The Weekend Warrior: Despicable Me 2, The Lone Ranger, Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain

It’s the Fourth of July weekend, the second of three summer holiday weekends and potentially the most difficult to predict since most movies open early to take advantage of the long weekend most people will have off from work. That said, because of that long weekend, many people use it as an opportunity to go away rather than sitting around at home watching movies and it’s not the moviegoing bonanza we often see during the rest of the summer. It often depends on what day of the week the 4th lands on and landing on Thursday means that people potentially have a four-day holiday weekend which they may use to go away rather than seeing the movies. That said, there are plenty of strong choices in theaters including a couple from the past few weeks, but there’s still a good chance that most of the business will be on Wednesday and Thursday rather than over the weekend.

This year, we have three movies, one a sure-fire animated hit that’s likely to take advantage of all the family business possible over the long weekend, the other the reunion of a big name star with the director of the movie that helped turn him from a popular character actor into an A-list global star power. The last of the three is a comedy concert movie that’s looking to appeal to the African-American audiences that might not be as interested in at least one of the other two big movies.

Despicable Me 2 (Universal)

Starring (the voices of) Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Miranda Cosgrove, Russell Brand, Steve Coogan, Ken Jeong, Benjamin Bratt

Directed by Chris Renaud (Despicable Me, upcoming Minions), Pierre Coffin Despicable Me, The Lorax); Written by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio (Horton Hears a Who!, Despicable Me, Hop, The Lorax)

Genre: Animated, Family, Comedy

Rated PG

Tagline: “When the world needed a hero, they called a villain.”

With Disney•Pixar’s Monsters University claiming two weeks at #1, it’s time for something else to jump into that slot and what better than the sequel to Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment’s enormous hit about a supervillain who takes in three adorable girls while still trying to take over the world. The original Despicable Me opened the weekend after the 4th of July in 2010 and while it was expected to do decently thanks to the synergy between Universal and the various network and cable stations that ran Minion-filled promos for weeks before its release, the $56.4 million opening really blew people away because it opened big doors for Universal to be taken seriously as a studio in terms of animated family movies. The movie grossed over $250 million domestic–one of Universal’s highest-grossing movies–and another $291 million internationally for a $540 million global take. Oh, it also scored $143 million in DVD sales proving that audiences really wanted to watch the adventures of Steve Carell’s Gru and his Minions over and over at home. (Oddly, DreamWorks Animation and Ben Stiller made a movie about a supervillain with Megamind, featuring the voice of Will Ferrell, and released it just a few months later to a lower opening of $46 million and it only grossed $148 million domestic and $321 million globally.)

Either way, a hit that big warrants a sequel and Universal quickly moved forward with just that. In between, Illumination tackled Dr. Seuss with The Lorax, which opened even bigger with $70 million in March 2012 before grossing $214 million domestic and another $136 million international, solidifying Universal and Illumination’s place among the big animation houses.

But now they’re back with Despicable Me 2, the further adventures of Steve Carell’s Gru and his Minions, and American audiences are clamoring for more about them since the characters have proven so popular both among kids and adults. The sequel promises more of the same things that appealed to fans of the original movie with a new story involving Gru being recruited to take out an even worse supervillain than him and early word on the movie is good, while it’s done big business in the other countries where it opened a week earlier than the States.

There aren’t a ton of comparisons for family movies that open over the 4th of July weekend, the last one being Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs in 2009, which opened on July 1, 2009 and that did okay although it was already the third chapter of a franchise whose sequel only did slightly better than the original. The day that the 4th falls on makes a huge difference and in that case it fell on a Saturday when it took a 34% drop when normally Saturdays might have a huge bump, and that’s why it made $25 million in its first two days but only $41 million on its first weekend.

There’s definitely a lot more potential for Despicable Me 2 although one wonders how many people will rush out to see it before the weekend and how many will wait until the weekend proper, and most of that comes down to the odd weighing of the 4th of July weekend and how it isn’t necessarily a holiday that brings in a ton of family business. It should do very well opening day though, possibly bringing in as much as $27 or 28 million before dropping on the 4th of July proper, but then pick up business on Friday and Saturday again, possibly even be back to the initial business it did on Wednesday by Friday to have a big weekend. Looking at the biggest Independence Day weekends, no movie has grossed over $100 million although Michael Bay’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon came close a couple of years back. We think Despicable Me 2 certainly is strong enough to make a play for at least the Top 3 4th of July openers.

