The last month of the summer kicks off with a mixed bag of movies that cover a wide range of genres and audiences trying to get things to pick up despite August always being when things slow down. We have a superhero movie, a thriller, a musical comedy (of sorts) and an animated family film, although the recent moviegoing ennui probably won’t be quelled by this weekend’s choices.
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Director: Josh Trank (Chronicle)
Writer: Simon Kinberg, Jeremy Slater, Josh Trank
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, Tim Blake Nelson, Toby Kebbell, Reg E. Cathey
Genre: Action, Adventure
What It’s About: Marvel’s greatest superhero family the Fantastic Four return to the big screen in a “contemporary reimagining” for modern audiences where four young science nerds get turned into superheroes in order to take down the global threat of Dr. Doom (Toby Kebbell).
While normally I’m thrilled to be writing about a movie based on some of my favorite comic book heroes, because I’m so happy to see superhero movies thriving, there’s a lot of things that make me nervous about Fox’s latest attempt to revive the Fantastic Four, but most of all it’s due to the two previous movies.
No, I wasn’t a fan of Tim Story’s Fantastic Four, which opened with $56 million ten years ago on its way to $154 million domestic and $330 million globally. That was enough to warrant a sequel which opened two years later with $58 million but grossed less overall. Reviews for neither movie were very good, nor were user ratings on IMDb, but fortunately, a year later, we got Iron Man and The Dark Knight and literally everything changed for superhero movies where they’re more popular than ever. Not that you could tell from Fox’s X-Men movies, which were revived with a new cast for 2011’s X-Men: First Class, which grossed less than the other installments. Last year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past returned the franchise to its earlier acclaim by bringing back director Bryan Singer and many of the original cast. (See now would be another good time to post one of those charts, huh? Sorry, you got one last week but it’s too much of a pain.)
The fact is that superhero movies are bigger than ever and they have a lot more fans due to the success of the Marvel Studios releases, especially since the company was bought by Walt Disney Pictures, leading to three movies that grossed over $400 million.
The good thing about the Fantastic Four is that it’s literally the “World’s Greatest Comics,” being one of the first comics introduced by the fledgling Marvel Comics 50 years ago and leading to a number of successful cartoons over the years. After Spider-Man, they’re probably the most recognized Marvel superheroes worldwide, although they may have fallen behind the X-Men and The Avengers due to the success they’ve had in movies. Being a family, there’s also an appeal for younger kids because they can understand those dynamics.
This one has Josh Trank, the director of Fox’s hit found-footage superhero movie Chronicle, at the helm and has a great cast that includes super-hot Miles Teller, equally hot Michael B. Jordan (who appeared in Chronicle and who will try to revive the Rocky franchise with Creed later this year), Kate Mara, who has grown in popularity due to her role on Netflix’s “House of Cards,” and Jamie Bell aka “Billy Elliot” (and the star of one of Fox’s unfortunate attempts at an original superhero movie with Jumper). It’s a good cast that will hopefully appeal to a wide range of moviegoers, especially young people and urban audiences. (Although there’s been a lot of controversy about making Johnny Storm black that we won’t even get into.) It also stars Toby Kebbell, who played the bad ape in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, to play Dr. Doom, the Fantastic Four’s arch-nemesis.
So yeah, there’s a lot going for 20th Century Fox’s relaunch of the Fantastic Four, so what could possibly go wrong?
The movie has been plagued with negative rumors, mostly about director Josh Trank, production problems and the like, on top of the criticisms about some of the bigger changes, and that sort of stuff is out there as well as all of Fox’s marketing for the movie. While that kind of stuff doesn’t always hurt a movie, this definitely can cause doubts in anyone on the fence about whether to give this take on Fantastic Four a chance.
It’s hard to determine whether there is superhero burn-out, but Marvel’s two movies of the summer haven’t fared as earlier movies with Avengers: Age of Ultron stalling out compared to its predecessor and Ant-Man likely to be one of their lower-grossing films domestically.
