2015 is off to a pretty decent start so far, and it should continue this weekend as we get the first four-day holiday weekend with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday on Monday when most schools and government offices are closed. While last week’s Selma should continue to do well over the weekend due to its subject matter and with its presumed Oscar nominations on Thursday, three new movies open wide and one strong limited release expands nationwide, which should make this one of the strongest weekends of the month.
The new movie with the most potential is the high concept comedy The Wedding Ringer (Screen Gems/Sony), which teams box office superstar Kevin Hart with comic actor Josh Gad, best known as providing the voice for snowman Olaf in Disney’s Frozen. The concept is that Hart is a guy who rents himself out as a best man with Gad being a socially-awkward guy who somehow is able to find a woman who’ll marry him but no guy to be his best man. This isn’t to be confused with Adam Sandler’s The Wedding Singer or Jennifer Lopez’s The Wedding Planner–but fully capitalizing on the amount of women who flock to comedies with the word “wedding” in their titles–this is not the typical urban comedy Hart has spearheaded, because it has quite a diverse cast that includes Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting of “The Big Bang Theory,” Jorge Garcia of “Lost,” Olivia Thirlby of Dredd and others to add to the comedy mix of these very different comic actors.
Last year this weekend, Hart co-starred with Ice Cube in the police action-comedy Ride Along and that did huge business, opening with $41.5 million over the three days of the MLK Jr. holiday weekend in 2,663 theaters, becoming the biggest opening for a January movie. It ended up grossing $135 million, becoming Hart’s biggest film to date, and while that did have Ice Cube and less competition, it was a huge step up in Hart’s career after a number of ensemble hits like Think Like a Man, which grossed $91.5 million. Hart’s proven popularity among his primarily African-American fanbase culminated with his hit concert movie Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain, which grossed $32 million. Although Hart’s comedy is normally R-rated, he’s appeared in a surprising amount of PG-13 comedies, although this one is rated R which may limit younger viewers that may be interested in seeing it.
Hart was also in the news recently when it was revealed via the Sony hack how Clint Culpepper, the head of Screen Gems, felt about Hart wanting more money to promote a movie on his Twitter feed. That seems to have been resolved but Screen Gems will be promoting this more than some of their previous Hart movies to make amends.
While Josh Gad hasn’t really proven himself at the box office with his roles in movies like 21, Jobs and Love Other Drugs, awareness of him continues to increase thanks to his presence in the hit Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon,” his voice role in Frozen and his upcoming FX sitcom with Billy Crystal. The combination of Gad and Hart gives The Wedding Ringer a vibe not unlike Will Smith’s Hitch, which was hugely popular in part due to the supporting role by Kevin James.
More importantly, this is another movie produced by Will Packer, who has produced huge profitable hits through his production company both for Screen Gems and Universal, having made three movies in 2014 with Hart: Ride Along,the remake About Last Night (which opened with $25.6 million) and the sequel Think Like a Man Too (which opened with $29.2 million). In both those last two cases, the movies did most of their business on opening weekend.
As mentioned before, having “wedding” in the title can only help because audiences, particularly women, tend to gravitate towards movies about weddings with lots of huge hits like Bridesmaids and Bride Wars, Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson’s Wedding Crashers and the aforementioned The Wedding Singer all benefiting from being about that erstwhile tradition.
The real question is how other movies might affect how well this does, because guys have other options like American Sniper and blackhat as well as last week’s Taken 3, while as mentioned before, Selma should continue to do well among the same older African-American women who might be into Hart’s form of comedy.
Still, there should be enough interest and fans to take this to #1 over the weekend, maybe not with the numbers of Ride Along–again, more competition–but it should be worthy of a solid $30 million opening in the four days and probably could end up with $75 to 80 million if the movie’s half as funny as the commercials. (I haven’t seen it, nor am I aware of any screenings since Screen Gems is notorious for letting their marketing do the talking.)
Next, we have the latest movie from filmmaker Clint Eastwood, American Sniper (Warner Bros.), which teams him with multiple Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper to tell the story of Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, whose controversial 2012 autobiography was on the New York Times bestseller list for 37 weeks.
Cooper has been laying low as far as movies go since last year’s American Hustle for which he received his second Oscar nomination, this time in the supporting category, although he did provide his voice for one of the most popular movie characters of the year in the form of Guardians of the Galaxy’s Rocket Racoon (I’ve seen the movie four times and I keep forgetting that’s Cooper.) But he’s been surprisingly prominent during awards season, partially due to his return to Broadway playing “The Elephant Man.” But you have to give Cooper props for how his career has boomed in recent years, partially due to his appearance in Todd Phillips’ The Hangover, but also due to his collaborations with filmmaker David O. Russell and Jennifer Lawrence, that aforementioned American Hustle and 2012’s Silver Linings Playbook, both which grossed over $100 million. The Hangover and its sequel both grossed over $250 million, putting Cooper firmly into the position of being in demand for leading roles.
