The Weekend Warrior: Maleficent, A Million Ways to Die in the West

Hopefully everyone had a great Memorial Day weekend and certainly the box office is having a particularly nice boom (unless you’re Adam Sandler) and as the first month of summer comes to a close, everyone is hoping that moviegoers’ love for the theatrical experience will continue through the rest of the summer. This weekend sees the release of two movies that couldn’t be any more different even as it pits two celebrities who made waves at the Oscars, Angelina Jolie and Seth MacFarlane, against each other for box office supremacy.

At the start of the summer i.e. four weeks ago, this may have looked to be a much more heated weekend between the two movies–and this is one weekend where I’m definitely breaking away from my earlier summer predictions–but at this point, it seems like Disney’s Maleficent, starring Angelina Jolie as the “evil queen” from the fairy tale of “Sleeping Beauty,” has a lot more going for it.

The first and foremost things is that it’s Angelina Jolie’s first time on the big screen since 2010 when she followed the hit action movie Salt with the disappointing The Tourist, alongside Johnny Depp. Jolie’s still had a presence over the past few years due to voicing Kung Fu Panda 2, her humanitarian work, directing two movies (with the upcoming Unbroken already getting early Oscar buzz), as well as being on the red carpet whenever life partner Brad Pitt would be involved with a movie. Jolie’s generally been a solid box office draw when in the right vehicle such as when she was cast as Lara Croft: Tomb Raider in 2001 and that opened with $47.7 million and grossed $131 million. When she was paired with Pitt for 2005’s Mr. & Mrs. Smith, it opened with $50 million and grossed $478 million worldwide, then her last big action movie Salt (which she one again anchored as the film’s star) opened in the summer of 2010 to the tune of $36 million and went on to gross $293 million worldwide. Although her pairing with Depp bombed domestically, it still grossed $278 million globally, showing that both stars still are able to pull in a big crowd overseas.

But now it’s four years later and many are wondering whether Jolie has the same pull at the box office that she did back in the day even if she’s still able to sell lots of tabloids at the supermarket. On paper, having Jolie play a wicked queen is a great matching of role to actress, especially since Disney have already had huge hits with their live action remakes of classic fairy tales like mega-blockbuster Alice in Wonderland starring Johnny Depp, which grossed a billion worldwide, and last year’s Oz The Great and Powerful, which brought in about half that amount. Disney is counting that having Jolie in this role almost guarantees a huge international audience even if cynical American moviegoers don’t exactly go for the idea, and one expects this will work in a similar way as 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman, starring Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron, which grossed $400 million worldwide after a $56 million domestic opening.

Maleficent is likely to be a similar draw for women of all ages, but it’s not a movie without its share of problems, the first one being the ridiculously unwieldy title that few people can pronounce and may not have the immediate connection to “Sleeping Beauty” one would hope. Titles are very important, and not having a namebrand like “Alice in Wonderland” or “Oz or “Snow White” won’t help at all. That name’s a problem despite the huge amounts of marketing by Disney, going back to spots during the Super Bowl and the Oscars.

On top of that, Disney are pretty much hiding the movie from critics with most of them only getting to see it on Wednesday night. Not showing confidence in the quality of your movie is not a good sign that you have a good movie, and once reviews start coming out by Friday, it’s going to be hard to keep the momentum going even if the movie does well opening weekend.

Even so, the movie has a PG rating and it’s being released by Disney so parents will be comfortable taking their kids, especially younger girls, to see the movie and it’s not like there are a lot of other options in theaters for family audiences right now.

I expect Maleficent to have a solid opening weekend somewhere in the high $40 millions but possibly even reaching $50 million or more. Since last week’s #1 X-Men: Days of Future Past will probably take a huge tumble after its Memorial Day weekend (which is fairly common), Jolie’s return shouldn’t have a problem taking the #1 spot either, although I don’t expect word-of-mouth to be very good and it may be struggling its way to roughly $125 or 130 million.

