If you read last week’s Weekend Warrior Extra on the summer box office’s biggest face-offs, then you already know that this weekend is the first one of them as two movies, both sequels, will try to fight it out for the top spot and some people may actually be surprised by which one wins.
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
In 1980, Australian filmmaker George Miller made a low-budget action movie called Mad Max, which became a bit of a cult hit leading to 1982’s The Road Warrior, which became an even bigger cult hit grossing $23.6 million, which wasn’t bad for those times, although it wasn’t anywhere near the Top 20 for that year. Three years later, Mel Gibson was a much bigger star and Miller directed a third movie, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, which grossed even more money, although again, nowhere near as much as other movies that came out that year. Thirty years after Thunderdome, Miller has finally returned to his dystopian anti-hero with a relaunch of sorts that doesn’t necessarily ignore the other movies but puts Tom Hardy into the role of Mad Max as he’s facing a new conflict.
Miller has assembled a great cast for this relaunch, getting Tom Hardy at the height of the success he achieved by playing Bane in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, but more importantly, he also cast Charlize Theron, who has had quite a bit of success with summer tentpoles, having starred in Snow White and the Huntsman (which gets a sequel next year) and Ridley Scott’s Prometheus (which may get one soon as well). Theron’s character Imperator Furiosa plays as much a key role in the movie as Hardy’s title character and people who see the movie will want to see them in another movie for sure. While Nicholas Hoult hasn’t quite built up his name despite having started out as the child star of About a Boy opposite Hugh Grant. In recent years, he’s worked with Bryan Singer, first playing Dr. Hank McCoy aka Beast in X-Men: First Class and then starring in Jack the Giant Slayer.
Warner Bros. has been promoting the hell out of this movie including reportedly some of the biggest ad buys for the summer (according to Variety) as well as having a Super Bowl commercial and promoting the movie in front of other recent releases like Furious 7.
Reviews will generally be positive because critics are usually looking for something different from the usual summer fare, and Mad Max: Fury Road is as much a relaunch as a sequel, and unlike other remakes (which critics normally hate), this one is being spearheaded by the original filmmaker, which makes it seem more like a labor of love than a money grab.
The movie is pretty weird, something that’s been pretty evident from some of the most recent trailers and that could put off a lot of mainstream moviegoers just like last year’s poorly-named Tom Cruise movie Edge of Tomorrow didn’t find a big audience despite strong reviews.
Hardy’s last movie, Child 44, bombed big time just last month, but it also wasn’t getting nearly as much of a promotional push as Mad Max. Honestly, Hardy has yet to really prove himself as a box office draw with well-reviewed films like Locke and The Drop never really breaking out despite positive reviews. He’s a good actor that’s generally well liked by critics and has a fanbase but hasn’t been able to get people into some of his better movies (like the MMA film Warrior, for instance.)
The R-rating might hurt Mad Max: Fury Road slightly because there are so many more PG-13 and PG alternatives for kids and some parents might be hesitant to let their kids see it.
We also can’t ignore the fact that having been thirty years since the previous “Mad Max” movie generally means that few people under 30 will have heard of it, and while the franchise has been kept alive on DVD and home video, it’s definitely not on par with the likes of the “Terminator” movies or other franchises that have attempted a relaunch. That franchise is giving it another go later this summer as is Jurrassic World, and at this point Mad Max seems to be behind both of them in terms of interest and awareness.
While I don’t expect Mad Max: Fury Road to win the weekend, it should have enough of a demand among male moviegoers, particularly movie fans, that it should do decent business over the weekend, probably $40 million or slightly more, and it should fare well over Memorial Day against Tomorrowland, although it will probably end up grossing around $120 to 130 million domestic and will ultimately rely on international box office.
What It’s About: After a terrible wardrobe malfunction by Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), the Barden Bellas find themselves being suspended unless they can beat the German champions, Das Sound Machine, at the World A Cappella Championships, while their leader and musical arranger Beca (Anna Kendrick) finds herself wanting to branch off on her own at a new job.
Back in September 2012, Universal Pictures opened a quirky little musical comedy called Pitch Perfect in just 335 theaters, but the astounding $5.1 million it made ($15,371 per theater) was enough reason to expand it into 2,770 theaters the following weekend where it grossed a respectable $14.8 million. It continued to do well, having significant legs and eventually grossing $65 million in theaters, which might not seem like a lot, but that was compared to a $17 million budget. What happened after that was nothing short of amazing as the movie amounted to over $100 million in DVD and Blu-ray sales and it was claimed to be one of the most watched movies on HBO, which basically shows that word-of-mouth helped build the fanbase for the movie.
The only main addition to the cast is Oscar-nominated actress Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit, Ender’s Game), who appears in her second musical film after last year’s Begin Again. It’s doubtful her presence will add much to the mix.
A large part of the original movie’s success came down to the a cappella renditions of popular songs, and the movie is mainly going to be driven by the musical numbers (as well as the soundtrack), which will certainly help it bring in a much younger female audience than many other movies, but also bring in the 20-40 year olds who enjoy karaoke.
There’s a lot of attention being put on the film being actress Elizabeth Banks’ feature film directorial debut, including a cover story on The Hollywood Reporter, so there’s a lot of eyes in the industry on the movie for that reason. So far, reviews are surprisingly on the favorable side. Maybe I’m surprised because I didn’t like the first movie and like the sequel even less.
