Box Office Guy

Patrick Reardon

Last weekend "Joker" laughed his way all the way to the bank with a $96.2m opening (easily an October record). Living, breathing, laughing proof that the only bad publicity is no publicity. Even if it takes a steep dip this weekend (which is highly likely) "Joker" will easily top the box office charts for a second weekend in a row. However, there are a pair of challengers looking to carve out some legit business of their own (and a third without a prayer). We'll start with the creepy and kooky ones.

I've got to hand it to 1960s television whose reach is still being felt today. They're still making "Star Trek" movies and TV shows (based on a lowly rated show that was cancelled after three seasons). Tom Cruise is still jumping off of buildings and out of airplanes thanks to the original "Mission: Impossible" series. There are remakes of "Hawaii 5-O," "Lost in Space" and "The Twilight Zone" currently available on streaming platforms. But perhaps there is no greater example of the reach of 1960s television than "The Addams Family."

The original "The Addams Family" only ran for two seasons on ABC in the mid 1960s. But it made enough of a pop culture impact to lead to three more TV series, two TV specials, two hit early 1990s movies and even a Broadway musical. Not bad for a show that only ran for 64 episodes. For comparison "Becker" ran for 129 episodes on CBS. Do you think Pixar will be making an animated "Becker" or will there be a "Becker the Musical" headed to Broadway decades from now?

This weekend "The Addams Family" is getting the big screen animated treatment, which features an all-star vocal cast that includes Charlize Theron, Oscar Isaac and Snoop Dogg as Cousin Itt. If this movie was being produced/distributed by Disney/Pixar, Universal/Illumination or even Sony Pictures Animation I think it could be hauling in "Hotel Transylvania" type money this weekend. But since the rebooted United Artists is distributing it gives me pause. But not enough pause for me to dismiss this film.

I think "The Addams Family" is ingrained enough in the culture to still be relevant in 2019. The early 90s movies grossed $113.5m and $48.9m respectively and are constantly replayed on cable. The film caters to younger viewers but there is still a nostalgia factor to keep parents (and grandparents) interested. With "Abominable" slowing down in its third weekend I think "The Addams Family" should corner family audiences this weekend with a gross in the mid-high $20s. With a cost of FB$334 I think it's also the best potential lineup anchor this weekend.

The release of "Gemini Man" will try to answer the following existential question: is Will Smith fully back? Before we get into the box office prospects for "Gemini Man" let's take a brief refresher course on the phases of Smith's movie career.

The Run

From 1995 to mid 2008 Will Smith had one of the greatest box office runs in movie history. Beginning with "Bad Boys" ($65.8m domestic total on a $20m budget) and ending with "Hancock" ($227.9m domestic total) Smith's presence in a movie damn near guaranteed a $100+ domestic haul. In this time frame Smith's movies had an average opening weekend of $40m and an average domestic gross of $158m (and these numbers would be even higher if we pretended that "The Legend of Bagger Vance" never happened). Even Smith's "stumbles" in this time period still either grossed over $100m ("Wild Wild West," $113.8m) or resulted in critical acclaim/awards recognition ("Ali" $58.2m on a $100m+ budget).

The Crossroads

Nobody can keep a run like that going forever, it's just the nature of the beast. In late 2008 Smith starred in "Seven Pounds," a weird, dour drama if there ever was one. I'm impressed that Smith was able to carry such a downer to a $70m domestic total, but it showed that audiences wouldn't necessarily fork over money solely because of his name above the titles.

Smith then went three and a half years without appearing in a film (some of it was spend guiding son Jaden's career in "The Karate Kid" remake of which the elder Smith was a producer). When Smith re-emerged it was within the safety net of the "Men in Black" franchise. "MiB 3" grossed $179m domestically (a domestic low for the franchise) but it saved face overseas with an additional $445m. However, with all the gross points handed out to Smith, Tommy Lee Jones and director Barry Sonnenfeld Sony wasn't able to make very much money. And Sony didn't have much luck earlier this year with the Smith-less "Men in Black International" which grossed a disastrous $80m earlier this year.

Smith then spent the next couple years trying to boost his son's movie career in a thankless supporting role ("After Earth" $60.5m domestic total), starred in a half-decent crime caper that didn't catch on with audiences ("Focus" $53.9m domestic total) and headlined a topical but ultimately flat drama that quickly disappeared ("Concussion" $34.5m domestic total).

The Comeback?

In the past three years Smith has appeared in the two highest grossing films of his career: "Suicide Squad" ($325.1m domestic total) and "Aladdin" ($355.5m domestic total). But when adjusting for inflation "independence Day" and the original "Men in Black" are Smith's top grossing films. However, even when adjusting for inflation "Aladdin" and "Suicide Squad" are still Smith's third and fourth highest grossing films respectively. But how much of this had to do with Smith?