And then there’s Seth MacFarlane’s attempt at counterprogramming with A Million Ways to Die in the West (Universal), which he wrote and directed and in which he co-stars with the likes of Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried, Neil Patrick Harris, Giovanni Ribisi, Sarah Silverman and Liam Neeson. It’s a raunchy un-PC Western satire in the tradition of Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles using the type of clever but low-brow humor that MacFarlane perfected on his television cartoons, like the very popular “Family Guy.”

In 2012, MacFarlane made his live-action feature film directorial debut with Ted, in which he voiced a foul-mouthed CG teddy bear opposite Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis, and it ended up being an enormous hit for Universal, opening with $54 million and then grossing $218 million in North America and another $330 million overseas. That’s all based on a $50 million budget and when you make that kind of money for a company, you can pretty much write your own card, and MacFarlane has used the karma he created with Ted to make, of all things, a Western.

Westerns have been hit or miss at the box office although the Coen Brothers and Quentin Tarantino had some of their biggest hits in the genre with True Grit and Django Unchained, respectively. Doing a Western is an interesting decision by MacFarlane because the genre generally appeals more to guys than women, and at least until Ted, guys made up a fairly percentage of MacFarlane’s audience. One has to expect that the humor in his latest movie will appeal more towards older teen and college-age guys than the 30-year-old plus moviegoers who might enjoy a Western, though. And women? They’ll go for Maleficent or wait until next week’s The Fault Under the Stars. While there’s no questioning MacFarlane’s vast fanbase, one can’t just assume that is what accounted for Ted‘s huge success since that had a much stronger premise that could reach beyond the male fans of “Family Guy” and that probably isn’t the case with “Million Ways to Die.”

Fortunately, MacFarlane has a decent cast around him with the likes of Charlize Theron and Liam Neeson being featured prominently in the ads – poor Amanda Seyfried, would you even know she was in this movie if I hadn’t mentioned her? And she’s the star of MacFarlane’s sequel to Ted, too! Sarah Silverman, Giovanni Ribisi and Neil Patrick Harris also bring some laughs even though one wouldn’t expect them to be draws per se.

Reviews probably won’t be nearly as good as that for Ted or Neighbors, because MacFarlane is an acquired taste and a lot of the humor doesn’t veer too far from his physical or low-brow toilet humor, but also working with an R rating means he can have a lot more swearing and sex humor than he’s allowed on TV. His fans of course will eat that up, but everyone else? Maybe not so much.

A Million Ways to Die in the West probably won’t fare nearly as well as Ted either opening weekend or overall (and certainly not worldwide), but I see MacFarlane’s fanbase bringing in somewhere between $25 to 30 million opening weekend and the movie then stalling out after that, probably ending up around $70 to 75 million at best.

Review (Later this week)


One of the nice things about being back in New York City and making an effort to see a variety of different movies is that every once in a while, I’m surprised by something that was barely on my radar. That’s certainly the case with We Are the Best! (Magnolia), the new movie from Swedish filmmaker Lukas Moodysson (Together, Lilya 4-Ever) which flashes back to 1982 Stockholm when New Wave had started to replace punk, but not for two 12-year-old girls Klara and Bobo, who decide to start their own band. Like the best punk bands, neither girl knows how to play an instrument.

The film is based on Moodysson’s wife’s autobiographical novel of the same name, although Moodyson altered the story to make it work for his movie with Mira Grosin playing the spunky troublemaker Klara, who is constantly instigating her best friend, the more secluded Bobo (Mira Barkhammar), to join her in wild adventures. Despite their lack of musical skills, they make a spur of the moment decision to form a band, and they soon find their third member in classical guitarist Hedvig, a highly-religious Christian who finds herself also being treated as an outcast at school. While she seems like an odd choice to play in a punk band, she’s the only one of them with any musical experience and she helps them learn how to play.

There’s been much talk lately about Russia’s Pussy Riot and what they’ve been doing to fight against inequalities in their home country. The girls have a slightly less lofty agenda as addressed in their main song “Hate the Sport!” basically giving the bird to the fact they, you guessed it, hate the politics of watching sports. That’s just part of what makes these girls so adorable but also the type of film characters you’re rooting for every step of the way.

