Box Office Guy

Patrick Reardon

H.G. Wells' 1897 novel "The Invisible Man" clearly made an impact on pop culture. Director James Whale's 1933 adaptation of the novel starring Claude Rains also clearly made an impact on pop culture (witness Adam Driver's Halloween costume in "Marriage Story"). But ever since then it's been tough sledding for invisible men on the big screen.

By my count there have been at least twenty movies dealing with the concept of invisibility and unfortunately they aren't very good. One of the notable misfires was the 1992 film "Memoirs of an Invisible Man" starring Chevy Chase & Darryl Hannah. The film was an awkward mix of sci-fi and comedy that tanked at the box office ($4.6m opening, $14.4m domestic total). The film was also a nail in the coffin of the "Chevy Chase: Leading Man" era and it also derailed the directing career of the legendary John Carpenter. Nothing good came out of this movie and it was eight years before Hollywood tried to crack the invisible code.

In 2000 director Paul Verhoeven was firmly an A-list director. He was hot off a decade of sci-fi hits ("Robocop," "Total Recall," Starship Troopers") and he was even able to weather the storm that was "Showgirls." Verhoeven set his sights on an edgy, R-rated invisible man story with "Hollow Man." But despite some dazzling visual effects (by 2000 VFX standards) and a couple memorable sequences, the film was a missed opportunity. Although it had a decent opening weekend ($26.4m) it faded quickly and only ended up grossing $73.2m domestically (on a pricy $90m+ budget). And it was also Verhoeven's last studio picture. I'm sensing a theme here.

In 2003 H.G. Wells' creation was a supporting role in the big budget mash-up "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen." The film was notable for three things:

  1. Bombing ($23.1m opening, $66.5m domestic gross).
  2. Being the last on screen appearance for the iconic Sean Connery (who much like Gene Hackman didn't go out of a high note).
  3. Was the last film directed by up and comer Stephen Norrington ("Blade").

The last one might not seem like a big deal but I was once in a meeting with someone who is held in very high esteem in the world of sci-fi films. He said, "Stephen Norrington is by far the most talented director I have ever seen." And it wasn't hyperbole. Apparently his experience on this film soured his relationship with Hollywood and we've been waiting for a follow up ever since (that we may never see).

But despite the inability to bring a good invisible man story to the big screen over the years (and wrecking a lot of careers in the process) I think that's all going to change this weekend thanks to Blumhouse, writer-director Leigh Whannell and Elisabeth Moss.

This weekend Whannell's "The Invisible Man" takes the basic concept of Wells' creation but leans heavily into the horror/mystery elements of the story. Moss plays a woman who believes her wealthy abusive husband has committed suicide. In order to claim the millions he left for her she needs to prove that she is mentally competent. Which might be hard considering her husband isn't really dead, has found a way to make himself invisible and is hell-bent on tormenting her (possibly to death).

Although the film was made on a budget Blumhouse and Whannell have proven that they always get the most out of their budgets. And while Moss isn't a star on the big screen (yet) fans of "The Handmaid's Tale" and "Mad Men" know she has the acting chops to carry a film like this. But most importantly I think this film will succeed because it's giving audiences something different. Granted there have been dozens of invisible men stories before but this feels like a genuinely fresh take on the material that feels relevant in 2020, especially in the shadow of the #MeToo movement.

And so far in 2020 the only films to really catch on with audiences have been a sequel to a franchise that started twenty-five years ago ("Bad Boys For Life") and a live-action video game adaptation aimed at little kids ("Sonic the Hedgehog"). Audiences are starved for something fresh the same way they were in February 2017 when "Get Out" surprised audiences ($33.4m opening weekend). I think "The Invisible Man" will have a similar opening in the low $30s and I believe it's a viable lineup anchor this weekend.

Elsewhere in theaters this weekend is "My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising." If you have no idea what this is, you're not alone. I had no idea either and had to do a bit of quick research on this title.

Apparently this is an anime sequel based on a popular manga. The original film had a $1.4m opening in 2018 (in just 508 theaters) and ended up grossing $5.4m domestically (and obviously did better overseas with $22m. It seems like a real reach for a film that only grossed $27.5m worldwide to justify a sequel but here we are. Normally I wouldn't pay much attention to this film but the FML pricing gods have priced it at FB$137. Which means in order to be a viable play this weekend it needs to clear (at least) the $7m threshold. This aggressive pricing is clearly a reaction to "Dragon Ball Super: Broly" which grossed $20.2m over its first five days in January 2019 (it grossed $9.8m for the FSS period).

The good news for FML players is that "Heroes Rising" is following the same release schedule as "Broly" (it came out on Wednesday February 26th) so they'll have a two day sample size at their disposal when determining whether or not its worth playing. I'm erring on the side of caution for now but will be watching the Wednesday/Thursday numbers carefully. If it looks like it can equal (or top) "Broly" its probably worth playing.

Weekend Picks

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

  1. The Invisible Man (FB$501)
  2. Sonic The Hedgehog (FB$285)
  3. The Call of the Wild (FB$251)
  4. My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising (FB$137)
  5. Bad Boys For Life (FB$68)

Bonus Pick of the Week: "The Invisible Man" (FB$501) It will cost you more than half of your FML budget but I think it's worth it. Based on the good early reviews, timeliness of the subject matter and audiences starved for a good horror movie; I think "The Invisible Man" will over-perform and capture the bonus this weekend.

Coming Attractions

Next weekend the first of two 2020 Pixar films arrives in theaters. "Onward" will attempt to keep Pixar's stellar box office track record in tact (they get a mulligan for "The Good Dinosaur"). Elsewhere in theaters arts imitates life as Ben Affleck plays a broken down alcoholic who finds redemption in coaching a high school basketball team in the "The Way Back."

Follow me on Twitter @TheBoxOfficeGuy