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Weekend Estimates by Happy Harvey Exit Day Klady

Sunday, October 15th, 2017

Weekend Estimates 2017-10-15 at 10.41.51 AM

The Story of this weekend will not be box office, but the end of a box office master falling under the weight of his own cruelty. Happy Death Day indeed. Blumhouse’s remarkable 2017 run of originals continues. Jackie Chan’s first live-action wide release in seven years does reasonably well. Neither Marshall nor Professor Marston find a big crowd. But The Florida Project (expanding to 33 screens) and Human Flow (opening on three screens) each deliver more than $12k per screen.

It felt good to be chewing on some box office this morning. Normal work. But then I followed a link on the MCN front page to another Weinstein story… and another… and now I am back down the rabbit hole.

I don’t have much to add since yesterday. The expansion of The Florida Project went nicely. Victoria & Abdul is having a nice run. Tom of Finland opened well one for Kino. Goodbye Christopher Robin seems to be ready to say goodbye before anyone says hello.

Three of the five wide releases next weekend are strong niche plays that could surprise and Geostorm is just the kind of crap that occasionally (usually directed by Roland Emmerich) breaks out to the shock of everyone. Or maybe it will be four movies opening in the teens (although only one Madea has ever opened under $20m).

See you next Saturday.

Friday Estimates by Happy Klady Day

Saturday, October 14th, 2017

Friday Estimates 2017-10-14 at 9.55.34 AM

Happy Death Day will open better than any film did last October (as BR49 did) and marks the third Blumhouse original to open well in 2017. It’s the best horror opening in October since 2014’s Annabelle (via Team Wan). Their only sequel is an Amityville at Dimension… we’ll see what the opening there looks like.

It’s worth pointing out that Universal has had a relatively low-key, but kick-ass 2017. The only loser was The Mummy, which did just over $400 million worldwide, making it a huge disappointment, stalling the Universal Monsters effort indefinitely, but still not losing a lot of money for the studio. The three Blumhouse pictures have performed better than anyone could have imagined. The two franchise movies, FF and Despicable, each passed $1 billion worldwide. And the “middle movies,” like Girl Trip, Fifty Shades Darker and A Dog’s Life were all money makers. The only other mark on the studio’s year was the release of The Great Wall, which was for all intents and purposes an output deal.

The Foreigner will be Jackie Chan’s best domestic opening on-camera since 2010’s The Karate Kid. It also has a good chance of being STX’s #3 all-time launch, though the company expects to beat this number twice as this year goes on, with Bad Moms 2 and Molly’s Game. Some might say I am looking at the glass half full, bit I would say the glass here is three-quarters full and people shouldn’t obsess on the empty quarter.

Marshall didn’t find a lot of takers,  heading to around $3,500 per screen for the weekend on 821 screens. Movies about history may be a bigger challenge than anyone expects in the exhausting Trump era, with endless fresh meat thrown into the news cycle.

Even weaker was the launch of Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, a title that can only be described as uninspiring. Bad titles are becoming an Annapurna distribution thing. I haven’t seen the movie. Would have. Fan of the director. Never happened. Nor did the interview that was pitched to me with the director. (Shrug) No idea what they were thinking with this date. Really odd screen count for a non-specialty movie. Feels like a dump, but would Annapurna be dumping its second release as a distributor? (shrug)

The 140-minute Ai Weiwei doc, Human Flow, was Friday’s box office winner in exclusive release, on three screens. Heading to $15k per for the weekend. Great, powerful movie. Just heart and truth and humanity.

Blade Runner 2049 didn’t fall off a cliff… but didn’t hang on the edge like it’s going pull itself back up, either.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle slowed faster after opening than expected. While I found Eggsy’s relationship charming, the lack of a love story probably hurt audience reaction. And the loss of Channing Tatum from the co-star level slot made the movie more complicated, and the lack of Tatum’s goofy charm was evident. Still, $300 million worldwide probably makes a threequel, with Tatum, inevitable.

American Made is another Tom Cruise movie that audiences seem to like more than they liked the ad campaign (aka opening day).

