For the first time this summer and possibly the first time in many months–seriously, who remembers anything that happened in January through April at this point?–we have a weekend with four new wide releases, just another way that the box office is trying to stick it to your friendly neighborhood Weekend Warrior at the point of the summer where he’s ready to take a much needed week off. But since I’m not attending Comic-Con International in San Diego for the first time in years, I guess I don’t have much of an excuse other than general apathy towards at least three of the four movies being released, none of which I’ve seen at the time of this writing.
Basically, we have yet another family movie, what looks like a seriously scary horror movie and two action-comedies, both loosely based on comic books, and in theory, all four have something to offer audiences although moviegoers are going to have to make choices of what they really want to see and that’s probably going to hurt at least one or two of the releases. Either way, this is a tough week to call because there are way too many variables in play, which is often how we get surprise hits and flops during the summer.
This week’s CHOSEN ONE is Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s Blackfish (Magnolia), a documentary that might have you never wanting to go to SeaWorld ever again.
Turbo (DreamWorks Animation/Fox)
For DreamWorks Animation’s second movie of 2013, they’ve taken a cue from two of Pixar’s less popular movies, Cars and A Bug’s Life, and squooshed them together into a movie about racing slugs and one that somehow magically gets super-fast and races in the Indy 500. It’s either the laziest premise for an animated movie or the most ingenious one and until we see how the movie does, we’ll have to wait and see. What does make Turbo such a great idea for an animated movie is that like Cars, it has a chance of appealing to the “NASCAR crowd,” which basically is made up of millions of people in the country who like watching racing and the accompanying culture, which should help it.
The movie features the voice of Ryan Reynolds, who also voiced the caveman known as Guy in DreamWorks Animation’s last movie The Croods, which opened in March with $43.6 million and went on to be a solid grosser for the company, grossing $185.6 million domestically and another $385 million overseas. It was a nice comeback for DWA after the disappointing holiday flop Rise of the Guardians and a good sign for the new distribution partnership with 20th Century Fox, who since then released Blue Sky Studios’ Epic, which has performed more moderately with $238 million worldwide. Otherwise, Turbo sports another solid voice cast, which DWA has become quite well known for with a lot of great actors like Samuel L. Jackson, Paul Giamatti and Michael Peña, joined by comics like Bill Hader and Ken Jeong as well as pop culture figures like Snoop Dogg/Lion, offering a wide variety of characters to appeal to different audiences.
Unfortunately, Turbo has the unenviable release slot of coming out directly in between anticipated sequels Despicable Me 2 and The Smurfs 2, and with DisneyPixar’s Monsters University still playing well in theaters, one wonders if there’s any room for another family movie at this point in the summer. Sure, there’ll be lots of kids who see the commercials and beg their parents to take them and that will definitely help, but there has to be at least some fatigue (both physically and financially) from parents who just took their kids to see those other two movies to go see a movie that doesn’t have the “sure thing factor” as a sequel/prequel.
It might seem somewhat odd for DreamWorks Animation to open a movie on a Wednesday, but it’s actually pretty smart since they know with school being out and parents looking for ways to entertain their kids, they can make two extra days of box office revenues if they release it on a Wednesday. (In fact, Sony is doing the same thing with The Smurfs 2 in a couple of weeks, which may be another reason why DWA are trying to get a headstart on that.)
Either way, it doesn’t look like Turbo will make anywhere near some of DWA’s other big movies, but the premise is strong enough that it should at least do better than Rise of the Guardians and maybe find an audience over the rest of the summer rather than doing all its business opening week.
Wednesday/Thursday Est: $7 to 8 million; Weekend Est.: $32 to 35 million; Est. Total Gross: $125 million
The Conjuring (New Line/WB)
Of the three movies being offered for the teen and older set, likely to be one of the stronger options is this horror movie based on the actual case files of supernatural investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, played in the movie by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. There’s definitely a fascination that Americans have with ghosts and the supernatural that has translated well at the box office with movies like the “Paranormal Activity” movies, The Others and um others.
This one is helmed by Australian filmmaker James Wan, who broke onto the horror scene in 2004 with his friend Leigh Whannell and their indie serial killer whodunit Saw, and while that franchise carried on for six more movies, Wan went on to other things, although he didn’t have another hit until last year’s Insidious, which teamed him with “Paranormal” producer Jason Blum. It was picked up by new distributor FilmDistrict at the Toronto International Film Festival after a rousing midnight premiere and it opened in April 2011 to the tune of $13.3 million in just 2,408 theaters before grossing $54 million, a rare horror movie that (like Saw) showed strong legs from word-of-mouth.