The film feels so naturalistic as Moodysson allows the young actresses the freedom to really embody the characters, shooting the film with a lot of handheld camerawork but not quite going full “Dogme.” The three actresses are just so entertaining to watch that it doesn’t even matter that the plot isn’t particularly deep, at least not on its surface, but that changes when friction forms between Klara and Bob as boys are introduced to the mix and start to come between them. That aspect of the film is handled so honestly you might wonder whether Moodysson was a teen girl in another life, but one has to imagine (without having read it) that his wife’s graphic novel informed that aspect of the film.

For all the “young adult” movies being released these days that deem to create (pretty poor) role models for young girls, if I had a daughter I’d rather her watch a movie like this one instead of idolizing yet another moaning doe-eyed teen girl who keeps getting distracted from important world issues by romance.

Moodysson’s punky We Are the Best! is a charming delight and regardless of your age or gender, it’s going to leave you wanting to form your own punk band on leaving the theater.

Rating: 8.5/10

Interview with Lukas Moodyson

We Are the Best! opens in New York, Los Angeles, Montreal and Toronto on Friday. You can learn more about where it’s playing after that on the Magnolia site.

This weekend last year saw a big surprise as the movie most thought might win the weekend ended up in third place behind what seemed like an underdog going into the weekend. Either way, both new movies weren’t able to take down Fast & Furious 6, which remained #1 with $35.2 million despite being down 64% from its Memorial Day weekend opening. The ensemble heist action movie Now You See Me (Summit), set in the world of magic and starring Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fischer, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Mark Ruffalo and Dave Franco, opened in second place with $29.2 million. It narrowly edged out Will Smith’s new movie After Earth (Sony) in which he plays a supporting role to his son Jaden with M. Night Shyamalan directing (and barely being mentioned in marketing). The movie settled for third place with $27.5 million and ended up grossing $60.5 million domestically, making it one of the first mega-bombs of the summer. (It added another $183 million internationally so it basically broke even but it still sent shockwaves through Sony, who would go onto have a generally bad summer.) The Top 10 grossed $158 million, which may be beatable by the stronger offerings this weekend including the returning movies.

This Week’s Updated Predictions

UPDATE: Not much to add here except that Maleficent is looking to dominate as some of the other May releases start to lose theaters at a rapid pace.

1. Maleficent (Walt Disney Pictures) – $55.2 million N/A (up $5.4 million)

2. X-Men: Days of Future Past (20th Century Fox) – $38 million -59% (down 1.5 million)

3. A Million Ways to Die in the West (Universal) – $27.5 million N/A (down .9 million)

4. Godzilla (Legendary/Warner Bros.) – $13.5 million -56% (down .1 million)

5. Neighbors (Universal) – $7.7 million (up .1 million)

6. Blended (Warner Bros.) – $7.5 million -45% (down .2 million)

7. Million Dollar Arm (Walt Disney) – $4.1 million -42% (down .3 million)

8. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Sony Pictures) – $3.5 million -55% (down .2 million)

9. Chef (Open Road Entertainment) – $2.3 million -0% (same)

10. Belle (Fox Searchlight) – $1.7 million +3%

This Week’s Limited Releases:

Documentaries of Note:

Filmmaker Sebastian Junger returns with Korengal (Saboteur Media), the follow-up to his Oscar-nominated Restrepo, rejoining some of the same men who were stationed in that valley as they update us on their experiences on the warfront in Afghanistan and how they’ve changed since the first movie. It opens exclusively at the Landmark Sunshine Cinemas in New York City

Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz’s Under the Electric Sky (Focus Features, Insomniac) is a 3D documentary that explores the world of EDM (electronic dance music) through the experiences of six different acts who converge on the hugely popular 2013 Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas to play for 350,000 fans. Including Afrojack, Hardwell, Armin Van Buren, Tiesto and others, it’s receiving special screenings on Thursday, May 29, and though many of them are already sold out, you can see the full list here.

