Adam Sandler’s Pixels Will Win the Weekend But By How Much?
The third month of summer is slowly grinding its way along with a couple more weeks that have some potential before we hit the “Dog Days” of August. This weekend, we get a fairly mixed bag of movies with nary a sequel or remake in the bunch. (Never fear, we’ll return to both next week!) There are two movies that will divide most of the audiences with a third that hopes to pick up whatever’s left.
While Pixels is the ninth or tenth movie that comic actors Adam Sandler and Kevin James have done together, their partnership has proven quite lucrative, especially for Sony, as their last few movies have done decently with both 2011’s Grown Ups and 2013’s Grown Ups 2 opening with more than $40 million and grossing $162 million and $133 million, respectively. They also had an animated hit when providing their voices for the Sandler-produced Sony Pictures Animation film Hotel Transylvania in 2012, which itself opened over $40 million and is getting a sequel this coming September after it grossed $148 million domestic and another $210 million overseas. Needless to say, they’ve done well since first teaming for 2007’s I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry even if Sandler’s career has been flailing. (But more on that under the “Drawbacks” section below.)
Sandler is further breaking away from his comfort zone by working with a new director in Chris Columbus, the man behind some of the most iconic movies of the ‘80s and ‘90s, including Gremlins, Goonies, Mrs. Doubtfire and Home Alone. He then kicked off his 21st Century by directing Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and its sequel, which were also huge blockbusters, grossing $300 million plus just in North America and he went on to kick off a franchise based on the popular books, Percy Jackson & The Olympians in 2010, which grossed $88 million.
Columbus has helped assemble an impressive cast around the duo including Josh Gad, the voice of Olaf in Disney’s hit animated film Frozen, who recently teamed with Kevin Hart for The Wedding Ringer, which grossed $64 million earlier this year. Emmy and Golden Globe-winning actor Peter Dinklage from “Game of Thrones” also plays a funny role, sort of like Billy Mitchell from the doc The King of Kong, and Sandler’s romantic interest is played by Michelle Monaghan, who hasn’t really proven herself as a box office draw but she’s there to keep the movie from being a complete sausage fest. Most of the cast members are doing the rounds to support the movie as well.
Pixels is one of Sandler’s more kid-friendly high concepts and it’s the use of popular and known video game characters that is the best thing going for it. Not that long ago, Disney Animation had a huge hit with Wreck-It Ralph, a movie that followed a video game character like Donkey Kong who was looking for a change after being the bad guy and it opened well with $49 million before grossing $189 million domestic and another $281 million overseas. It was even nominated for an Oscar, showing that video games are very much part of popular culture even when it comes to the snobby Academy.
Incidentally, the idea for the movie came from a very cool short film by Patrick Jean that you can watch below:
On top of that, there’s a huge amount of commerce to be made from nostalgia these days as seen by the success of Jurassic World and the lesser success of George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road (and even lesser success of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return for Terminator Genisys). The older male audience that used to drive the business at the box office will certainly be interested in that video game concept as will their kids.
One would assume that reviews will probably be better than the typical Adam Sandler comedy because there’s so many other elements to enjoy, including the premise and the fact it’s just a fun and entertaining action-comedy. Does that mean it will get all positive reviews? Probably not, but there’s always that hope. (And who are we kidding? For movies that target younger audiences, reviews barely matter. Look at last year’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that far exceeded expectations despite getting trashed.)
The biggest stumbling block for Pixels right now is probably the Adam Sandler backlash that’s had a deep effect on many of his recent movies, not just his high concept comedies like Jack and Jill and That’s My Boy, but also his smaller more dramatic films like Jason Reitman’s Men, Women and Children and Tom McCarthy’s The Cobbler, neither which fared well even with the former’s wide release. Even Sandler’s third teaming with Drew Barrymore for 2014’s Blended barely made as much in total as some of his previous movies made their opening weekend, making one think that American audiences are tired of Sandler’s schtick. This may be why the most recent commercials no longer focus on Sandler and instead focus on the video games and action.
It certainly doesn’t help matters that critics seem to hate Sandler and James and they won’t give any movie they do either alone or together the time of day, let alone a positive review. It’s hard to determine whether Pixels is the type of movie that might be affected by negative reviews, but I guess we’ll find out soon enough.
It feels like Pixels will have very little to offer or interest women, which is fine, since they have plenty of other alternatives including two animated movies, an R-rated rom-com and the new drama Paper Towns (see below). One wonders if that might hurt actually hurt Pixels since so many mothers will pick the movies their kids will see and there are other choices. Fortunately, fathers with kids will be more likely to want to see this as well, making this a good choice for families with boys.
There is somewhat of a worry that some of the male audience that might normally pick this as their first choice also have Southpaw as an option even if it’s not being marketed particularly well. Also, it’s potential kids audience has other choices like Minions and especially Ant-Man, although there’s enough room for all three when you consider that they have done a lot of business the past few weeks.
