Box Office Guy

Patrick Reardon

"Hobbs & Shaw" kept the "Fast & Furious" franchise chugging along last weekend but it wasn't the runaway success I was expecting. It was down 39% from the opening of "The Fate of the Furious" which seems to indicate that franchise fatigue might be setting in (at least domestically). Either that, or people really enjoy the thespian stylings of Mr. Mark Vincent (aka Vin Diesel) and won't stand for a "Fast" movie without him. I'm sticking with the early stages of franchise fatigue.

After three straight weekends that featured a lone wide release, this weekend has a full slate of five newcomers that will try to bump "Hobbs & Shaw" from the top spot. The only film with even a puncher's chance is a kids flick that features a wannabe Indiana Jones who is armed with nothing but her wits, a backpack and…a talking monkey?

"Dora and the Lost City of Gold" is the first big screen adaptation of the long running animated Nickelodeon show, "Dora the Explorer." I've never been a part of the target demographic nor do I have children so it's tough for me to gauge how big of an imprint Dora has on pop culture (and whether she's still relevant in 2019). The closest thing I did to market research was asking my fourteen year old niece if she was excited about the "Dora" movie since she's right in target demo. I'm paraphrasing here but her response was something along the lines of, "meh, I'm worried it might ruin Dora for me."

I'm not going to extrapolate that response to the entire teen/tween population but it did give me the sense that a big part of the demo has outgrown Dora. The generation that made Dora a pop culture phenom is now more likely interested in whatever is happening on their smart phones right this second. I think the brand is strong enough to procure an opening around $20m but I'm not expecting a full-blown "Dora" renaissance here. With a pricy cost of FB$369 I'm not confident "Dora" can perform well enough to justify the cost.

Also opening wide this weekend is "The Kitchen" starring Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish and Elisabeth Moss. If you were to only look at the title and list of cast members many would assume this is a wacky female buddy comedy set in a restaurant. But it's actually a semi-gritty crime drama set in Hell's Kitchen in the 1970s. McCarthy, Haddish and Moss play a trio of mob wives who have to carry out their husbands rackets (since the hubbies are locked up in prison). I'm all for actors branching out and changing gears but I have some reservations about the box office prospects for "The Kitchen."

My first concern is that the similarly themed "Widows" failed to catch on with audiences this past November. Despite great reviews and a stacked cast "Widows" was only able to muster up a $12.4m opening and a quick exit from theaters after amassing $42.4m domestically.

My next concern is that McCarthy is on a box office cold streak at the moment. In 2018 "Life of the Party" ($17.9m opening, $53.1m domestic total) and the disastrous "The Happytime Murders" ($9.5m opening, $20.7m domestic total) proved that audiences won't automatically shell out money to see McCarthy regardless of a films quality or premise. She found creative redemption (and an Oscar nomination) with "Can You Ever Forgive Me?" but that film topped out at just $8.8m domestically. And with a theater count of only 2,700 (the lowest of McCarthy's career for a wide release,) it doesn't appear that "The Kitchen" will provide McCarthy with a comeback vehicle.

And last but not least reviews have been poor thus and this is the type of film where word-of-mouth is crucial. With a cost of FB$170 and so many red flags, I think "The Kitchen" will struggle to break $10m this weekend. This is a stay away for me.

The next new wide release this weekend is "The Art of Racing in the Rain" which stars Milo Ventimiglia, Amanda Seyfried and Kevin Costner as the voice of ‘Enzo' the golden retriever. This feels like a cocktail movie to me:

-1 oz. "Marley and Me"
-1 oz. "A Dog's Life"
-1 oz. "Rush"
-2 oz. "The Notebook"
-2 oz. "Dear John"
-2 oz. "This is Us"
-Shake Well
-Serve Over Ice in a large tear-soaked tumbler

This feels like a Nicholas Sparks movie without Nicholas Sparks. With so many other options out there and a low theater count (an estimated 2,800) I think "The Art of Racing in the Rain" is going to have a difficult time breaking through the clutter this weekend. I think this film is also going to struggle to break the $10m mark and its dangerously low floor will prevent me from screening it at a cost of FB$133.