Weekend Estimates

Sunday, October 8th, 2017

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BYO Blade Runner 2049 Spoiler Space

Saturday, October 7th, 2017

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Conversation after the jump… for the protection of those who haven’t seen it…
(more…)

Friday Estimates

Saturday, October 7th, 2017

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Three new movies, but the only one anyone will remember being in theaters is Blade Runner 2049… and it will struggle to get to $40 million. With It shattering The a September record with an over $100m opening, it seems disappointing. It shouldn’t be. It is about what was expected. Thing is, Blade Runner, people forget, was a bit of a flop. Fourteenth best opening in 1982… not a great box office hold… a classic that wasn’t a hit 35 years – 2 generations – ago.

$35m-$40m is plenty to create a sample for word of mouth. And o e hopes for BR2049 that this is the beginning, not the traditional launch and steady drop.

I’m not a huge fan of the campaign for this film, but I don’t think there was a lot more opening weekend money as the result of a better campaign. Expect to see more of the women in 2nd weekend spots, focusing on what is in this movie instead of just the iconography plus Gosling.

In worse movies… Mountains Between Us is a bad movie, sadly. Great talent involved, in front of and behind the camera. But that script! And filmmakers forget, the harsh reality of making a movie in real weather only matters to audiences after they are fully engaged. It is not special in and of itself. Winslet and Elba are both cast against type, which would have been more interesting if they flipped characters. But instead, you get two actors you love who manage to be boring and generally sexless in what is, ultimately, a love story. Not easy to take the heat out of those two on camera. The whole crew really killed themselves to make this film on location. Could have been on a stage for all it matters in the end product. Only the dog will be well remembered. $9 million and out.

My Little Pony probably comes in at #2. The value of the franchise will out, even with a kinda dump.

In limited, The Florida Project will do over $30k per on 4. Strong. Not world beating. But it would be great to see the film build effectively on that. A24 will have to count on young people finding the film outside of the biggest markets.

Weekend Estimates: American IT

Sunday, October 1st, 2017

Weekend Estimates 2017-10-01 at 9.57.57 AM copy

Tom Cruise opened his movie, but It and Kingsman 2 apparently held too well for him to win the weekend in a tight three-way race, all three films estimating within $200k of one another. Only one film managed over $6000 per screen in the Top 25 for the weekend (Victoria & Abdul). Not pretty. All eyes now move to Blade Runner 2049, with solid tracking, but not at blockbuster level. Can that change with rave reviews?

And the ship keeps tossing in the bay.

Last year’s last-weekend-of-September openings, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and Deepwater Horizon, wildly outpaced the American Made and Flatliners launches, $49 million to $24 million. The three big holdovers outpaced the ones last year, but not by a margin even close to the disparity in new opens.

Next weekend will slide the other way, with Blade Runner 2019 outdoing all three openers from last year and holdovers improving their position some.

But this constant measuring of one year vs the next is irrelevant. Yes, studios would love for everything to be up, Up, UP! But the endless hum of negativity is a load of crap. (If it bleeds, it leads.) But making the case for death and danger in the third weekend of a film that is already the biggest September grosser ever, but which will soon double the previous record, seems petulant.

There is nothing surprising about the mediocre openings for either American Made or Flatliners. Both were oddballs. Both a marketing hook that anyone, now or 5 years ago, might have found compelling. Miscasting in one. Working against type (Cruise in a wacky comedy that his character seems not to drive) in the other.

It’s pretty remarkable how much Kingsman 2 is moving like Kingsman, about a million off after two weekends. It should be about halfway to the original’s international result at the end of this weekend.

Lego Ninjago is as quiet a flop as it was an entry into the box office. But make no mistake, it is one of the most significant flops of the year… not because of how much it will lose, but because it continues and accelerates the franchise spiral.

Flipside… American Assassin may only gross $40m domestic, but that is a Top 5 film for CBS Films and the movie should be a moneymaker, all revenue streams considered.

Victoria & Abdul is the strongest player in limited right now and the only film on the entire chart to get over $10k per screen on more than a single screen. They are building a romance with a demo that means awards.

Battle of the Sexes is fading, with a nice weekend, but not a growth weekend.

Brad’s Status deserves better than it’s gotten. Not for everyone, but for more people than it’s found. Ben Stiller is having a career year as an actor, but now it’s up to the team behind The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) to make sure someone sees either performance.

Dunkirk may be gone from the chart next week… $187 million domestic is a sensational number for that film.

