Box Office Guy: Crazy Rich Asians

Patrick Reardon

Once again I over-estimated the collective intelligence of late-summer audiences in search of entertainment as "The Meg" crushed expectations with a $45.4m opening weekend. I'm not proud to say that I contributed to that box office total because "The Meg" was easily the most disappointing movie of the summer. I was hoping for a movie that was "so bad it's actually pretty entertaining," but instead I just found it to be plain bad. At least I won't get fooled by the inevitable sequel. But "The Meg" won't have a long reign atop of the box office charts since there's an entire ethnic group gunning for it.

This weekend the romantic comedy "Crazy Rich Asians" is the first studio film featuring a primarily Asian cast to open wide in U.S. theaters in nearly a quarter of a century. The last studio film to feature a primarily Asian cast was Disney's "The Joy Luck Club" which was released in September 1993. For perspective of when "Joy Luck" was at its box office peak Bill Clinton was in his first year in office, Apple was struggling to stay in business, the number one movie in the land was the Sylvester Stallone-Wesley Snipes sci-fi opus "Demolition Man" and the Walt Disney corporation actually released movies like this.

So why has it taken such an embarrassingly long time to get another film with an Asian cast in theaters? It's not like "The Joy Luck Club" performed poorly. After opening in just three theaters "Joy Luck" steadily built a loyal audience over the next several months and finished with a respectable domestic tally of $32.9m (which is about $73m when you adjust for inflation). It was the 48h highest grossing film of 1993. Some of this films it out-grossed that year: "The Sandlot," "The Age of Innocence," "Menace II Society," "Benny and Joon," "Rudy," "True Romance," "Dazed and Confused," etc.

Then if not for legitimate business reasons, why has it taken so long for a film like "Crazy Rich Asians" to get its chance? Your guess is as good as mine. Frankly I think it's a combination of some casual institutional-racism and risk-averse studio executives with a lack of understanding about Asian-American moviegoers. Regardless, I hope it doesn't take another quarter of a century to bring a film like this to the big screen, even if "Crazy Rich Asians" fails at the box office. However, I don't think that's going to be the case.

I've been high on the box office prospects for "Crazy Rich Asians" since it was first announced (go back and check my summer movie preview for proof that I'm not jumping on the bandwagon). The film opened on Wednesday and appears headed for a $6m opening day (as of the writing of this column on Wednesday morning). That would conservatively put "Crazy Rich Asians" on a path for a five day opening around $28m-$29m and a three day opening of $19m-$20m. But I think the film is going to do even better than that.

I fully expect the film to get a nice bump on Saturday and Sunday due to massive group outings at movie theaters. After all, Asian-American moviegoers have been waiting a long time for this and I expect them to treat it like an event this weekend. Plus if you get past the race of its cast it's really a pretty conventional rom-com, so I expect audiences of all demographics to enjoy. The film is currently enjoying a 96 on rotten tomatoes so word of mouth should continue to be strong. I expect a three-day opening closer to the mid $20s, which will be enough to bump "The Meg" from the top spot. With a cost of FB$358 this makes it a viable FML anchor as well.

Also opening wide in theaters this weekend is the action thriller "Mile 22" from Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg. This is the fourth pairing of the actor-director duo. In the past they've taken on weighty real world events such as the war in Afghanistan ("Lone Survivor" $125.1m domestic total), the massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico ("Deepwater Horizon" $61.4m domestic total) and the Boston marathon bombing ("Patriots Day" $31.9m domestic total).

So what heavy/disastrous subject matter is next for the duo? Sandy Hook? The Las Vegas mass shooting? The Paris massacre? The Trump administration? Nope. Wahlberg and Berg are (temporarily?) putting heavy dramatic themes aside and delivering a straight-up traditional shoot-em'-up action flick with "Mile 22."

I think "Mile 22" will play decently to action aficionados but doesn't have much crossover appeal. I expect numbers in the "Den of Thieves" range ($15.2m opening weekend this past January) which makes it a bit too pricey for FML purposes at FB$296.

The final new wide release this weekend is "Alpha" which is just the second release from Studio 8. Although there a lot of hype surrounding the formation of Studio 8 (which is led by former Warner Bros. head Jeff Robinov) they've only released one film thus far and it was a disaster: 2016s "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" which grossed a paltry $1.7m on a reported $40m+ budget.

This weekend Studio 8 is hoping to have better luck with the long delayed "Alpha" (which was originally set to be released in September 2017). It's a big budget prehistoric tale from a director (Albert Hughes) whose previous work couldn't be further away from the family friendly "Alpha" ("Menace II Society," "From Hell," "The Book of Eli," etc.). The film has all kinds of red flags: delayed release date, withheld from critics until the last moment, struggling distributor/production company, etc. But when in doubt go the trailer:

I now officially have zero faith in "Alpha" as a potential box office force. I honestly don't know who the target audience is for this film. It's stuck in no man's land and I think it's going to end up in the $5m range this weekend. Even with a low-ish cost of FB$89 I don't trust the film's floor at all. And for the sake of Studio 8 they better hope that "White Boy Rick" is REALLY good because it looks like they're about to suffer their second expensive dud in a row.

For my lineup this weekend I'm a firm believer in "Crazy Rich Asians" as an anchor. This won't leave room for much else but I expect the following movies from the rest of the field to hold up well: "Mission: Impossible - Fallout" (FB$193), "Disney's Christopher Robin" (FB$128) and "The Incredibles 2" (FB$39).

Weekend Picks

My picks for this weekend's top 5 in total box office (this week's cost in FML Bux in parentheses):

  1. Crazy Rich Asians (FB$358)
  2. The Meg (FB$356)
  3. Mile 22 (FB$296)
  4. Mission: Impossible - Fallout (FB$193)
  5. Disney's Christopher Robin (FB$128)

Bonus Pick of the Week: "Crazy Rich Asians" (FB$358) This would mean it would have to over-perform this weekend (similar to what "The Meg" did last weekend). The film has a lot of upside and if strong word of mouth continues I can see a scenario in which Saturday and Sunday bumps push this film into bonus contention.

Coming Attractions

If I learned anything from "Team America: World Police" it's that R-rated movies featuring puppet sex are funny. So of course my expectations for Melissa McCarthy's raunchy live-action/puppet mystery "The Happytime Murders" are sky high. Also opening wide next weekend is the adventure film "A.X.L." which is about a top-secret robotic dog. So based on my new options, I expect puppets to rule the day.

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