Box Office Guy: Game Night

Patrick Reardon

Much has been written over the past forty-eight hours about the record breaking opening weekend of "Black Panther," so I won't rehash too much before we get to this week's new releases. My brief take-aways:

  1. If you make a good movie and market it correctly, people will come. While that doesn't quite roll off the tongue like the mantra in "Field of Dreams" it's true.

  1. It's going to be difficult for Ryan Coogler to say no to a massive payday for the inevitable "Black Panther" sequel but I hope he does. Based on his eclectic body of work thus far, I'd rather see what other stories he has in him (rather than working in the Marvel machine for the next decade).

  1. To quote the great screenwriter William Goldman, "nobody knows anything." I'm referring to box office prognosticators (myself included). Even though I had no doubt "Black Panther" would be huge, I was way off on just how HUGE it would be. Once a movie gains enough momentum and it appears we could have a cultural phenomenon on our hands, box office tracking becomes useless. In future weeks of FML when a movie gathers this kind of momentum: bet the farm!

With "Black Panther" looking at a $100m+ second weekend a trio of new wide releases have their work cut out for them. The most promising of the three revolves around the time honored tradition of bored suburban couples throughout the nation: "Game Night."

Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams star as a couple whose weekly couples game night turns into an escalating all-night murder mystery. With the exception of the female oriented "Girls Trip" and the "Bad Moms" movies, the last year or two has not been kind to R-rated comedies ("The House," "Baywatch," "Fist Fight," "CHiPs," "Rough Night," Father Figures," etc.). However, I think "Game Night" has a shot to do modest business for the following reasons:

  1. Jason Bateman is a quietly reliable box office draw in comedies. Even when the movies haven't been great he can usually get them to open in the teens:
    2016 - "Office Christmas Party" ($16.9m opening)
    2014 - "Horrible Bosses 2" ($15.5m opening)
    2011 - "The Change Up" ($13.5m opening)

  1. Warner Bros./New Line aren't hiding the movie from critics. It's usually a death knell for comedies when the studio puts them under a critic embargo until their Friday opening (or late Thursday night in some cases). Not so with "Game Night." It's been made available for critics and the buzz has been pretty positive thus far. In fact Warner Bros. felt strongly enough about the work here of directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein that they hired the duo to direct a stand-alone "Flash" movie. These are both encouraging signs that the move might be decent.

  1. It's a relatable concept that could draw in the date night crowd. After all most of us have either hosted or attended (or made a last minute excuse to get out of) a game night. I expect an opening in the low-mid teens. It's not a terrible option at FB$201 but it's a complete non-threat to any day of "Black Panther."

Also opening wide this weekend is the sci-fi film "Annihilation" from writer-director Alex Garland. The film stars Natalie Portman as a scientist who leads a team into a mysterious new dimension forming in the southeast United States in order to find out what happened to her husband (Oscar Isaac).

While Garland made a splash with critics and sci-fi fans with his 2015 directorial debut "Ex Machina" the film wasn't a huge commercial success ($25.4m domestic total). And while early buzz has been solid it's more cerebral sci-fi adventure (as opposed to "Jurassic Park" style popcorn thrills) which makes it a tougher sell. Between the headier sci-fi subject matter, low theater count (an estimated 2,000), the unreliable box office track record of Portman (good actress, far from a guaranteed box office draw) and "Black Panther" continuing to dominate, I think "Annihilation" will struggle to get to the low teens this weekend. I'm going to keep a close eye on Thursday night preview numbers but with a price tag of FB$154 the floor for "Annihilation" scares me.

The final new wide release this weekend is "Every Day" from Orion Pictures. I had no idea Orion was back in business. In the mid-late 1980s and early 1990s they had an enviable track record that included four Best Picture winners (in a seven year span!) and numerous classics ("The Silence of the Lambs," "Platoon," Robocop," "The Terminator," "Bull Durham," "Amadeus," "Back to School," "First Blood," etc.). After going out of business twenty years ago the Orion label is back in business and they're been quietly releasing some low budget fare over the past few years. Hopefully they can regain their once lofty status in the business but I don't think "Every Day" will be their ticket back to the big leagues.

Full disclosure I didn't know what "Every Day" was before I began writing this column. Hadn't seen a single theatrical trailer, TV spot, billboard or social media post. When in doubt watch the trailer and go with your gut:

My gut tells me that this is Nicholas Sparks-lite and will have a tough time breaking through with audiences. Combine this with a low theater count (an estimated 1,650) and a once great distributor trying to regain their footing, I think "Every Day" will struggle in the $2m-$3m range this weekend. Even with the "I dare you to screen it" price of FB$45, this is at best low-end filler.

For my Fantasy Movie League lineup this week I have zero desire to stray from Wakanda. "Black Panther" will obviously take a big dip this weekend but it's a question of how big. Only four films prior to "Black Panther" have ever opened up north of $200m. Of the four two were "Star Wars" movies which had the benefit of the Christmas holiday window in their second weekend so they're not great comps for "Black Panther." The other two $200m+ openers were "Jurassic World" and "The Avengers" which dropped 49% and 50% in their second weekends respectively. I think "Black Panther" will stick pretty closely to this type of drop (hence the daily FML pricing once again). While those two films had the benefit of the summer season I don't think either captured the cultural zeitgeist quite the way "Black Panther" has. Look for a $100m+ weekend spread out fairly evenly. Of the three options I think Friday has the most value. For the rest of my screens I think the resilient "The Greatest Showman" (which has yet to drop more than 22% in its nine weeks of release) is an efficient way to fill out the rest of your Cineplex.

Weekend Picks

My picks for this weekend's top 5 in total box office (this week's cost in FML Bux in parentheses):
1. Black Panther - Saturday (FB$534)
2. Black Panther - Friday (FB$334)
3. Black Panther - Sunday (FB$395)
4. Game Night (FB$201)
5. Annihilation (FB$154)

Bonus Pick of the Week: "Early Man" (FB$26) Although it posted a disappointing $4.3m last weekend it's a better play this week. It's cheap (FB$26), it's not losing any theaters, Aardman's last film ("Shaun the Sheep Movie") only dropped 29% in its second weekend and it doesn't have any new competition for family audiences. I expect it to be in bonus contention.

Coming Attractions

Next weekend Jennifer Lawrence will do her best to make the thriller "Red Sparrow" fly while Bruce Willis stars in a remake of "Death Wish" (for an audience that has likely never heard of Charles Bronson).

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