There’s also the rampant rumors that Marvel and Fox have been at odds, to the point where Marvel Comics stopped publishing the Fantastic Four comic to deliberately screw with Fox (although honestly, that’s about as “cut off the nose to spite your face” as one can get). There also haven’t been any Fantastic Four toys in the past ten years, maybe even for the same reason, so it’s insured that kids under 10 will probably not even know who the FF are, which cuts off the chance of getting them into theaters. Not that it will matter, because this is a darker version of the FF that isn’t as kid-friendly as something like Spider-Man or even Ant-Man.
Other than Miles Teller and maybe Michael B. Jordan, none of the cast member of this movie have proven themselves as any sort of draw at the box office, although that really shouldn’t matter
There’s no question that 20th Century Fox is having problems with this movie or else they would have started screening it more rampantly. As it were, the press screenings will be on Wednesday night, less than 24 hours before it opens.
My initial instinct is that this movie will have a disappointing opening in the $45 million range, but I thought that about last year’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the Fantastic Four will probably have a similar draw to audiences who haven’t heard all the naysaying and will just go see this based on their knowledge of the comic book characters. With that in mind, we’ll probably see this one coming closer to $50 million or more, but it probably will end up grossing in the $130 to 140 million range of the previous FF movie.
Interview with The Fantastic Four
Interview with Toby Kebbell aka Dr. Doom
Distributor: STX Entertainment
Writer/Director: Joel Edgerton (debut)
Cast: Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton
Genre: Thriller, Drama
What It’s About: Simon and Robyn (Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall), are a young married couple who have just moved into their new California home when Simon runs into “Gordo” (Edgerton), a guy who went to high school with him and wants to rekindle their relationship although Simon only remembers Gordo as the weirdo who was always picked on.
Anyone who saw the 2008 Australian thriller The Square or some of the other movies from Blue Tongue Films (like Animal Kingdom and Felony) knows that Joel Edgerton is as talented a writer as he is an actor, and with The Gift, he becomes the third Australian actor this year (after Russell Crowe and Leigh Whannell) to step behind the camera to direct.
Like with Whannell’s Insidious Chapter 3, Edgerton is working with the lucrative Blumhouse Productions, who have made quite a name for themselves with low-budget horror films. This year alone, they’ve had six movies, almost one a month, and all but one of them have been profitable from their domestic theatrical release alone.
The Gift is somewhat of a throwback to the domestic thrillers of the ‘80s and ‘90s, movies like Fatal Attraction, Pacific Heights and others that did decent business during their theatrical runs because of buzz created around the water cooler. More recently, filmmakers like Tyler Perry and producer Will Packer have jumped into this game, creating domestic thrillers for African-American women like Obsessed and No Good Deed, both which were profitable. In that sense, The Gift is more in line with Blumhouse’s January hit The Boy Next Door starring Jennifer Lopez, which grossed $35.2 million based on a $4 million budget.
The Gift is being released by a new distributor called STX Entertainment, which is looking to make a mark with their first high profile wide release and for a new distributor, STX Entertainment has done a pretty job with the marketing, getting the movie journalists on board with promotional items and releasing a number of creepy commercials and trailers that taps into the fears we all face thanks to the internet. And it’s not just “stranger danger” as much as having someone from our past turn up to remind us how awful we were when we younger. (Of course, I’ve always been awesome so I don’t have to worry too much about that.)
These sorts of thrillers don’t necessarily need good reviews because they’re easily sold via their premise, although surprisingly, the early reviews for The Gift have been great and STX haven’t felt the need to hide the movie as other distributors like Screen Gems often do when it comes to twisty thrillers.
Because The Gift isn’t necessarily a horror movie, its target audience will probably be older than the usual Blumhouse demographic, and audiences between 30 and 40 year olds will have other options, like not going to movies at all. One wonders whether there’s much awareness for the movie, mainly due to its bland and generic title, which does nothing to get anyone excited. Being a throwback might put off some moviegoers who might not think it’s worth shelling out big bucks for something where they think they might know what to expect even if it gets unanimously positive reviews (and it probably won’t).