American Sniper was originally going to be directed by Steven Spielberg, but he moved on, leaving it in the hands of Clint Eastwood, who has not been having a particularly good last few years in terms of box office or critical success. Last year’s musical Jersey Boys grossed a respectable $47 million after a weak $13.3 million opening, but his previous three movies didn’t even gross $40 million and that was after the career-high grossing Gran Torino, which took a similar approach as American Sniper, platforming in December and then opening nationwide in early January. That movie also starred Eastwood himself, which could have made a big difference, but it was Eastwood’s first big hit in four years since the Oscar-winning Million Dollar Baby.
American Sniper has been doing huge business in limited release grossing over $3 million in just four theaters in New York and L.A. since opening on Christmas Day, helping to build buzz. There should be enough interest in the movie in other places, particularly suburban and rural areas as well as the Red State where a modern Clint Eastwood war movie would thrive.
Last January, Mark Wahlberg’s real life military drama Lone Survivor expanded nationwide after a less-than-spectacular limited release and still grossed over $37 million in wide release in 2,800 more theaters. It had less competition than American Sniper but also didn’t have quite the same amount of buzz. It’s hard to tell if this is going to get any Oscar nominations on Thursday morning, but it certainly won’t hurt matters if it does get a Best Picture nomination.
There’s a bit of controversy over this movie and the way Kyle is depicted, basically glossing over some of the bad aspects of his character, but this should still do well as it expands into hundreds of cities where it hasn’t played with tons of buzz. It could even give The Wedding Ringer a run for the top spot with guys more likely to be interested in this (but also getting some competition from Taken 3 and blackhat), but a four-day weekend of $25 to 26 million should be doable with the good chance of grossing $70 to 80 million with weaker movies opening in the coming weeks.
Being that it’s the first school holiday of the year—kids must be exhausted after ten days of school following the holidays, huh?—we’re getting the year’s first family film in the form of the British CG spectacle based on the popular character from children’s literature Paddington (RADiUS-Dimension). The recognizable talking bear in the floppy hat and raincoat that’s been brought to life via CG (voiced by Ben Whishaw, best known as the new Q from James Bond Skyfall) in a live-action movie co-starring Nicole Kidman, Hugh Bonneville (“Downton Abbey”), Oscar nominee (and my future wife) Sally Hawkins, Jim Broadbent and more. It’s directed by Paul King who may be known among more discerning older comedy fans as the director of the British comedy “The Mighty Boosh” with Richard Aoyade and he previously wrote and directed the indie The Bunny and the Bull.
Paddington Bear first appeared in the children’s book by Michael Bond and Peggy Fortnum in 1958 and he’s appeared in nearly 70 books since then, which has guaranteed that children of all ages know who he is. In some ways, it seems more like a British thing although the commercials and trailers should appeal to many American kids as well as to their parents, making it a first choice for the holiday weekend, being that Night at the Museum and Annie have probably done all the business they’re going to do.
There’s certainly a question about whether this may be “too British,” something that’s greatly affected claymation movies like The Pirates! Band of Misfits, Wallace and Gromit and such. Certainly none of the cast other than Kidman are that well known.
Lots of family movies have done better than expected on the MLK Jr. holiday, mainly since the weather’s gotten colder and parents need something to take the kids to do on the longer weekend with schools off on Monday. One good example is 2002’s Snow Dogs starring Cuba Gooding Jr., which opened with $23.7 million over the four-day weekend in just 2,300 theaters.
The Weinstein Company and its spinoff Dimension Films is not exactly known for having family hits with one early exception being 2005’s Hoodwinked and 2013’s Escape from Planet Earth, both which grossed over $50 million. The former opened over MLK Jr. weekend with $16.8 million in 2,194 theaters but Paddington is opening in 3,000, which should give it a much bigger presence, especially since it already opened and has done over $100 million in business, almost half of that in the UK alone. Reviews have generally been positive and the commercials and trailers look cute enough that kids will want to see this.
Expect it to do $15 to 16 million over the first three days and then have a big bump on Monday with no school, so it should be good for around $20 million in its first four days and probably will gross $55 to 60 million total.
Lastly, we have a new cyber thriller called blackhat (Universal), which teams master filmmaker Michael Mann with Chris Hemsworth (aka Thor), here playing a professional hacker given his freedom from jail to stop a terrorist. It’s a movie that’s eerily relevant right now with the recent Sony hacking that was all over the news for weeks.
Hemsworth’s last non-Marvel movie was the Ron Howard-directed Rush, which grossed less than $30 million, an he soon reteams with Howard for the upcoming In the Heart of the Sea which might do slightly better. So far, Hemsworth hasn’t really proven himself as a box office star when he’s not playing Marvel’s Thor, although he did have a hit with Snow White and the Huntsman along with Kristen Stewart and Charlize Theron, and he is one of those actors who appeals to women as much or more than guys.
