As I mentioned last week, this weekend seems to be a dumping ground for movies that have been shuffled around the release schedule and are getting released with minimal promotion, although there are two movies that will likely try to take on last week’s #1 movie Goosebumps and the ongoing hit The Martian. Even so, this might be another weekend without a single movie making more than $20 million and next weekend doesn’t look that much better.
While a biopic about Steve Jobs might not seem like the most exciting prospect to take on a Vin Diesel action movie, this prestigious portrait of the Apple co-founder that’s been playing like gangbusters in limited release after opening in select cities two weeks back will appeal to an older audience but also a wider one that includes both men and women.
The film is a great showcase for the talents of Michael Fassbender, whose box office drawing power is going to be put to the test this week because up until now, his biggest movies have been ones that have had him as part of an ensemble cast i.e. his two X-Men movies, including last summer’s X-Men: Days of Future Past. Even though Fassbender is front and center, he still has a great cast around him that includes a previous Oscar winner in Kate Winslet and others like Seth Rogen and Jeff Daniels who could appeal to younger and older audiences, respectively.
Steve Jobs is written by Aaron Sorkin, who won an Oscar for writing David Fincher’s The Social Network, which has a similar tone as Steve Jobs, and that grossed $97 million after an October release in 2010 as it started to accumulate awards and nominations. This movie is directed by Danny Boyle, who won his own Oscar for 2009’s Slumdog Millionaire, which grossed $141 million, although that was his only big hit and it’s hard to determine whether his name will be much of a draw.
What’s gotten people interested in the movie is the myth and legacy of Jobs himself, and the movie has also been getting great reviews ever since it debuted at the Telluride Film Festival and then had its high profile premiere at the New York Film Festival a few weeks back. Biopics can be hit or miss and very few have done huge business with a few exceptions like the Johnny Cash movie Walk the Line and Ray, not to mention the recent NWA movie Straight Outta Compton, which is one of the summer’s biggest surprise hits. One assumes that the cult of Mac that is constantly lining up to get the latest iPhone and other Apple products will know who Jobs is and will be interested in seeing how he’s depicted by Fassbender, but the movie might not have as big a draw as some of those musical biopics.
The audience for this one will probably be older, although one could see college-age and 20-somethings checking it out, especially with the buzz the movie’s been building in limited release. It averaged $130,381 its opening weekend in four theaters, which not only is the biggest per-theater average of the year but also one of the Top 15 biggest per-theater averages ever. It then added another $1.5 million this past weekend in 60 theaters, an average of $25,833. Expanding this weekend into 2,500 theaters, it should be able to generate a similar amount of interest in the new areas while still continuing to bring in business in the bigger cities, especially with no direct competition in many areas. (The Last Witch Hunter will appeal to a younger audience, basically the geek and video game crowd who won’t necessarily want to pay to see the movie in theaters.)
Steve Jobs should have a strong expansion this weekend with $15 to 17 million, giving The Last Witch Hunter a run for first place, although it’s going to be close, especially with this having already been playing in New York and L.A. for two weeks. Strong word-of-mouth should continue to help it (as will awards season) so expect it to end up with $75 million or more by the time it leaves theaters.
Distributor: Summit / Lionsgate
Back between 2000 and 2002, Vin Diesel was set up to become one of the biggest superstars on the planet thanks to hit action movies like The Fast and the Furious and xXx, but then he started doing all sorts of weird projects and movies that just didn’t connect (although his 2005 Disney family comedy The Pacifier was a surprise hit). In 2009, he reteamed with the late Paul Walker for Fast and Furious, which successfully energized that flailing franchise as well as Diesel’s career, leading to three more movies that did each did successively better. The latest installation, Furious 7, opened with $147 million this past April, one of the top 10 biggest openers ever, and it went on to gross $351 million domestically and $1.5 billion worldwide, making it one of the year’s biggest global hits.
And that brings us back to Vin Diesel, because as a major part of the “Fast and Furious” franchise, he suddenly is once again one of the hottest superstars on the planet, which allows him to get projects like this made. The Last Witch Hunter puts Diesel in the mantle of a witch hunter (shocking, huh?), both during the 13th Century and during modern-day New York, and it teams him with popular genre actors like Elijah Wood, Michael Caine and Rose Leslie (from “Game of Thrones”).
