Box Office Guy

Patrick Reardon

Ouch. "Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)" bombed so hard last weekend they removed six words from its title. Things aren't looking much better for the newly rechristened "Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey" since four new titles will be competing for a piece of the pie over the course of this four day President's Day weekend.

The most promising rookie is "Sonic The Hedgehog," based on the classic SEGA video games from the 1990s. The film was originally supposed to come out last year but upon release of the film's first trailer fan boys got their Marvel boxer shorts in a bunch due to the design of Sonic's human-like teeth. I wish that last sentence was fictitious but this actually happened. And it was real enough for Paramount to bow down to a few overzealous "fans" to spend millions of dollars to redesign Sonic's teeth.

I grew up playing the Sonic video games yet I have zero desire to see this movie. Unlike other Sonic fans (i.e. the teeth complainers) I'm able to leave my childhood comfortably in the past. This one looks like it's clearly catering to little kids (as it should) but should also attract some kids who are over the age of 35. However, the FML pricing gods must know something I don't (which definitely happens on occasion) because they've priced "Sonic" at a Marvel-esque FB$645. In order to justify this cost the film will need to reach $55m-$60m range this weekend. That's approaching "LEGO Movie" money but I just don't see it. I think there's a chance it ends up closer to "Birds of Prey" opening money ($33m) than it does the higher end of these lofty box office projections. Perhaps there is a group of middle-aged fans out there in hiding that have waited a quarter of a century to see Sonic on the big screen? I'll believe it when I see it.

Up next is a genre shifting reboot of the "classic" television show "Fantasy Island." I say "classic" because there is nothing to revere with this Aaron Spelling ABC cheese-fest from the late 70s/early 80s. For those unfamiliar with the format of "Fantasy Island" here goes:

  • A prop plane approaches a beautiful Pacific island.

  • An exquisitely clad little person by the name of Tattoo (the incomparable Herve Villechaize) rings a bell and shouts, "The Plane! The Plane!" in a heavy French accent.

  • The mysterious Mr. Roarke (who may or may not have been an immortal god) welcomes his three guests to Fantasy Island.

  • The three guests get to literally live out their fantasies but it's not quite what they expect and Mr. Roarke teaches them valuable life lessons along the way.

  • Shampoo, rinse, and repeat to the tune of 154 episodes over seven seasons.

Look, there were only three channels backs then so something like this could pass for semi-high culture. ABC tried to reboot "Fantasy Island" in the late 1990s but it was a one-and-done thanks to more discerning viewers who had access to cable television and the internet. The project had lain dormant since then but is getting rebooted courtesy of Blumhouse Productions.

Blumhouse has wisely kept the barebones elements of the original concept (sadly Tattoo didn't make the cut in 2020) and have reformatted "Fantasy Island" as a youth oriented horror movie.

While I appreciate the fact that Blumhouse didn't treat "Fantasy Island" like a sacred cow by attempting something different, it also feels like a pretty standard 21st century horror movie. I don't think this film is anything that will transcend the genre (ala "Get Out"). I see "Fantasy Island" opening in the $12m-$14m range this weekend) which is lower then I'd need to be to trust it at FB$173. This film really needs to show me something in Thursday night previews in order for to consider it as a lineup anchor. But I'm selfishly hoping this film over-performs so we will someday get Blumhouse's take on "The Love Boat."

Also opening wide this weekend is the romantic drama "The Photograph." LaKeith Stanfield and Issa Rae head up an impressive predominantly black ensemble, which covers a string of intertwining love stories taking places throughout different time periods. While "Sonic" and (to a far lesser extent) "Fantasy Island" seem to be garnering most of the hype this weekend, "The Photograph" could put up surprising numbers. It's perfectly designed to take advantage of Valentine's Day and it could be headed to the mid-high teens this weekend.

However, the FML pricing gods are clearly on to the box office potential of "The Photograph" and have priced it at an unappealing FB$206. The only romantic drama with a predominantly black cast to clear $20m over President's Day weekend was "About Last Night" in 2014 ($27.8m opening) and that was fueled by the star power of Kevin Hart. "The Photograph" will be hard pressed to clear this threshold and I don't trust it to anchor my FML lineup.

Last and probably least amongst the newcomers this weekend is "Downhill," starring Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. The film is a remake of the dark Swedish dramedy "Force Majeure," and the premise seems tailor made for Ferrell and Dreyfus. The plot centers on a family on a ski vacation. When what appears to be an avalanche hits, the mom tries to protect her children while the dad cowardly seeks to only save himself. When the avalanche turns out to be a false alarm it completely turns their family dynamic upside down.

While I like the casting and the premise I'm not confident "Downhill" is going to catch on with mainstream audiences. There was a time when Ferrell would have easily been able to open this film based on his name alone but he is at a different point in his career. With the exception of family friendly "Daddy's Home" movies Ferrell has struggled over the better part of the last decade and has some major box office duds to show for it ("The House" $25.6m domestically, "Holmes & Watson" $30.6m domestically). And while Dreyfus is arguably the greatest comedic actress in the history of television she has virtually no box office track record. The $17.6m earned by her well-reviewed indie "Enough Said" in 2013 doesn't exactly help the prospects for "Downhill."

And it's not exactly like "Force Majeure" was a global blockbuster. The film only grossed a little over $4m worldwide. Between the unfamiliarity with the original, rough track record of late for the stars, dark comedic tone and amount of competition; I think "Downhill" is going to have a rough time this weekend. It's priced in a way (FB$48) where it only needs to reach the $5m mark to be viable, but I'm still not sure that's a safe bet.

As you can see I'm not entirely sold on any of the four newcomers. And despite the snazzy new title I don't think "Birds of Prey" is going to hold up particularly well. So that might lead me once again to a heavy dose of detectives Lowery and Burnett (with a heavy smattering of my bonus pick).

Weekend Picks

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

  1. Sonic The Hedgehog (FB$645)
  2. Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey (FB$218)
  3. The Photograph (FB$206)
  4. Fantasy Island (FB$173)
  5. Bad Boys For Life (FB$143)

Bonus Pick of the Week: "Parasite" (FB$50) This seems like a no-brainer once you factor in its historic Oscar romp this past Sunday night. However, I don't think this is a slam-dunk. My sole concern is that the film has been available on DVD and digital for several weeks. It should get a bump in theatrical attendance which should put it in the bonus hunt but this is far from a sure thing. But with no other obvious candidates since I believe the four rookies are all a bit overpriced "Parasite" is as good of a choice as anything else and has decent upside.

Coming Attractions

Next weekend's new releases feature a boy made out of wood ("Brahms: The Boy II") and a dog made of pixels ("Call of the Wild"). Hopefully Buck ends up looking less creepy than Brahms.

Follow me on Twitter @TheBoxOfficeGuy