The summer has already had its highs and lows and this will probably be one of the defining weekends as two movies that aren’t sure things (maybe because neither is a sequel, prequel or remake) will take on some of the blockbusters to give a boost to the concept of original storytelling. Granted, both movies have high pedigrees from past box office champs while introducing moviegoers to new things, so it should be an interesting weekend for sure.
Distributor: Marvel Studios/Disney
By now, we’re all well aware of all the amazing things that Marvel Studios has done for the superhero genre, the box office and the moviegoing experience ever since taking back their characters starting with 2008’s Iron Man, the first of many blockbuster hits the studio had when it grossed more than $300 million that summer. Since then, Marvel has introduced loads of other characters culminating in the superteam movies Marvel’s The Avengers in 2012 and its recent sequel Avengers: Age of Ultron this past May. The former became the highest-opening movie of all time (a record it recently lost to Jurassic World) as well as the #3 highest-grossing movie worldwide with $1.5 billion. Its sequel is already up to $1.4 billion worldwide, both proving that right now, the world absolutely loves superheroes regardless of how big or, in this case, small they may be.
To prove they’re not just about paying for Robert Downey Jr.’s collection of cars and mansions, Marvel had a huge hit last August with Guardians of the Galaxy, which was thought to be a big risk because they weren’t characters that were well known beyond comic fans (and even not much among them), but director James Gunn successfully created a fun and funny space opera with a great diverse cast of actors that ended up doing way better than anyone expected, grossing over $300 million just in North America. In fact, it ended up becoming the highest-grossing movie of the summer and for most of the year until it was topped domestically by The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 and American Sniper later in the year.
Paul Rudd, who contributed to the screenplay–which shouldn’t be surprising since his long-time collaborator David Wain has often praised Rudd’s writing prowess–takes the lead as Scott Lang, and though he hasn’t headlined many huge hits outside the world of comedy, he’s been setting himself for a breakout for many years. Whether it’s appearing in early Judd Apatow hits like The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up or as part of the cast of Will Ferrell’s Anchorman, Rudd certainly has a fanbase to work with. Adding to the awareness of the movie and Rudd in general is his return to working with Wain in the Netflix series “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp,” which was supposed to debut on the same day but has been moved back to July 31.
Possibly even more interesting than Rudd is the casting of Oscar-winning actor Michael Douglas as Marvel mainstay Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man, who not only was a charter member of the Avengers but also created Ultron. That is, in the comics, because everything has been changed for the movie. The rest of the cast is just as interesting from Evangeline Lilly, who became popular from the ABC drama “Lost” and continued her geek cred with her role as the elf Tauriel in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit. Other lesser-known vets that should break out from the movie include Corey Stoll as Ant-Man’s main baddie Darren Cross, aka Yellowjacket, Michael Pena as his buddy and Judy Greer and Bobby Cannavale as Scott’s ex-wife and her new husband. (‘Cause I’m so cool, I’ve been fans of all four of these for many years already.)
There’s no getting around that superheroes are hugely popular right now, mainly due to the success of Marvel Studios’ movies. Four of the top 10 highest-grossing movies domestically are superhero movies, the two “Avengers” movies and the two “Dark Knight” movies, but after that, you have Iron Man 3 and Spider-Man in the Top 20 and five others that have grossed over $300 million. Comic books are such an important part of the mainstream zeitgeist that they don’t just appeal to young boys anymore and the movies generally have four-quadrant appeal among older men and women as well. Because superheroes are so popular, more mainstream talk shows are apt to do segments on the movie, especially with stars like Michael Douglas and Rudd making themselves available.
There’s no way around the fact that Ant-Man is a lesser Marvel character, a third-stringer at best, even if he was one of the founding Avengers members. He’s barely been appearing in the comics for years and a name like “Ant-Man” doesn’t exactly inspire awe from those who first hear the name. Of course, one might say the same about “Spider-Man” if he hadn’t spent decades in comics, cartoons and movies becoming a household name. When you say “Ant-Man” to someone, are they supposed to think that it’s a man who can turn into an ant? Fortunately, that’s why Disney has a marketing department so they can make the public aware of the character, but it’s not something that casual moviegoers will see on a marquee and say “Hey, Ant-Man seems pretty cool, let’s check that out!”