Even with DreamWorks Animation’s Turbo opening in just two weeks, we think Despicable Me 2 has some of the most potential for legs for July, because families will probably want to see more of Gru and his Minions a repeat number of times. Wisely, Universal and Illumination Entertainment have been pushing the return of the Minions going back almost a year and they even have a Minions spin-off movie planned for the holiday 2014 season which should also be a big hit, so expect to see Despicable Me 2 having a similar sequel bump as Shrek 2 this weekend.

Wednesday-Thursday Estimate: $38 to 43 million; Weekend Est.: $73 to 75 million; Est. Total Gross: $280 million or more

The Lone Ranger (Walt Disney Pictures)

Starring Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, Tom Wilkinson, William Fichtner, Barry Pepper, James Badge Dale, Ruth Wilson, Helena Bonham Carter

Directed by Gore Verbinski ; Written by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio (All four “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, Shrek); Justin Haythe (Snitch, Revolutionary Road)

Genre: Action, Adventure

Rated PG-13

Tagline: “Never Take Off the Mask”

It’s always odd when a movie with a big name star ends up being the underdog of the weekend, but that’s certainly the case with this latest collaboration between superstar Johnny Depp and his second-biggest collaborator, director Gore Verbinsi, who had such huge hits with the first three “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies. The last movie that Depp and Verbinski did together was the animated Western Rango for Paramount which opened with a semi-moderate $38 million before grossing $123.2 million domestic and roughly the same internationally, but nearly a year later, it also won an Oscar in the animated category, which was quite a coup for Verbinski being his first animated movie. For their take on The Lone Ranger, they’re reunited with mega-producer Jerry Bruckheimer who produces the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies and it’s even written by the same screenwriters.

Getting a movie based on the Lone Ranger going was a slightly tougher prospect which was plagued by rumors of the project going well over budget and having problems getting Disney to agree to the budget, but the movie did finally get made and Disney seem to be putting everything behind it.

It’s been a little over a year since Depp starred in Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows which didn’t do that great in North America, grossing less than $80 million, but tripling it including international box office. Depp’s take on Hunter S. Thompson’s The Rum Diary didn’t do much better and the fourth installment Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides grossed the least of the series with $241 million domestic but still brought in a billion dollars worldwide, proving that Depp’s still a bonafide international star. The first pictures arrived with Depp sporting a very odd crow headdress and the worries about the movies started up again, but Walt Disney Pictures knows how to market these movies and the trailers have general gotten better the closer to release as they did a good job reminding people how much they loved the original “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies.

In this case, Johnny Depp is playing the sidekick role to Armie Hammer’s the Lone Ranger, Hammer having first got attention for his dual role in David Fincher’s Oscar-nominated The Social Network before taking roles in Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar and playing Prince Charming in Tarsem Singh’s Mirror Mirror opposite Julia Roberts. The movie also features a great supporting cast that includes Helena Bonham Carter, Tom Wilkinson, William Fichtner, Barry Pepper and more, and it’s a lot less British than the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, although that may have contributed to its appeal among American audiences.

The question is whether audiences even care about the Lone Ranger anymore since it’s been a very long time since he’s had any sort of presence on the screen, but one would hope that a Western from the makers of “Pirates of the Caribbean” would be of interest. The last big Western was the Coen Brothers’ True Grit, which did huge business in the United States, grossing $171 million and making it the Coens’ highest-grossing hit to date, but that was an anomaly in a genre that hasn’t generally done well at the box office. In fact, the last time a Western opened over the 4th of July with a big star in the lead was Will Smith’s Wild Wild West, and that bombed with $27.7 million, which is hard to get past when you’re trying to sell audiences on another 4th of July Western.

On top of that, the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies have started to lose steam with American audiences even though they’ve continued to do big business in international waters, but we can probably assume that having Depp in a genre that’s going to appeal more to American audiences (like a Western) might help.

I haven’t seen The Lone Ranger yet, but word’s already getting out that the movie has tonal problems and that the comedy bits don’t really fit in with the more solemn serious bits. If reviews are as bad as I think they will be, that’s not going to help matters, at least domestically, where there are plenty of other choices including last week’s The Heat and Roland Emmerich’s White House Down which could get an uptick due to its subject matter. If this is the case, word will already start getting around by Friday that the movie isn’t that great and that will hurt the weekend, not to mention the fact that there are still a lot of strong choices that have opened in earlier weekends that might make stronger 4th of July viewing choices.