Friday Estimates by Slow-Cruising Flatliner Klady

Saturday, September 30th, 2017

Friiday Estimates 2017-09-30 at 10.33.27 AM

Tom Cruise Opens Movie

That should be the headline.

American Made isn’t having a great opening. But it opened. And there was little on offer other than Tom Cruise smiling. Not even Tom Cruise running. Certainly not enough story. The ads almost told us that it was Tom Cruise making a Burt Reynolds comedy, albeit without Dom DeLuise, Paul Williams, Pat McCormick and Charles Nelson Reilly.

I missed the screenings, but I am curious… mostly because Doug Liman is capable of true genius (and real crap). The film, I assume from the ads, was meant to look like a 70s film and will have that vibe. The choice interests me. And whatever made this story interesting to both Cruise and Liman interests me.

But from Universal, which is usually really, really good at telling you what is coming… it feels like a dump… like they are still upset about The Mummy or something. And I have zero inside info on this. Haven’t asked. Haven’t squeezed. Really, haven’t thought about it much until this very moment. But if I actually pay to see this movie this weekend, I am sure to be surprised, because all I know is that Cruise plays a pilot, smiles a lots, and transports drugs, eventually getting in over his head. “A pilot lands work for the CIA and as a drug runner in the south during the 1980s.” At least if you watch the trailer, you know there is a hot blonde wife and Domhnall Gleeson, who you know will probably end up being the bad guy.

Oy.

But Cruise opened it. And for all of the downs in the last 11 years, starting with Mission: Impossible III, which lost enough money for Paramount that it broke their since-mended relationship, the guy still opens movies. $17 million ain’t $20 million, but still… if I was Universal, given what they sold – and maybe they maximized what they had, haven’t seen the movie and I don’t trust Rotten Tomatoes scores to tell me otherwise – they should be celebrating on Lankershim this weekend.

(Side Note: There is actually a Lankershim family (Bavarian, jewish) and Toluca used to be called “Lankershim.” The paterfamilias arrived in California in 1854 and by 1870 had massive land holdings from San Francisco to San Diego. He also converted to Baptist. When you are that wealthy, you could afford a better name. But I guess when you are that rich, you can impose your odd name on the entire valley. The Lankershims’ daughter, Susanna, married Isaac Newton Van Nuys… no relation to the genius… but many still live on his farm.)

Less fortunate than UniCruise was Rothman’s Flatliners, which seems to have forgotten why the original was a modest hit in 1990. Julia Roberts was in Pretty Woman a few months before it opened. She was engaging and disengaging in sexual relations with Kiefer Sutherland. Kevin Bacon was still in line to be the next leading man of Hollywood, in spite of setbacks. Oliver Platt was funny and identifiable. Even Billy Baldwin was maintaining the illusion that he could be a major movie star, the hotter younger brother of Alec, the star of that year’s The Hunt For Red October.

The first Flatliners opened to $10 million in 1990.

Put Chris Pratt and Dakota Johnson and Lupita Nyong’o and Tom Holland in Flatliners 2017 and you have a movie that cost 1/2 of what Passengers cost and does 5x what this Flatliners ever had any chance of doing. (I don’t expect anyone to be able to have seen Tiffany Haddish coming and cast her as the Oliver Platt 18 months ago.)

I love Ellen Page, as an actress and a human being. But she doesn’t open movies. Nor does Diego Luna. Nor does anyone fantasize about them having sex. Nor did they make the movie about Ellen’s lead character being gay and having a hot girlfriend. Nor do we know anything about Nina Dobrev as a star other than she is pretty. And Kiersey Clemons is buried by the rest of the cast (while she might be a real opener someday.)

The story of Flatliners remains fool’s gold for movies, since you can’t explain it without giving it away. It is the kind of piece that would be great as a $5 million Blumhouse movie that sells itself on the shock beats then overdelivers. But as a $20 million studio movie without stars that open… just an exercise in masturbation. Movie cold break even somewhere around $50 million worldwide. But every movie takes a lot of personpower at a studio. And… sigh…

Battle of the Sexes found its limitations yesterday in its first expansion. $3 million weekend. $2,500 per screen on 1,213. Not a flop. Can’t find a great comp. Hell or High Water may be the closest in the last couple of years, but it did $3.6m on 909 screens for a $3,908 per-screen. Battle is behind that. $20 million domestic total seems like the max.

Lucky, the last Harry Dean Stanton starrer, doing nicely for Magnolia on one screen.