The character isn’t even that popular among comic readers. Even though he was one of Stan Lee’s original creations and formed the Avengers, he’s barely ever had his own Ant-Man comic until recently. Sure, there have been plenty of attempts to keep the character alive especially when they realized that the movie was going to get off the ground, but otherwise, he’s no Spider-Man, he’s no Wolverine and the character could probably go away and no one would care.
On top of that, Paul Rudd’s track record as a leading man is spotty at best, maybe because he’s mainly been cast in R-rated romantic comedies. Although he reunited with Will Ferrell for Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, he hasn’t had a movie gross more than $100 million with him as the lead and even his biggest hits like I Love You, Man and Dinner for Schmucks teamed him other comic stars. His most recent Apatow comedy This is 40 only grossed $67 million and teaming him with Jennifer Aniston and Tina Fey for the rom-coms Wanderlust and Admission didn’t do much to help his Q-ranking. On top of that, he has never done an action-superhero role like this, which makes him an odder choice to play a superhero than Chris Pratt, although obviously that has worked out well for him.
Originally, this was a movie that was being developed by Edgar Wright and Attack the Block director Joe Cornish, for nearly eight years in fact, and when Wright departed the project last year, there was a lot of concern for those who were mainly interested in seeing Wright directing a superhero movie. The fact is that there is a lot of crossover between Marvel fans and Edgar Wright fans and he’s a much-loved genre filmmaker, both to critics and fans, so his departure may put a damper on anyone really loving the movie.
His replacement Peyton Reed is best known for his comedies like Bring It On, which has its share of fans, but also The Break-Up and Yes Man, neither which are memorable. More importantly, he doesn’t really have experience doing action movies so superhero enthusiasts who know their filmmakers are likely to be skeptical of his direction. Hopefully they’ll get over it like they did when the Russo Brothers scored the chance to direct the Captain America sequel (and now have three more Marvel movies on their slate).
There doesn’t seem to be much in this movie to interest women beyond Rudd, who seems to have a sheepish appeal to some of them. While Lilly’s presence offers a little bit of meet-cute romance, it’s not really going to be enough to attract women who aren’t already into Marvel movies. They also will have plenty of other options including last week’s Minions, Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck and Magic Mike XXL.
Releasing this late in the summer may also pose a problem because we’re getting into the “vacation zone” where many people go away and don’t have time to see movies. It also means that it’s trying to hold up against all the beloved blockbusters already released. This isn’t always a problem as we’ve had big summer hits coming out after July 15 (such as last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy), but it’s tougher.
The Marvel name is going to do a lot to sell this one, but it just doesn’t seem as uniquely original or funny as last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy. It probably can still do somewhere in the high $50 million or low $60 million on its way to around $160 to 170 million, which puts it in the range of The Incredible Hulk. Maybe Ant-Man will be more popular after he appears in next year’s Captain America: Civil War or the next two Avengers movies.
Distributor: Universal Pictures
By now, you’d probably have to be living under a rock to not have heard of Amy Schumer and her Comedy Central show “Inside Amy Schumer,” which has become one of the most talked-about watercooler shows on television. Much of that is due to Schumer’s edgy brand of feminism, making humor out of relationships and the treatment of women in society. The show has made her hugely popular both among men and women, particularly 20 and 30-somethings who can relate to some of the topics she makes fun of.
Trainwreck is quite brilliant in that it pairs her with a comedy filmmaking superstar in Judd Apatow, who has really changed the face of comedy by helping studios and moviegoers accept that R-rated raunchy comedy is far funnier than the watered-down PG-13 variety. As a director, Apatow has had two $100 million comedy hits in The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up and as a producer he has had five more, most notably the movies of Adam McKay and Will Ferrell with which Apatow was involved. He also has a second string of comedies that have grossed $60 to 90 million, all which were profitable since they didn’t cost much to make. (Also, Apatow has had huge success of Lena Dunham’s HBO show “Girls,” which he produces and probably has more in common with Trainwreck than anything he did previously.)
As has been the case with his past movies, Apatow has surrounded Schumer with a fairly large and diverse cast that includes the likes of Bill Hader (who is making a strong transition to movies with a combination of indie and studio features like Disney’s recent Inside Out), Oscar winner Tilda Swinton, comedians Mike Birbiglia and Colin Quinn, and indie darling Brie Larson, none of whom are getting a lot of focus in the commercials but all of them bringing out the best in Schumer as an actress taking on her first leading role in a feature film.
