Box Office Guy: Awards Season Preview

Patrick Reardon

The only new "wide" release this weekend is the horror film "The Possession of Hannah Grace" which is opening in just 1,900+ theaters. Since I don't expect Hannah to take much business away from a strong crop of holdovers, this week will be our annual Awards Season movie preview.

The following films should all factor into your Fantasy Movie League lineups over the next three months.

The Sure Things

Mary Poppins Returns (December 19th)

Of all the films to be released this holiday season this is the one that checks off the most boxes. Sequel to a beloved film that is cherished by older audiences? Check. When adjusting for inflation the original "Mary Poppins" from 1964 is the 27th highest grossing film of all time. Modern stars to bring in those tough to please millennial audiences? Check. Emily Blunt and Lin Manuel Miranda bring enough cred to tell millenials that this isn't your grandmother's "Mary Poppins." Marketing department who will convince younger children that they NEED to see this movie? Check. Aside from the "Solo" misfire Disney's marketing department has been semi-flawless. Director who can handle the tricky genre of mainstream musicals? Check. Rob Marshall hit box office pay dirt with both "Chicago" and "Into the Woods." When families get together for the holidays and are arguing about what movie to see as a group, I have a feeling "Mary Poppins Returns" is going to win out more often than not.

Glass (January 18th)

After a creatively disastrous run of movies ("Lady in the Water," "The Happening," "After Earth") writer/director M. Night Shyamalan bounced back in a big way with "Split" in January of 2017 ($138.3m domestic total). Just as impressive was the fact that he was able to keep it a secret that the film took place in the same universe as his 2000 hit "Unbreakable" thanks to an unexpected post-credits sequence. "Glass" brings Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson's characters from "Unbreakable" together with James McAvoy's "The Beast" character from "Split" and promises to deliver a proper tribute to comic book movies. I will be surprised if "Glass" fails to improve upon the performance of its predecessor.

The LEGO Movie 2 (February 8th)

The original LEGO movie delivered stronger than expected results in 2014 ($69.1m opening, $257.8m domestic total). Although the brand has been trending downward ("The LEGO Batman Movie" $175.8m domestic total, "The LEGO Ninjago Movie" $59.3m domestic total) a return to the LEGO mother ship should be a safe box office bet.

Risky With Upside

"Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" (December 14th)

Normally I'd put a "Spider-Man" movie in the ‘Sure Things' category but I have some minor concerns here. There have already been three different actors who have played the web-slinger over the past eleven years and while "Venom" was financially successful it wasn't exactly beloved by audiences. Franchise fatigue could be a real hurdle to watch out for. However, early word of mouth is that "Spider-Verse" is genuinely good and could carve out its own niche. I'm cautiously optimistic but this is far from a slam-dunk.

"Aquaman" (December 21st)

Someday there might be a great documentary about Warner Bros./D.C. Comics' missteps in trying to catch up to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I hope somebody was recording these pitch meetings:

"We're going to bring our two most important D.C. properties, Batman and Superman together, have them pitted against each other for no reason and then have them join forces because their mothers have the same name! It's gold!"

In a vacuum I don't think "Aquaman" looks particularly good. It looks like the typical CGI-crap-o-rama that gets made way too often these days. And I've seen no evidence that Jason Momoa can actually act or carry a movie. But I had similar reservations about "Venom" and it grossed $211.7m (and counting). "Aquaman" could easily be this season's superhero movie that is critic proof and ends up with a surprising final tally.

"Cold Pursuit" (February 8th)
‘Liam Neeson Mad Libs' remains one of my favorite genres. This one is too ridiculous to describe in words so I'll let the trailer speak for itself:

Risky With Downside

"Bumblebee" (December 21st)

Since the first "Transformers" sequel in 2009 every subsequent film in the franchise has grossed significantly less than it's predecessor (with last year's "Transformers: The Last Knight" grossing a franchise low $130.2m domestically). But they'll keep making them because they still do huge business overseas. And even though "Bumblebee" promises to be more of a stripped down, character driven spin-off, I get the sense that domestic audiences have tired of this franchise. Plus going up directly against "Mary Poppins Returns" and "Aquaman" won't help matters.

"Welcome to Marwen" (December 21st)

This fantasy/drama from director Robert Zemeckis is about a man (played by Steve Carell) who is a victim of a violent crime who creates a miniature World War II themed village that becomes his sanctuary from the real world. It looks original, ambitious and heartfelt, which doesn't always translate into box office (especially with so much competition during Christmas week). I think this one will need glowing reviews to survive.

"The Upside" (January 11th)

Remaking the 2011 French film "The Intouchables" for American audiences? Unnecessary (the original is fine as is) but not a terrible idea. Remaking it as a Kevin Hart vehicle? Not as good of an idea. Between the awkward mix of material star and the bad release date I think "The Upside" is going to have a tough time finding a mainstream audience.

