Happy New Year and welcome back to the same old Weekend Warrior as we kick things off with the month that tends to offer some of the weakest releases quality-wise, but the films still find some way of doing better business than they would if released in any other month. Go figure.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt when the second wide release of the year is the third movie of a hit franchise, but that’s certainly the case with Taken 3 (20th Century Fox), which returns Liam Neeson to the popular role of Bryan Mills, the ex-special ops with unique skills who keeps having his stuff taken from him. (At this point, he might want to just chain everything down or else we’ll be getting Taken 4 in a couple of years.)
Back in 2008, French action movie maven Luc Besson came up with a crazy idea: “Let’s turn 57-year-old Irish actor Liam Neeson into an action star!” Mind you, Neeson had mainly done Oscar-worthy fare like Schindler’s List and Kinsey before this, but he also had appeared in George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace and Batman Begins, so it’s wasn’t like he was a stranger to action. But he took on the role of Bryan Mills for the original Taken, and it was released all over Europe and other countries besides North America. That’s because 20th Century Fox wanted to edit it down to get a PG-13 rating and they finally released it in late February, almost a year after its French debut.
Despite being available via illegal download, Taken did very well, opening with $24.7 million in 3,183 theaters and grossing $145 million domestically, which was more than its solid international release. The movie did so well that Besson and Fox–both big fans of sequels and franchises–greenlit a sequel, Taken 2, which opened in October 2012 with $49.5 million, grossing $140 million domestically and another $236 million overseas.
It’s pretty amazing what the Taken movies have done for Neeson’s career, allowing him to branch out into his own action thrillers, including the likes of Unknown ($63.6 million gross), The Grey ($51.6 million) and last year’s Non-Stop ($92.2 million). The first two of those opened around $20 million and the latter opened closer to $30 million, all based on Neeson’s involvement more than anything else. Of course he’s also done a number of dogs like The A-Team, Clash of the Titans and its sequel, Battleship, Seth MacFarlane’s A Million Ways to Die in the West and A Walk in the Tombstones (both last year), but then he’ll lend his voice to something like The LEGO Movie and people absolutely love him in that role.
The previous Taken movie did well, but it wasn’t that well received among the fans or critics, maybe because it used almost the exact same plot and it wasn’t nearly as exciting as the original, seeming more like a cash grab. That movie was directed by Luc Besson’s right hand guy Olivier Megaton, who also directed The Transporter 3 and Colombiana, and he’s back for the threequel, which doesn’t try to change the formula much. Maybe it isn’t a surprise that Fox isn’t screening this one in advance for critics, so the only reviews you might see may be from the film’s Asian opening this past weekend.
With moviegoers still being quite jaded about these types of money-grab sequels, we can probably expect this one to do closer to the opening of the original movie, maybe squeezing out an opening in the $30 million range, but it may not even cross the $100 million mark if it doesn’t even stand up to the previous movie.
Taken 3 Review (Coming Soon!)
The other two movies opened in December in limited release and will expand nationwide this weekend with the stronger of the two being the serious Oscar contender Selma (Paramount), the historical drama that stars David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King ,Jr. during an important moment during the Civil Rights movement in 1965. Directed by Ava DuVernay, the former publicist who previously directed the acclaimed indie Middle of Nowhere, the film co-stars Carmen Ejogo (The Purge: Anarchy), Common, Oprah Winfrey, Tom Wilkinson, Tim Roth and others, and it’s on the fast track to numerous Oscar nominations.
Part of the reason the movie is getting so much attention is because it deals with an important subject matter that’s extremely relevant in these times where race relations are at an all-time low. While it will certainly be the first choice for many African-Americans, particularly women over a certain age, it should also cater to serious movie fans who’ve heard the buzz from early reviews as well as the Oprah fans who will finally have a chance to see it.
As we’ve been seeing with Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken, you don’t need a lot of big name stars for a movie to do decently if it has an interesting subject matter, but it also has the Oprah factor, which means she’ll be pushing it on her show. Parallels can be drawn between this and another movie involving Civil Rights, which was 2013’s Lee Daniels’ The Butler, which opened in mid-August to $24.6 million in nearly 3,000 theaters and grossed $116.6 million domestically. (Daniels was originally on board to direct Selma but bailed on it when he realized it was covering similar ground.)
Selma opened on Christmas Day in roughly 19 theaters and it’s grossed $2.1 million at the time of this writing which isn’t huge, but it’s also been targeting most of its marketing towards the nationwide release on Friday.
Depending on the theater count, Selma should be good for $14 to 16 million in its first weekend of wide release, but expect it to stick around for a while, especially once it receives a number of Oscar nominations on Thursday going into the Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend where it should generate even more business due to the long (and particularly relevant) holiday weekend. We can probably expect this one to end up in the $70 to 80 million range.
The other movie expanding on Friday may not quite go nationwide, and that is Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice (Warner Bros.), which reteams him with his The Master star Joaquin Phoenix for a strange stoner comedy noir based on the book by Thomas Pynchon, which co-stars Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Benicio del Toro, Reese Witherspoon and Michael K. Williams in different-sized roles.
