Box Office Guy

Patrick Reardon

"Lost in Space." "Dear John." "Sleeping with the Enemy." "Ride Along 2." "Pacific Rim Uprising." "The Boss Baby." "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas." Is this the most poorly programmed film festival in history? Actually the common bond here is that all of these films knocked some of the biggest box office phenomenons of all time out of the top spot at the box office. Could "Pokémon Detective Pikachu" join their ranks this weekend?

Ryan Reynolds lends his vocal talent to the titular character in this live action treatment of the Japanese pop culture behemoth and I have zero idea of what to make of this movie. And I'm not alone.

When "Pikachu" first appeared on film tracking sites some outlets had the film grossing upwards of $90m this weekend. Since then these projections have eased up a bit. Box Office Pro currently projects an opening in the $55m-$79m range which is quite a broad spectrum.

I didn't grow up with Pokémon and I don't have kids, which makes it difficult to get a handle on this property. But there are two Pokémon moments that stick out for me. The first was in November 1999. I believe it was a Tuesday night and I had the local news on. A reporter was doing a field piece at a movie theater where parents were lining up / camping out with their small children (on a school night mind you) to be the first to see something called "Pokémon: The First Movie." I thought this had to be some sort of joke but by Sunday night it had earned $50.8m in its first five days. However, the four subsequent "Pokémon" films didn't even come close to making this kind of box office impact.

The other "Pokémon" moment that I took notice of was a few summers ago when it seemed like every other person on the planet was playing Pokémon Go on their mobile devices. Many of these people inadvertently ran into oncoming traffic, got in auto accidents or were killed. Yes, killed. Some unofficial studies estimate that the game may have caused 150,000 traffic accidents, 256 deaths and economic damage somewhere in the $2-$5 billion dollar range.

Regardless of how much of this you actually believe it's hard to argue that there isn't an audience out there for a "Pokémon" movie. So much so that the FML pricing gods have split "Detective Pikachu" into daily pricing. If you're going to use a "Pikachu" option as your anchor this weekend I lean towards the Friday option. Based on the first film and the summer of Pokémon Go, this seems to be a franchise that burns fast and bright. Even though movies directed at young kids tend to do strong matinee business on Saturdays and Sundays, I think this film is going to be highly frontloaded on Thursday/Friday. If it didn't stop those kids from camping out with their moms on a Tuesday night in 1999, I don't think it will be a detriment on a Thursday or Friday night in 2019.

Since Mother's Day is this weekend, I'm going to keep my ageist snark to a minimum when analyzing the box office prospects for "Poms." In this comedy Diane Keaton stars as a resident of a retirement community who puts a senior citizen cheerleading squad together. Nope, Mother's Day. Not going to do it.

The film is trying to replicate the success of "Book Club" (which also starred Keaton), which opened up a year ago to the tune of $13.6m on its way to a respectable domestic tally of $68.6m. However, I don't think "Poms" is going to perform as well. While the presence of Keaton and the potential Mothers Day audiences will protect the film's floor, "Poms" doesn't have the star power of "Book Club." While Jackie Weaver, Pam Grier and Rhea Perlman are talented in their own right, it's a downgrade from Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen.

Good reviews would provide a nice boost to "Poms" but as of Wednesday afternoon it was still under a critic embargo (never a good sign for a comedy). Unless moms across the country really surge into theaters on Sunday I think "Poms" is going to struggle to clear the $10m mark this weekend which makes it too risky of a play at FB$130.

Also opening wide this week is "The Hustle," the long delayed female led remake of "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels." For the youngsters out there "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" was a 1988 film where Michael Caine and Steve Martin played a pair of rival con men who were trying to steal a large sum of money from an heiress. The film was modestly successful in grossing $42m (roughly $94m when adjusted for inflation, 24th highest grossing film of 1988).

In this remake Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson are stepping into the lead roles. The film's success will ultimately come down to the star power of Hathaway and Wilson, but I'm not sure if their presence is enough to move the needle. Earlier this year Wilson powered "Isn't It Romantic" to adequate but not blockbuster business ($14.2m opening, $48.8m domestic total). And it's been four years since Hathaway carried a comedy ("The Intern" $17.7m opening, $75.8m domestic total). My guess is that their combined star power lifts the movie to an opening in the low teens but the overall quality of the film will limit the ceiling (it was also under a critic embargo as of Wednesday afternoon). With a limited ceiling, competition for female eyeballs from "Poms" (and even "Long Shot" to a lesser extent) and a cost of FB$170 I can't make a convincing case to screen "The Hustle" in my Cineplex this weekend.

The final new wide release this weekend is "Tolkien" which stars Nicholas Hoult as C.S. Lewis. I just wanted to make sure you were still paying attention. Hoult stars as "Lord of the Rings" author J.R.R. Tolkien in this biopic from Fox Searchlight, which is arriving with little fanfare.

Had this film not already been in the can when the Disney / 20th Century Fox merger was happening I don't think it would have ever seen the light of day. "Tolkien" feels like a cinematic orphan. When factoring in the low theater count (an estimated 1,300), middling reviews and an invisible marketing campaign I don't give it much of a chance of breaking through this weekend. Even with a reasonable price of FB$38 I don't see it as anything more than filler. Hopefully this doesn't quash my potential biopic "Rowling" starring Sophie Turner, which I hope to have in theaters by 2023.

For my FML lineup this weekend I'm pretty torn between the safety of "Avengers: Endgame" (FB$811) or the gamble of a "Detective Pikachu"-heavy lineup. "Avengers: Infinity War" dropped just 46% in its third weekend. If "Endgame" has a similar hold (a decent possibility) it would end up around $80m this weekend. I don't see "Pikachu" besting this number. However, if you think "Endgame" will drop 50% or more than "Pikachu" will be right there with it in terms of value. Since it's going to be so close my advice is to wait on the Thursday night numbers. If "Pikachu" is gangbusters out of the gate on Thursday night I like the "Pikachu"-Friday anchor strategy. If the Thursday numbers are so-so I'd roll with the safety of "Endgame" and live to battle another day.

Weekend Picks

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

1.Avengers: Endgame (FB$811)
2.Detective Pikachu - Friday (FB$281)
3.Detective Pikachu - Saturday (FB$271)
4.Detective Pikachu - Sunday (FB$208)
5.The Hustle (FB$170)

Bonus Pick of the Week: "Long Shot" (FB$69) Although it grossed a disappointing $9.7m last weekend I like the way it's priced this week. And not just because I can imagine Seth Rogen chuckling "FB$69" over and over. Word of mouth has been solid from the people who actually saw the movie and neither of this weeks new comedies ("Poms," "The Hustle") has particularly strong buzz. "Long Shot" isn't losing any theaters until next weekend and if can just hang in there it could be in the bonus hunt.

Coming Attractions

What if those mobsters had just left his adorable puppy alone? If so John Wick would be enjoying a quiet life raising a dog and occasionally driving angry on an empty airfield. But if they hadn't we wouldn't be getting "John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum" next weekend. I loved that dog but I also love getting new John Wick movies. I'm conflicted. Speaking of dogs, Dennis Quaid is back for the third (and final?) installment of the canine trilogy "A Dog's Journey." And rounding out the weekend is the adaptation of the young adult novel "The Sun is Also a Star."

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