Box Office Guy

Patrick Reardon

This weekend should be fairly slow for new wide releases at the box office. We're about to enter a post "Spider-Man," pre "Lion King" window where a pair of mid-size newcomers will try to make an impact before Simba and company suck all the air out of the room. I'm not particularly high on either of this weekends rookies but I feel the more promising of the two features a slew of CGI alligators.

"Crawl" is the latest horror thriller from French director Alexandre Aja who is no stranger to terrifying creatures ("Piranha 3D," "The Hills Have Eyes"). The premise for "Crawl" is simple. A young woman travels towards the eye of a hurricane in Florida in an attempt to save her father. While trying to get him out the house floods and a pack of hungry alligators looking for food invades. A nice clean, contained premise for a horror movie. Fun fact: the role of Florida in this film is played by Serbia.

While "Crawl" would like to do for alligators what "Jaws" did for sharks over four decades ago, that feels a bit ambitious. A few more realistic comps are "The Shallows" ($16.8m opening, $55.1m domestic total) and "47 Meters Down" ($11.2m opening, $44.3m domestic total). Both feature attractive young actresses trapped by aquatic creatures where they are racing a ticking clock. I see no reason why "Crawl" can't be a worthy addition to this "danger in the water" subgenre.

While early footage from "Crawl" at CinemaCon this past spring was positive, the lack of reviews thus far is a little concerning to me. However, this strikes me as the type of film that will be review-proof and should post a modest opening in the low teens this weekend. But with a cost of FB$204 I don't love the way it's priced so I'll likely seek better value elsewhere.

The other new wide release this weekend is the latest in a long line of racially mis-matched buddy action-comedies. Ah the mixed race buddy comedy. I don't remember a time when they didn't exist. Sometimes they launch a star into the stratosphere ("48 HRS." $229m when adjusted for inflation). Sometimes they launch a new star (Chris Tucker) and give an established star's (Jackie Chan) career a second act (the "Rush Hour" franchise has grossed $850m worldwide). Often times they become iconic franchises (the "Lethal Weapon" franchise has grossed over a billion dollars domestically when adjusting inflation). And "Central Intelligence" recently proved that the formula is far from dead ($127.4m domestic total). However, for every successful chemistry experiment there is also a bomb (or three) out there.

Who could forget Dax Shephard and Michael Pena stepping into the substantial leather CHP boots for Larry Wilcox and Erik Estrada in "CHiPs?" Based on the $18.6m domestic total, apparently everyone. Remember Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan in "Cop Out?" Probably not since it only made $44.9m but I swear it was a thing. And what about the cinematic opus known as ‘Taxi" where audiences were force fed a Jimmy Fallon/Queen Latifah pairing? The film only grossed $36.6m and Fallon still landed "The Tonight Show" years later, so clearly the higher ups at NBC didn't see it. So which group will the pairing of Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista in "Stuber" end up in? Sadly I think they're going to end up in the latter category.

In "Stuber" Nanjiani plays an Uber driver named…Stu. Right off the bat we're not off to a great start. Stu's vehicle is then commandeered by a hardcore police detective (I'm guessing he doesn't play by the rules) and hijinks ensue. Not the most intricate premise for a buddy movie, but does that matter? The plots for the successful buddy flicks listed earlier weren't exactly Shakespearean. Like all buddy movies, the success will come down to the chemistry between the two stars.

While I like Nanjiani's work in "Silicon Valley" and "The Big Sick" there is no evidence that he can carry a studio movie. Ditto Bautista who is great at stealing scenes as Drax in Marvel movies but has yet to prove he can carry a picture in a leading role. Based on the marketing I've seen from "Stuber" and the upcoming "My Spy", it looks like Bautista is scooping up all the roles Dwayne Johnson is turning down. Nanjiani and Bautista may end up being viable box office draws in the long run but it's going to be a process and "Stuber" is merely the first step in the process for both performers. "Stuber" strikes me as a one-joke premise that is going to have a tough time this weekend. I think it will be struggle to get to the teens which makes it too risky of a play at FB$213.

With neither new release looking particularly strong this weekend, I'm sticking with holdovers, where "Spider-Man: Far From Home" and "Toy Story 4" are the best potential anchors. I'm leaning slightly towards "Toy Story 4" since neither "Stuber" nor "Crawl" will siphon away any family business. "Far From Home" is tempting but the fact that its predecessor ("Spider-Man: Homecoming") dropped a steep 62% in its second weekend in 2017 makes me nervous. It's not a sexy lineup, but I think I'm going to roll with the 3x anchor of "Toy Story 4" 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. Spider-Man: Far From Home (FB$588)
  2. Toy Story 4 (FB$258)
  3. Crawl (FB$204)
  4. Stuber (FB$213)
  5. Yesterday (FB$98)

Bonus Pick of the Week: "Rocketman" (FB$23) Hats off to the FML pricing gods. I don't see any glaring market deficiencies this weekend. Whenever that is the case I mine the cheaper options for the bonus. I think I'm going to roll the dice with "Rocketman." Reasonably priced, has been holding up well (has kept its weekend drops to under 40% for a month straight) and it could get a slight bump at drive-in theaters from its studio mate "Crawl." Plus the film is currently sitting at $90m domestically. It would be a moral victory for Paramount if they could keep this in theaters longer than it deserves to try to push it past the $100m mark.

Coming Attractions

Simba's coming. Stay inside so nobody gets hurts. For the next three weekends in a row there will only be one new wide release each week. I can't blame the collective competition for sitting this first one out, since Jon Favreau's live-action remake of "The Lion King" could end up being the highest grossing film of the summer.

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