The film co-stars Viola Davis, whose Q rating has risen in recent years, especially with her starring role in ABC’s “How to Get Away with Murder” although it doesn’t feel as if her presence will have much of an effect.
Michael Mann hasn’t released a movie in theaters since 2009’s Public Enemies, starring Johnny Depp and Christian Bale, which came close to $100 million with a summer release. That opened with $25 million as did his previous movie, a big screen version of Miami Vice starring Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx, and so did Collateral, starring Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx. That’s a decent run at the box office for Mann although it’s also been five years since his last movie and being absent for so long means the audience for this will probably be older guys. The problem is that they’re also the main audience for Eastwood’s American Sniper, plus they also have football championships on Sunday which will lower how much it can do over the weekend.
While a thriller like this does hold some promise, the idea of a movie about technology is not something that’s particularly exciting unless you’re talking about David Fincher’s The Social Network. For example, Transcendence starring Johnny Depp, bombed when it opened last April, opening with less than $11 million in 3,455 theaters and grossing less than $25 million domestic. blackhat—which has an absolutely terrible name compared to the original “Cyber”—can also be compared to Paramount’s attempt to revive Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit with Hemsworth’s Star Trek son Chris Pine this weekend last year, and as you can see below it didn’t do that great even with the namebrand value of Jack Ryan. Like two of the three other releases this weekend, Mann’s latest has an R rating which may limit the younger audiences that might go see it.
Opening in roughly 2,500 theaters, this is probably going to end up doing less than the other movies but should be good for $13 to 14 million over the four-day weekend and probably $30 million or so total.
As far as the returning movies, Selma should continue to do very well, mostly because this is the Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, which should help get it a nice bump, not to mention the Oscar nominations on Thursday where it’s expected to receive a number of them. It probably will still end up 6th behind the new movies unless it really blows up, while Taken 3 should also have a significant drop after its opening weekend but should still stay just ahead of Paddington for third place.
This weekend last year saw the release of four new movies and as if it was announcing Kevin Hart as the “king” of this holiday weekend (see what I did there?), his team-up with Ice Cube for the police action-comedy Ride Along (Universal) grossed $48.6 million in four days in just 2,662 theaters, an amazing average of $18,200 per theater. You can’t really get a much better precursor for Hart’s The Wedding Ringer than that, although that did have the benefits of Ice Cube (who already had hits in that same weekend in January) and the marketing push of Universal. Mark Wahlberg’s Lone Survivor dropped to second place with $25.9 million, staying just ahead of last year’s family option, the animated The Nut Job (Open Road), which grossed $25.7 million in four days in 3,427 theaters, a great showing for the fledgling distributor and one of their biggest hits to date. Things weren’t as rosy for Chris Pine’s turn as Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (Paramount), the political thriller directed and co-starring Kenneth Branagh and Keira Knightley, doing poorly with $18 million in 3,387 theaters or $5,387 per theater, although probably better than blackhat. The big bomb of the weekend was the found footage flick Devil’s Due (20th Century Fox), which opened in seventh place with $9.1 million in 2,532 theaters or $3,932 per location. The Top 10 grossed $177.3 million over the four days
This Week’s UPDATED Predictions:
UPDATE: In what may be one of my biggest changes in prediction from when this was first posted to Thursday night, I think I way underestimated the combination of Clint Eastwood and Bradley Cooper for a war movie and American Sniper‘s advance ticket sales and social media buzz is certainly pointing to it winning the weekend. Some sites are saying $40 million, $50 million and more but that seems pretty ambitious for a movie that’s more of a drama than an action movie. Still, after receiving 7 Oscar nominations, American Sniper is even higher profile going into the weekend so it will probably end up close to $40 million for the four days, which is enough to take first place.
Please note that the gallery below has not been updated so please use the numbers below that.
1. American Sniper (Warner Bros.) – $31.6 million (3-day), $38.6 million (4-day) +4321% (up 13 million and one place!)
It looks like we’re getting a lot of crap including the from-out-of-nowhere Lucasfilm animated movie Strange Magic (Disney), Johnny Depp’s attempt at a comeback with the crime-comedy Mortdecai (Lionsgate), co-starring Gwyneth Paltrow, and Jennifer Lopez returns for the thriller The Boy Next Door (Universal)… about her sleeping with the creepy boy who lives next door to her.
This Week’s Must-Sees
Match (IFC Films)
Human Capital (Film Movement)
Still Life (Tribeca Film)
Other Limited Releases of Note:
Still Alice (Sony Pictures Classics)
Still Alice Review (Coming Soon!)
Little Accidents (Amplify)
Spare Parts (Lionsgate/Pantelion Films)
Appropriate Behavior (Gravitas Ventures)
Three Night Stand (Freestyle Releasing)
Loitering with Intent (The Orchard)
I (Aascar Film)
Play and Involuntary
You can post any comments or questions below, or you can get in touch with the Weekend Warrior on Twitter.
Copyright 2015 Edward Douglas