Where I Leave You (Warner Bros.) – $6.9 million -41%
5. A Walk Among the Tombstones (Universal) – $6.3 million -52%
6. Dolphin Tale 2 (Warner Bros.) – $5 million -45%
7. No Good Deed (Screen Gems/Sony) – $4.6 million -53%
8. Guardians of the Galaxy (Disney/Marvel) – $3.5 million -33%
9. Let’s Be Cops (20th Century Fox) – $1.7 million -36%
10. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Paramount) – $1.6 million -38%
— The Song (Samuel Goldwyn Films) – $1.3 million N/A
Before we get to…
This Week’s Limited Releases:
I just want to mention that on Friday, the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s 52nd New York Film Festival will kick off with David Fincher’s Gone Girl (released by 20th Century Fox next week) which is followed by two weeks of some of the best films that have appeared at other festivals as well as the World Premiere of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice, months before it will be released by Warner Bros. Some of the great films playing there include Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash (currently my #1 movie of the year) and Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher, both which should be discussed all the way through Oscar night. Other cool movies I’ve already seen include Olivier Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria and Eden from Mia Hansen-Love (Goodbye First Love), the new movie from Mike Leigh, Mr. Turner. One of my favorite movies of the year, Yann Demange’s ’71, starring Jack O’Connell will also play this weekend and a number of notable docs from Josh Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence, a thematic follow-up to his Oscar-nominated The Act of Killing and Ethan Hawke’s personal doc Seymour: An Introduction. Look for individual reviews and features of some of the above over the coming weeks.
THE CHOSEN ONE:
Oscar-winning screenwriter John Ridley (12 Years a Slave) goes behind the camera to direct Jimi: All is By My Side (XLrator Media), starring Outkast frontman Andre Benjamin as Jimi Hendrix, covering his early days pre-fame when a trio of women had a huge impact on his life.
Those who’ve read this column for any length of time already know what a big music fan I am and it still boggles my mind how an amazing rock guitarist like Jimi Hendrix was able to create such a legacy for himself despite a recording career that only lasted a few years. There are so many classic songs on those three Jimi Hendrix Experience studio albums, but Ridley’s second feature as a director (but the first one people may actually see) isn’t meant as a jukebox biopic featuring Jimi’s hits–which apparently they couldn’t get the rights to use–but a portrait of the musician off-stage and the women who influenced him.
Imogen Poots is great as Linda Keith, the model girlfriend of Keith Richards who has enough savvy to realize what a talent Jimi is when she first sees him playing in New York’s West Village, finding him management and bringing him to London. Another piece of the puzzle is Jimi’s often-jealous girlfriend Kathy, played by Hayley Atwell (“Agent Carter”), who causes tension with Linda (who is never shown to be romantically involved with Jimi) plus she also brings out Jimi’s violent nature.
It’s actually surprising to see Jimi get so violent since he’s so laid-back throughout the movie (probably something he has in common with Benjamin) especially when it comes to the tense racial relations of the time, something that’s brought out when he befriends a woman played by Ruth Negga (“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”) and she tries to turn him into an influential icon for the black revolution going on in London in the late 60s. Jimi wants nothing to do with that, because he doesn’t see black or white and he just wants to be able to get on stage to perform.
The film isn’t just about the relationships, because Ridley’s film recreations of a number of great performances like Jimi showing up Eric Clapton at a Cream gig and the Experience’s impromptu take on “Sgt. Pepper’s” with the Beatles in attendance. Still, it’s really more about Jimi offstage and some of his interactions with the women in his life, and that makes it a refreshing change from movies like the recent James Brown biopic “Get on Up” (which I also enjoyed for what it was), because it does show other sides to the rock legend that we haven’t had a chance to see before.
Jimi: All Is By My Side will open in select cities on Friday.
Interview with Filmmaker John Ridley (Coming Soon!)
The directorial debut by Hossein Amini (screenwriter of Drive) is The Two Faces of January (Magnolia), based on the novel by Patricia Highsith (“The Talented Mr. Ripley”), following a wealthy couple, played by Viggo Mortensen and Kristen Dunst, who are visiting Greece in the ’60 who fall foul of a con artist, played by Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis), as the three get into dangerous situations. It will open theatrically in New York and Los Angeles following its run on VOD.