This is going to be an interesting movie to predict, because it has the potential to bring in the Sandler audience but it also has the nostalgia of video games that will appeal to a similar 20-40 plus audience of males, plus it also could appeal to kids. Normally, those elements should work together to produce an opening in the low $40 millions, but I’m thinking that maybe it will end up somewhere in the mid-to-high $30 millions instead but with a good chance at it making around $125 to 130 million despite the competition over then next few weeks.
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
We’ve written a lot about the success of young adult adaptations over the last few years with more genre-based films like “The Twilight Saga,” “The Hunger Games” and “The Divergent Series” all being huge successes, but last summer, a smaller romantic drama about young people did huge business when 20th Century Fox released the adaptation of John Green’s novel The Fault in Our Stars, starring Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort. It opened last summer with $48 million and grossed $307 million worldwide, all based around a fairly measly $12 million production budget, so it made sense that the studio would want to tackle another novel written by Green, hoping to replicate that success.
They’re doing this by having the same writers adapt Green’s 2008 novel Paper Towns (which debuted at #5 on the New York Times children’s bestsellers list), and they’ve once again cast a couple hot young actors in Nat Wolff (who had a smaller supporting role in Fault) and Cara Delevingne, the British supermodel who is becoming a hot actress with upcoming roles in Pan and Suicide Squad. They’re likely to have quite a career boost from being in this movie just because Green has so many fanatic young fans of his work.
The movie is obviously going to be a big draw for the young women under 25 that have read Green’s book and who were the largest audience for “Fault” and they should drive business this weekend as they go and check out the latest adaptation of one of his well-loved novels.
What’s interesting about this movie is that it’s very different from The Fault in Our Stars and is actually more like Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, which as luck would have it, was one of Fox’s other big sleeper hits of last year, grossing $368 million worldwide after a $37.1 million opening weekend in North America. It also treads similar romantic ground as the movies based on books by Nicholas Sparks, many of which have been huge hits among young women like Dear John and The Notebook.
The movie has done particularly well on social media where John Green has been active at keeping his young fans aware of the movie’s release going back for months now. It’s been tracking on par with Marvel’s latest hit Ant-Man on Twitter as well as doing very well on Facebook with over a million likes. (That’s still less than half the likes on the page for The Fault in Our Stars.)
There’s nothing about this movie that will hold interest for men of any age and older women probably won’t be to interested in a teen romance, so it’s relying almost exclusively on the younger women demographic who are fairly erratic when it comes to their interests. Other recent dramas for young adults like last year’s If I Stay didn’t fare nearly as well, although that still grossed $50 million and was considered profitable. At least Green’s novel is popular enough and has enough fans interested in the movie that they’ll give the movie a pretty big opening weekend bump.
Paper Towns doesn’t have an actor of the caliber of Shailene Woodley or Ansel Elgort, both of whom were coming off Divergent when they starred in The Fault in Our Stars and it’s hard to imagine Wolff or the lesser-known Delevingne are much of a draw to teenagers and older adults who won’t have any idea who they are. (Reminder: Very few people knew who Ryan Gosling or Rachel McAdams were when they starred in The Notebook.)
I have a lot of trouble figuring out the appeal of these young adult movies, especially because this one looks so much like a young person’s Gone Girl and doesn’t seem to have the broader appeal of The Fault in Our Stars. It should still do well due to fans of the books, and I’d be surprised if it does any less than $25 million, but it probably will do somewhere in the $27 to 30 million range and end up with $70 to 80 million total.
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
Southpaw is somewhat of an odd man out this weekend. Even though it’s a drama like Paper Towns, it’s an original concept that plays in a movie genre that’s generally done fairly well, that being the boxing movie.
The boxing genre thrived in the ‘70s and ‘80s with movies like Sylvester Stallone’s “Rocky” movies, three of which grossed over $100 million (at a time when that meant something) and Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull which is thought to be one of the lynchpins of the genre, having won two Oscars and being included in IMDb’s Top 250 of all time. In recent years, movies like Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby and David O. Russell’s The Fighter not only scored Oscars for their casts but also did huge business, each grossing nearly $100 million. Some movies like the comedy Grudge Match, which pit Robert De Niro against Sylvester Stallone (with Kevin Hart, no less), failed to find much of an audience.
Probably the best thing going for this movie besides the genre is that Jake Gyllenhaal is coming off his acclaimed performance in Nightcrawler, which opened with $10.4 million and grossed $32.3 million domestically (based on an $8.5 million budget). More importantly, it showed Gyllenhaal in a new light as a dramatic actor able to create characters very different from himself, and while he got a Golden Globe and SAG nomination but didn’t get the Oscar nomination, many thought he was deserving. Either way, it’s started a new era in Gyllenhaal’s career where he’s giving acclaimed performances and the physical transformation he went through for Southpaw is similar. He will continue his run with a role in the upcoming Everest and next year’s Demolition, Jean-Marc Valee’s follow-up to Wild.