The movie seems to be in the vein of other supernatural action films like the Underworld and Resident Evil movies, but maybe more than anything, it seems like a cross of two Nicolas Cage movies, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Season of the Witch, which grossed $63 million and $24 million respectively, which helped to kickstart the end of his career. The Last Witch Hunter probably won’t do much better, but it’s doubtful it will have such an impact on Vin Diesel’s career, since he already has an eighth “Fast and Furious” movie in the works and, of course, he’ll be returning as Groot in Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy 2, so he’ll be just fine.
Even so, reviews probably won’t be good—it’s actually surprising that this is being screened for critics earlier than usual—which might hurt the movie among those who are already dubious of it being any good. The movie’s success won’t be helped by the baseball playoffs going on right now that could take a chunk out of potential business in major cities like Chicago and New York (go Mets!). Really the only thing going for the movie is Diesel’s presence and maybe some of his male fans from the “Fast and Furious” will give this a chance, although it has direct competition for younger audiences from the new “Paranormal Activity” movie (see below) despite that being in half as many theaters.
There isn’t much out this week (at least in theaters) that’s directly competing for the 15 to 20 year old male audience, and with a very wide release and a major action star, this should be good for $15 to 17 million opening weekend which may be enough to win the weekend although it might fall short, as it gets most of its business on Friday. It probably won’t end up with more than $45 to 50 million total either.
Interview with Breck Eisner (Coming Soon!)
When you have a movie called “The Last Witch Hunter” starring Vin Diesel, you probably know what to expect and maybe you want to hope otherwise, but from the moment we see Diesel sporting a terrible wig and facial hair, you know you’re in for trouble, and there’s nowhere to go from there.
The film begins centuries ago with Vin in his “Viking look” going after the “Witch Queen,” who lives underneath a giant tree. While he’s seemingly successful at killing her, it’s not before she curses him to live forever (without his wife and daughter that she killed), basically so that he can spend his life fighting her witch kin. Before you have time to realize what a ridiculous plan that is, we move ahead centuries in time to see Kaulder living in New York and working with the Order of the Axe and Cross, a group made of clergymen (and witches) trying to keep the dark witches in check. We see Kaulder catch one such witch, but then Kaulder’s handler, the 36th Dolan (Michael Caine), is found dead, so he must join with his succeeding Dolan (Elijah Wood) and a witch known as a Dreamwalker (Rose Leslie) to try to find out who is responsible, which leads to nefarious doings indeed.
Even writing the plot out for “The Last Witch Hunter” makes it seem pretty silly, and it is, and yet there may be bigger fantasy fans or witch enthusiasts than I who will eat this movie up as if it was free chocolate cake.
There’s no question that Vin Diesel has turned himself into the perfect action hero in the vein of Schwarzenegger and Stallone, but I’m not sure either of them would have allowed themselves to be dressed up so ridiculously even for some of the worst movies they made in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Diesel looks like a sad Viking during the period sections of the movie, which fortunately are scarce compared to the modern day, but those aren’t much better than anything in xXx.
Director Breck Eisner does a decent job with the film’s visuals and creating the environments, both in the past and present-day New York, and integrating real action with heavy visual FX, including a rag-tag creature called “The Sentinel” who drags bad witches into limbo. But even the best FX does little to make up for Diesel’s normal lackluster “I say my lines and you pay me” performance, and there’s very little fun or excitement to be found in any part of the movie. At least the cast around Vin helps to make up for him with the lovely Rose Leslie and Elijah Wood giving the movie a bit more fantasy cred, while Michael Caine always elevates the scenes he’s in… until he’s quickly dispersed of.
While half of me wants to commend Vin and the filmmakers behind The Last Witch Hunter for creating an original action movie concept rather than rehashing/remaking what’s come before, it’s a shame that concept is so bad it doesn’t even warrant polite applause.
When it comes to horror franchises, probably one of the most profitable and also influential is the one that branched out of Oren Peli’s low-budget Paranormal Activity, which debuted in limited release in 2009 and went on to gross $107 million. It led to two successful sequels, both released on this same weekend in 2010 and 2011, but just one year after that, Paranormal Activity 4 “tanked” with just $53.9 million, almost half what its predecessor made a year earlier. So what happened? Who knows?
Paramount and Blumhouse Productions decided to give the franchise a rest after that, just releasing the spin-off “The Marked Ones” in January 2014 when it grossed $32.5 million after an $18 million opening. (If you do that math, it ended up with less than twice its opening weekend in total, which is never a good sign.)