Speaking of bland, Jason Bateman’s performance at the box office is almost always reliant on the subject matter and his co-star with comedy being more his thing than this sort of dramatic thriller. Previous movies he’s headlined like Extract, The Switch and even his own Bad Words have failed to find much of an audience so his power as a box office draw is dubious at best, and he isn’t the draw that Jennifer Lopez would be.
On top of that, there’s nothing about this that makes it seem like something that has to be seen in theaters and giving it a summer release may be a rookie mistake by first-time distributor STX Entertainment, which has to face the challenge of getting screens despite not having the relationships that the bigger studios have that allows them to get screens.
If you look at some of the early releases of Open Road (Silent House, Killer Elite) or even FilmDistrict (now rolled into Focus Features and retitled Gramercy) or Relativity Media—maybe the latter is a bad example considering its latest issues—it’s generally been hard to get a new distribution company off the ground in recent years. This won’t really matter to the moviegoing audience at large, but it does make a difference as a fledgling company is feeling its way through the industry. Their next movie is the American remake of the Oscar-winning The Secret in Their Eyes.
The marketing for the movie may be solid enough to intrigue older folks who loved those suburban thrillers from the ‘80s and ‘90s, but there isn’t as much buzz surrounding this movie as Blumhouse’s movies designed to scare. It should be good for an opening in the $10 million range, although I also wouldn’t be surprised if this outright bombs and doesn’t fare as well as some of the other wide releases. Basically, this is a bit of an unknown in terms of how it will fare down the road, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it only grosses $25 million because it’s facing much stronger fare.
Ricki and the Flash
Distributor: Sony / Tristar Pictures
Director: Jonathan Demme (Something Wild, Stop Making Sense, The Silence of the Lambs, Rachel Getting Married, Beloved, Philadelphia, Married to the Mob)
Writer: Diablo Cody (Juno, Young Adult, Jennifer’s Body)
Cast: Meryl Streep, Mamie Gummer, Rick Springfield, Kevin Kline, Sebastian Stan, Audra McDonald
Genre: Drama, Comedy, Music
What It’s About: Rocker Ricki Rendazzo (Meryl Streep) is called back to Indiana by her ex-husband (Kevin Kline) to help cheer up their daughter Julie (Mamie Gummer) whose husband Max walked out on her. But Ricki still has issues with the family she left behind to become a rocker and they’re not exactly happy to see her.
It almost has become a summer tradition that when August comes around, studios need to roll out a couple of movies for the older female moviegoers, and there have been plenty of big hits in August with the likes of The Help and Lee Daniels’ The Butler, but Sony Pictures have also had success going this route with movies like Julie & Julia in 2009 ($94 million gross) and Hope Springs three years later. What those two movies had in common was actress Meryl Streep, who has become one of the most honored actors in the industry with 19 Oscar nominations, of which she won three. (One of those nominations was for Julie & Julia.)
It might be hard to imagine that Meryl Streep would still be a box office draw at the age of 66, but the numbers are undeniable with five movies grossing over $100 million in the past ten years, including the musicals Mamma Mia! and Into the Woods (Julie & Julia was pretty close).
Having appeared in so many movies and received so many accolades has given Streep the power to draw in older moviegoers looking for quality even if some of those movies didn’t click in the same way. She’s one of the country’s top actors for sure, though, and she warrants the same respect as many of the greats so when she takes on a role in a movie, it’s usually taken seriously.
Another possible draw for the movie is that it reunites Streep with Oscar-winning filmmaker Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs) following their rather in-conceived remake of The Manchurian Candidate in 2004. But this is Demme’s first narrative film since 2008’s Rachel Getting Married, for which Anne Hathaway scored her first Oscar nomination, and it allows him to mix drama and humor with music, something he’s been doing since early ‘80s hits like Something Wild. (Since “Rachel,” Demme has also directed many music and concert docs including Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense and a bunch with Neil Young.)
Of lesser interest, the film is written by Diablo Cody, who received an Oscar nomination for her first produced screenplay of Juno, which was directed by Jason Reitman, who also directed Young Adult from one of Cody’s scripts. She doesn’t seem to be much of a draw though, going by the fact her directorial debut barely got a theatrical release.