Just to give you an example of the larger audience for the sequel, Pitch Perfect grossed $13 million in Australia and New Zealand in 2012 and the sequel opened there last weekend where it grossed $8.8 million, about 67% of its predecessors total gross. One can expect that the sequel will perform similarly here in terms of making a lot more money opening weekend, and a domestic opening of $40 to 50 million or more should not be too surprising considering how many more women discovered the movie on DVD and Blu-ray.
Elizabeth Banks’ last movie as a director was a segment in Movie 43, a comedy anthology that may be one of the worst movies ever made. I personally haven’t seen it, so that’s hearsay.
Universal hasn’t been doing as much promotion for the movie as one might expect. I personally haven’t seen a single TV commercial, which is odd since I watch a lot of daytime television, and one wonders how they’re getting the word out of the sequel’s release. Obviously, the fans of the first movie probably already know about it and I’m just watching the wrong shows.
The movie screened at CinemaCon a few weeks back, one of the very first screenings, and the vibe in the room wasn’t great as there was just no energy. Granted, that event tends to be predominantly male, but a few days later, the same audience ate up Paul Feig’s significantly superior reteaming with Melissa McCarthy, Spy, which is genuinely funny. Pitch Perfect 2 is supposed to mainly be a comedy and it just doesn’t deliver on those ends.
There’s little question that millions of women have been dying for the return of the Barton Bellas, including Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson’s characters, and that should lead to an enormous opening over $50 million, although it’s very likely to be frontloaded and probably will end up with around $120 to 130 million tops when it leaves theaters. (And yes, this is significantly more than my earlier prediction in the summer box office preview.)
I probably should include a caveat with this mini-review that I didn’t really care for the first Pitch Perfect. I thought Rebel Wilson was quite a breakout and it gave us the first inkling that Anna Kendrick had a fantastic set of pipes, which she’s proven in a number of movies since then, but there was something that just didn’t click with me. It’s been a while since I saw that movie and I’ve never tried to figure out what it was, but the sequel doesn’t do very much to improve matters.
While Elizabeth Banks does a fine job directing, she’s working from a weak script and plot premise that basically has the Barden Bellas shamed and having to take on the fierce German competitors known as Das Sound Machine. Along the way, we get a bunch of sing-offs including one sponsored in the mansion of an a capella fan (played by David Cross), but since I don’t like most of the songs nor the a capella arrangements, that does little to make up for the weak plot and storytelling at the sequel’s core.
Anna Kendrick gives such a dull performance it’s fairly obvious she isn’t even remotely into doing another one of these movies, maybe because she has to share the spotlight with so many other characters including Rebel Wilson, who is the film’s biggest scene stealer in that she’s actually funny. Anna Camp, who was so great in the first movie, basically shows up for a sequence which seems completely unnecessary.
Banks herself appears alongside John Michael Higgins playing the same inappropriate judges we’ve seen in far too many better movies like Dodgeball and Best in Show, and if you’ve seen any of those movies, you generally can figure out where things will end up.
The actual finale performance by the Bellas and the original song they bring out called “Flashlight” (written by Sia and Sam Smith) is actually quite good and one of the more memorable musical moments in a film that falls flat otherwise.
One figures most sequels are trying to up the game from the original, but Pitch Perfect 2 is a lazy attempt to recreate the little that worked in the first movie that never really justifies the reasoning to make a sequel.
This Weekend Last Year
The king of all monsters Godzilla (Legendary/Warner Bros.) returned to theaters with a monstrous opening of $93 million, surpassing the opening of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 a couple weeks earlier although it would also barely pass $200 million domestically, being similarly frontloaded. Offered as counter-programming was the Jon Hamm baseball movie Million Dollar Arm (Disney), which opened in fourth place with $10.5 million in 3,019 theaters or 3,483 per theater. The Top 10 grossed $167 million, which might still be ahead of this weekend as the two new movies will probably gross roughly $93 million between them.
This Week’s Predictions
Update; With all the great reviews and more theaters than we projected, we’re pushing our prediction for Mad Max: Fury Road up a bit and who knows, maybe it can even surprise and push $50 million and give Pitch Perfect 2 more of a run for the top spot this weekend? A lot of the other movies are losing more theaters although there isn’t much change that anything can do well against the powerhouse trio.)
1. Pitch Perfect 2 (Universal) – $53.4 million N/A (Down .4 million)
Memorial Day weekend is brought to you by something old and something new as Sam Raimi produces the remake of Poltergeist (20th Century Fox), while Brad Bird and Damon Lindelof team-up with George Clooney for the sci-fi action adventure Tomorrowland (Disney).
This Week’s Must-Sees
Slow West (A24)
I’ll See You In My Dreams (Bleecker Street)
Good Kill (IFC Films)
Shake the Dust (BOND/360)
Other Limited Releases of Note:
Every Secret Thing (Starz Digital)
Dark Star: H.R. Giger’s World (Icarus Films/KimStim)
In the Name of My Daughter (Cohen Media Group)
The Connection (Drafthouse Films)
Area 51 (Paramount Insurge)
The Surface (Entertainment One)
Echoes of War (ARC Entertainment)
Where Hope Grows (Roadside Attractions)
Time Lapse (XLrator Media)
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Copyright 2015 Edward Douglas