Box Office Guy: The Grinch

Patrick Reardon

Last weekend at the box office Freddie Mercury rocked, the Nutcracker slipped and fell, and a Tyler Perry/Tiffany Haddish collaboration met expectations. This weekend these holdovers will be challenged by a trio of newcomers which include the Grinch, Lisbeth Salander and some Nazi zombies/super soldiers. In others words: something for everyone. We'll start with the man in green.

After seeing a TV spot for "Dr. Seuss' The Grinch' last week someone asked me the question, "didn't they just do a Grinch movie?" Thanks to endless cable airings over the years during the months of November and December it might seem that way. But the last Grinch movie was actually eighteen years ago (did I just make you feel really old?). If someone were born just before that last Grinch movie was released that person would have been able to legally vote in this weeks midterms. And in a century that has already seen three Spider-Mans, three Hulks, two James Bonds and countless other remakes, eighteen years is actually a pretty long span of time (by Hollywood standards).

Plus "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" was the highest grossing film of the year 2000. The Jim Carrey/Ron Howard/Brian Grazer collaboration opened with $55.1m and ended up with a massive domestic haul of $260m. Adjust for inflation and those numbers come out to about $93m and $440m respectively. So it's not surprising that Universal wanted to get back in the Grinch business.

This new iteration of the Grinch is from Illumination Entertainment, who have the most enviable box office track record in the feature animation world outside of Pixar. Since their first release in 2010 ("Despicable Me") their eight animated features have enjoyed an average opening weekend of $71.9m and an average domestic total of $272.6m. I expect "The Grinch" to come in slightly below this opening number but should easily exceed this domestic number by the time the holiday season is over, which makes it a highly risky FML proposition with a gargantuan price tag of FB$800. To screen it at this number you'd have to be confident that it can get to the high $60s (or higher) this weekend. I'm on the fence so let's see if we can find better value elsewhere.

Also opening wide this weekend is "The Girl in The Spider's Web: A New Dragon Tattoo Story." Did they really need those last five words in the title? Honestly, I'm pretty sure the target audience for this film would have been able to figure this out on their own. But thanks for pandering Sony marketing.

This film features characters created by Stieg Larsson (who wrote the trio of international best-selling Lisbeth Salander novels). However Larson died before he could finish "Spider's Web" so his widow and David Lagercrantz finished the book for him. But chain of title issue asides I don't get the sense that audiences are particularly hungry for more Salander adventures in 2018.

Back in 2011 the American version of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" (not to be confused with the Swedish made trilogy that preceded it) grossed $102.5m domestically, earned Rooney Mara an Oscar nomination, gave Daniel Craig his best non-Bond role of the decade and further cemented David Fincher's A+ list status. But it was also an expensive film (a rumored budget in the $90-$100 range) and didn't quite live up to Sony's sky-high expectations. Sony was hesitant to green-light another sequel at this price point and eventually Mara, Craig and Fincher detached themselves from this potential franchise. Flash forward to 2018 and their places have been taken by Claire Foy of "The Crown", Swedish actor Sverrir Gudnason, and director Fede Alvarez ("Don't Breathe"). With a rumored budget of $43m Sony got the cheaper sequel that they wanted. Unfortunately I think they also have one that is going to make a lot less money than "Dragon Tattoo."

If it was 2013 and Stieg Larsson novels were still all the rage I think this film might have a chance. But in 2018 I don't sense any demand or momentum for Lisbeth Salander. When you have a hot literary property you have to strike while the iron is hot. And that iron doesn't stay hot forever. Case in point, when "The Da Vinci Code" (based on Dan Brown's publishing phenomenon) came out in 2006 it grossed a stellar $217.5m domestically. But ten years later when "Inferno" (also based on a Dan Brown best-seller) was released it grossed a paltry $34.3m domestically (despite having the director and star). Much like Robert Langdon, I feel the window has closed on Lisbeth Salander as a legit box office draw.

While it will only cost you FB$150 to screen "Spider's Web" I think it has a dangerously low floor. I think it has a greater chance of earning less than $10m that it does of over-performing in the mid-high teens. Unless the Thursday preview numbers are impressive I'm going to have a hard time justifying this as a lineup anchor.

The final new wide release this weekend is "Overlord" from producer J.J. Abrams. This is a tough one to get a read on. It lacks a presold concept (which is often crucial in the horror genre). It has a period setting (World War II). And it lacks star power (the biggest "name" here is Wyatt Russell).

But what is has is a slick marketing campaign that's leaning into its B-movie roots. It's not trying to be anything other than a stylish World War II flick that happens to have Nazi zombies / super soldiers. Early reviews are encouraging (currently 90% on rotten tomatoes) and of the three new releases this weekend I think it's the one with the best chance of over-performing. At FB$107 I think it has sneaky value this weekend.

For my FML lineup this weekend I'm torn between a "Grinch" anchor and a 2x "Bohemian Rhapsody" strategy. I'm leaning slightly towards "Bohemian." Although the critics don't love it the audiences that are seeing it clearly do which leads me to believe it could have a decent hold. So unless the "Grinch" surprises on Thursday I'm leaving towards rolling with Freddie & Co.

Weekend Picks

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

  1. Dr. Seuss' The Grinch (FB$800)
  2. Bohemian Rhapsody (FB$372)
  3. The Girl in the Spider's Web (FB$150)
  4. Overlord (FB$107)
  5. The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (FB$126)

Bonus Pick of the Week: "Can You Ever Forgive Me?" (FB$21) This is totally contingent on the theater count (unavailable when I was writing this column). The Melissa McCarthy Oscar hopeful has been performing adequately in a platform release (rose 190% last weekend after adding 155 additional theaters). If it gets another significant bump in theaters this could find itself in the bonus hunt. Watch those theater counts closely.

Coming Attractions

Newt Scamander (and a huge ensemble) are back in "Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald." Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne form an "Instant Family" and Viola Davis leads a not so merry band of "Widows."

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