You then have the rest of the cast that includes another Oscar winner in Kevin Kline, Streep’s eldest daughter Mamie Gummer and rocker Rick Springfield, which helps give the music aspect of the film a little more cred.
There’s little question that Ricki and the Flash is meant to appeal to older men and women who aren’t being catered to with other offerings, especially the 40-somethings that still go to rock concerts and enjoy some of the bands covered like Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen. No one under the age of 30 will even give this movie a second look.
Small family dramas like this rarely make a big impact at the box office even with a name star like Streep and Ricki and the Flash could have just as easily been done independently, ran the fall festival circuit and been given a limited release before expanding over the holidays. The fact that this is being given a wide release in the summer by Sony is more of a testament to new President Tom Rothman who produced this movie after taking over the Tristar Pictures imprint. That said, they’re opening it in less than 2,000 theaters, which will definitely limit how much it can make opening weekend.
Expectations will probably be high among critics who remember Jonathan Demme during his heyday (and many older critics tend to kiss Meryl Streep’s ass more than is deserved), but reviews will probably be mixed at best because this is such a standard film in terms of the drama.
Considering that Sony’s romantic comedy Aloha was able to make nearly $10 million its opening weekend despite terrible reviews, Ricki and the Flash should be good for $7 to 8 million despite the moderate theater count. Because this is the kind of August release that relies on word-of-mouth expect it to end up with $25 to 30 million in theaters.
Shaun the Sheep Movie
Writer/Directors: Mark Burton, Richard Starzak
Cast:Justin Fletcher, John Sparkes, Omid Djalili, Kate Harbour, Tim Hands, Andy Nyman, Simon Greenall, Emma Tate
Genre: Animation, Family
What It’s About: A sheep named Shaun? That’s my guess.
Every summer, some studio thinks it’s a good idea to release a family animated movie in August, maybe hoping to get some last-kminute business during the hottest month of summer before school’s back in session, and it NEVER WORKS. EVER.
But that’s not stopping Lionsgate who have teamed with Aardman Animations, the British animation house best known for the Claymation work of Nick Park with the likes of “Wallace and Gromit,” for a new stop-motion animated film.
In the past, Aardman teamed with DreamWorks Animation for hits like Chicken Run, which grossed over $100 million in 2000 before Shrek blew up the world with its computer animation. That was followed five years later with Wallace and Grommit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, which topped out with $56 million, further proof that stop-motion animation just couldn’t stand up to what had been done with computers. (Aardman’s CG-animated film Flushed Away did slightly better with $64.6 million a year after “Wallace and Grommit.”) Aardman generally is considered to be quality films that get solid reviews and they’re the last of a dying breed of animation houses still doing stop-motion animation along with Portland’s LAIKA (who have had solid success with their three films).
There’s little question that Shaun the Sheep Movie is aiming for the younger kids who aren’t quite as discerning when it comes to the movies they watch but need to be kept entertained by their parents. So far, reviews have generally been good—in fact, it’s still at 100% on Rottenk Tomatoes after premiering at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and having good reviews might help convince parents to take the younger kids to see it. (I haven’t had a chance to see it, so I can’t verify or confirm that the movie is as good as the reviews say.)
The movie is opening on Wednesday for some reason, which makes little sense since it’s not like there’s any direct competition over the weekend that isn’t playing on Friday. Because this is a movie geared more towards younger kids, they’ll need to go see it with their parents and since they work, that means most of the business will be on Saturday and Sunday.
It’s also not great that Lionsgate are opening the movie in August where there’s yet to be any sort of breakout family film. At least it’s opening the first weekend of August rather than after that when we’ve seen animated bombs like Disney’s Valiant, and even Disney’s Planes, while it wasn’t a bomb, only opened with $22 million which is nothing compared to other animated releases.
As mentioned above, stop-motion animation seems rather passé even if LAIKA Studios have had success with their movies. The last stop-motion picture from Chicken Run director Peter Lord, The Pirates! Band of Misfits, topped out at $31 million domestically despite having the Sony marketing behind it. (It grossed $100 million overseas.) While not stop-motion animated, Aardman’s CG Arthur Christmas only grossed $46.5 million despite a plum Thanksgiving release before the holidays, which makes one think it’s not just the style of animation but also the funny British accents/characters that might not connect with American family audiences. (And yet, Miramax’s Gnomeo and Juliet was a huge hit, so go figure.)