If we swapped out Smith for say Jamie Foxx in "Suicide Squad" would it have made significantly less money? I doubt it. With "Aladdin" did audiences flock to it because of nostalgia for "Aladdin" or to see Smith? I honestly don't know. Could the film have made more with Dwayne Johnson as the genie? Who knows? And Smith also starred in "Bright" which was allegedly one of the most widely seen Netflix movies. But would audiences have shelled out money to see "Bright" in a theater? We'll honestly never know since Netflix is more secretive than our own government when it comes to ratings.

This all brings us to the release of "Gemini Man" this weekend. Without any preexisting IP or guarded Netflix ratings to hide behind this will be a true test of whether or not Smith is still a marquee draw. In "Gemini Man" Smith plays dual roles, a past his prime fifty-year-old hit man and his clone who is literally half his age. I read an iteration of this script nearly fifteen years ago when Mel Gibson and Harrison Ford were circling the project. It was a cool high concept from the "Face/Off" school of storytelling but the technology wasn't good enough to realistically have an A-list star square off against his younger self.

But in 2019 the technology is good enough (see "Rogue One," "Captain Marvel" etc.) and director Ang Lee was able to bring the long-gestating sci-fi action film to life. But I have a couple of qualms with "Gemini Man." The first is the casting of Smith and I don't mean this in an insulting way at all. When I read this script the appeal was in seeing Harrison Ford in "Blade Runner" squaring off against present day, creaky, crashing into golf courses or commercial airliner Harrison Ford. Or to see Mel Gibson's "Mad Max" hunting the present-day raving lunatic Mel Gibson. Whereas fifty-year-old Will Smith doesn't look all that much different from "Fresh Prince" Will Smith. Honestly, he looks great. Besides a little bit of salt and pepper in his hair does he really look that much different from the guy who welcomed an alien to earth by punching him in the face in 1996?

My other qualm with film is that the marketing makes it look very 1990s (and not in a good way). Instead of a cool thought provoking sci-fi film with great action, it looks like we're getting a generic action film sprinkled with lame exposition dialogue and cheap one liners spread throughout. What could have been special feels very run-of-the-mill and I don't think Smith's star power is going to be enough to save it. With a high cost of FB$374 I don't think it's a good play in FML this weekend since both "The Addams Family" and even "Joker" are more viable anchors. And I'm sure I'll be revisiting this Will Smith question twice more in 2020 with the release of "Bad Boys For Life" and "King Richard" (where Smith plays the father of Venus & Serena Williams). It's hard to keep good talent down.

Last and destined to be least among the weekend's three new wide releases is the comedy "Jexi" starring Adam Devine and (the voice of) Rose Byrne. Devine stars as a man who gets a bit too attached to his phone (sound familiar people?), specifically his Siri-esque digital assistant Jexi (voiced by Byrne). But when he actually tries to wean himself off his phone (for a real life) Jexi isn't having any of it and hijinks ensue. Think of it as the Comedy Central version of "Her." And keep in mind that "Her" only grossed $25.6m which was largely fueled by receiving five Oscar nominations.

Although Devine has been part of a lot of successful ensembles in both film (the "Pitch Perfect" series, "The Intern") and television ("The Righteous Gemstones," "Modern Family") he's never had to carry an entire movie before. The closest he's come to a true studio lead was the modestly successful "Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates" ($16.6m opening, $46m domestic gross), and even then he shared top billing with Zac Efron, Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza.

This strikes me as the type of movie where if it were on Netflix (or one of 200 other streaming services currently available) people might give it a chance. But I have a tough time believing people are going to make an effort to see this in theaters. Even with a decent theater count of 2,300+ I have a difficult time seeing "Jexi" breaking the $5m mark this weekend. With a cost of FB$109 I'll be steering clear of "Jexi." But a few months down the road I might give it some streaming time.

For my lineup this weekend it's a choice between a 2x "The Addams Family" play or "Joker." To go with "Joker" you need to be confident that it can keep its second week decline well under 50%. I think controversy led "Joker" to a front-loaded opening weekend and it's headed for a potential 55%+ slide so I'm going with the safety of "The Addams Family." Now I'm off to go pitch a Broadway musical of "Becker." Do you think there is any way Ted Danson would actually do it?

Weekend Picks

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

  1. Joker (FB$671)
  2. The Addams Family (FB$334)
  3. Gemini Man (FB$374)
  4. Abominable (FB$115)
  5. Downton Abbey (FB$78)

Bonus Pick of the Week: "The Addams Family" (FB$334) I like the way it's priced and I wouldn't be completely shocked if it over-performed (ala the original "Hotel Transylvania"). Plus it should be able to take advantage of the Halloween season and the lack of family friendly films in the marketplace.

Coming Attractions

Next weekend features a battle of two sequels. In one corner Angelina Jolie is back in "Maleficent: Mistress of Evil" because the first one made a ton of money. In the other corner is "Zombieland 2: Double Tap" which is back because the first one was modestly successful and fans have been clamoring for it. Early Vegas odds have "Maleficent" as a 7:2 favorite but some sharp money has been headed towards "Zombieland." May the best film win.

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