The big wild card this weekend is "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark" from writer-producer Guillermo del Toro (Andre Ovredal is handling directing duties). The biggest horror openings this year either had a red hot director ("Us" $71.1m), were part of the "Conjuring" universe ("Annabelle Comes Home" $20.3m), were conjuring adjacent thanks to the involvement of James Wan ("The Curse of La Llorona" $26.3m) or were based on a popular pre-existing piece of IP ("Pet Sematary" $24.5m). It's always unwise to underestimate horror movies but del Toro's sterling reputation isn't commensurate with his box office. I don't think his name alone puts butts in the seats.

I'll be watching the Thursday numbers for "Scary Stories" very carefully. To screen it at FB$206 I need to be confident that it can at least get to the low-mid teens. But I think this original horror story without a solid marketing hook is going to have a tough time rising above the fray. Although it's in a genre known for over-performing, I'm going to remain skeptical until I see some data.

The final wide release this weekend is "Brian Banks" which is based on the inspiring (or horrifying?) true story of a man who was sent to prison for a crime he didn't commit. For those of you who aren't familiar with the story, Banks was a star high school football player in Southern California who had verbally committed to playing college ball at USC. During his junior year of high school a woman by the name of Wanetta Gibson accused Banks of pulling her into a stairwell and raping her.

In order to avoid a forty-one year prison sentence Banks accepted a plea deal where he received five years of jail, five years of probation and was required to register as a sex offender. Gibson sued the school district and ended up receiving a settlement of $1.5m. I know this doesn't sound like the makings of an "inspirational" film but stick with me since there's a twist.

It turns out that Gibson fabricated the whole story! So "Brian Banks" the film chronicles Banks' struggles with our justice system, his time in prison, his eventual exoneration and his quest to fulfill his lifelong dream of playing professional football.

The film appears to be following the faith-based sports movie formula to a tee. It even got outspoken Christian Tom Shadyac (director of three massive Jim Carrey hits and "The Nutty Professor") to get back to directing his first feature in eleven years. But even though it's an interesting story that deserves to be told, the film is only opening up in an estimated 1,500 theaters and has had a quiet marketing campaign. Even with a low cost of FB$45 I don't expect "Brian Banks" to make much of an impact this weekend amongst so much competition.

As you can see I'm not sold on any of the rookies this weekend so I'll be filling my Cineplex with holdovers. While I think "Hobbs & Shaw" should remain number one I think it's headed for a steep decline. Each of the previous five "Fast" films has dropped at least 60% in their second weekends and I expect a similar fate for "Hobbs & Shaw." I'm leaning slightly towards a lineup heavy on "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" (unless "Scary Stories" pops on Thursday night). Even though it dropped 51% last weekend Quentin Tarantino's movies tend to stabilize in their third weekends (his previous four features all dropped 45% or less in their third weekend).

Come back next week where another five rookies will try to survive the brutal August box office. Can we somehow move up the release of "It: Chapter 2?"

Weekend Picks

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

  1. Hobbs & Shaw (FB$445)
  2. Dora and the Lost City of Gold (FB$369)
  3. The Lion King (FB$334)
  4. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (FB$171)
  5. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (FB$206)

Bonus Pick of the Week: "Yesterday" (FB$26) This has been one of the few bright spots of the summer ($69m and counting on a reported $26m budget). Over the last month its weekend drops have been 33%, 25%, 39% and 20% respectively. Between its resilience, its pricing (FB$26), and the fact that it will be paired up with fellow Universal flick "Hobbs & Shaw" in several drive-in theaters; I think "Yesterday" will find itself in bonus contention this weekend.

Coming Attractions

Next weekend features another crowded release slate. "The Angry Birds Movie 2" crashes into theaters (opening Wednesday), "Good Boys" will try to provide some late summer R-rated laughs, Cate Blanchett leads a talented ensemble in the adaptation of the best-seller "Where'd You Go, Bernadette," the music of Bruce Springsteen powers the dramedy "Blinded by the Light," and you can't keep a good man-eating shark down in the sequel "47 Meters Down: Uncaged."

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