The Conjuring probably has a lot more going for it than Insidious including a great cast, starting with Oscar-nominated actress Vera Farmiga, who has never shied away from genre films, having starred in the underrated cult classic Orphan, the indies Quid Pro Quo and Joshua, and of course, she’s now starring on the hit TV show “Bates Motel,” which acts as a prequel to Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.” The Conjuring also reunites Wan with Patrick Wilson, one of the stars of Insidious whom also has quite a list of genre credits under his belt, but may still be best known for his role in Zack Snyder’s Watchmen. They’re joined by two more veteran actors, Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor, as well as relative newcomer Joey King, who just appeared in Roland Emmerich’s White House Down. Although none of the cast members have proven themselves as box office draws, horror movies have never been about having big name stars. Unlike the ones that feature pretty unknown actors, this one offers a cast with so much solid acting experience among them that you know that they’ll make all the scares truly believable.
Horror movies based on true stories have generally done very well at the box office. The 2005 remake of The Amityville Horror (starring this week’s poster boy Ryan Reynolds, no less) opened with $23 million, as did Lionsgate’s The Haunting in Connecticut, both of them based on cases that the Warrens were involved with, although neither of those opened during the summer when there are a lot more young people who can see it on opening day or more likely, the night before. Audiences have also been flocking to scary movies not based on true stories for years now as proven by the success of the “Paranormal Activity” movies and this one certainly promises enough scares to appeal to them as well.
Warner Bros. came up with an interesting marketing strategy for the movie by not cutting a conventional trailer but actually showing an extended clip featuring Lilly Taylor walking through her house playing hide and seek with her kids, a truly creepy bit of filmmaking that’s really captured audiences’ interest. They’ve also been screening the movie way in advance and way more than most horror movies to garner solid reviews and word-of-mouth that is sure to help convince audiences that this is the movie they must see this weekend.
Oddly and even with all that going for it, The Conjuring seems to be opening in less theaters than all three other new movies this weekend even though at least at one point it was tracking higher than the others. It also has quite a bit of competition for the younger audiences with two PG-13 movies–The Conjuring is Rated R–but we don’t think that will matter since theaters should be fairly well jam-packed with people who’ve heard how scary the movie is and will want to experience it for themselves. They’re likely to rush out Thursday and Friday night making it more frontloaded than some of the other offerings, but even so, word of mouth should continue to help the movie over the back-end of the summer which should make it the summer’s second big horror hit after Universal’s The Purge.
Weekend Est.: $26 to 30 million; Est. Total Gross: $85 million
RED 2 (Summit Entertainment)
We’re going to cheat a little bit this week due to the number of movies, but also these two acronym movies, one based on a comic book, the other a sequel to a movie based on a comic book, have so much in common that it’s hard not to lump them together. In fact, it’s surprising that they’re both getting released on the same day especially since the director of one of the movies was at the helm of the original movie that was enough of a hit that it even warranted the sequel to the other movie.
So what do we have here? RED 2 is the sequel to the 2010 action-comedy starring Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, Mary Louise-Parker and others like Morgan Freeman, who didn’t return for the sequel. It’s based on the Wildstorm comic by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner the concept involving older, retired CIA agents who are called back to duty. It opened in what could be seen as the less desirable month of October to the tune of $21.8 million, but it went on to gross $90.4 million domestically and nearly $200 million worldwide, a solid hit for Summit Entertainment that was profitable enough to warrant a sequel.
The other movie R.I.P.D. or “Rest in Peace Department” is a horror-tinged action-comedy based on a comic book by Peter Lenkov that teams Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges as undead police officers who protect the living from evil spirits. Essentially it’s Ghostbusters meets Men in Black and considering how popular those movies are, one would expect this to follow suit that is, if it wasn’t opening against much stronger offerings like RED 2.
Like with RED, the biggest draw for the sequel will be action star Bruce Willis, who has somehow managed to survive a fairly erratic career of hits and misses to be able to sustain a number of franchise before this one, most notably the “Die Hard” series, to which he returned earlier this year. It didn’t do particularly well in the States, grossing just $67 million, but then it earned $300 globally showing that Willis’ character John McClane was still popular overseas. A month later, Willis debuted as General Joe Colton in G.I. Joe: Retaliation which did significantly better both here and internationally. Willis has certainly had more than his share of bombs, but he’s still considered an A (or at least A-) list star who can get a movie bankrolled with his involvement and he can clearly bring in international money as well. That said, he hasn’t done as well with sequels as seen by The Whole Ten Yards, the attempted sequel to the equally surprising hit The Whole Nine Yards.
By comparison, pairing Ryan Reynolds with Jeff Bridges has a questionable draw only because Reynolds’ career has been all over the map, having huge comedy hits like The Proposal with Sandra Bullock and Safe House with Denzel Washington–both big box office stars in their own right–but not really delivering when playing the lead as he did in 2011’s Green Lantern. Meanwhile, Bridges is coming off back-to-back hits with his return as Kevin Flynn in TRON: Legacy and his starring role in the Coens’ True Grit, both following his Oscar win for Crazy Heart. He may have been gone just long enough to get his fans excited to see him in something new.