Likewise, director Antoine Fuqua is coming off the success of The Equalizer, which teamed him with his Training Day star Denzel Washington. The film opened with $22.5 million and grossed $76 million and it helped Washington win his second Oscar. While other movies like King Arthur and Shooter didn’t fare as well, he’s had two hits in a row with Olympus Has Fallen and The Equalizer, both which grossed close to $100 million. More than anything, Fuqua has credibility among the urban audiences who will probably be attracted to the story in Southpaw.
Fuqua has surrounded Jake with a great supporting cast including Rachel McAdams, who is currently starring in HBO’s smokin’ hot “True Detective,” and Forest Whitaker giving a powerful performance that I wouldn’t be even remotely surprised if he received another Oscar nomination. It also co-stars 50 Cent, who has been all over the news lately, unfortunately not for the movie.
Southpaw has the potential to attract African-American and Latino audiences in a way that some of the other movies in theaters might not, mainly due to Fuqua’s street cred but also some of the cast including the real boxers involved. It’s also one of the few movies in theaters that may be of interest to older moviegoers by being grounded in real life situations even if if’s based on fictional characters.
It might seem like an easy sell due to the cast and the genre, but the commercials are selling it more like a drama than as a boxing movie, which doesn’t seem like it will connect to the target demographic of men over 20 that are into the world of boxing.
It’s also an odd decision for the Weinstein Company to release this during the summer hoping to offer counter-programming to the summer fare, when it probably would do much better during the fall, although there’s a chance they’re trying to keep it away from their Rocky spin-off film Creed, which comes out over Thanksgiving weekend.
The movie also has a fairly terrible title that really doesn’t jump off the marquee and doesn’t seem like summer fare as much as it does the Oscar fare we normally get during the fall and over the holidays. It’s certainly not an easy sell but it also probably won’t have to make a ton of money to be profitable.
There’s a chance that Southpaw could break out due to the popularity of Gyllenhaal and the film’s director, but it’s opening against much stronger summer fare already in theaters, so an opening weekend of $11 to 13 million is very likely but with strong legs to see it grossing around $40 million theatrically.
This Weekend Last Year
Like earlier this summer when we had a name battle between Ted 2 and Max, there was a similar name battle last year between Scarlett Johansson as Lucy (Universal) and Dwayne Johnson as Hercules (Paramount). Johansson’s action thriller ended up winning the weekend with $43.9 million to Johnson’s $29.8 million for second place. The rom-com for older adults And So It Goes (Clarius), starring Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton, bombed with just $4.64 million to take 8th place, while A Most Wanted Man (Roadside Attractions), one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final films, opened in 10th place with $2.7 million in 361 theaters, getting a similarly moderate release as last week’s Mr. Holmes. The Top 10 grossed $132 million, which should be easy to beat with this week’s stronger new and returning fare.
This Week’s Predictions
While my instinct thinks that Pixels may do way better than anyone expects, it shouldn’t have any problem winning the weekend, while second place could be a tougher race for second and third place with Paper Towns giving Minions a run for third.
1. Pixels (Sony) – $38.5 million N/A
My editor and I will argue over the proper punctuation needed for the title of Tom Cruise’s latest spy action movie Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (Paramount) while at least one of us thinks they need a Vacation (New Line Cinema/WB) i.e. not the one who is currently on vacation this week.
This Week’s Must-Sees
Phoenix (Sundance Selects)
I was hoping to have time to write more about this movie, which was one of my favorite movies at last year’s Toronto Film Festival, but it’s just a wonderful film that harks back to old school filmmaking with a story that starts simple as the story of a Holocaust survivor returning home and turns into something far more emotionally complex. It’s driven by a performance by Nina Hoss (who appeared opposite the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in A Most Wanted Man) that’s subtle but layered with emotional depth. The way that the relationship between this woman and her former husband is done in such an interesting way, which unfortunately saying more about would ruin the film’s denouement, but Petzold has created a visually and emotionally stimulating film that will leave you breathless.
Unexpected (The Film Arcade)
Five Star (XLRator Media)
Other Limited Releases of Note:
The Vatican Tapes (Pantelion Films/Lionsgate)
Samba (Broad Green)
Interview with Charlotte Gainsbourg (Coming Soon!)
Frank the Bastard (Paladin)
Big Significant Things (Oscilloscope)
American Heist (Lionsgate)
The Young Kieslowski (Mance Media)
Capital C (FilmBuff)
You can post any comments or questions below, or you can get in touch with the Weekend Warrior on Twitter.
Copyright 2015 Edward Douglas