If you've read the trades or any publication that covers the movie business over the past couple of weeks it would appear that the sky is falling in Hollywood. A disastrous August propelled the summer box office to its lowest level in over a decade. According to the industry doomsayers the film business is about to implode. To which I reply (with a nod to Aaron Rodgers circa 2014): RELAX.
The only way I'd be genuinely concerned about this box office slump is if August audiences were ignoring good movies en masse. The end of summer was filled with wannabe tent poles ("The Dark Tower"), second rate animated fare ("The Nut Job 2"), dramas that would have been better off in the fall ("The Glass Castle") and disposable action flicks ("The Birth of the Dragon"). Is anyone really surprised that these films didn't capture the attention of moviegoers? When Hollywood produces good movies, markets them correctly and releases them on an optimal weekend audiences tend to show up. This weekend will be a prime example.
After months of anticipation and creepy ads galore, the latest adaptation of Stephen King's "It" is finally hitting movie theaters. I expect "It" to break the all time September opening (currently held by "Hotel Transylvania 2," $48.5m) and the all time opening for a horror film (currently held by "Paranormal Activity 3," $52.6m) for the following reasons:
The Lack of Competition
As previously mentioned August was a horrendous month for movies. I'm a fairly regular moviegoer and I haven't felt compelled to see a film on the big screen since "Dunkirk" seven weeks ago. Audiences are starved for anything resembling an event movie and "It" is coming along at a perfect time. With an ultra wide release of 4,000+ theaters "It" should have multiplexes all to itself.
The most common excuse people use to justify a poor performance for a movie is to blame the marketing (even though 99% of the time it's because the movie itself is terrible). If "It" underperforms (highly unlikely) the marketing won't be the culprit. Each theatrical trailer and TV spot has built upon the previous one, yet hasn't given away the entire film (a common problem with marketing). Plus some out of the box ideas like an "It" themed haunted house in Hollywood (which has been sold out for the past month) and leaving strategically placed red balloons in big cities have helped drive interest in the film.
The Nostalgia Factor
It's been twenty-seven years since the original adaptation of "It" aired on ABC. That's the perfect amount of time to appeal to the younger audiences of today (who might not be familiar with the original) and appeal to older audiences who fondly remember the original. I recently stumbled upon the original "It" airing on cable. The Pennywise scenes still hold up but the rest is much shakier than I remembered. Trust me, the original wasn't exactly an acting clinic. But as long as older audiences remember "It" being better than it actually was, that's all that matters.
Also playing into this nostalgia factor is an unintentional assist from "Stranger Things." The Netflix phenomena rekindled a love for 1980s Steven Spielberg and Stephen King (specifically "Stand By Me").
When you combine nostalgia, excellent marketing, a complete lack of direct competition and an allegedly good movie (currently sporting an 89% on rotten tomatoes); all signs point to a monster opening which is why "It" has been split into daily pricing in Fantasy Movie League. Look for an opening in the mid-high $60s. It's tempting to go even higher but some of these huge predictions (i.e. $80m+) should be held in check with much of the southeastern United States either recovering from hurricane Harvey or lying directly in the path of hurricane Irma.
Also opening wide this weekend is the romantic comedy "Home Again" starring Reese Witherspoon. Although it looks and feels like a Nancy Meyers movie, it technically isn't. While Nancy Meyers is a producer on the film, the writer/director is Meyers' thirty-year-old daughter Hallie Meyers-Shyer. When your mother is the most successful female director of all time ($625.6m in domestic receipts, a number Patty Jenkins will eventually surpass with her "Wonder Woman" sequel) and your dad is also an accomplished writer/director ("Father of the Bride," "Private Benjamin," etc.) it's not surprising that filmmaking is in her blood.
Despite the Meyers pedigree the success of the film will ultimately come down to the star power of Witherspoon. Although Witherspoon's career jumped to another level largely on the strength of her roles in comedies ("Legally Blonde" $96.5m, "Sweet Home Alabama" $127.2m, etc.) the genre has not been kind to her in recent years ("This Means War" $54.8m, "Hot Pursuit" $34.6m). And Witherspoon's 2010 comedy "How Do You Know" was quietly one of the biggest bombs of the past decade ($30.2m on a rumored budget of $120m+). To find her last successful comedy you need to go back nine years to the release of "Four Christmases" ($120.1m). And while that particular holiday romp may have been a financial success it left a lot to be desired from a creative standpoint.
But even with the comedy struggles over the better part of the last decade Witherspoon has also done some of the best work of her career in dramas. She rightfully earned an Oscar nomination for her performance in "Wild" and was great in a small but pivotal role in "Mud." And I'd argue that her Emmy nominated role in HBOs "Big Little Lies" is as good (if not better) than anything else she has ever done. I think audiences still want to see Witherspoon, but they'd rather watch her in more realistic roles as opposed to glorified sitcoms. "Home Again" should do very modest business and won't come anywhere near her past rom-com highs. Based upon the negative early buzz, the underwhelming track record of distributor Open Road Films and a fairly modest theater count (an estimated 2,900), I think "Home Again" will struggle to clear $10m. The FML pricing gods are practically daring you to play it with a price of FB$143. It's tempting but the floor scares me.
This weekend you'll obviously need to use "It" or "Home Again" (or a combo of both) to anchor your lineup with all holdovers expected to be low grossing. While there is a case to be made for playing "Home Again" on six screens I think the upside of "It" is too high (even with daily pricing). I'm leaning towards a Friday/Saturday combination since the film should be a bit front-loaded (horror movies usually are) and it faces some direct competition for male eyeballs on Sunday with the opening weekend of the NFL.
My picks for this weekend's top 5 in total box office (this week's cost in FML Bux in parentheses):
1. It - Friday (FB$467)
2. It - Saturday (FB$342)
3. It - Sunday (FB$214)
4. Home Again (FB$143)
5. The Hitman's Bodyguard (FB$71)
Bonus Pick of the Week: "Dunkirk" It actually enjoyed an 11% increase last weekend, which is quite unusual for a film in its seventh week of release. Over the past month it has yet to suffer a drop of more than 40% and it's easily the best movie in terms of quality amongst the holdovers. With a top-heavy lineup of "It," I like "Dunkirk" as filler and a possible bonus play at FB$31.
Next weekend a pair of newcomers will have to face the formidable challenge of the second weekend of "It." Jennifer Lawrence stars in Darren Aronofsky's mysterious thriller "mother!" and Michael Keaton teaches Dylan O'Brien how be an "American Assassin."
Follow me on Twitter @TheBoxOfficeGuy