So now Paramount is back with supposedly the last in the “Paranormal Activity” series although not necessarily a continuation of the previous movies, and it’s facing even more obstacles at reviving the once-thriving franchise.
First of all, Paramount is trying something new and different by playing with theatrical windows. In other words, most major studio movies won’t appear on DVD or VOD for three months after their theatrical debuts, but Paramount made a deal with AMC Theaters and Cineplex Entertainment to allow some of their releases, most notably this one and next week’s Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, to be released On Demand 17 days after they’ve been dumped from theaters (or rather, are in less than 300 theaters.) You see, horror movies tend to do most of their business opening weekend and then quickly lose business and screens, so having to hold off on releasing it to the home market after three months makes little sense. (In return, AMC and Cineplex would get a small percentage of the VOD profits.)
That deal didn’t make most of the theater chains very happy and because of that, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (and presumably “Scout’s Guide”) will only be getting a theatrical release into a moderate amount of AMC and Cineplex theaters across the country. Basically, by other theaters boycotting the movie, they’ve guaranteed that these movies won’t get many theaters to begin with, which means the VOD deal will kick in even sooner. (I’d expect to see The Ghost Dimension on VOD by early December.)
The movie’s only being screened for press on Thursday night (basically when it opens) as to avoid the almost definite negative reviews before bringing in business on Thursday and Friday, and this installment is also getting a 3D release, which means more expensive tickets in the theaters showing it, which should also help it attain a fairly decent per-theater average despite the moderate theater count.
If this had a stronger release into more theaters it would probably win the weekend, but only getting 1,400 theaters or so is going to hold it back, although it should do well enough in those theaters as fans of the other movies will look for it. Expect it to open in the $10 to 11 million range although it probably won’t gross more than $22 to 25 million domestic, a dismal end to the franchise.
Back in the ‘80s when toys were regularly turned into television cartoons, Hasbro and Marvel teamed with Sunbow Productions for an animated show called “Jem and the Holograms” that would hopefully get young girls interested in their toys, the same way as their shows based on “G.I. Joe” and “Transformers” were thrilling the boys. Since the latter two have already been turned into successful film franchises (the latter more successful than the former), it was only a matter of time before Hasbro Studios decided to tackle a movie based on “Jem and the Holograms,” although they’re taking a different approach than the superpowered fantasy that made them so popular.
Instead, they’re making a lower budget rags-to-riches movie with Blumhouse Productions, who previously teamed with Hasbro and Universal for last year’s hit horror film Ouija, based on the supernatural board “game.” This followed 2012’s hugely expensive bomb Battleship, which probably got everyone at Hasbro and Universal rethinking how much money they spend on movies based on toys and games. In this case, they’re probably hoping that the original show has enough fans in their 30s who will want to introduce their daughters to the character they loved as kids.
Directed by Jon M. Chu, whose filmography ranges from “Step Up” and Justin Bieber movies to 2012’s G.I. Joe: Retaliation, the film doesn’t have many big name stars with Aubrey Peebles being best known for the hit show “Nashville” and Stefanie Scott having starred in the recent Insidious Chapter 3, also produced by Blumhouse.
Rather than being a fun fantasy movie, this seems more like something that falls between last year’s Beyond the Lights and 2001’s bomb Josey and the Pussycats (also based on an animated show), which grossed just $14.3 million despite a $39 million budget.
Granted, I’m not even remotely the target audience for this movie, but I honestly haven’t seen a single commercial for it even during morning television shows, so it seems like Universal is way more focused on Steve Jobs (which I also haven’t seen many commercials for!). Who knows? Maybe they’ve made so much money on other releases this year that they’ve given up on the rest of the year, but this is likely to be one of their bigger bombs of the year.
While Universal is probably marketing this show to young girls on the Disney Channel and such, the fact I haven’t seen a single commercial is not a good sign that too many of the target female audience will even know this movie exists. Because of that, it’s probably going to end up less than $7 million as it fails to find much of an audience and will probably end up grossing somewhere in the $15 million range.
Distributor: Open Road Entertainment
Possibly the biggest underdog of the weekend is this original comedy starring Bill Murray, whose career has been rather erratic in recent years. Last year this weekend, he starred in the comedy St. Vincent, which made nearly $8 million in its expansion into 2,282 theaters and it went on to gross $44 million domestic, but then earlier this year, he appeared in Cameron Crowe’s Aloha, which barely made half that amount with the added star power of Bradley Cooper and Emma Stone. St. Vincent had the benefit of premiering at Toronto which helped to build solid word-of-mouth, which is not something that can be said about Rock the Kasbah, which had an awkward unannounced panel at Comic-Con but otherwise hasn’t had much in terms of promotion despite being pushed back from April.