Trainwreck is another female-centric comedy ala Melissa McCarthy’s Spy, which opened with $29 million earlier this summer and has just crossed the $100 million mark. More importantly, it’s being compared (almost incessantly) to the Apatow-produced Bridesmaids for which McCarthy was first put on the map thanks to her Oscar nomination. That opened in May of 2011 with a strong $26.2 million and went on to gross $169 million domestic and $288.3 million worldwide, helped greatly by a title that made it very clear to women that it was going to be a comedy about the already-funny aspect of weddings that is trying to get your bridesmaids to get along. While the concept behind Trainwreck and its title might not be quite accessible, the comparisons are being made in the marketing to let fans of the movie know that this is a thematic sequel of sorts. (And as suggested in the marketing, we DO all know a “trainwreck” like Amy’s character in the movie. Heck, we might be them!)
Although the romantic comedy genre is not something that would normally interest men, Judd Apatow’s involvement will help get them in, and he’s cast a bunch of the biggest current sports stars including Lebron James and John Cena to help bring in the guys who normally couldn’t care less about a movie like this.
Reviews for the movie have been great ever since Apatow debuted a work-in-progress version at South by Southwest back in March and it’s currently sitting pretty with a 94% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Adult comedies are very much a genre, which can be helped greatly by positive reviews even if negative reviews have never particularly hurt the bad comedies. (See Get Hard earlier this year.)
Then again, trying to get guys into this kind of movie will be almost as hard as getting them to see the recent Magic Mike XXL—okay, maybe not that hard since they generally like Judd Apatow’s movies–but this being a romantic comedy, even a raunchy one, is not something that will necessarily have much interest to them unless they’re dragged by a girlfriend, wife or date.
Many people don’t like Schumer’s snarky brand of humor and those that are put off by her won’t even bother to check the movie out even if it gets 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. Romantic comedies are also becoming a tired genre, not because we get nearly as many as we did a few years ago, but the fact that most of the recent ones have generally been bad.
Although Universal has generally been killing it with their marketing this year, this one is having a hard time differentiating itself from other romantic comedies even with Schumer’s presence. They have a lot of ways to sell the movie but they’re basically going for the most obvious although they don’t even mention Schumer by name on the poster, presuming that she’s someone everyone knows just from her picture. The commercials aren’t great because they just sell it as a romantic comedy, because many of the funniest jokes in the movie would not pass the MPAA to be included in a marketing campaign. With little other resort, Universal basically just went with the same marketing they’ve used for other movies, going with “From the producer of Bridesmaids” rather than putting Amy Schumer’s name on the post, which makes little sense.
This is the 11th movie Apatow has done with Universal although his previous two as a director, Funny People with Adam Sandler and This is 40 (starring Ant-Man’s Paul Rudd) barely grossed more than $50 million, about half the amount of his biggest comedies. The latter’s disappointing showing makes one wonder if Judd Apatow’s popularity may be waning, although he certainly has been out and about promoting the movie in a big way.
On the other hand, the film’s star Amy Schumer has been so busy writing, producing and starring in her Comedy Central show that she hasn’t been quite as visible, which would probably help sell the movie more than Apatow.
This seems like a good mix of raunchy comedy sensibilities, pairing Judd Apatow, a trusted comedy filmmaker, with Amy Schumer, a hot up and coming comedic actress, and that combination should help bring in women in their 20s to 30s who may not be as interested in other things in theaters. With that in mind, it seems like an opening in the high $20 to low $30 millions would be a good barometer for a movie that’s likely to get a lot of strong word-of-mouth business and should be good to gross more than $100 among an underserved demographic that are becoming a hot commodity at movie theaters.
This Weekend Last Year
Three very different movies opened this weekend last year, although none of them could take down the second weekend of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which was #1 with $36.2 million, down 50% from its opening weekend. The third installment of the horror franchise The Purge: Anarchy (Universal) opened with $29.8 million, which is lower than the previous installment opened with a year earlier. It still grossed $110 million worldwide based on a $9 million production budget, so a threequel is already in the works. The other sequel of the weekend was the animated Planes: Fire & Rescue (Disney) which also opened lower than its previous installment released a year earlier with an opening of $17.5 million to take third place. Surprisingly, the reteaming of Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel with their Bad Teacher director Jake Kassdan didn’t amount to much for the R-rated Sex Tape (Sony), which bombed with just $14.6 million to open in fourth place. The Top 10 grossed $130.5 million, an amount that should get slaughtered with the strength of the two new movies and the returning Minions.
