Box Office Guy: Happy Death Day

Patrick Reardon · October 12, 2017 · 4:53 am PDT

My condolences to those of you spent the bulk of your FML budget on "Blade Runner 2049" last weekend. For years to come box office analysts will be breaking down how a well-reviewed film that got off to a hot $4m start on Thursday night could limp to the finish line with a $32.8m opening. But wouldn't it be odd to live in a world where a "Blade Runner" movie was universally accepted upon its initial release? But that's the past. There are still seven weeks left in the fall season of FML so there is plenty of time to make up ground if you rolled with "2049" last week.

The most promising new wide release this weekend is "Happy Death Day" from uber-producer Jason Blum. For the better part of the last decade Blum has produced hit after hit and his track record has become the envy of Hollywood. Already in 2017 he has enjoyed the two biggest hits of his career with "Split" ($138.1m domestic gross on a $9m budget) and "Get Out" ($175.5m domestic gross on a reported $5m budget). "Happy Death Day" won't reach these heights but it should still be a profitable endeavor since it shares the hallmarks of typical Blumhouse fare.

Easily marketable high concept? Check (it's basically "Groundhog Day" mixed with a teen slasher movie). Low budget? Check (a reported $4.8m). Star who isn't a household name but is just recognizable/talented enough to steer the movie? Check (Jessica Rothe from MTVs "Mary + Jane," supporting role in "La La Land").

"Happy Death Day" also has the built in advantage of being the only horror movie to open up on Friday the 13th. Combine this with a nice theater count (3,100+), a short run time (96 minutes) and a teen friendly PG-13 rating and I think "Happy Death Day" is headed to an opening in the high teens/low $20s which makes it a potentially viable FML lineup anchor at FB$350. I'll be watching the Thursday preview numbers closely. If "Happy Death Day" can get within striking distance of the $1.8m that "Get Out" grossed on its Thursday night preview I'll feel even better about this call.

Also new in theaters this weekend is, "The Foreigner," an action-thriller starring Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan. But this is a departure from the typical Jackie Chan movie. This isn't a slap-stick buddy comedy (ala "Rush Hour" or "Shanghai Noon"); rather it's a more grounded, emotional type of action movie (think "Taken").

While I'm mildly intrigued that Chan is playing against type the reality is that (excluding animated VO work) he hasn't had a hit in the U.S. since "The Karate Kid" in 2010 ($176.6m). And I'm not sure audiences are going to turn out in droves for a more serious Jackie Chan (or a performance that shows a seedier side of Pierce Brosnan). Word of mouth could help the film in the long run but I don't see it getting off to a quick start. I think "The Foreigner" will struggle to break $10m which makes it too risky of a play for me at FB$143.

The final new wide (I'm using that term generously) release is "Marshall." The biopic stars Chadwick Boseman as former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. Boseman is no stranger to portraying iconic African Americans having recently played Jackie Robinson ("42," $95m domestic total) and James Brown ("Get On Up," $30.7m domestic total). Unfortunately for Boseman I don't see the third time being a charm.

In Boseman's previous biopics he was playing a groundbreaking athlete and one of the most electric live performers of all time. But here's he's playing an up and coming lawyer who would eventually become the first African American Supreme Court Justice, which is a much tougher sell. Even with a well-cut theatrical trailer (which features "Rebels" by Ohana Bam) that makes this iteration of Thurgood Marshall look more like Jack Reacher than say Antonin Scalia, I think it's going to be a tough task getting audiences into theaters.

"Marshall" is also handicapped by a low screen count (a reported 821) and a distributor (Open Road Films) that has a lot more misses than hits. Open Road released the biopic "Snowden" last fall to the tune of $8m but it opened up in three times as many theaters as "Marshall" will. Although the FML pricing gods are practically daring you to play it at FB$62 I think it carries a lot of risk. Between the theater count, Open Road and the tough-sell subject matter, the floor for "Marshall" scares the hell out of me. I'm considering screening it since it only needs to clear $5m to become a semi-relevant play but I don't feel good about it.

My FML lineup is a bit of a hedge at the moment. I like "Happy Death Day" as an anchor and I'm leaning on pairing it with "Blade Runner 2049." Despite the rough start last weekend it's not losing any theaters and there should be a slight market correction with it being reasonably priced at FB$237. For the rest of my screens I'm going to go back and forth between the "All In on Marshall" or "Never Marshall" strategies roughly 500 times between now and 9:00 am on Friday morning when screens lock.

Weekend Picks

My picks for this weekend's top 5 in total box office (this week's cost in FML Bux in parentheses):
1. Happy Death Day (FB$350)
2. Blade Runner 2049 (FB$237)
3. The Foreigner (FB$143)
4. It (FB$95)
5. The Mountain Between Us (FB$99)

Bonus Pick of the Week: "Marshall" I'm not having a great FML season. I need to make a bold move. Without an obvious bonus pick this week, I may roll the dice with "Marshall." Although the low screen count is a concern it doesn't have to reach a crazy number to be a relevant play at FB$62. Hopefully good reviews and the current political mood in our country can stoke interest in "Marshall" to give it a slight uptick.

Coming Attractions

Next weekend we have yet another clearing-house of a release slate. Five large to mid-size movies are hitting theaters all at once and most won't survive. The safest best for success is "Tyler Perry's Boo 2! A Madea Halloween." It brought me zero joy to type that last sentence. Elsewhere in theaters Gerard Butler stars in some new disaster porn ("Geostorm"), Josh Brolin and Miles Teller fight fires ("Only The Brave"), Michael Fassbender tracks a killer ("The Snowman") and Renee Zellweger & Greg Kinnear bring their talents to some faith-based fare ("Same Kind of Different as Me").

Follow me on Twitter @TheBoxOfficeGuy

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