Box Office Guy: Cars 3

Patrick Reardon

Last weekend "Wonder Woman" held up extremely well (a scant 43% drop) as Tom Cruise and "The Mummy" weren't able to put up much of a fight. This weekend four new wide releases are gunning for Diana Prince. One of them will knock her from the top spot but will it be worthy of your FML Bux?

Lightning McQueen and the lazily titled "Cars 3" zoom into theaters this weekend. The original "Cars" opened up with $60.1m in 2006 on its way to a domestic total of $244.1m. Five years later the sequel, "Cars 2," opened a tad stronger ($66.1m) but had a much weaker domestic run ($191.5m).

So why is Disney/Pixar going back to the well a third time for a property that appears to be past its peak? Anyone who has friends with small children or who has visited a Disneyland within the last few years can tell you the answer is simple: MERCHANDISING! Licensed products based on the IP from the first two "Cars" films have grossed an estimated $10 billion dollar (and counting). Disney/Pixar will try to put a positive spin on the creative need to tell this story, but the production of "Cars 3" is nothing more than a business decision, plain and simple. And so what? Pixar has built up so much good faith over the years that it's hard to fault them for making a numbers based decision. The reality going forward is that Pixar's slate is going to be a 50/50 split of original IP and less than stellar sequels. Here's hoping that Pixar's November release of "Coco" recaptures the Pixar magic. And I accept that if "Coco" is successful we'll get a mediocre sequel in 2022.

What this all means for "Cars 3" this weekend is a solid opening, but not on the same level of previous summer Pixar films. This one is for parents with small kids and Pixar die-hards only, so I don't see a huge crossover audience for "Cars 3." Look for an opening in the low to mid $50s. Even though it will eat up most of your FML budget (FB$719) it warrants consideration as an anchor, mainly because I'm not sold on any of the newcomers we're about to examine.

Also opening wide this weekend is "All Eyez on Me," a biopic of hip-hop icon Tupac Shakur. The obvious comps here are "Straight Outta Compton" ($60.2m opening, $161.2m domestic total) and "Notorious" ($20.5m opening, $36.8m domestic total). I expect "All Eyez on Me" to perform like the latter.

For starters I don't sense the groundswell of buzz that led up to the release of "Straight Outta Compton" which genuinely felt like an event movie. And even though it's been twenty one years since Shakur's murder, between the posthumous albums (six studio albums), Coachella hologram and lasting cultural impact, it sort of feels like Tupac never really left. I think this sentiment gives "All Eyez on Me" a little less urgency.

Even though "All Eyez on Me" will perform reasonably well this weekend (high teens-low $20s) I don't like the way it's priced (FB$327). To be a viable anchor it would have to over-perform to a point that I don't think it can realistically reach which is why I'll be looking for better value elsewhere.

For those looking for less serious, non-kiddie fare this weekend there is "Rough Night" starring Scarlett Johansson. The film is essentially a gender reversal on the 1998 dark comedy "Very Bad Things," which features an out of control bachelor party, a dead stripper and the cover up that wreaks havoc on everyone's lives.

Although the humor in "Rough Night" isn't as dark as "Very Bad Things," it's still a raunchy R-rated romp. The film hails from part of the creative team behind Comedy Central's "Broad City" (and features "Broad City" star Ilana Glazer), but that's not going to be enough to push this film over the top. The reality is "Broad City" averages less than a million viewers per show, so this will need to draw more on mainstream audiences. And with Scarlett Johansson's unpredictable box office draw when she isn't donning her Black Widow attire and lukewarm early reviews, I'm not expecting a "Bridesmaids" style breakthrough. Expect "Rough Night" to end up in low-mid teens this weekend. Not terrible, but not enough for me to trust screening it with a cost of FB$243.

The last wide release this weekend is the shark thriller "47 Meters Down." Last summer on almost this exact same weekend Sony had a nice little hit with their shark thriller "The Shallows" which opened up with $16.8m on its way to a final domestic haul of $55.1m (on a thrifty $17m budget). Of course with this being Hollywood, nascent production company Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures are trying to mimic this success.

But it's not enough to merely mimic this success, you have to make it BIGGER. Instead of one attractive woman in peril (Blake Lively) let's have TWO attractive women in peril (Mandy Moore and Claire Holt). Instead of our damsel(s) trying to stay above the water, let's drop them at the BOTTOM of the ocean. And instead of just one shark, let's have MULTIPLE sharks. If "47 Meters Down" ends up being successful I'm not sure kind of shark thriller we'll get in the summer of 2018. It would probably feature an entire sorority trapped at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, surrounded by the offspring of the genetically modified sharks from "Deep Blue Sea."

Unfortunately I don't think we're going to get to see the potential masterpiece I just pitched. I think audiences feel as if they've recently seen a similar shark movie ("The Shallows"), early buzz is mixed, it has an underwhelming theater count (estimated at 2,300) and I'm always loathe to trust an inexperienced production company/distributor. "47 Meters Down" could have trouble breaking $5m this weekend. Even with a fairly low cost of FB$105, its floor is too risky for me to trust.

Opening on a much smaller scale this weekend is the drama, "The Book of Henry," from Focus Features. This is notable because it's director Colin Trevorrow's follow-up to "Jurassic World" and it will lead into him directing a little indie flick by the name of "Star Wars Episode IX." "The Book of Henry" is only opening in 575 theaters so it won't make a huge impact. But at just FB$35 it could be a low risk, high reward play as low-end filler.

After last weekend's setback (thanks a lot "It Comes at Night") I'm looking to make a bold move. "Cars 3" is a safe play but I think a lot of other FML players feel the same way and will use it as their anchor. I'm leaning towards using "Wonder Woman" as my anchor once again, since I feel it will continue to hold up well amidst all the underwhelming competition. As for the rest of my screens I'm thinking of stacking the deck with my bonus pick (see below). Risky strategy, but I need to make a big move.

Weekend Picks

My picks for this weekend's top 5 in total box office (this week's cost in FML Bux in parentheses):
1. Cars 3 (FB$719)
2. Wonder Woman (FB$478)
3. All Eyez on Me (FB$327)
4. Rough Night (FB$243)
5. The Mummy (FB$167)

Bonus Pick of the Week: "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales" Back in the summer of 2011 "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" was still in theaters when "Cars 2" debuted. That weekend "On Stranger Tides" only dropped 26% (its best hold during the prime of its domestic run). I expect "Cars 3" to perform within the ballpark of its predecessor and believe "Dead Men Tell No Tales" might be able to draft on this through the drive-in effect and other factors. With a cost of just FB$71 I think "Pirates" can contend for the bonus.

Coming Attractions

The lone new wide release next weekend is the fifth (but not final) entry in the tired "Transformers" franchise. As long as huge international box office continues to roll in, audiences will be bombarded by these nonsensical CGI/explosion festivals for years to come.

Fortunately I'll be on vacation next week so I won't have to write about "Transformers: The Last Knight." Back in two weeks.

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