Box Office Guy

Patrick Reardon

A combination of indifference and a shotgun wielding Harriet Tubman may have put the final nail in the coffin of the Terminator franchise last weekend. "Harriet" exceeded expectations with an $11.7m opening while the pricey "Terminator: Dark Fate" crash-landed with $29m. Both will have their work cut out for them in their second weekends as a foursome of newcomers enter the marketplace.

The most promising rookie this weekend is "Doctor Sleep," the long awaited follow-up to the classic horror film "The Shining." Based on the Stephen King novel, "Doctor Sleep" tells the story of a grown-up Danny Torrance who tries to both shed his demons and help an imperiled young girl who is also afflicted with the same psychic "gift" that Danny has.

Expectations are understandably high since "The Shining" is such a revered movie in pop culture and has garnered a legion of devotees over the past four decades (just look at some of the nuts chronicled in the fabulous documentary "Room 237"). The film has the Stephen King seal of approval (King notoriously dislikes Stanley Kubrick's 1980 take on "The Shining") and it seems like all systems are go for a big weekend. But I have some reservations.

While "The Shining" means a lot to me (it's probably my favorite horror film) and people of my age/ilk I'm not sure how much it resonates with the younger audiences who typically populate the audiences for modern horror films. It's been thirty-nine years since "The Shining" was in theaters and much of the target audience needed for crossover success wasn't even born yet. Granted, you could say the same thing about "Halloween" but that was a franchise with countless sequels over the years that kept it fresh in audience's minds. Aside from an ABC miniseries in the late 1990s there hasn't been anything "Shining" related on either the big or small screen (aside from "Room 237" of course).

My other hang-up in the films running time, which is over the two and a half hour mark. Earlier this year King's "It Chapter Two" ran two hours and forty-nine minutes (up thirty four minutes over "It") and I think that was a major reason why the film grossed 35% less than its predecessor. I still believe "Doctor Sleep" will perform adequately this weekend (mid-high $20s) but I the ceiling is limited. At FB$385, it's a plausible lineup anchor depending on your feelings about the next new wide release of the weekend.

Holiday themed rom-coms used to be a staple of the November/December window but, in recent years, they've migrated to streaming services and those demonic Hallmark channels. And I think this dearth of holiday themed movies in the theatrical marketplace might be the greatest asset for director Paul Feig's "Last Christmas."

Take a look at the release schedule for the remainder of 2019 and you won't see many rom-coms. And you definitely won't see any holiday themed rom-coms unless you have a twisted sense of humor and consider "Black Christmas" a comedy. I think "Last Christmas" will be able to fill this void and it doesn't even have to be that good of a film.

The film has an appealing cast which features Emilia Clarke (who gets to change gears after nearly a decade of "Game of Thrones"), Henry Golding (whose star is on the rise after "Crazy Rich Asians" and "A Simple Favor"), Emma Thompson (who also co-wrote the screenplay) and Michelle Yeoh. Plus director Paul Feig has a proven track record in maximizing the talent of his casts ("Bridesmaids" "The Heat," "Spy," etc.). And perhaps most importantly it features the music of George Michael. Who doesn't love George Michael? A show of hands? Okay a few of you, not everybody. But that's okay, I guess.

If "Last Christmas" can get to the high teens this weekend (which is highly probable) it's a potential lineup anchor at FB$260. And, even if it doesn't get off to a blazing start this weekend, I think "Last Christmas" will have a long run through the holidays and will be an FML factor is the weeks to come. Unless people refuse to leave their homes because they been hypnotized a sinister Hallmark holiday movie marathon.

Also opening wide this weekend is the World War II epic "Midway" which is attempting to take advantage of the upcoming Veteran's Day holiday. But despite having a large ensemble with a lot of big names (Woody Harrelson, Aaron Eckhardt, Mandy Moore, Nick Jonas, etc.) and a director who is no stranger to spectacle in Roland Emmerich ("Independence Day," "The Day After Tomorrow," etc.) I don't think this is going to be another "Pearl Harbor." People might think, "isn't that a good thing?" Not exactly.

Although there is a long-held public perception that Michael Bay's "Pearl Harbor" was a flop that couldn't be further from the truth. "Pearl Harbor" came in on time and on budget (around $135m), grossed $198.5m domestically ($319m when adjusted for inflation) and tacked on another $250m overseas. While I wouldn't classify it as a "good" movie (it's more or less a brilliant 45 minute action sequence surround by a bad CW show) it was definitely a hit movie. I'm not sure "Midway" will make it to either good or hit status.

Besides "Pearl Harbor" the only World War II films released this century that genuinely connected with audiences either had a marquee director ("Dunkirk," "Inglorious Basterds"), were based on a publishing phenomenon ("Unbroken") or were awards darlings that didn't spend any time on the battlefield ("The King's Speech"). "Midway" doesn't have any of these elements working in its favor. I don't sense any momentum gathering behind the film and fear it's headed for a disastrous opening that might not reach the low teens. With a cost of FB$213 I'll be steering clear of "Midway."

The final new wide release this weekend is the John Cena star vehicle "Playing With Fire." This is Cena's attempt to cross over into family audiences. Arnold Schwarzenegger drew up this action-hero to family man blueprint thirty-one years ago with "Twins" ($250m domestic total when adjusted for inflation). In more recent years this model has been used to great success by Vin Diesel ("The Pacifier," $30.6m opening, $113m domestic total) and Dwayne Johnson ("The Game Plan," $23m opening, $90.6m domestic total). But will Cena be able to execute this blueprint?

Unfortunately I don't think Cena is going to enjoy as much success as those aforementioned performers. While Cena has put together a string of strong supporting roles in hit movies ("Bumblebee," "Blockers," "Trainwreck," etc.) he has yet to establish bonafide leading man credentials. Cena is likeable and has a real screen presence but I don't think he's ready to make the leap just yet. Plus I think the movie skews way too young to appeal to Cena's WWE fan base. I don't think "Playing With Fire" will clear the $10m mark this weekend, which makes it too risky of a play at FB$201.

For my FML lineup this weekend, I'm torn between a 2x play of "Doctor Sleep" or a 3x play of "Last Christmas." I'm leaning slightly towards "Last Christmas" because I get the feeling that I'm more excited about "Doctor Sleep" than the general public is. Unless "Sleep" rockets out of the gate in Thursday night previews I think the upside value of "Last Christmas" will win the race. Now I'm going to attempt the impossible task of getting Wham's "Last Christmas" out of my head. It's unlikely I'll be successful.

Weekend Picks

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

  1. Doctor Strange (FB$385)
  2. Last Christmas (FB$260)
  3. Terminator: Dark Fate (FB$223)
  4. Midway (FB$213)
  5. Joker (FB$167)

Bonus Pick of the Week: "JoJo Rabbit" (FB$58) Writer-director-star Taika Waititi's period comedy of age dramedy has been performing steadily in its platform release. Last weekend it added 256 theaters (up from 55) and grossed $2.3m (for a solid $9k per screen average). This weekend it's adding an estimated 350-500 theaters. If the final count is close to 500 the film should be able to approach the $4m that would be necessary to land in the bonus hunt. I like its chances.

Coming Attractions

Next weekend Matt Damon and Christian Bale fuel "Ford vs. Ferrari," Kristen Stewart leads a new iteration "Charlie's Angels," and Ian McKellen cons his way into Helen Mirren's heart/bank account in "The Good Liar."

Follow me on Twitter @TheBoxOfficeGuy