The good thing for RED 2 is that it will have an appeal to women due to the presence of Helen Mirren and Mary-Louise Parker, which is not something that can be said about R.I.P.D.. Oh, wait. Yes, it can, because Parker is in that one, too, playing a much smaller role, although this time the RED stars are also joined by the likes of Catherine Zeta-Jones, Anthony Hopkins and Brian Cox, which could potentially bring in more older moviegoing audiences who might not be interested in the other three options.
Universal Pictures have been having such a good summer that they apparently were caught napping when it came to actually letting people know that R.I.P.D. was coming out, taking a long time to release a first trailer (despite footage being shown at LAST year’s CinemaCon) and then generally waiting until the last minute to start their campaign. This could potentially create a problem or it could be a genius move to save their time and wait until right before release. One bad sign for R.I.P.D. is that most critics won’t have a chance to see it until Thursday night, which is essentially when it’s opening so even if it turns out to be a masterpiece, they won’t have reviews ready opening day to help raise awareness and the kids who go to the multiplexes won’t have a clue what a “RIPD” is, which gives another advantage to RED 2. However you slice it, it looks like R.I.P.D.is going to lose out to the other two movies targeting the older moviegoers who will probably go with the solid bet of a sequel over some new movie. RED 2 may end up behind Conjuring on Friday but appealing to an older audience means it will do more business on the weekend when they’re not working and it should be able to end up in second place by Sunday.
RED 2 Weekend Est.: $25 to 27 million; Est. Total Gross: $75 million
This weekend last year saw the release of one new movie, but it was the sequel to one of the biggest blockbusters of the past ten years as Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises (Warner Bros. Studios), once again starring Christian Bale as Batman, opened in 3,881 theaters. While many expected it to do as well as Marvel’s The Avengers, which set a new opening weekend record with over $200 million two months prior, it instead opened with $160.9 million, just $2.4 million more than The Dark Knight opened with four years prior, but making it the third-biggest opening of all time. Ultimately, it went on to gross $450 million domestically and over a billion worldwide so no one at Warner Bros. could be disappointed. Unfortunately, with that kind of opener, there’s just very little way that this weekend with its four more offbeat offerings can compete and we’re likely to be down this weekend after a number of weeks where the box office was besting last year.
This Week’s Updated Predictions –
(UPDATE: The Conjuring is definitely getting significantly more theaters than originally projected and we’re raising our prediction for it accordingly. Turbo only grossed $5.8 million on Wednesday but with an “A” CinemaScore, there’s a good chance it will have a bump on Thursday and Friday as word-of-mouth helps it going towards the weekend. It’s still going to be a fairly neck and neck race between the two movies, the latter having an advantage of a thousand theaters and probably doing better business over the weekend when parents are off work. With four new movies in theaters, a lot of the returning movies are losing a LOT more theaters than originally projected and will likely drop significantly to make room for them with The Lone Ranger in danger of dropping out of the Top 10 altogether.)
1. The Conjuring (New Line/WB) – $31.2 million N/A (up 3.2 million)
(And another UPDATE: we’ve decided that The Conjuring is going to win the weekend and we’re going to stick with our initial instincts on this.)
2. Turbo (DreamWorks Animation/Fox) – $30.5 million N/A (down 2.5 million)
3. RED 2 (Summit Entertainment) – $24.8 million N/A (down .7 million)
4. Despicable Me 2 (Universal) – $24 million -45% (same)
5. Pacific Rim (Legendary/WB) – $17.8 million -52% (same)
6. Grown Ups 2 (Sony) – $17.5 million -58% (same)
7. R.I.P.D. (Universal) – $14.6 million N/A (down .2 million)
8. The Heat (20th Century Fox) – $7.7 -43% (down .3 million)
9. Monsters University (DisneyPixar) – $5.4 million -50% (down .4 million))
10. The Lone Ranger (Walt Disney Pictures) – $5.0 million -57% (down .2 million)
It was tough to choose just one CHOSEN ONE this week because there are two great docs out this weekend and a couple solid dramas, but we had to go with Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s Blackfish (Magnolia), which branches off the highly-publicized February 24, 2010 death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau, which led to SeaWorld’s business practices being questioned in court. Brancheau was killed by Tilikum, the largest Orca in captivity that previously had shown signs of aggression killing a trainer in Canada at a smaller facility before being bought by SeaWorld, something that had been kept well hidden. Through interviews with former SeaWorld trainers who worked with dolphins and killer whales (many of whom had no professional training for their jobs) as well as the whale hunter who first caught Tilikum in the wild, Cowperthwaite assembles an intriguing story using a similar talking heads approach as James Marsh’s Project NIM. (In fact, it’s much more like that movie than The Cove, to which it’s being compared.)
