March kicks off with another mixed bag of movies, although it’s doubtful any of them will be setting any box office records. That’s not to say that March is a bad month and lots of studios have opened movies that might normally get a summer release with Zack Snyder still being the master of the month. (Next year, he’ll be aiming to take down The Hunger Games’ current March opening record Batman v Superman.) There are some stronger offerings as the month goes on, including next week’s Cinderella and The Divergent Series: Insurgent the week after, but we’ll have to get through this weekend first.
The movie with the most potential this weekend is the third feature film from District 9 creator Neill Blomkamp, Chappie (Sony), starring his frequent collaborator Sharlto Copley, Hugh Jackman, Dev Patel, Sigourney Weaver and South African rappers Die Antwoord, a sci-fi action thriller about a police robot that gains sentience just as it’s kidnapped by criminals who want to use it to commit crimes.
Blomkamp is coming off of Elysium, his disappointing 2013 follow-up to District 9, which wasn’t received nearly as well as his earlier film that was nominated for two Oscars. Elysium opened in early August with $29 million before grossing $93 million domestic and another $193 million overseas, which wouldn’t be bad if the movie didn’t cost $115 million compared to District 9’s $30 million.
This time, Blomkamp does have the added benefits of a superstar like Jackman, who can bring in the guys and some women thanks to his role in the Wolverine movies, but he has a fairly small part in the movie compared to Patel and Antwoord, so those going to see the movie for Jackman (who is doing a lot of press for the movie) may be slightly disappointed. He’s also playing a very different character as the antagonist of the piece that masks his normal looks and charm.
Probably the most obvious comparison for Blomkamp’s latest is RoboCop, which just had a remake released by Sony over President’s Day weekend in 2014, when it opened with $21.7 million. Having the likes of Samuel L. Jackson and Michael Keaton and a much better title with namebrand value, it ended up grossing $58.6 million, a good barometer for Chappie, which has the benefits of a better-known director with Blomkamp’s rep from District 9. To some, though, Chappie won’t look that great or will look like something they’ve already seen before and those who didn’t like Elysium may be dubious.
The openings have been all over the map over the past few weeks, so a movie like this could do better than some might expect, although the R rating won’t help and more likely it’s just going to do moderate business somewhere in the $20 to 25 million range. The good thing is that the next two big movies are more geared towards women, so maybe it could have some legs, but it could just as likely end up with less than $70 million and have to do most of its business overseas.
Those looking for a straight R-rated comedy may be more interested in Unfinished Business (20th Century Fox), the new Vince Vaughn comedy that reteams him with Delivery Man director Ken Scott, as well as pairing him with Dave Franco from Neighbors and Tom Wilkinson from Selma for a crazy business trip gone wrong.
After a strong string of comedies including The Break-Up (with Jennifer Aniston), Four Christmases (with Reese Witherspoon) and Couples Retreat, Vaughn seems to have hit a wall with bombs like The Watch, The Dilemma, The Internship and the aforementioned Delivery Man, which grossed just $31 million domestically after a weak $8 million opening.
Pairing him with Dave Franco may be a smart move because of his growing popularity thanks to last year’s Neighbors, which grossed $151 million over the summer. Franco’s definitely being featured more in the commercials than Vaughn, maybe because Fox is aware of Vaughn’s diminishing popularity… two of those bombs mentioned above are from Fox. It’s also good to see Oscar-nominated actor Tom Wilkinson doing more comedy especially following the dramas Selma and Belle, but it’s hard to believe his older fans would be interested in this kind of comedy. (Ironically, Wilkinson appeared in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, but is absent in the sequel, also being released this weekend.
Unfinished Business (formerly called Business Trip) seemingly appeared out of thin air with a commercial during the Super Bowl and Fox have been running commercials during lots of comedy shows in hopes that it will get people interested. I personally think it looks funny, but Fox’s hesitance to screen the movie in advance is worrisome and most critics won’t be seeing it until Wednesday night, which is the new way for studios to try to help alleviate bad movies from hurting their movies (not that it’s working). But when no one sees a movie until a couple days before opening, we’re just going to assume it’s awful.
Even if the premise seems promising, especially to those who work in jobs that involve business trips and dealing with corporate, it’s going to have trouble convincing guys to see this over Chappie and it’s probably going to end up somewhere around $15 million or even less for its opening weekend and somewhere in the same $40 million range as Vaughn’s other recent movies.
Anyone over 50 (which may or may not include the Weekend Warrior) is more likely to be attracted to the India-based ensemble comedy sequel The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (Fox Searchlight), which reunites Dames Judi Dench and Maggie Smith with Bill Nighy and the rest of the cast of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a movie that did surprisingly well three years ago. Also back is Dev Patel, who may be best known for his co-starring role in this week’s Chappie, but he also appeared in a little movie called Slumdog Millionaire and in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender—Oscar and Razzie winners, respectively. On the other hand, Tom Wilkinson is gone, opting to appear with Vince Vaughn in Unfinished Business instead (see above) and he’s been replaced by Richard Gere, who these days probably doesn’t have very much draw at the box office for anyone under the age of his co-stars.