Anderson certainly has his fans among arthouse cinephiles, who often include his movies in their year-end top lists, but after making seven movies, There Will Be Blood is still Anderson’s highest-grossing movie with just $40.2 million. None of his movies have ever played in more than 2,000 theaters even with the eight Oscar nominations Blood got, winning two for actor Daniel Day Lewis and cinematographer Robert Elswit. Anderson himself has gotten three Oscar nominations for his screenplays including Magnolia and Boogie Nights, starring Mark Wahlberg, both which are considered cult hits.
Many of Anderson’s other movies opened in limited release before going wide but they rarely do huge business outside the bigger cities, the classic case being when he teamed with Adam Sandler for Punch Drunk Love, which grossed nearly $10 million in limited release, but when it expanded wide into 1,252 theaters, it only averaged $3,200 and it ended up earning less than $20 million.
Inherent Vice already opened in 16 theaters on December 12 where it grossed around a million so far, but the 55% drop-off in its second weekend is not a good sign that it’s been getting decent word-of-mouth.
Warner Bros. is taking the same approach with this as they did with Spike Jonze’s Her, also starring Joaquin Phoenix. That opened in limited release in mid-December (one week later than Inherent Vice) and managed to gross $3 million before expanding into over 1,700 theaters where it grossed $5.3 million. But that movie had a lot more buzz going into the weekend and only grossed $25.6 million total despite being nominated for Best Picture.
Depending on how many theaters it gets–right now it’s estimated at 400 to 500–we can see this one missing out on the Top 10 altogether, winding up with less than $2 million for the weekend and probably less than $15 million total, since I don’t expect it to receive the Oscar love of some of Anderson’s previous movies.
This weekend last year saw the nationwide expansion of Mark Wahlberg’s military thriller Lone Survivor (Universal) into 2,875 theaters where it exploded with $38 million, or $13,160 per theater, quite impressive considering how poorly it did in limited release. Disney’s Frozen continued to hold up well after the holidays, falling to second place with $14.7 million, having grossed $317 million since opening over Thanksgiving. (It would go on to cross the $400 million mark before leaving theaters.) Third place went to The Legend of Hercules (Summit), starring Kellan Lutz–the first Hercules movie of the year–which grossed $8.8 million in 2,104 theaters. The Top 10 grossed $112.4 million, which may be hard to top if Taken 3 doesn’t open as well as the previous movie.
This Week’s UPDATED Predictions –
UPDATE: So there weren’t a lot of big revelations with the final theater counts although Inherent Vice is getting closer to 650 theaters than the 400 earlier projected. I still don’t think it will do well enough to break into the Top 10 but will end up just outside. The other two movies should end up around where I originally predicted although we may have underestimated Taken 3 slightly. Also, The Imitation Game is nearly double its theaters on the Friday leading up to the Golden Globes and the Oscar nominations hoping it capitalize on a couple wins.
1. Taken 3 (20th Century Fox) – $30.2 million N/A (up $2.4 million)
— Inherent Vice (Warner Bros.) – $3.2 million (up $1.7 million)
It’s Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday weekend with most schools and government offices being closed on Monday and we’re getting a new Kevin Hart comedy, The Wedding Ringer (Screen Gems), co-starring Josh Gad from Frozen, the British family film starring the talking bear Paddington (The Weinstein Company), Chris Hemsworth stars in Michael Mann’s latest cyber-thriller blackhat (Universal), while Bradley Cooper’s military drama American Sniper (Warner Bros.) expands nationwide after a phenomenal showing in limited release.
This Week’s Limited Releases:
Nothing has really knocked my socks off this week, but this is what we’re working with…
Predestination (Stage 6/Sony)
Dark Summer (IFC Midnight)
The World Made Straight (Millennium Entertainment)
Farewell Herr Schwartz (Kino Lorber)
Looks like the Film Society of Lincoln Center is going to be premiering a lot more exclusive theatrical runs this coming year starting with…
La Ultima Pelicula (M’Aidez Films)
I’m not sure how much I can recommend this movie or how seriously it can be taken beyond being an amusing oddity. Having not seen the documentary about Hopper’s The Last Movie (and not even really knowing about it), I didn’t come into this movie with that advance information which may be important to understand what the filmmakers were trying to achieve.
Mostly, it follows filmmaker Alex Ross Perry around Mexico spouting rhetoric about how he’s trying to make the last movie on the last reel of film before the end of the world on 12/21/2012. And to do that, he’s gone down to the Yucatan to the region of the Mayans to make it. So in some ways, it’s a mockumentary, but in others, it seems like an experimental student film that doesn’t quite connect. And yet, part of why it’s so hard to connect to it is that it’s not trying to be super-slick or anything, but more of a behind-the-scenes on the making of a fake movie. Is it meant to be deliberately pretentious to be funny or do the filmmakers really take what is being said seriously? Who knows? But it quickly wears out its welcome once you realize that it’s just a lot of the type of film noodling we see far too often when a movie clearly doesn’t have much of a script or gameplan before filming.
There’s certainly some cleverness to the way old school film techniques are used to create what could be a decent midnight movie for stoners, but the filmmakers don’t quite have the vision of a Jodorowsky to make the movie particularly memorable. It’s also surprising they were able to get a version of “Me and Bobby McGee” for the soundtrack considering the obvious low budget.
Let’s Kill Ward’s Wife (Tribeca Film/Well GO USA)
Beloved Sisters (Music Box Films)
When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism (Cinema Guild)
Black November (eOne Films)
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Copyright 2015 Edward Douglas