Box Office Guy

Patrick Reardon

Last weekend Jordan Peele got five on it. And then multiplied that by about fourteen as his sophomore directorial effort "Us" debuted with a stellar $71.1m. "Us" will still be a factor this weekend (more on that in a bit) but Peele's stay at the top of the box office will be a short one thanks to the latest offering from another auteur.

"Dumbo" is the nineteenth feature film in the storied career of director Tim Burton. Since breaking on to the scene in 1985 with "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure" Burton has had his share of genuine box office smashes ("Batman," "Alice in Wonderland"), modestly successful mid-size films ("Edward Scissorhands," "Sleepy Hollow"), big budget hits ("Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, "Planet of the Apes"), low budget misses ("Ed Wood," "Big Eyes") and some financial duds ("Mars Attacks"). For the most part Burton hits more than he misses. But the ultimate financial success of "Dumbo" will be less about Burton and more about the box juggernaut known as The Walt Disney Company.

At this point Disney really only releases five types of films. Marvel movies, Star Wars movies, Pixar movies, in-house animated movies (i.e. "Frozen," "Zootopia") and live action remakes of their classic films. And I don't blame them. The few times they've recently strayed from this formula they crashed and burned ("The Nutcracker and the Four Realms" $54.9m domestically, "The BFG" $55.5m domestically). So "Dumbo" fits right into the live-action remake category, which was kick-started by Burton himself in 2010:

2010 - "Alice in Wonderland" $116.1m opening, $334.2m domestic total
2014 - "Maleficent" $69.4m opening, $241.4m domestic total
2015 - "Cinderella" $67.9m, $201.2m domestic total
2016 - "The Jungle Book" $103.3m opening, $364m domestic total
2017 - "Beauty and the Beast" $174.8m opening, $504m domestic total

I don't think "Dumbo" gets anywhere near the high end of this spectrum. An opening in the "Cinderella" range feels much more plausible. I don't sense the "must-see" factor that something like "The Jungle Book" had. And early reviews have been very mixed thus far, which suggests a limited crossover audience beyond families with younger children. I can see a scenario were "Dumbo" gets into the low $60s but I can just as easily see a scenario where it falls well short of that mark. With a cost of FB$700 and a potentially shaky floor I think I'm leaning away from "Dumbo." Something just doesn't feel right and I think the two big holdovers ("Us" and "Captain Marvel") might provide better bang for your buck.

A quick aside, if it feels like Disney remakes of their classic films are taking over….they kind of are. By the time "Dumbo" is ending its run, "Aladdin" will be in theaters on May 24th (I'm skeptical of this one). And by the time the genie and co. are finishing their run, Jon Favreau's live action version of "The Lion King" will be in theaters on July 19th (I'd damn near bet my life that this one is a massive hit). Then, after "The Lion King" is wrapping up its gargantuan run, there is a "Maleficent" sequel scheduled for October. And finally there is a "Mulan" remake scheduled for 2020. Jesus. It's safe to say I'm getting a little Disney'd out. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

I took a look at Disney's full catalogue of animated films and they're running out of classics to remake. In my opinion the only films left that truly warrant big-budget, live-action remakes are "Pinocchio," "Bambi," "Lady and the Tramp" and "The Little Mermaid" (all of which have had remakes in development for years). Sorry, I just don't see a lot of demand for live-action versions of "The Great Mouse Detective" or "The Rescuers Down Under."

Once this well runs dry, Disney is going to either have to acquire another pop culture entity with miles of IP (I have no idea who that might be) or they'll have to do something really terrifying: develop original material! Fortunately, in the recent acquisition of Twenty Century Fox studios, they obtained a film label that's perfect to develop mid-size original pictures that often caters to younger audiences: Fox 2000. Oh wait….

I can't argue with the run Disney is on. I've been following box office numbers for more years than I can remember and no studio has ever had a run like this. I'm in awe. But all good things come to an end. I guess this is just my way of saying I don't want to live in a world where the only options are remakes of reboots of reimaginings. And I really don't want to live in a world where they decide to start making live-action versions of Pixar movies.

For my FML Cineplex this weekend I'm torn between "Us" and "Captain Marvel" as potential lineup anchors (or perhaps a combination of both). I've read a lot of think pieces the past week which strongly suggest that "Us" warrants a second viewing to catch all the easter eggs strewn throughout, which makes it plausible that it will have a stronger hold than the typical horror film. But the discrepancy between critic and audience scores on rotten tomatoes gives me pause. Critics have it at 95% while audiences have it at 72%. This gap seems to indicate that not all audiences are loving "Us" (especially the bonkers/polarizing third act) which means "Us" might have been slightly front-loaded last weekend.

This leaves me with "Captain Marvel" as my potential anchor. It's a boring choice, but it's also the safest choice out there when you factor in the high cost/shaky floor for "Dumbo" and standard second weekend drop for a horror movie. As for the other newcomers this weekend ("The Beach Bum," "Unplanned," "Hotel Mumbai") I don't see them as anything other than filler.

Weekend Picks

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

  1. Dumbo (FB$700)
  2. Us (FB$447)
  3. Captain Marvel (FB$216)
  4. Five Feet Apart (FB$64)
  5. Wonder Park (FB$53)

Bonus Pick of the Week: "Hotel Mumbai" (FB$35) This is completely based on the potential theater count (unavailable to me at the time of writing this column). The fact-based action thriller debuted in four theaters last weekend with a respectable $22k per theater average. If it gets a significant bump in theaters this weekend then its FB$35 price tag could provide solid value on the bonus hunt.

Coming Attractions

Next weekend features the first actual box office showdown we've had in a while. In one corner is the family-friendly adaptation of D.C.'s "Shazam" and in the other corner is a reboot of Stephen King's "Pet Sematary." "Shazam" should come out on top but I expect "Pet Sematary" to be very competitive. Meanwhile as those two wannabe blockbusters are battling it out the STX drama "The Best of Enemies" will be struggling for scraps.

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