Yeah it’s pretty obvious this is a movie for a very specific audience that’s greatly underserved, which is probably why the original movie did so well when it opened in limited release in May 2012 before going wide a few weeks later with $6.4 million on its way to gross $46.4 million domestically. By then, it had already opened huge in Europe and grossed another $90 million. Not too bad for a $10 million movie, but that sort of profit inevitably means that the producers and distributor will want to figure out a way to make a sequel. Fortunately, none of the characters died in the original movie, giving them an opening to write a follow-up with the same director, John Madden, who was nominated for an Oscar for 1998’s Shakespeare in Love.
The movie opened in a few territories this past weekend where it scored $9.4 million, more than half of that in the UK alone and a bigger opening than the original, but that doesn’t mean that it will be received the same here. Searchlight is taking a different approach with the domestic release, opening wide right off the bat into 1,400 to 1,500 theaters, but without as much of the buzz created by the original movie’s international release. Reviews are generally good though with 72% on Rotten Tomatoes and its older audience is one that would go see a movie based on positive reviews.
The cast hasn’t been able to do nearly as much press over here, which means that awareness is definitely on the lower side and while it should do okay this weekend, it’s probably going to be in the $5 to 6 million range. Fortunately, these kinds of movies tend to stick around thanks to word-of-mouth and it’s likely to gross $20 to 25 million domestically, about half as much as the first movie.
Last March began with two very different movies, each with their own audience and both did decently with the action sequel/prequel 300: Rise of an Empire (Warner Bros.) opening at #1 with $45 million in 3,470 theaters or nearly $13,000 per theater. It was less than the original 300 but it did end up just outside the Top 10 for March openings. Based on the cartoon from the ‘50s and ‘60s, Mr. Peabody and Sherman (DreamWorks Animation/20th Century Fox), featuring the voices of “Modern Family’s” Ty Burrell and Ariel Winter, settled for second place with $32.2 million in 3,830 theaters, a fairly low opening for DreamWorks Animation even though it wasn’t their lowest and it did do better than their other 2014 film, Penguins of Madagascar.
This Week’s Updated Predictions –
UPDATE: Lowering my predictions for the top movies because reviews have been atrocious, but giving a little more to The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which could even make a place for fourth place but that’s about it.
1. Chappie (Sony) – $21.3 million N/A (down 3 million)
This Week’s Must-Sees
It might seem like every week there’s a new film series at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and you may be right, but this is the time of year when they have back-to-back events because it’s too cold to be outside anyway. This Friday is the start of the Rendezvous with French Cinema in conjunction with uniFrance Films, a series so big it takes place at three venues in the city including Brooklyn’s BAMCinematek, as it brings some of France’s most popular films to New York for the first time. Some of the movies that play there will never get a release here otherwise or only play in limited release.
It starts on Friday with 3 Hearts, the new film from Benoit Jacquot (Farewell, My Queen), starring Charlotte Gainsbourg and Benoit Poelvoorde as two people who meet and fall in love after a night together without names exchanged. They agree to meet again in the future but in that time, he falls for her sister, played by Chiari Mastroianni, unaware of their relation. The series closes on March 15 with Reality, the new film from Quentin Dupieux (Rubber), which will have a live musical performance by LoW Entertainment afterwards. The latter is a weird comedy about a first-time filmmaker whose financing depends on whether he can find an award-winning groan for the victims of his movie about televisions gone wild.
In between, there’s a variety of movies including Breathe, the second feature directed by Melanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds), a coming-of-age story of two teen girls. Cedric Jimenez’s The Connection (to be released by Drafthouse Films) is a look at the war on drugs in Marseilles during the ‘70s that was previously covered in The French Connection. Frédéric Tellier’s SK1 is a thriller about the search for a serial killer, while the latest from Cédric Khan is Wild Life, starring Mathieu Kassovitz as a father who after being separated from his wife, kidnaps his two young sons and raises them to live off the land. André Téchiné returns to “Rendezvous” with the psychological drama In the Name of My Daughter starring “Rendezvous” regulars Guillaume Canet and Catherine Deneuve. Thomas Cailley’s romantic comedy Love at First Fight, which was nominated for nine Cesar Awards and won three, takes a look at a romance between two very different people, while Jean-Paul CIveyrac’s My Friend Victoria about an 8-year-old black orphan taken into the house of a white family.
Rendezvous with French Cinema runs from March 6 to March 15 with many of the actors and filmmakers coming to New York to talk about their movies.
Faults (Screen Media Films)
An Honest Liar (Abramorama)
Road Hard (Filmbuff)
Merchants of Doubt (Sony Pictures Classics)
Deli Man: The Movie (Cohen Media Group)
Other Limited Releases of Note:
The Lesson (Film Movement)
X/Y (eOne Films)
Kidnapping Mr. Heineken (Alchemy)
These Final Hours (Amplify, Well GO USA)
Two Men In Town (Cohen Media Group)
Bad Asses on the Bayou (Samuel Goldwyn Films)
Buzzard (Oscilloscope Laboratories)
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Copyright 2014 Edward Douglas