Ultimately, SeaWorld was fined $75,000 and forced to have their trainers work behind barriers, which they’re appealing. Not only does SeaWorld deny most of the allegations of the film, but they even hired a publicist to send a letter to film critics denying what’s in the film although there seems to be more than enough proof including the word of those who witnessed other unreported aggressive behavior by Tilikum that it’s shocking that he’s still performing at SeaWorld in Orlando rather than being given his freedom.
You can decide for yourself who is telling the truth when Blackfish opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday and in other cities starting July 26. You can find out when it will play near you on the official site.
A similarly-violent Asian-based movie, Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn and his star Ryan Gosling reunite for Only God Forgives (RADiUS-TWC), a violent revenge thriller that takes them to Bangkok, Thailand where Gosling plays Julian, a gangster and drug dealer, whose brother Billy is murdered, pulling him into a web of murder and double-dealing involving a vicious vigilante police officer with a razor sharp katana, Julian’s aggressive mother (played by Kristin Scott Thomas) and others. While their latest collaboration isn’t quite as immediate or accessible as Drive and you might wonder how much of it is being done for shock value, Refn’s incredibly stylish visuals and the incredible score by Cliff Martinez drive a compelling tale that mixes Tarantino, Kubrick and Polanski, as the Danish filmmaker continues to be one of the most innovative and distinctly singular filmmakers working today.
One of the nice surprises of the weekend is the adaptation of Daniel Clay’s book Broken (Film Movement) by first-time director Rufus Norris which takes place in a suburban English cul-de-sac and its inhabitants as viewed by an 11-year-old nicknamed “Skunk” (played by newcomer Eloise Laurence) and her father Archie, as played by Tim Roth. At first, it might seem like a fairly standard coming-of-age tale, but it’s genuinely well written and acted with a solid ensemble that includes Son of Rambow‘s Bill Wilner as Skunk’s first love interest, Cillian Murphy as a substitute teacher whose live-in girlfriend moves out to live with Skunk’s father. Combine that with an intriguing non-linear narrative style that delivers a number of strong twists and you have a fairly solid drama that’s full of surprises.
Kristen Wiig stars in Girl Most Likely (Roadside Attractions), a movie I saw at the Toronto International Film Festival under its original title of “Imogene” that didn’t really impress me much. Wiig plays the title character, a New York playwright dumped by her boyfriend who fakes a suicide and is put under the case of her gambling addicted mother (played by Annette Bening), forcing her to deal with her family and the strange people around them, including her mother’s boyfriend, played by Matt Dillon. It opens in select cities.
There are two smaller indie comedies opening on Wednesday, the better of them being Andrew (Funny Ha Ha) Bujalski’s latest movie Computer Chess (Kino Lorber), which opens at New York’s Film Forum. It takes place over a single weekend at a cheap hotel in the early 80s where a group of computer programmers gather for a tournament to see who can come up with the best computer chess software. Filmed mostly in black and white, it’s a rather strange film that at times comes across like an episode of “The Big Bang Theory,” but Bujalski surrounds the rather innocuous presence with enough interesting developments, including a budding romance between two competitors, that it makes the film quite appealing. The stand-out in the cast has to be Myles Paige as Michael Papageorge as an independent entry into the contest who spends much of his time trying to find a place to sleep.
Jeff Garlin of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” directs his second movie Dealin’ With Idiots (IFC Films) in which he plays comedian Max Morris, whose time spent at his son’s baseball games with the other parents inspires him to get to know them better to get inspiration for a movie. While Garlin’s previous movie, the romantic comedy I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With, had a lot of charm partially due to the presence of Sarah Silverman, this one just didn’t have much going for it, maybe because I have no interest in baseball. There are some funny moments, but so much of the movie just seems like Garlin letting comics like J.B. Smoove and Bob Odenkirk to riff endlessly. It’s almost worth it (but not quite) for the last few minutes when Garlin finally snaps. After opening on Wednesday at the IFC Center, it will open in Los Angeles on Friday.
Since I haven’t seen any of the other movies, there’s no real point even writing about them, so I won’t, but you can see what else is playing this weekend here.
Next week, the month of July comes to a close with the return of Hugh Jackman as The Wolverine (20th Century Fox) while an ensemble cast of comic actors surround Aubrey Plaza’s decision to explore her sexuality before going off to college in The To Do List (CBS Films).
You can read stuff like this and regular box office, awards and festival coverage on the Weekend Warrior Blog and to keep up with the latest articles and posts, you can follow us on Twitter.
Copyright 2013 Edward Douglas