Why is Mark Felt: Man Who Brought Down the White House called Mark Felt: Man Who Brought Down the White House??? Feels like you are going to watch a filmstrip, not a movie. Was every iteration of Deep Throat taken already? I guess Deep Throat/Big Schlong would be disrespectful to everyone… except maybe Liam Neeson. But silliness aside, this goes right on the shelf next to the Valerie Plame movie (from Doug Liman) as impossible-to-market, overly literal historical dramas.

Review-ish, Blade Runner 2049 (no spoilers)

Friday, September 29th, 2017

blade-runner-2049-behind-the-scenes

This will be brief (for me, at least).

I don’t want to ruin a single surprise in this remarkable film.

Villeneuve, Scott, Deakins, Hampton Fancher, Michael Green, and a big parade of filmmakers of every shape, size, gender and race have delivered a true sequel, which is also not a sequel as they tend to work with movies.

It is Aliens to Alien… or, ironically, Blade 2 to Blade.

Many of the old pieces are there, albeit in this story they have aged 30 years. But this is not, as Blade Runner was, a film noir set in a dystopian future. There is some dystopia. But the opening crawl gives us some positive news as well. And unless you really like Las Vegas, the world is not as grim as the first time around. And it is definitively not a film noir. Denis Villeneuve, as he has before, finds a more current reflection of well-established genre and takes it somewhere new, both saluting what we love and putting it in the rear view.

At the center of this film is, as expected, Ryan Gosling, who is perfect and not overly solicitous (which tends to leave some ignoring the deft care he puts into his work). But unlike the original, which had literally strong women who were somewhat objectified, our lead is surrounded by women of power… and in some cases, physical power. Each of the three women is complex and an important part of the emotional puzzle of the film. (Technically, I don’t think the film passes the Bechdel test… which is a limit of the Bechdel test in defining films in which women have a strong place.)

And as you know, the film brings back Harrison Ford’s Deckard as well. It turns out to be one of his most layered and rangy performances.

And oh, the setpieces.

The muthaf***ing setpieces!!!

There is a parade of wildly imaginative, beautifully rendered, quite different setpieces. I have my favorites (just gonna say… broken projector… you will understand later) and you will have your favorites. What seems easy becomes complex and what is complex may seem easy.

Villeneuve, Deakins and Dennis Gassner make sets and light and atmosphere into characters a number of times in this film… and it is glorious. It’s not Kubrickian… but it has some of that texture of hyper-reality that Kubrick brought to so many of his scenes.

In the cutting room, Joe Walker brought it all together in spite of serious challenges, especially super long beats that are not “how long a shot can I do” stunts, but need their space. You can feel that the freedom of CG must have made many things harder, leaving to many choices in post. Hard to explain what I mean without getting into specific scenes. But when the edit of what is shot in camera gets matched to a created CG element, it takes a special skill to cut subtly on emotion. And Walker, with Villeneuve nearby, does amazing work here.

Acting is pretty much great, top to bottom. Ana de Armas has a tough role to not allow to become frivolous and gets it just right. Jared Leto also has a really tough line to walk and with the help of some beautiful concept work, brings richness to a cipher. Sylvia Hoeks is like a young Marcia Gay Harden who can also be very physically dangerous. I don’t want to tell you who gives the film’s first unexpected acting turn because you deserve to be happily surprised by the subtly and skill of the performance as I was. Avoid the imdb page if you want to stay pure.

This movie grew on me and continues to grow on me.

One thing that really sticks: “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” That title is embodied in this film. That isn’t really what Blade Runner was. There were elements of it, but it was busy with other ideas. BR2049 feels almost like Villeneuve and Ridley Scott had a four-day conversation and figured out what moved Denis about the source material, about the original film, and about 2017… and then brought the greatest film artists in the world together to breathe life into it.

Don’t think about it too much. Try not to read reviews or articles about the film. And while you watch… and just after you watch… deep breaths. Let it bloom in your mind and your heart.

