Box Office Guy

Patrick Reardon

I'm still reeling from last weekends collapse of "The LEGO Movie 2" but I'm going to soldier on to write this column. I'm not sure what happened. Did freezing temperatures throughout the Midwest and east coast keep people inside? Is there genuine LEGO fatigue? Did the fans or the original and "LEGO Batman" grow out of the franchise? Was everybody focused on the debut of the Alliance of American Football? We may never know. While the "LEGO Movie 2" tries to save face this weekend it will have to tangle with a trio of newcomers, including an ultra expensive sci-fi flick that will be hard-pressed to recoup its budget.

"Alita: Battle Angel" is the latest sci-fi opus from James Cameron. If the record-breaking success of "Titanic" and "Avatar" has taught us anything it's to never doubt James Cameron….provided he's sitting in the director's chair. Alas Cameron is merely a co-writer and a producer on "Alita." And "Writer-Producer James Cameron" doesn't carry the same box office weight as "Writer-Director James Cameron." Take a look at his track record with films that he wrote and/or produced but didn't direct:

2011 - "Sanctum" ($9.4m opening, $23.2m domestic total)
2002 - "Solaris" ($6.8m opening, $15m domestic total)
1995 - "Strange Days" ($3.7m opening, $8m domestic total)

Instead writer-director Robert Rodriguez has the unenviable task of trying to launch a new sci-fi franchise. Without Marvel branding or being part of a well known pre-existing piece of IP it's harder than ever to launch a new sci-fi franchise. Just ask the teams behind "Valerian," "Mortal Engines," "Jupiter Ascending," and countless others. I don't expect "Alita" to crash and burn as badly as those aforementioned titles, but I think it will he hard-pressed to make much of an impact domestically (it could save face internationally). The early buzz is that the visuals are top notch but the story is as disposable as they come. I expect a four-day opening weekend in the low $20s which makes it a risky play in FML with a price tag of FB$276. Fortunately for FML purposes "Alita" opens wide on Thursday so players will have a full one day sample size to decide if it's worth screening "Alita" in their Cineplex. Unless Alita's Thursday is particularly strong I think the two other newcomers this weekend could provide better value.

"Happy Death Day 2U" is a sequel to Blumhouse's "Happy Death Day" which was released just sixteen months ago. The original had a solid $26m opening on its way to a profitable $55.7m domestic run (not bad on a sub $5m budget). The first film was essentially a teen slasher flick combined with "Groundhog Day" and this sequel is essentially….a teen slasher flick combined with "Groundhog Day." If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

I expect "Happy Death Day 2U" to open slightly lower than its predecessor. Blumhouse sequels take a tip from their predecessors more often than not (see "Paranormal Activity 2," "Sinister 2," "Ouija: Origin of Evil," etc.). But I don't expect it to have a severe drop and it should have a four-day weekend in the low $20s. And "Happy Death Day 2U" opened up on Wednesday so FML players will have a full two day sample size to decide if they should screen it in their Cineplex.

The final new wide release this weekend is "Isn't It Romantic" starring Rebel Wilson. After a string of supporting roles in projects like "Bridesmaids," the "Pitch Perfect" trilogy and "How to Be Single" Wilson is finally appearing in a leading role. But don't fret Rebel Wilson fans, she not going all Meg Ryan/Kate Hudson/Reese Witherspoon on us. Instead "Isn't It Romantic" is more of a spoof/satire on the conventions of romantic comedies, which plays right into Wilson's bawdy persona.

If Valentine's Day fell on Friday or Saturday this year "Isn't It Romantic" would be my slam-dunk anchor of the week. But it opened on Wednesday and I have a feeling it might be front-loaded with a big rush on Valentine's Day Thursday. However, I can still see slightly positive word of mouth giving it momentum heading into the weekend (especially for couples who weren't able to celebrate Valentine's Day on Thursday). With a very reasonable cost of FB$207 I think "Isn't It Romantic" could provide the best value in Fantasy Movie League this weekend.

This is a rare week where three rookies are opening up before FML lineups lock. Watch those Wednesday and Thursday numbers carefully and you should be good to go this 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(FB$405)
  2. Happy Death Day 2U (FB$307)
  3. Alita: Battle Angel (FB$276)
  4. Isn't it Romantic (FB$207)
  5. What Men Want (FB$202)

Bonus Pick of the Week: "Isn't It Romantic" (FB$207) Three years ago this weekend in Fantasy Movie League I gambled that four screens of "How to Be Single" would edge out one screen of "Deadpool." We all know how that one turned out. I may be setting myself up for failure but I'm doubling down on Rebel Wilson. I bought Rebel Wilson stock several years ago and I need to cash in. With a potential bargain price of FB$207 it's now or never Rebel! Don't let me down!

Coming Attractions

Although it's never captured the pop culture zeitgeist like "Shrek," "Kung Fu Panda" or even "Madagascar," the "How to Train Your Dragon" franchise might be the crown jewel of the DreamWorks animation library. Next week the third (and final?) installment "How to Train Your Dragon: The Dark World" hits theaters.

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