Box Office Guy

Patrick Reardon

I didn't think it was possible but last weekend "Onward" had the lowest opening weekend of all time for a Pixar movie (when adjusting for inflation). I thought "The Good Dinosaur" was destined to hold on to that record for a long time. My guess is it was a combination of a perception that this was second tier Pixar (which is still better than most animated studios first tier) and growing anxiety about COVID-19. This weekend three new small/mid-sized movies will enter the fray in an attempt to carve out some box office business.

The most notable newcomer this weekend is "The Hunt" which was originally supposed to be released last September. The darkly comedic action/horror film depicts a group of coastal "elites" hunting a group of red state "deplorables" for sport. But after a pair of mass shootings this past August in Ohio and Texas, Universal made the decision to delay the release of the politically charged film. After six months Universal/Blumhouse are giving "The Hunt" another shot.

I believe this is a situation where the controversy surrounding the film is going to be more notable than the film itself. I can't help but think of the chaos leading up to the release of "The Interview." Remember "The Interview?" Not really? Vaguely? It was a gigantic story for about two weeks in December 2014.

For those who don't recall this controversy, "The Interview" was a satirical comedy where Seth Rogen and James Franco played a TV producer and talk show host respectively, who are sent to North Korea by the CIA in order to assassinate Kim Jong-Un. The film allegedly caused the Sony hacking scandal and the mere possibility of terrorism spooked the big theater chains into dropping the film. The film ended up getting a nominal theatrical release (thanks to independent theater chains) where it grossed just $6.1m domestically. However, Netflix quickly scooped up the streaming rights and "The Interview" eventually found a much bigger audience.

But at the end of the day the prevailing sentiment surrounding "The Interview" was something along the lines of, "we were almost on the brink of war over THAT?" "The Interview" was ultimately a harmless movie that had a few laughs, and it came and went fairly quickly. I have a feeling a similar fate awaits "The Hunt." A week from now I have a feeling people are going to say things like, "people thought we were going to have a civil war over THAT?" With a cost of FB$173 I think "The Hunt" needs to be able to clear the $10m mark to be a viable play and I think that's far from guaranteed. Unless the film shows a lot of life on Thursday night I think there is another rookie this weekend that will provide better value.

"I Still Believe" is the latest faith-based film from the Erwin Brothers. Prior to writing this column I hadn't seen a single ad for this film so let's go to the tape .

While I'm clearly not in the target audience for this film, you shouldn't underestimate it. The Erwin Brothers' previous film "I Can Only Imagine" opened up on this same weekend two years ago to the tune of $17.1m on its way to a solid domestic haul of $83.5m. This is even more impressive when you consider the fact that it only opened up in 1,627 theaters. "I Still Believe" is reportedly opening in an estimated 3,100+ theaters. With a cost of FB$220 it only needs to reach the teens to be a viable lineup anchor and this is the film I'm currently leaning towards.

The final new wide release this weekend is the action-thriller "Bloodshot" starring Vin Diesel. In "Bloodshot" the Diesel is going to have to reach deep into his thespian toolbox to play a deceased soldier who is reanimated with super powers. Unfortunately for Sony, Diesel is playing a character named ‘Ray Garrison' instead of ‘Dominic Toretto.'

When Diesel puts on his finest white tank top/gold cross combo and hits the NOS switch as Toretto, he's box office gold. Since rejoining the franchise that made his career in 2009 his "Fast" films have had an average opening weekend of $100.1m and an average domestic total of $236.5m. However when he leaves the "Fast" bubble, Diesel's box office track record isn't as rosy.

Since 2008 Diesel's non-Toretto movies have had an average opening weekend of $14.9m and an average domestic haul of $34.2m. That figure is bolstered by a pair of three-quels ("Riddick" and "xXx: Return of Xander Cage") which each made less than their Diesel-led predecessors. When removing Diesel's non-"Fast," non-franchise films from his recent resume these numbers drop to an average opening weekend of $10.2m and an average domestic gross of $25m. While "Bloodshot" is based on a popular comic book, it's definitely not a "Fast" movie and it's definitely not a franchise film. In order to be a relevant play in FML this you need to be confident that "Bloodshot" can sail past the $10m mark this weekend and I'm not sold that it can get there. I plan to watch the Thursday numbers carefully but this looks like it's headed to the bin of forgettable Vin Diesel movies. But fear not, Diesel will be back in a couple months in the role that made his famous (provided Universal doesn't postpone "F9" due to COVID-19 concerns).

Weekend Picks

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

  1. Onward (FB$377)
  2. I Still Believe (FB$220)
  3. The Hunt (FB$173)
  4. The Invisible Man (FB$174)
  5. Bloodshot (FB$201)

Bonus Pick of the Week: "I Still Believe" (FB$220) As mentioned earlier the Erwin Brothers' "I Can Only Imagine" set a pretty high box office bar, but "I Still Believe" doesn't have to leap over this bar to be a viable bonus contender. It only needs to bring in 76% of the business of "I Can Only Imagine" and it will attempt to do so with a theater count that is 48% larger. Seems like a pretty safe bet to me. The only thing standing in its way is concerns about COVID-19, but that should depress movie going across the board and won't discriminate against any particular film.

Coming Attractions

Shhhhhhhhhhh!!!!! Don't make a sound. Next weekend "A Quiet Place: Part II" will try to top the $50.2m opening weekend of its 2018 predecessor. Please turn off your cell phones (vibrate isn't good enough in a movie with this much silence) and leave noisy candy wrappers at home.

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