Opening on Wednesday at New York’s Film Forum, The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne (IFC Films) is a documentary about the titular 83-year-old woman who has had a 60-year career in crime as an infamous jewel thief. She has managed to evade both Interpol and the FBI using multiple aliases, passports and social security numbers to stay one step ahead of the authorities.


James McAvoy stars in Jon S. Baird’s Filth (Magnolia Picture), based on the novel by Irvine Welsh (“Trainspotting”), playing Detective Sergeant Bruce Robinson, a bigoted and bipolar police officer trying to get a promotion to win back his wife and daughter. The crime comedy has already been paying on VOD for a month, but it opens in select cities on Friday.

In Megan Griffiths’ Lucky Them (IFC Films), Toni Colette plays a rock journalist who has been assigned to find a long lost rock legend named Matthew Smith, who used to be her boyfriend, so she teams with an eccentric filmmaker (Thomas Haden Church) and they go looking for him. Also starring Oliver Platt and Nina Arianda, it opens in select cities and On Demand Friday.

David Krumholtz, Gillian Jacobs, Zachary Knighton, Melanie Lynskey, Ahna O’Reilly and Jason Ritter star in Thomas Beatty and Rebecca Fishman’s comedy The Big Ask (Tribeca Film), about three couples who go to the desert to visit their friend whose mother just died (Krumholtz) although his request to sleep with his friends’ girlfriends to help him heal tears the group apart. It’s already On Demand but gets a theatrical release in North Hollywood at the NoHo 7 on Friday.


Indie filmmaker Kelly Reichardt (Wendy and Lucy, Meek’s Cutoff) returns with Night Moves (Cinedigm), which follows the plot to sabotage a dam by three eco-terrorists, played by Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard, whose actions end up having consequences that test their relationship. It opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.

Canadian filmmaker Don (Last Night) McKellar’s first film in nine years is The Grand Seduction (eOne Entertainment), which takes place in the small seaside town of Tickle Head who are being bid on for a new Petrochemical plant, which they can only win if they get a resident doctor. Along comes Taylor Kitsch as Dr. Paul Lewis, and it’s up to the townfolk, led by Brendan Gleeson’s fisherman Murray French, to try to convince the fast living doctor to leave the city for their sleepy burg. Select cities including New York’s Landmark Sunshine on Friday.


Brian Netto’s Delivery: The Beast Within (The Collective) is a found footage movie about a couple documenting their first pregnancy when they realize that their unborn child may be possessed by a malevolent spirit. (Wait, didn’t I already see this movie when it was called Devil’s Due?) It opens in select cities.

Foreign Films of Interest:

Denmark’s finest Mads Mikkelsen stars in Age of Uprising: The Legend of Michael Kohlhass (Music Box Films), a medieval epic based on Heinrich von Kleist’s 16th century novella about a horse merchant whose horses are stolen by a nobleman forcing him to get revenge as he goes on a rampage through the countryside looking for justice. Also starring Bruno Ganz (Downfall), Denis Lavant (Holy Motors) and David Kross (The Reader), it opens in select cities Friday.

From Brazil comes Petra Costa’s Elena (Variance Films)–not be to confused Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Cannes Jury Prize-winning dramatic thriller of the same name–a docu-drama executive produced by Fernando Meirelles and Tim Robbins which follows a Brazilian woman named Elena who moves to New York with dream of becoming a film actress, leaving behind her younger sister Petra, who years later goes looking for her troubled sister. It opens at the IFC Center on Friday.

Next week, the month of June kicks off with two more movies probably targeting different audiences as Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt approach the Edge of Tomorrow (Warner Bros.)–we’re not sure what they’ll see when they get there but it probably won’t be The Fault in our Stars (20th Century Fox), the adaptation of the best-selling tearjerker of a romance novel starring Shailene Woodley (Divergent).

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 2014 Edward Douglas


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