We’ll talk about it again…

Weekend Estimates by The Klady Circle of It

Sunday, September 24th, 2017

Wknd Estimates 2017-09-24 at 10.24.28 AM

Kingsman: The Golden Circle comes up with the lower end of expectations, still scoring the fifth best September opening of all time as this month stands to break most every September record. It continues to hold well, given the big numbers, as it positions Itself to pass $300 million domestic next weekend. Lego Ninjago fights to just over $20 million, which is a small genre franchise kind of number, not the machine WB was counting on. Friend Request, conservatively marketed by Entertainment Studios, won’t make back that small marketing number, much less acquisition costs. And Stronger gets a fighter’s chance with some audience sampling, but the future for the film is blurry at best.

Not only is this September going to be the highest-grossing September of all time by 15% or more (we’ll see how next weekend goes), but it is already the highest-grossing September-for-September releases by 6%, the first time September releases have ever generated $400 million during the month.

And mind you, this will be the biggest September ever in spite of the worst holdover numbers from the summer in more than a decade (I stopped checking with 2006). In those previous 11 years, there was no holdover from the summer of less than $230 million in September. We’re at $186 million as of this weekend. Holdovers added between $10m and $13m this weekend.

Will September make up for August? No.

But if, hypothetically, It had opened in August and done similar business, that single title would have made 2017 the third-best August ever. And September, depending on next weekend’s openers, would, in theory, have been down, but not dramatically. This doesn’t make 2017 a barn-burner at the box office. But it might offer perspective.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle didn’t get the hoped-for bump from two years of post-theatrical excitement around the original, but the sequel did open better than the original. I enjoyed the sequel, but not as much as the original. The reviews deserve their own place in memory, reading like a parade of reviewers exhausted by overpraising It and defending mother!, looking for something to unload on. Negative is one thing. But reading through those reviews is like being at a divorce proceeding. Machinegun briefcases, men in meat grinders, characters brought back from the dead… that needs a whuppin’! Lots of whining about too many star actors… but the surprise to me was the key role given to Pedro Pascal, who was great in “Narcos” and “Game of Thrones,” but felt out of his star range here.

Most film criticism is straight. Good, bad or indifferent, opinions seem direct and to the point. I write this two or three times a year. And a couple times a year, a couple movies get too much love and blowback on some film is as inevitable as the sun rising. I don’t think it is a conspiracy or that anyone talks about the reflex. It just happens… like the seasons.

The next instance will be in the heat of award season.

Regardless, Kingsman 2 will land amongst the Top 10 September grossers ever.

The Lego Ninjago Movie, not so much. A $21 million opening for a major studio animated family movie is weak. The titles considered “misses” in animation recently all opened to more. As the father of a 7-year-old, I know that Ninjago is a niche in the Lego universe. My son wants to see the movie, but he’s not rabid. And a lot of his friends, especially girls, have no interest. Since Ninjago has zero footprint with anyone who was a Lego fan five years or more ago and no footprint as anything else besides as a Lego brand, I’m not sure why they made the movie. As a direct-to-streaming title or for Cartoon Network, okay. But this title was never going to do anything good for the Lego movie brand… unless it was as special as Lord & Miller’s The Lego Movie. Making the Ninjago movie was kinda like making the next Justice League spin-off about Cyborg.

Byron Allen’s Entertainment Studios, getting a rep around town for being persnickety, tried another low-budget assault on the majors with Friend Request and missed badly. $840 per screen for any opening leaves people sleepless. Back to the drawing board.

Lionsgate took Stronger to an odd number of screens (574) and got an odd number per screen ($2.990). Neither fish nor fowl, the distributor will look hard at every metric to decide how much farther they want to chase this film.

Searchlight took Battle of the Sexes out on a more traditional 21 screens, looking to build an audience. $25k per is a strong open. The relevant comps from last year are Hidden Figures and Hell or High Water. And that is the question that will be bouncing around for the next couple of weekends at Searchlight. It was the question coming out of the festivals. Which is it?

The other awards season launch this weekend was Focus’ Victoria & Abdul. Four screens. $38k per. Lion or Loving? Judi Dench is getting a Best Actress nod. The film has a serious shot at Best Picture nods and more.

Friday Estimates by Kladyman: The Golden Excel Chart

Saturday, September 23rd, 2017

Friday Estimates 2017-09-23 at 9.19.56A

23 Weeks To Oscar: Actors!!!

Tuesday, September 19th, 2017

I feel the need to dip my toe in, as I keep seeing elaborate pieces, probably not intended as ad bait, but keep hope alive beyond reason for a lot of distributors/potential advertisers.

