Box Office Guy

Patrick Reardon

Last weekend the autumn box office continued to be cruel to films that don't feature homicidal clowns. While "Midway" surprisingly "won" the weekend ($17.9m opening,) it's still going to lose a fortune. Elsewhere "Doctor Sleep" was dead on arrival with a disastrous $14.1m opening. But, for what it's worth, "The Shining" wasn't a huge hit upon its initial release and morphed into a horror classic over the years. But that won't help Warner Bros.' 2019 bottom line. And despite some holiday charm and an onslaught of George Michael music, "Last Christmas" was only able to muster up $11.4m. This weekend three newcomers will try to carve out some business in a tough marketplace. Unfortunately none of them feature homicidal clowns.

"Ford v Ferrari" is the most promising rookie this weekend. The fact-based film tells the story of a car designer (Matt Damon) and a driver (Christian Bale) who team up to help Ford defeat Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans race in 1966. It's almost become a cliché to say, "they don't make movies like this anymore," but….they rarely make movies like this anymore. An expensive star-driven period piece with studio funding aimed at adults? Those are a rare breed these days.

There are a lot of pros and cons in play for the box office prospects for "Ford v Ferrari." While it has genuine star power the box office track record of both Damon and Bale has been spotty lately. Bale has recently been involved in a string of unsuccessful indies ("Knight of Cups," "The Promise," "Hostiles"). Even his amazing transformation into Dick Cheney ("Vice") only grossed $47.8m domestically. And Damon has been on an even tougher streak with his disappointing 2017 trifecta ("The Great Wall," "Suburbicon," "Downsizing").

There is also the possibility that a two and a half hour about a fifty-three-year-old car race will only appeal to car junkies and older males. After all, the last big budget period piece about auto racing aimed at adults didn't exactly set the box office on fire ("Rush" $26.9m domestically). However, due to good reviews (currently 91% fresh on rotten tomatoes), audiences starved for something original and likability of its stars, I think "Ford v Ferrari" will end up right around $30m this weekend. While this will be considered a win in the realm of movies for grownups, it's a risky play in Fantasy Movie League. With a cost of FB$520, it really needs to approach the mid $30s to be a viable lineup anchor. With the way things have been going at the fall box office this feels like too much of a reach. And while I'm far less excited about the next new wide release of the weekend from a creative standpoint, it might provide better value.

Back in 2000 "Charlie's Angels" was a risky proposition. Sony shelled out big money to bring the craptastic 1970s Aaron Spelling series to life on the big screen and the production was troubled. The film was entrusted to a music video director with no prior feature experience (McG) and roughly half of the members of the Writer's Guild of America took a pass at the problematic script. But Sony was able to market the hell out of the appealing cast (Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu, Bill Murray) and much to everyone's surprise the film had a $40.1m opening (on its way to a $125.3m domestic tally). With numbers like that a sequel was inevitable but 2003's "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle" didn't perform as well as its predecessor ($37.6m opening, $100.8m domestic total). While these numbers for the sequel weren't terrible they weren't strong enough to warrant another pricey sequel.

Flash-forward to today and Sony is trying to reboot their mini-franchise. Elizabeth Banks wrote, directed and co-stars as one of several Bosleys. With the big exception of Kristen Stewart, Sony cast a pair of relative unknowns as the other two angels (Naomi Scott, Ella Balinska). The film appears to be relying on nostalgia to attract an audience but I'm not sure that's the way to go.

The last episode of "Charlie's Angels" aired in 1981 so the fans that were around back then have aged out of the demo that this film is chasing. Plus the last "Charlie's Angels" movie was a whopping sixteen years ago, so I don't think there are a lot of holdover fans who are going to turn out. And despite Kristen Stewart's high level of fame I don't think her notoriety translates into box office. Since her final "Twilight" film in 2012 Stewart has appeared in fourteen feature films and none of them have grossed more than $18.7m domestically.

But despite all my reservations about "Charlie's Angels" I like the way it's priced this weekend. At FB$234 it only needs to get to the mid-high teens to be a viable anchor. I think this is probable and is even more attractive if you believe "Ford v Ferrari" is going to come in at less than $30m.

The final new wide release this weekend is "The Good Liar" starring Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen. Sir Ian stars as a con man who sets his sights on a wealthy widow played by Mirren. Although both of these leads are legendary neither guarantees a paying audience.

McKellen doesn't have any signature box office performances in films where he doesn't play a magnetic mutant or a wise old wizard. His strongest showing in recent years was in the indie "Mr. Holmes" ($17.7m domestically). Mirren has had a little more success with carrying films ("The Hundred Foot Journey" $54.2m domestically, "Woman in Gold" $33.3m domestically) but she's far from a sure thing.

New Line is hoping that the pairing of Mirren and McKellen will ensure that older audiences turn out this weekend. However, I think "Ford v Ferrari" is going to be the first choice for older demographics this weekend (if they even turn out at all). If word of mouth is solid I can see "The Good Liar" having decent holds in the weeks to come but I don't see it being fast out of the gate this weekend. With a cost of FB$117 I'm going to take my business elsewhere.

For my FML lineup this weekend it's going to come down to the Thursday night preview battle between "Ford v Ferrari" and "Charlie's Angels." If the Angels are at least competitive with the car guys I think they're going to provide better value. I know which film I'll be spending my money on this weekend but my money doesn't carry extra weight (or else "Doctor Sleep" would have easily topped "Midway").

Weekend Picks

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

  1. Ford v Ferrari (FB$520)
  2. Charlie's Angels (FB$234)
  3. Midway (FB$143)
  4. Playing With Fire (FB$118)
  5. Last Christmas (FB$93)

Bonus Pick of the Week: "Last Christmas" (FB$93) It burned me last weekend ($11.4m) so of course I'm going to double down. I like the way it's priced and unless people home all weekend and binge Disney+ I think "Last Christmas" will have a decent enough hold to be competitive in the bonus hunt.

Coming Attractions

Just when beleaguered parents finally got that damn "Let it Go" out of their heads Disney is back with a vengeance with "Frozen II." Fortunately adults will also have a few other options next weekend in the form of the Chadwick Boseman action thriller "21 Bridges" and Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers in "It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood."

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