Lionsgate have not fared well with their attempts to win over family audiences with their animated movies with previous attempts like 2007’s Happily N’Ever After bombing with just $15.6 million while 2010’s Alpha and Omega topped out with $25 million. Both their sequels were relegated to home video. Regardless of how good Shaun the Sheep Movie might be, not having the marketing to back up the reviews won’t help matters, because awareness will be very low.
What is up with that ridiculous title? Shouldn’t there be another “the” in there? Like “Shaun the Sheep: The Movie” or “The Shaun the Sheep Movie”?
I don’t have high hopes for this movie doing much business during the week and probably will end up in the bottom half of the Top 10 with its moderate release and limited marketing. It probably will end up with $6 to 7 million over the weekend with another couple of million on Wednesday and Thursday and it will probably struggle to hit $20 million.
This Weekend Last Year
Oops, I think I screwed up because last week should have been Guardians of the Galaxy—it opened on August 1 last year so it coincided with that weekend. Oh, well. It happens.
So the actual second weekend of August last year saw the release of Paramount Pictures’ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which won the weekend with $66 million, far above expectations as it averaged $17,000 in 3,845 theaters. The rest of the new movies were a similar mixed bag as this week with the thematic sequel to Twister, the disaster flick Into the Storm (New Line/WB), opening in 3,434 theaters, settling for third place with $18 million, followed in fourth by the cooking travelogue The Hundred-Foot Journey (DreamWorks), starring Helen Mirren with $11 million in 2,023 theaters ($5,427 per theater). The latest installment of the popular dance franchise, Step Up All In (Summit), failed to find much of an audience, opening in sixth place with just $6.5 million, pretty much putting an end to that franchise, hopefully. The Top 10 grossed $170.5 million, which may be tough to beat since I don’t think Fantastic Four will open as big as TMNT, and we won’t have the second weekend of Guardians of the Galaxy bolstering the box office.
This Week’s Updated Predictions
Fantastic Four shouldn’t have any problem beating Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation in its second weekend and The Gift should take a comfortable third but after that, it should be fairly close for the next three or four spots in the Top 10.
UPDATE (so far): Yeah, there’s no way that those bad reviews for Fantastic Four aren’t going to hurt it, both opening weekend and overall, so I’m severely lowering my prediction on it because even those curious about whether it’s as bad the reviews say (10% on RottenTomatoes!) will go out Thursday and Friday and then it tanks after that. Woody Allen’s Irrational Man is going to expand wide tomorrow as well but it probably won’t get into the Top 10.
1. Fantastic Four (20th Century Fox) – $44.8 million N/A (down $6.9 million)
2. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (Paramount) – $29.6 million -47% (up .3 million)
3. The Gift (STX Entertainment) – $10.4 million N/A (Up .4 million)
4. Vacation (New Line/WB) – $7.5 million -50% (up .1 million)
5. Ricki and the Flash (Sony) – $7.1 million N/A (Up .1 million)
6. Ant-Man (Disney/Marvel) – $7.0 million -46% (up .2 million)
7. Minions (Universal) – $6.7 million -45%
8. Shaun the Sheep Movie (Lionsgate) – $6.5 million N/A
9. Trainwreck (Universal) – $5.6 million -40%
10. Pixels (Sony) – $5 million -52%
— Irrational Man (Sony Pictures Classics) – $1.5 million +200%
Summer starts winding down with what might be the one last gasp for the summer box office as the NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton (Universal) takes on Guy Ritchie’s spy action-thriller The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (Warner Bros.), starring Superman and the Lone Ranger, aka Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer, while the animated Underdogs (The Weinstein Co.) reminds us that the summer’s “Dog Days” are officially upon us.