(I hate publishing these because no matter how long I research, I miss someone obvious.)

This is a good year for movies. It may be the most boring Oscar race in living memory. Why? Because even though the answers are not 100% clear in any category… the reason no one has taken “absolutely winning” position is not a lack of great performances, but a distinct lack of “must-win” candidates.

As has been the norm in recently, Best Actress is the most intensely populated category.

It’s also the category I’m most comfortable picking a Top 5 today.

Jessica Chastain – Molly’s Game
Sally Hawkins – The Shape of Water
Francis McDormand – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Saoirse Ronan – Lady Bird
Meryl Streep – The Post

Threatening to knock someone off in that top group are two yet-unseen turns and one we’ve seen and Academy members will love.

Judi Dench – Victoria & Abdul
Michelle Williams – All The Money In The World
Kate Winslet – Wonder Wheel

And there are strong performances that would have to find a big spark to be seriously in play.

Annette Bening – Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
Jennifer Lawrence – mother!
Carey Mulligan – Mudbound
Margot Robbie – I, Tonya
Emma Stone – Battle of the Sexes

Ironically, what is great in Lead is weak in Supporting. There is no one who comes to the category without question marks. No one feels close to locked in, except for lack of competition (which is not to diminish the work, but just how few Supporting females roles of note there are this season).

These two seem to be the most likely nominees…

Laurie Metcalf – Lady Bird
Alison Janney – I, Tonya

Here are five yet unseen…

Carrie Coon – The Post
Penélope Cruz – Murder on the Orient Express (Bergman role?)
Rebecca Ferguson – The Greatest Showman
Sarah Paulson – The Post
Juno Temple – Wonder Wheel

And three excellent performances we have seen, that would not normally be expected to make it… but under the circumstances…

Hong Chau – Downsizing
Tatiana Maslany – Stronger
Hannah Murray – Detroit
Zoe Kazan – The Big Sick

Seriously… this category is brutal. I would love if it all became obvious quickly… but that doesn’t seem likely.

Best Actor is not nearly as loaded as Actress.

Gary Oldman is in for Darkest Hour.

Daniel Day Lewis has won the Oscar for 2 of his last 3 films and been nominated for 3 of his last 5 (Nine the only heavily-touted miss). If he isn’t in for his second Paul Thomas Anderson film, it will be a shock.

These two are historic beloveds who have a bit of room.

Denzel Washington – Roman J. Israel, Esq.
Tom Hanks – The Post

These four all give performances that many love… but all four movies offer a challenge to awards consultants making the argument. Wind River could get as high as $40m domestic, but none of the others are likely to get close.

Timothee Chalamet – Call Me by Your Name
James Franco – The Disaster Artist
Jake Gyllenhaal – Stronger
Jeremy Renner – Wind River

These four are in what seem more commercial movies, albeit mid-range grossers, but could be embraced by voters more easily than critics.

Kenneth Branagh – Murder on the Orient Express
Bryan Cranston – The Upside
Kevin Hart – The Upside
Hugh Jackman – The Greatest Showman

And the wild cards… Steve Carrell and Bryan Cranston and Laurence Fishburne in Last Flag Flying. Opening New York is a bad sign. Being Amazon’s first distribution title is anxiety-provoking. But let’s keep hope alive.

And Supporting Actor is loaded with veterans – and relative newcomers – who will be duking it out through the season. I could make an argument for a few of these guys ahead of the rest of the group… well, Mendelson and Rylance… but the rest, all deserving… but who the hell knows?

Willem Dafoe – The Florida Project
Eddie Izzard – Victoria & Abdul
Jason Mitchell – Mudbound
Dustin Hoffman – The Meyerowitz Stories
Ben Mendelson – Darkest Hour
Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Mark Rylance – Dunkirk
Michael Shannon – The Shape of Water
Algee Smith – Detroit
Kevin Spacey – All The Money In The World
Michael Stuhlbarg – Came Me By Your Name
Patrick Stewart – Logan

Is there an explosive supporting role in The Post or The Greatest Showman or the Eastwood or PTA or could Fishburne go Supporting… etc. All possible.

It’s worth noting that only 6 people of color are on this page… Penélope Cruz, Hong Chau, Denzel Washington, Kevin Hart, Jason Mitchell and Algee Smith. Odds are that in the most likely scenario, 1 of these 6 actually gets a nomination. 2 would be a surprise, really… possible, but a surprise.