Cutter Hodierne’s Fishing Without Nets (VICE) is another look at Somali pirates, following a young husband and father named Abdi, who turns to piracy to support his family as he hits the seas to capture a French tanker for a ransom. As they wait for the money to come through and the other pirates turn to violence, Abdi needs to decide whether it’s worth killing to get paid.
Inspired by Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull,” actor Christian Camargo’s directorial debut Days and Nights (IFC Films) is set in 1980s New England with Allison Janney playing a movie star who brings her lover to meet her family over Memorial Day weekend. There they have encounters with her extensive family that includes William Hurt, Ben Whishaw (who also appears in Lilting this weekend, see below), Katie Holmes, Cherry Jones, Mark Rylance an more. It opens at the IFC Center in New York on Thursday night (with a sold-out preview), but members of the cast will be in attendance on Friday and Saturday as well.
Richard Ramsey’s drama The Song (Samuel Goldwyn Films) stars Alan Powell as singer-songwriter Jed King trying to catch a break while getting out o the shadow of his country music legend father. He then meets Rose, the daughter of a vineyard owner, and after they get married, he writes Rose a song called get this “The Song,” which becomes a breakout hit. (I’m going to guess people would call the radio station and say, “Hey, can you play the song? You know, the song I don’t know the name” so they play Jed’s song.) Jed becomes a huge star and has to deal with the temptation of a fellow performer and honestly, this sounds like the worst movie about the music business since Undiscovered.
Hong Khaou’s Lilting (Strand Releasing) stars Cheng Pei Pei as a Chinese woman living in the UK whose son dies suddenly leaving her stranded until she gets support from her son’s boyfriend (who she thinks is his roommate), played by Ben Whishaw. It opens on Friday at the Village East Cinema and in L.A. on October 3.
It’s the rom-com of the Y.A. stars as Divergent‘s Miles Teller co-stars with Analeigh Tipton (Warm Bodies) in Two Night Stand (Entertainment One Films) from Max Nichols (son of Oscar-winning filmmaker Mike Nichols) playing two 20-something New Yorkers who hook-up after meeting online and get trapped in his Brooklyn apartment due to a snowstorm. Maybe Jennifer Lawrence or Dylan O’Brien will show up and make things REALLY interesting.
Pride (CBS Films), directed by Tony Award-winning theater director Matthew Warchus, tells the true story of a London group of gay and lesbian activists who travelled to Southern Wales to support the minters striking against Margaret Thatcher in 1984, getting resistance on arrival due to their sexuality but eventually being accepted. With an ensemble cast that includes Dominic West, Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton and more, this comedic take on history opens in select cities on Friday.
Crime, Thrillers and Horror:
Marc Carrete’s horror flick Asmodexia (IFC Midnight) about an exorcist and his granddaughter who travel the country trying to help those possessed by The Evil One, who has taken advantage of the vulnerable, while at the same time being followed by a cult who is trying to stop them. It opens in select cities and on VOD Friday.
James Franco and Kate Hudson star in Good People (Millennium Entertainment), the new film from Danish filmmaker Henrik Ruben Genz (Terribly Happy), a crime drama in which they play Tom and Anna Reed, a young American couple who fall into severe debt while renovating her family’s London home, until they discover that the tenant in the apartment below has been murdered leaving behind $400 thousand in stolen cash. Also starring Tom Wilkinson and Omar Sy, it opens in select cities Friday.
Foreign Films of Note:
Directed by Henry Bedwell, the Mexican horror film Mas Negro Que La Noche (“More Black Than Night”) is a remake of a 1975 horror film about four women who move into an old house left by one of their dead aunts when strange things start to happen after her aunts cat drowns in the pool. Starring Zuria Vega, Adriana Louvier and more, it opens in roughly 150 theaters on Friday.
Opening on Wednesday is the animated family film Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart (Dada Films), the directorial debut from Mathias Malzieu and Stephane Berla, a fairy tale set in a “world full of fabulous inventions, unforgettable characters, enchanting music, and fantastic adventures.” Sigh maybe The Boxtrolls wasn’t so bad after all.
Next week, things start to get real as October kicks off with three interesting choices including the horror spin-off Annabelle (New Line/WB), David Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl (20th Century Fox), starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, and Nicolas Cage finds himself Left Behind (Stoney Lake Entertainment) with Kirk Cameron, who is probably wondering why they’re remaking his movie only 14 years later.
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Copyright 2014 Edward Douglas