"Alita: Battle Angel" (February 12th)

The film was originally supposed to open at Christmas but it was yanked due to the glut of competition. Never a good sign when you cower in fear of "Aquaman" and "Bumblebee." I would have put this in the ‘Bombs Away' category but I still have faith in producer James Cameron. But in the end I think this will end up being next year's "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets."

Will Need Awards Love to Make a Commercial Impact

"Green Book" (in theaters now)

Although I think the film went too wide, too soon I don't think we've heard the last of this Viggo Mortensen/Mahershala Ali drama at the box office. I expect the film to get a lot of awards love and have a feeling it will stick around well into next year.

"The Mule" (December 14th)

Clint Eastwood is 88 years old and is still directing and starring in movies. Truly remarkable. This film is based on a true story of a World War II veteran who becomes a mule for a Mexican drug cartel. Clint Eastwood has never won on Oscar for best actor and I can see that type of narrative gaining momentum if the film delivers the goods. Even though he seems indestructible and still going strong at 88, you never which one of these Clint films will actually be his last one (for both audiences and the bodies that give out awards).

"If Beale Street Could Talk" (December 14th)

This adaptation of James Baldwin's novel is writer/director Barry Jenkins' follow-up to his 2016 Best Picture winner, "Moonlight." "Beale Street" is bound to be unfairly compared to Jenkins' previous film, which is going to be a tough obstacle to overcome. Unless the reviews are spectacular, it seems like this quiet, somber movie will get lost in the shuffle.

"On The Basis of Sex" (December 25th)

A biopic of a young Ruth Bader Ginsburg as she tries her first case before the Supreme Court (that she would eventually become a member of). Between a successful documentary earlier this year ("RBG") and millions of Americans praying that she lives past the age of 100 (or at least beyond the next two years) it's been quite a year for the Notorious RBG. If reviews and awards buzz are strong this could carve out a modest audience.

"Vice" (December 25th)

Based on the excellent first trailer it appears that Christian Bale transformed himself into a plausible Dick Cheney. This is way more impressive than the time he turned himself into a near skeleton for "The Machinist." Although a Dick Cheney biopic might not seem like the most commercial of properties, writer-director Adam McKay is the type of guy that can pull it off. After all he made an entertaining (and successful) film about the 2008 financial credits full of credit swap defaults ("The Big Short" $70.3m domestic total). I also suspect another Oscar nom for Bale and possibly a win for perennial Oscar bridesmaid Amy Adams.

The Horror…

"Escape Room" (January 4th)

It's a simple, clean premise for a horror movie. A group of strangers have to get out of an escape room (which are all the rage throughout the country), but in this version they die f they can't get out. It's not reinventing the wheel but keep in mind that there is often a horror movie in January that exceeds expectations ("The Devil Inside," "The Forest," "The Boy," etc.)

"Jacob's Ladder" (February 1st)

A remake of the 1990 Tim Robbins movie about a Vietnam vet plagued by violent flashbacks and hallucinations. An under-rated early 90s flick that seems ripe for a remake for today's audiences (who probably haven't seen the first film).

Make Em' Laugh

Holmes and Watson (December 25th)

Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly play Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Need I say more? Basically if you liked "Step Brothers" you'll probably be amused. If you didn't like "Step Brothers" you should probably steer clear of both the movie and my presence. Honestly, who doesn't enjoy "Step Brothers?"

What Men Want (February 8th)

A gender flip on the 2000 Mel Gibson hit (which was his second highest grossing film as an actor). This time around Taraji P. Henson can read the minds of the opposite sex and hijinks ensue. And I'm sure she learns some sort of valuable lesson along the way, yadda yadda yadda.

Isn't It Romantic (February 13th)

Rebel Wilson stars as an unlucky in love woman who gets knocked unconscious and wakes up in a romantic comedy (clichés and all). A romantic comedy for people who find romantic comedies absurd? This could work. And after numerous films as the comic relief Wilson finally gets a chance to take center stage. I wouldn't be shocked if this has a big opening weekend thanks to its proximity to Valentine's Day.

Bombs Away

"Mortal Engines" (December 14th)

Another one of those flicks that I can't really put into words. If this trailer actually contained a single well-told joke I could be convinced that it was a Saturday Night Live parody:

Weekend Picks

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

  1. Ralph Wrecks the Internet (FB$460)
  2. Dr. Seuss' The Grinch (FB$334)
  3. Creed II (FB$304)
  4. Fantastic Beasts… (FB$205)
  5. Instant Family (FB$134)

Bonus Pick of the Week: "The Favourite" (FB$18) Once again this one is based upon accurate theater counts (which were not out at the time of this writing). This film from director Yorgos Lanthimos grossed a stellar $458k in just four theaters last weekend. If it gets a significant bump this weekend it should be in the bonus hunt at FB$18. And by the time you read this Golden Globe nominations should be out and I expect "The Favourite" to get a bunch of nominations which will help its chances this weekend.

Coming Attractions

There are no wide releases next weekend. Instead Hollywood will cram as much product as humanly possible into the last three weekends of December to take advantage of the holiday season. I'll be back in two weeks to sort through all of it.

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