Box Office Guy: It's the most horror-ible time of the year

Patrick Reardon

With 2018 in the rearview mirror there is a slew of big movies headed into theaters over the next twelve months. There will be superheroes galore ("Glass," "Captain Marvel," "The Avengers: Endgame," "Spider-Man: Far From Home," "Joker," etc.), tons of animated fare ("The LEGO Movie 2," "Toy Story 4," "Frozen 2"), live action remakes ("Dumbo," "The Lion King," "Aladdin"), action sequels/spinoffs ("John Wick 3," "Hobbs & Shaw") and highly anticipated horror films (Jordan Peele's "Us," "IT: Chapter 2"). There's even an original movie that movie lovers are excited about (Quentin Tarantino's "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood"). And there's also a quaint little outer space movie that's opening up at the end of this year ("Star Wars Episode IX").

But before we can feast our eyes on these tentpole movies there are a couple of slow January weekends we'll need to get through. Holiday holdovers and Oscar hopefuls typically rule the slow early/mid January window, but there is often room for a new horror film to crash the party and make a profit. Which is good news for the new lone wide release this weekend.

"Escape Room" is one of those horror titles that pretty much sells itself. With escape rooms being all the rage throughout the country this was a no-brainer for a horror film. For the uninitiated, escape rooms are an attraction where you get a group of friends together (it also works with strangers), you're then locked inside a room (typically with some sort of theme), you're given a series of puzzles to solve as a group and you have a limited time (usually an hour) to unlock the door (i.e. "escape"). The worst things that can happen to you in an actual escape room is that you feel stupid afterwards for not being able to solve a simple puzzle or you get into a petty argument with your significant other or one of your friends. But in this cinematic "Escape Room" if you don't get out…you die.

It's a clean premise for a horror movie. It's also directed by the writer of "Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension" and produced by Neal Moritz. While the prolific Moritz is best known for producing the "Fast and the Furious" franchise, he also has a solid track record in the genre space: "I Know What You Did Last Summer," "Urban Legend," "Prom Night." Plus there are recent precedents for horror movies opening in early/mid January:

2012 - "The Devil Inside" ($33.7m opening, $53.3m domestic total)
2013 - "Texas Chainsaw 3D" ($21.7m opening, $34.3m domestic total)
2014 - "Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones" ($18.3m opening, $32.5m domestic total)
2015 - "The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death" ($15m opening, $26.5m domestic total)
2016 - "The Forest" ($12.7m opening, $26.6m domestic total)
2018 - "Insidious: The Last Key" ($29.6m opening, $67.6m domestic total)

This track record bodes well for the box office prospects for "Escape Room." I think it has the potential to get the mid-teens this weekend which makes it a viable play in Fantasy Movie League. Based on the Thursday night preview numbers I'll decide if I want to go all in on it (4x) or hedge with an established holdover like "Aquaman" or "Mary Poppins Returns" (both of which I expect to hold up well on this slow, non-competitive weekend).

Weekend Picks

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

  1. Aquaman (FB$402)
  2. Mary Poppins Returns (FB$251)
  3. Escape Room (FB$201)
  4. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (FB$157)
  5. Bumblebee (FB$167)

Bonus Pick of the Week: "Vice" (FB$66) After opening on Christmas Day the film has grossed a modest $17.7m. Although reviews have been mixed (which I believe are a bit skewed due to targeting from some less than happy conservative viewers) the film seems to be gaining steam on the awards circuit and is generating good buzz from people who have actually seen the movie (instead of just trashing it online, sight unseen to make themselves feel better). I like the way it's priced this week and think it will end up in bonus contention. By the way I saw "Vice" this past weekend and I can assure you that there are some scenes in it that are far more frightening than anything you'll see in "Escape Room."

Coming Attractions

Next weekend should be another slow January frame as a trio of newcomers attempt to carve out some niche business. Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston star in a remake of the French hit "The Intouchables" ("The Upside"), Keanu Reeves engages in his own personal clone wars ("Replicas") and last but not least there is something for canine lovers ("A Dog's Way Home").

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