As if 2016 wasn't bad enough (the election, the Orlando shooting, Brexit, a ridiculous amount of celebrity deaths, etc.) it was also a bad year for movies. Looking at the top 100 grossing films of the year , I see very few blockbusters that will genuinely stand the test of time. Granted, there have been a handful of good smaller films but it feels like there were even fewer of those in 2016. So much so that I think we're headed to one of the weakest crop of Best Picture nominations that we've ever seen. I say good riddance to 2016 and hope that the world (and movie theaters) has a significantly better 2017.
Early January is both the best time of the year to go to the movies and the worst. It's the best in terms of total movie going options with holiday holdovers and award contenders expanding (especially if you live in or around a big city). I walked past the marquee at one of my local multiplexes last week and there were NINE movies I was interested in. But early January is the worst time of year for brand new releases. It's the time of year when studios dump the worst of their slates and pray that something sticks. But fortunately for the producers of the "Underworld" franchise there is usually one genre flick every January that carves out a decent bit of business.
This weekend "Underworld: Blood Wars," the fifth entry in the resilient vampire franchise will try to join the list of "forgettable early January genre films that earned a respectable amount of money but disappeared from your consciousness by the time the end credits started to roll." Here is the not so prestigious list:
*2005 - "White Noise" ($24.1m opening, $56.4m total)
*2006 - "Hostel" ($19.6m opening, $47.3m total)
*2008 - "One Missed Call" ($12.5m opening, $26.9m total)
*2009 - "The Unborn" ($19.8m opening, $42.7m total)
*2010 - "Daybreakers" ($15.1m opening, $30.1m total)
*2012 - "The Devil Inside" ($33.7m opening, $53.3m total)
*2013 - "Texas Chainsaw 3D" ($21.7m opening, $34.3m total)
*2014 - "Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones" ($18.3m opening, $32.5m total)
*2015 - "The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death" ($15m opening, $26.5m total)
*2016 - "The Forest" ($12.7m opening, $26.6m domestic total)
With the exception of the original "Underworld" all of the other franchise entries debuted in January and have been very consistent:
*2003 - "Underworld" ($21.7m opening)
*2006 - "Underworld: Evolution" ($26.9m opening)
*2009 - "Underworld: Rise of the Lycans" ($20.8m opening)
*2012 - "Underworld: Awakening" ($25.3m opening)
Bottom line is that in the last ten years there hasn't been an early January genre film that has opened to less than $12.5m, there hasn't been an "Underworld" film open with less than $20.8m and it's opening on over 3,000 screens. Although I think "Blood Wars" will have the lowest opening in this series I have a hard time making a case that it will go any lower than the mid-teens. At FB$276 it deserves consideration but I think there are better values out there this weekend.
While "Blood Wars" is the only new release this weekend there are a pair of Oscar hopefuls expanding. I'll start with the more promising of the two.
After a stellar two weeks in limited release on twenty-five screens, "Hidden Figures" is expanding to 2,300+ theaters this weekend. The film, which is based on a true story of a group of African American women who were an integral part of the first successful space shuttle mission, has garnered excellent reviews and has positioned itself nicely for a potential Oscar run (nominated for 2 Golden Globes, 2 SAG awards and a WGA award).
It's difficult coming up with a good comp for "Hidden Figures" (movies about African American women at NASA aren't exactly a dime a dozen), so it's a genuine wild card this weekend. But it's been reported that several schools across the nation have been booking group sales for the movie. Because of this interest (and the family friendly PG rating) Thursday night previews for "Hidden Figures" are scheduled to begin at 5:30 pm, which should give us a pretty strong indication by Friday morning whether or not it's a viable play. Another positive for this film is that I don't think it will be affected by a full slate of NFL playoff games on both Saturday and Sunday. As of right now I think "Hidden Figures" will end up in the mid-high teens this weekend. But the film has an intriguing ceiling and it appears to be gaining momentum. If it comes in with a big Thursday night number it will be a very interesting play at FB$255.
The other major expansion this weekend is the fantasy film "A Monster Calls" from director J.A. Bayona (who has recently been tapped to helm the next "Jurassic Park" movie). The film was originally set to debut this past October but its release was delayed in order to position itself for an awards run. Sadly it doesn't look like that gamble is going to pay off. It has yet to gather any major award nominations and hasn't made much of an impact in its limited release (a weak per screen average of $9,567 on its opening weekend). Which is a shame because everyone I know who has seen the film has nothing but good things to say about it.
Hopefully "A Monster Calls" could stick around and find a modest audience the way "Pan's Labyrinth" did ten years ago (but that film got off to a much stronger start in limited release). With a low theater count compared to the competition (about 1,500) I think this film is going to struggle. Even with a good Thursday night showing the floor for this film is too low for me to go all in on it (even at FB$107).
For my Fantasy Movie League lineup I'm likely going to stray from the two biggest hits of the holiday season ("Rogue One" and "Sing"). While I fully expect those two films to finish at the top of the box office this weekend I think films like "Hidden Figures" and "La La Land" will provide the best return on investment. If "Hidden Figures" keeps its momentum going I may play it three times and fill out the rest of my screens with my bonus pick (see below).
My picks for this weekend's top 5 in total box office (this week's cost in FML Bux in parentheses):
1. Rogue One (FB$501)
2. Sing (FB$410)
3. Hidden Figures (FB$255)
4. Underworld: Blood Wars (FB$276)
5. La La Land (FB$190)
Bonus Pick of the Week: "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" The film has quietly hung in there since it's release seven weeks ago. It actually had a nice uptick on New Year's weekend despite losing screens. With no obvious choices for low end filler this week I think "Fantastic Beasts" has one last chance to contend for the bonus at FB$37.
Once again we'll be getting an early January mix of new wide releases that look terrible and a trio of major expansions that all look promising. The new releases include the horror film "The Bye Bye Man," the Jamie Foxx thriller "Sleepless," and the action comedy (?) "Monster Trucks." The films that are expanding features a trio of A-list filmmakers: Martin Scorsese's "Silence," Peter Berg's "Patriot's Day," and Ben Affleck's "Live By Night." I fear "Monster Trucks" may out-gross the works by these directors (thus making me think about giving up on humanity yet again).