This movie should be a bigger deal because it unites Murray with director Barry Levinson, who is responsible for some of the most beloved movies of the ‘80s and ‘90s (the ones that didn’t star Murray, at least) including Diner, Good Morning, Vietnam, and Rain Man, for which Levinson won an Oscar for his direction. So this is an Oscar-winning director whose latest movie is barely getting any attention despite having such prestigious people involved, including the likes of Kate Hudson and Zooey Deschanel. (Heck, Bruce Willis is in the movie and he doesn’t even get a mention even though he appears in the commercial, of which I’ve seen one.)
And that’s the thing about marketing or the lack of it, because if I barely have seen anything about the movie then there’s even less chance that regular moviegoers will have any idea this movie exists, and the movie’s title (derived from the song by the Clash) doesn’t do very much to sell it. Basically this seems to be in the same boat as Murray’s last film Aloha (which also co-starred Danny McBride, oddly enough), although at least that opened with nearly $10 million thanks to the bigger stars involved.
On paper, this movie sounds as bad as Paul Weitz’s 2006 political comedy American Dreamz, which got terrible reviews and was released in 1,500 theaters where it grossed just over $7 million domestically. (That’s total, not opening weekend.)
Rock the Kasbah may do better than that, especially by playing in more theaters, but Open Road has barely been promoting it in the places where it might get the interest of some of Murray’s older fans, so this is basically getting dumped.
This will be lucky if it can make $5 million this weekend and that’s probably around where it will end up as it has a tough time getting into the Top 10 and may end up with less than $13 million total.
This Weekend Last Year
Last year, the horror movie won the weekend as the Hasbro supernatural game Ouija (Universal) opened in 2,858 theaters with just under $20 million, while Keanu Reeves starred in the action-thriller John Wick (Lionsgate), taking second place with $14.4 million. There was also a Bill Murray movie as his comedy St. Vincent (The Weinstein Company) expanded into 2,282 theaters, where it grossed $7.7 million to take sixth place.
This Week’s Updated Predictions
While it should be an interesting weekend with three movies vying for the top spot, it doesn’t seem likely anything will gross more than $20 million, and with entry point into the Top 10 being $5 million, there are a few movies that look so crappy (the little promotion they’re getting) that they may not even make it past that mark.
1. Steve Jobs (Universal) – $16.7 million +900% (up .5 million)
Sandra Bullock returns, pitted against Billy Bob Thornton in the political comedy Our Brand is Crisis (Warner Bros.), while the horror-comedy Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse (Paramount) tries to drum up some Halloween business. Also, this week’s Bradley Cooper cooking movie Burnt (The Weinstein Company) will expand nationwide.
This Week’s Must-Sees
Heart of a Dog (Abramorama/HBO Documentary Films)
Bone Tomahawk (RLJ Entertainment)
Director: S. Craig Zahler
While I don’t have time to write a full review, this is another great addition to this year’s trend of what I’d like to call “Weird Westerns” which includes movies like Slow West and The Hunting Room, where we see new spins on the Western genre from visionary new filmmakers. That can certainly be said about S. Craig Zahler who assembles an amazing cast (mostly of men) to have them tracking down a tribe of natives whose violent, cannibalistic tendencies gives Bone Tomahawk more of a genre feel than some of those other films. His cast includes Patrick Wilson, Richard Jenkins, Matthew Fox and of course Kurt Russell all doing excellent work and the film has a great look and feel.
Tokyo Tribe (XLRator Media)
Other Limited Releases of Note:
Oddly, I saw two of this week’s limited releases on the same day at the Sundance Film Festival this year and I liked one of them more than the other…
Nasty Baby (The Orchard)
Interview with Sebastian Silva and Kristen Wiig (Coming Soon!)
I Smile Back (Broad Green)
Suffragette (Focus Features)
Extraordinary Tales (GKIDS)
Difret (Amplify Releasing)
Asthma (IFC Films)
The Pearl Button (Kino Lorber)
India’s Daughter (Paladin)
Attack on Titan Part 2 (FUNimation Entertainment)
A Wonderful Cloud (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