This Week’s Must-Sees
The Diary of a Teenage Girl (Sony Pictures Classics)
Writer/Director: Marianne Heller
Stars: Bel Powley, Alexander Skarsgård, Christopher Meloni, Kristen Wiig
Genre: Drama, Comedy
What It’s About: In 1976 San Francisco, 17-year-old Minnie Geotze (Bel Powley) is starting to explore her sexuality by having an affair with her mother’s boyfriend Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard) while trying to keep it a secret from her mother (Kristen Wiig).
Call Me Lucky (MPI Media)
Director: Bobcat Goldthwait
Stars: Barry Crimmins
What It’s About: Comedian/filmmaker Bobcat Goldthwait gathers many of his friends from the Boston comedy scene to showcase his mentor Barry Crimmins, a stand-up and club owner whose harrowing abuse as a child led him to become a political activist and child advocate later in his life.
Video Interview with Bobcat Goldthwait and Barry Crimmins
Cop Car (Focus World)
Director: Jon Watts
Stars: James Freedson-Jackson, Hays Welford, Kevin Bacon, Shea Whigham, Camryn Manheim
What It’s About: Two young boys (James Freedson-Jackson, Hays Wellford) find a seemingly abandoned cop car in the middle of the woods and decide to take it for a joy ride, not realizing that it belongs to the county sheriff (Kevin Bacon) who has been up to no good with lots of evidence in said car.
Jon Watts Interview (Later this week)
Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet (GKIDS)
Director: Roger Allers with Marjane Satrapi, Bill Plympton, Tomm Moore, Chris Landreth, Nina Paley, Mohammed Saeed Harib, Michal Socha, Francesco Testa, Joan Gratz
Voice Stars: Alfred Molina, Frank Langella, Liam Neeson, Salma Hayek, John Krasinski, Quvenzhané Wallis
What It’s About: Khalil Gibran’s literary classic work of fiction “The Prophet” is adapted by the co-director of The Lion King along with some of the greatest animators around the world, including Tomm Moore (The Secret of the Kells), Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis) and Bill Plympton, as it tells the story of a maid (voiced by Salma Hayek) going to clean the cell of a political prisoner (voiced by Liam Neeson) who has been jailed for his poetry that is considered subversive. The poet teaches the maid’s precocious daughter about life and love via his poems.
Other Limited Releases of Note:
Dark Places (A24)
Writer/Director: Gilles Paquet-Brenner
Stars: Charlize Theron, Drea de Matteo, Nicholas Hoult, Christina Hendricks, Chloe Grace Moretz, Corey Stoll, Sterling Jerins, Tye Sheridan, Shannon Kook
What It’s About: Adapted from Gillian (“Gone Girl”) Flynn’s novel with Charlize Theron playing Libby Day, a woman whose family was massacred when she was 7 years old forcing her to testify against her brother as the murderer. Years later, a group trying to solve notorious crimes forces Libby to relive that awful experience. It also stars Christina Hendricks, Chloe Moretz and Theron’s Mad Max: Fury Road co-star Nicholas Hoult.
Sneakerheadz (Submarine Deluxe)
Director: David T. Friendly, Mick Partridge
What It’s About: This is a documentary about sneakers. I wear them. They’re cool.
And those sneakers will come in handy for…
The Runner (Alchemy)
Writer/Director: Austin Stark
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Sarah Paulson, Connie Nielsen, Wendell Pierce, Peter Fonda
What It’s About: Nicolas Cage plays a New Orleans congressman whose career is threatened by a sex scandal shortly after the 2010 BP oil spill with Peter Fonda playing his father, the former mayor of New Orleans, and Connie Nielsn playing his attorney wife. It opens in select cities and presumably on demand as well.
Catch Me Daddy (Oscilloscope Labs)
Director: Daniel Wolfe
Stars: Sameena Jabeen Ahmed, Connor McCarron, Gary Lewis
Genre: Drama, Thriller
What It’s About: In this British thriller that debuted at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, a young girl named Laila flees home from her crime family along with her boyfriend Aaron whom her family disapproves of, taking them into the Yorkshire Moors.
You can post any comments or questions below, or you can get in touch with the Weekend Warrior on Twitter.
Copyright 2015 Edward Douglas
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