This Week’s Updated Predictions
It might be another close race for first place this weekend because while Minions will probably have a larger drop than the normal family film, it should still continue to do well and while Ant-Man is likely to win Friday, Minions will make up for it on the weekend, pulling ahead by a couple million. Trainwreck should open strongly in third place, although the three main movies will be splitting most of the weekend audiences.
1. Minions (Universal) – $62 million -46% (down .2 million)
We have a mid-July mixed bag of very different movies from the Adam Sandler video game invasion action-comedy (for lack of a better description) Pixels (Sony) to the latest adaptation of a John (“Fault in Our Stars”) Green novel Paper Towns (20th Century Fox). Also, Jake Gyllenhaal stars in Antoine Fuqua’s boxing drama Southpaw (The Weinstein Company), while getting a more moderate wide release is the low-budget horror film The Vatican Tapes (Lionsgate/Pantelion).
This Week’s Must-Sees
The Stanford Prison Experiment (IFC Films)
I first saw this movie at the Sundance Film Festival and I generally liked it, giving it a 7.5/10 review and seeing it again recently, I still feel that way about the movie which features a terrific script and an impressive range of performances by some of the best young actors working together. I was particularly impressed by Michael Angarano as the primary antagonist in terms of the student portraying a guard a little too zealously, the always great Ezra Miller and Tye Sheridan. I’m not sure I even realized the first time I saw the movie that one of the prisoners was Johnny Simmons (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) because he looks so different with long hair and a moustache. As much as its an ensemble film driven by the performances, there’s so many different levels to the premise and of Zimbardos’s experiment that makes it a thought-provoking movie that makes you think of prisons like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and how prisoners have been treated there by soldiers and guards who take their position of power way too far. We certainly see that happening in this film, but it’s interesting to see the discussions between Crudup as Zimbardo and some of the others who are observing the students as they play “prisoners and guards” and they have to decide whether to step in when things start getting out of hand.
Mr. Holmes (Miramax, Roadside Attractions)
There’s something really exciting about seeing Sir Ian McKellen reuniting with his Of Gods and Monsters director, Bill Condon, and while this isn’t a particularly groundbreaking film, I’m enough of a Sherlock Holmes fan to really have enjoyed this different take on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic character. While much of the film deals with Holmes’ relationship with Milo Parker’s Roger, the son of his housekeeper (Laura Linney, also reteaming with Condon), it’s quite warm and sweet in that sense (this is a PG-rated film after all), but it’s also a far more complex film that deals with memory and old age and how Holmes is trying to fight off his impending dementia. Like I said, it’s just a really well-rounded film that reminds us that before doing things like “The Twilight Saga” and his upcoming Beauty and the Beast, Condon was a master at smaller character films like Kinsey (for which Liam Neeson deserved an Oscar nomination) and Of Gods and Monsters. Make no mistake that this film really is about how great an actor McKellen is and I’d be thrilled if they’re able to mount some sort of campaign for this, although releasing the movie in the middle of summer doesn’t give me high hopes. Either way, this is a movie that can be appreciated by fans of Holmes and McKellen alike.
Steak (R)evolution (Kino Lorber)
I’m a vegetarian and I doubt that will change any time soon, but this documentary is on par with some of the best television shows like those of Anthony Bourdain and Alton Brown in terms of really giving you the most detailed and comprehensive look at one aspect of the foodie experience, putting you behind the scenes with some of the top experts in the field to learn what’s involved with creating the best steaks.
I do like my coffee though, so there’s also…
This Week’s Limited Releases of Note:
Irrational Man (Sony Pictures Classics)
The Look of Silence (Drafthouse Films)
Lila & Eve (Samuel Goldwyn Films)
Jellyfish Eyes (Janus Pictures)
Also opening at the IFC Center on Friday is…
Ardor (Participant Media)
This foreign language film actually premiered at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival and is finally getting released, as is the case with two other foreign films:
A Hard Day (Kino Lorber)
Alleluia (Doppleganger Releasing/Music Box Films)
Safelight (ARC Entertainment)
You can post any comments or questions below, or you can get in touch with the Weekend Warrior on Twitter.
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