Wednesday-Thursday Estimate: $27 to 30 million; Weekend Est.: $36 to 40 million; Est. Total Gross: $130 million (domestic)

Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain (Summit)

Starring Kevin Hart

Directed by Leslie Small (Laugh At My Pain), Tim Story (Taxi, Fantastic Four, Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Think Like a Man, upcoming Ride Along, Think Like a Man Too); Written by Kevin Hart, Harry Ratchford, Joey Wells

Genre: Comedy

Rated R

Tagline: “Witness the Rise of a Legend”

I don’t have too much to say about the third movie of the weekend since it’s much harder to gauge how a movie like this might do over the 4th of July weekend, but essentially this is Hart’s second concert movie after 2011’s Laugh at My Pain, which opened in 98 theaters in September 2011 and brought in nearly $2 million or roughly $19,000 per site its opening weekend.

That kind of business certainly isn’t something to be ignored and Summit Entertainment got on board with Hart’s new movie, giving it a much wider release into over 800 theaters, which is on par with other concert movies released in the past. Back in 2000, The Original Kings of Comedy opened in August with $11 million in roughly 847 theaters while Martin Lawrence: Run Tel Dat opened with $7.4 million in a wide release of 752 theaters a few years later. Other than Hart’s previous movie, it’s been a while since there’s a concert movie specifically targeting African American audiences.

But concert movies in general are dicey and unpredictable. While Miley Cyrus had a huge hit with her movie as did Justin Bieber, the Jonas Brothers movie bombed and the Katy Perry concert doc, which opened over the 4th of July last year (see below), did decently opening day but ultimately ended up in eighth place over the weekend and wasn’t seen as a success even though it probably didn’t cost a ton of money to make either.

Still, African American audiences seem to love their comedy as proven by the success of Tyler Perry’s Madea movies and the Think Like a Man movies that have helped to solidify Kevin Hart as a solid draw and they’ll probably be out to see his latest movie. The question is how many of them will go out on Wednesday and Thursday and how many will wait until the weekend, and that’s an almost impossible question to answer. Hart’s doing a high profile Q n A earlier in the week which may be a big draw that helps generate word-of-mouth for the rest of the weekend but the movie is likely to be more frontloaded as his fans go see the movie and then move onto other things.

Wednesday-Thursday Est: $4 to 5 million; Weekend Est.: $6 to 8 million; Est. Total Gross: $24 million

This weekend last year saw the release of the rebooted The Amazing Spider-Man (Sony), starring Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy, opening on Tuesday the 3rd of July where it grossed $35 million, followed by another $38 million on Wednesday and Thursday and another $62 million over the weekend proper. That’s a really solid $137 million in six days including a preview night even though some people thought that it was a disappointment compared to the showing of the Sam Raimi movies, particularly the sequel Spider-Man 2, which opened on the 4th of July weekend, but it’s all relative. On Friday the 6th, Oscar-winning filmmaker Oliver Stone returned with the crime thriller Savages (Universal), starring John Travolta, Salma Hayek, Benicio Del Toro, Taylor Kitsch (his third movie of the year), Blake Lively and Aaron Johnson. It did a solid $16 million over the weekend to take fourth place in a summer weekend that normally wouldn’t be great for this type of movie. Thursday the 5th saw the release of the concert doc Katy Perry: Part of Me (Paramount) but after grossing $3.1 million, it generally tanked with $7.1 million for eighth place, grossing $25.3 million total. The Top 10 grossed $177 million which should be beatable if Despicable Me 2 does as well as we think it’s going to do over the weekend.

