Box Office Guy

Patrick Reardon

Everything was awesome on this same weekend five years ago as "The LEGO Movie" opened up with $69.1m on its way to a hefty $257.8m domestic haul. Things weren't quite as awesome (but were still pretty damn good) on this weekend two years ago when "The LEGO Batman Movie" had a $53m opening on its way to a final domestic tally of $175.8m. But things definitely weren't awesome in September 2017 as "The LEGO Ninjago" movie only managed a $20.4m opening and ended up with a domestic gross of $59.3m. While these numbers have been heading in the wrong direction I think it's a pretty safe bet that "The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part" will reverse this trend of diminishing returns.

Between going back to the "LEGO" mother ship, an ultra wide theater count (an estimated 4,300+), a total lack of movies in the marketplace for younger movie-goers and good reviews (which means it won't be torture for parents to sit through); I expect this "LEGO" sequel to end up in the low $50s this weekend. Not quite the heights of the original, but way more than the previous LEGO themed film. It's a relatively safe FML lineup anchor but the next film on deck this weekend could have sneaky value.

"What Men Want" is a gender flip on the 2000 Mel Gibson hit "What Women Want." With a domestic gross of $182.8m "What Women Want" was the second highest grossing film of Gibson's career (behind "Signs"). I haven't seen it since it opened in theaters but I have a feeling it would a very different experience to watch it in 2019.

It's no secret I find gender flips to be one of the laziest forms of storytelling these days (i.e. "Ghostbusters," "Ocean's 8"). And before you throw charges of sexism at me I'll be the first to accuse all male reboots of "Charlie's Angels" or "The First Wives Club" of being lazy to the core. So while I'm not particularly excited about "What Men Want," I have a feeling it's going to find a decent sized audience.

Taraji P. Henson steps into the Gibson role as a woman who can magically hear men's thoughts. Although Henson is best know for her work on TVs "Empire," she has quietly put together a decent resume in features be it in large ensembles ("Hidden Figures" ($169.6m domestic total), solo action flicks ("Proud Mary" $10m opening weekend) or something in the Tyler Perry universe ("Acrimony" $17.2m opening).

"What Men Want" has an easy to digest high concept, an appealing cast (Henson is joined Tracy Morgan, Max Greenfield and a slew of professional athletes) and it strikes me as the type of film that large groups of women will turn into a girls night out (ala "Girls Trip"). Expect "What Men Want" to end up in the low-mid $20s this weekend. For your FML lineups a 2x play of "What Men Want" isn't crazy (depending on if you think "LEGO 2" will have trouble clearing $50m).

In this column last week I called out the studios for being afraid to take on the Super Bowl. And I guarantee you Lionsgate and the creative team behind the new Liam Neeson action flick, "Cold Pursuit," wish they had opened up last weekend instead of this one. First the elephant in the room.

Liam Neeson's racially charged comments to a British journalist has brought both Neeson and the film a ton of bad press this week. Bad enough to cancel the films red carpet premiere, which is highly unusual. There are even cries from angry Internet mobs (as if there is any other kind?) for Neeson's character to be digitally erased from the upcoming "Men in Black International" (aka ‘The Christopher Plummer' method). Plenty of stars/films have weathered this type of storm but it's particularly difficult when the film is being sold 100% on the star appeal of Neeson. But bad press isn't the films biggest problem.

The biggest problem facing "Cold Pursuit" is that the "Liam Neeson Mad Libs" genre isn't as strong as it used to be. For the uninitiated this is when you pick word for a bunch of categories (i.e. vehicle, villain, locale, motivation, occupation) and write a Liam Neeson movie in under an hour.

Witness the lukewarm box office returns for recent Neeson action films like "Run All Night" ($11m opening, $26.5m domestic total) and "The Commuter" ($13.7m opening, $36.3m domestic total) and it's clear that Neeson's window as an action star is closing. Between the bad publicity and the sense of a lack or urgency to see this film in a theater, I expect "Cold Pursuit" to struggle to break $10m this weekend which makes it a shaky play in FML.

Last but (maybe?) not least is the horror film "The Prodigy" from Orion Pictures. Orion used to be a major distributor ("Amadeus," "The Terminator," "Robocop," Platoon," "Silence of the Lambs," etc.) but they went bankrupt in the late 90s. Well they're back and "The Prodigy" is their first proper wide release in over twenty years (an estimated 2,500 theaters).

I'm always reluctant to trust new distributors (including the "new" Orion) and I don't think "The Prodigy" is going to be the film that will put Orion back on the map just yet. It appears to a pretty standard installment of the "there's something wrong with my child" genre that goes all the way back to at least the 1970s with "The Omen." I expect "The Prodigy" to end up in the $5-$6m range this weekend. Word of mouth could take it higher (and make it a viable FML play) but I don't sense that the buzz is strong enough to break through the clutter. This is another film that would have been better off coming out last 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. The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part (FB$703)
  2. What Men Want (FB$342)
  3. Cold Pursuit (FB$186)
  4. The Prodigy (FB$126)
  5. The Upside (FB$88)

Bonus Pick of the Week: "Bohemian Rhapsody" (FB$18) I don't expect any of the new films this weekend to over-perform so the bonus will likely come from a holdover. In its 14th (14th?!?) weekend in wide release it only dropped a mere 27% and I expect a similar performance this week as it tries to stick around in the hearts/minds of Oscar voters. Plus this is likely the last time "Bohemian Rhapsody" will be an option in Fantasy Movie League so wouldn't it be so Freddie Mercury to go out with a bang?

Coming Attractions

Love is clearly in the air as the long holiday weekend gets started on a Thursday Valentine's Day. Your new options include a post apocalyptic action thriller ("Alita: Battle Angel"), a teen horror movie ("Happy Death Day 2U") and an anti-rom-com rom-com ("Isn't It Romantic"). Jesus, no corny Nicholas Sparks adaptation this year?

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