Box Office Guy: Lost City of Z

Patrick Reardon · April 20, 2017 · 4:33 am PDT

Last weekend we had a giant movie invade the marketplace (in the form of "The Fate of the Furious"). This weekend is a stark contrast to last weekend as five new releases and a mid-size expansion are set to battle for Dominic Toretto's table scraps. I have a feeling it isn't going to be pretty. Up first is a throwback to the classic 80s-90s cinematic trope of "The (blank) from Hell."

Unforgettable

Also known as "The Ex-Wife From Hell." Katherine Heigl plays the ex-wife here who is apparently dead set on making life miserable for her ex-husband's new wife (Rosario Dawson). The similarly themed "Obsessed" opened on this same weekend eight years ago with a strong $28.6m on its way to a domestic total of $68.3m. I don't think "Unforgettable" gets anywhere close to this number, but of the new options this week it's the only one with a prayer of breaking the $10m mark.

It's pains me to say, but it's a potential anchor this weekend. It's reasonably priced at FB$167 (which means you can screen it five times) and it has the highest screen count of the new releases this week (2,350+). Although the film is still under a critic embargo it won't matter since this type of film is usually critic proof ("Obsessed" still did big business with a 19% on Rotten Tomatoes score).

The Promise

Christian Bale? Love him. Oscar Isaac? Great. Terry George, the director of "Hotel Rwanda?" Still interested. These three are joining up for a $100m drama set against the backdrop of the Armenian genocide? Uh oh.

While I like that this story is being told, this feels like a fall movie that needs awards love to find an audience. It would be great if this did some legitimate business since it's been unfairly attacked by those internet trolls that make cyberspace such a wonderful place, but I think "The Promise" is too tough of a sell to succeed. Even with a price tag of FB$47 the film's floor is too low for me to trust.

Born in China

This panda bear documentary is the seventh feature film in the last nine years from the Disneynature label. Each of the previous six films was released in late April and enjoyed an average domestic opening of $6.8m. The high mark was "Chimpanzee" in 2012 ($10.7m) and 2015's "Monkey Kingdom" was the lowest grossing ($4.6m). "Born in China" will fall somewhere in this range, but probably towards the lower end. In order to use it in your lineup you need to be confident that it will best the $6.8m average opening that these films have earned. I'm not convinced that it can. With a price tag of FB$103 I'm going to look for better value elsewhere.

Free Fire

British writer/director Ben Wheatley is definitely someone to watch. While I didn't love his last feature ("High Rise") it definitely had enough striking visuals to make me interested in what he'll be working on going forward. I felt the same way after watching Guy Ritchie's debut, "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels," in 1998. But Ritchie's debut only earned $3.8m at the domestic box office. It discovered its audience in ancillary markets. I have a feeling the same thing will happen to "Free Fire."

Although it boasts a solid cast (Brie Larson, Armie Hammer) and a slick trailer, I don't think there are enough people aware of the film to make it stand out this weekend. Although distributor A24 is on an amazing run of high quality films, they rarely make a lot of money ("The Lobster," "The Spectacular Now," "Swiss Army Man," etc.). They are best suited for small platform releases that attract awards attention "Moonlight," "Room," etc.). Although the screen count wasn't available at press time, unless it comes out to be much higher than expected the floor is too unpredictable for me to trust "Free Fire" at FB$54.

Phoenix Forgotten

I'm usually bullish on reasonably priced sci-fi/horror movies on their opening weekends. But I've seen so little from the found footage film, "Phoenix Forgotten," from a marketing standpoint that it's hard to get a good gauge on it. When in doubt, look to the distributor.

"Phoenix Forgotten" is the second feature film from nascent distributor Cinelou Films. Their lone previous release was the Jennifer Aniston drama, "Cake." If Blumhouse or Screen Gems was distributing this film I might be willing to roll the dice on it. But between Cinelou and an uninspiring trailer (which feels like it's been done a hundred times before) I don't have much faith in "Phoenix Forgotten" (even at FB$51).

The Lost City of Z

After a decent start last week on 4 screens ($28k per screen average), this adventure drama starring Charlie Hunnam is expanding to 500 screens this weekend. Reviews have been solid thus far (89% on Rotten Tomatoes) and word of mouth has been encouraging. Based on the other five new releases this weekend, "The Lost City of Z" clearly looks like the best option in terms of quality. But I wish it had a higher screen count.

On this weekend last year the Tom Hanks drama "A Hologram For the King" (which had reasonably positive word of mouth) was only able to muster up a $1.1m opening on 400 screens. I expect more out of "The Lost City of Z," but not enough to justify the cost of FB$55.

As you can see, we have a weekend full of new options. However, I don't trust any of them 100%. Of the four new films priced in the FB$47-FB$55 range I can't make a compelling to case to go all in on any of them, which is why I'm leaning towards stacking my screens with "Beauty and the Beast" (see bonus pick below). Although "The Fate of the Furious" will easily be the top grosser this week the "Fast" films have dropped an average of 62% in their second weekends since Vin Diesel rejoined the franchise. I don't see "Fate" bucking this trend.

Weekend Picks

My picks for this weekend's top 5 in total box office (this week's cost in FML Bux in parentheses):
1. The Fate of the Furious (FB$671)
2. The Boss Baby (FB$162)
3. Unforgettable (FB$167)
4. Beauty and the Beast (FB$132)
5. Born in China (FB$103)

Bonus Pick of the Week: "Beauty and the Beast" In its fifth weekend it stabilized with a mere 42% drop. I expect it to remain steady throughout the rest of its theatrical run, especially when you consider the underwhelming new competition. With a cost of FB$132 it should be in bonus contention.

Coming Attractions

There will be one more quiet week of new releases before "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" kicks off the de-facto start of the summer movie season on May 5th. Until then moviegoers will have to make due with Tom Hanks and Emma Watson in the tech thriller "The Circle," the comedy "How to be a Latin Lover" and the sci-fi drama "Sleight" from producer Jason Blum.

Follow me on Twitter @TheBoxOfficeGuy

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