This Week’s Predictions

1. Despicable Me 2 (Universal) – $74.3 million N/A

2. The Lone Ranger (Walt Disney Pictures) – $37.8 million N/A

3. Monsters University (Disney•Pixar) – $24.0 million -49%

4. The Heat (20th Century Fox) – $22 million -45%

5. World War Z (Paramount) – $15 million -50%

6. White House Down (Sony) – $12.6 million -48%

7. Man of Steel (Warner Bros.) – $10.7 million -47%

8. Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain (Summit) – $6.5 million N/A

9. This is the End (Sony) – $5.5 million -37%

10. Now You See Me (Summit) – $3.5 million -36%

Normally, we’d just go with our third music doc in a row for the CHOSEN ONE because I really loved Drew DeNicola and Oliva Mori’s Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me (Magnolia), when I saw it at DOC-NYC last year, but I didn’t get a refresher screener in time to watch it again and it’s been too long since I’ve seen the movie so there isn’t that much more than I can write about it at this point except that if you’re into the band and music docs, it’s worth seeking out. It takes a look at the seminal ‘70s rock band founded by Chris Bell and Alex Chilton that produced such great albums as “Third/Sister Lovers,” “Number 1 Record” and “Radio City” before disappearing into obscurity and cult status. I loved the movie It opens in New York at the IFC Center on Wednesday (when it’s also available On Demand and iTunes) and at Los Angeles’ Nuart Theater on Friday and in other places after that, which you can find out where here.

Director Michael Winterbottom and actor Steve Coogan reunite for their fourth movie together following 24 Hour Party People, Tristram Shandy and The Trip with The Look of Love (IFC Films), telling the story of Soho club owner and pornographer Paul Raymond. It feels like a very different movie for Winterbottom and Coogan because it’s not nearly as comedic even though Coogan gives a great performance as Raymond, one that really stretches his range more than we’ve seen from him in the past, and because of the subject matter, there’s probably more drugs and nudity than in all of Winterbottom’s movies put together…. and this is from the director of Nine Songs. I was particularly impressed with the performance by Imogen Poots as Raymond’s daughter Debbie who starts singing at her father’s club and starts getting into drugs herself. I’m not really a big fan of Poots so the fact that she can have such a big impact with her performance is a testament to the strength of the movie and Winterbottom’s ability to get the best out of actresses. The Look of Love definitely won’t be for everyone since it is about a pornographer and there’s a lot of graphic nudity, but it’s another solid film from the two frequent collaborators that fits into what they first did in 24 Hour Party People.

Josh Boone’s dramedy Stuck in Love (Millennium Entertainment), which previously played the festival circuit as “Writers,” stars Greg Kinnear as a novelist trying to keep things together after his wife Erica (Jennifer Connelly) leaves him for a younger man, so he obsesses about her and spies on her and her new husband. Meanwhile, his teenager daughter Samantha comes home for Thanksgiving with news that her first novel has been accepted for publication. It opens in select cities.

Jimmy Loweree’s found footage horror movie Absence (Cinedigm) stars Erin Way (“Alphas”) as an expectant mother Liz who wakes up to find her nearly term baby missing overnight and only her brother and husband believe that she’s not responsible.

And the movies I didn’t have any sort of opportunity to see before writing this column…

Oscar-winning The Descendants writers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash make their directorial debut with The Way, Way Back (Fox Searchlight), a coming-of-age comedy starring newcomer Liam James as 14-year-old Duncan who spends the summer with the manager of a water park, played by Sam Rockwell, to get away from his mother and her overbearing boyfriend, played by Toni Collette and Steve Carell (reunited from Little Miss Sunshine). It opens in select cities on Friday with plans to expand after that.

Charlie Bewley of “The Vampire Diaries” and “The Twilight Saga” stars in Hammer of the Gods (Magnet Releasing), Farren Blackburn’s Viking epic set in Britain 871 AD in which Bewley’s Viking warrior Steinar is sent on a quest by his father to find his estranged brother. It’s my kind of movie, but I haven’t been given any kind of opportunity to see it yet.

Sienna Miller stars in Rachid Bouchareb’s Just Like a Woman (Cohen Media Group) as Mona, a 26 year-old North African immigrant in Chicago in an unhappy marriage, while 29-year-old Marilyn’s marriage is also not going well, but both of them find solace in their mutual love for belly dancing. When Mona’s mother in law dies due to a wrong dose of medicine, she runs off to join a belly dancing company… of course, she does! We assume Marilyn joins her.

Next week, the month of July continues with the comedy sequel Grown Ups 2 (Sony), reuniting Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock and David Spade, and we finally see the releaes of the Weekend Warrior’s #1 anticipated movie of 2013, Guillermo del Toro’s monsters vs. robots action epic Pacific Rim (Legendary/WB)!

You can read stuff like this and regular box office, awards and festival coverage on the Weekend Warrior Blog and to keep up with the latest articles and posts, you can follow us on Twitter.

Copyright 2013 Edward Douglas


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