It is just the way it is. Detroit didn’t take off. Mudbound is a Netflix day-n-date release. The Upside got panned at TIFF. And I am taking a flyer on who might emerge from Murder on the Orient Express.

Denzel is Denzel… but he doesn’t always get nominated either.

Things might get heated after all the joy of inclusion at The Emmys. The Oscar composition is slowly changing, but that doesn’t mean that, overnight, Academy membership is going to embrace race as a political statement. I don’t believe they did that last season and I don’t believe they will this year.

I believe that the evolution of these races will be, 90% of it, the movies and the relationships built by the talent in the next 3 months. Same as it ever was.

(Corrected 9/19 for error in not including Hong Chau on the list of “people of color.”)

Weekend EstimITes by American klady!

Sunday, September 17th, 2017

Weekend Estimates 2017-09-17 at 11.54.09 AM
What more can I write about this weekend?

If you want to know where to place the It hold, which is excellent, it is hammocked by Beauty & The Beast (better) and Guardians 2 (not quite as excellent). Not close to the amazing Wonder Woman drop (43%). Amongst $100m openers, it’s right around Avengers and Dark Knight, albeit from a smaller opening number.

In other words, pretty much as surprising and excellent as the opening.

Doing less than one-quarter of the leader, American Assassin opened okay.

And the fight over mother! seems clear. Some want to defend the film’s aesthetic honor and blame anything else they can for the weak box office. Some people want to throw the film in the bin. I am waiting to see the film again before reviewing (this week, I hope). But I think both sides have a point and both sides are ridiculous. I find the film of much more value than The Trash Bin Club. But the conspiracy theories against the greatest artist of our time folks… love Darren… he’s not Kubrick… not close. Ironically, the movie is about, in part, some of the people defending Darren’s vision… and not in a pretty way.

Happy to see Frederick Wiseman in the $10k per-screen club this weekend. Also there, Brad’s Status.

Next weekend should be more interesting.

Friday Estimates by Kladywise

Saturday, September 16th, 2017

friday estimates serpt 15 2017
What do you say when the second weekend of a movie breaks the month’s former record for the best opening, even in that month? Holy It!

Even The Passion of the Christ didn’t do that. Nor did The Avengers. If you take American Sniper‘s second wide weekend as its second weekend, it accomplished this in January 2015, grossing $64.6 million vs top opener Ride Along, which had opened to $41.5m in 2014.

To be honest, I still personally do not understand why It is such a phenomenon, though I do understand why such a huge opening becomes a social vacuum that sucks in a lot of ticket sales the next weekend. People tend to personalize box office analysis in a way that it isn’t personal. I am happy for WB and for exhibitors and all the fans who are so passionate about this film. And on a personal note, I suspect that the sequel, which will actually be based on the book and not just made up as a cash grab, could be better than the first film of the franchise.

The core principle of great box office success, in this era as in the four decades since Star Wars, is that the will of the ticket buyer overcomes all rules. Star Wars in December, which didn’t come close to Avatar’s first-run total, expanded the idea of an opening weekend in that month. Deadpool created a new front in February. Alice in Wonderland took March a giant leap forward. Spider-Man and later, The Avengers set standards in their day. And now, It.

And even if Kingsman: The Golden Circle opens to $50 million next weekend, which would have set a record for September were it not for It, it will now look small. Falsely, but perception is perception.

The all-time record for September grosses, overall, is $627 million in 2015. It alone is on pace to gross about half of that. (High grosser in 2015 was Hotel Transylvania 2 with $170 million.) With Kingsman and Lego coming, September should smash the old record and probably top the best October ($758 million) as well.

On top of this, this will be the third month of 2017 to record the highest-ever overall grossers, with March and April both the best ever to date. That three best-ever months out of nine months of the year. And February was the third-best February ever, missing the top of that list by $35 million with $783 million in revenue.

So yes, August sucked. It was horrible. And a great big part of that was that the majors released just TWO movies widely in the entire month. It’s a shocking figure and the only real answer to “What happened to August?” There were six wide major studio releases in August 2016. Six in 2015. Eight in 2014.

And what really makes no sense… August 2016 was the highest-grossing August ever (inc holdovers from earlier in the summer). So there was nothing to scare studios out of the month.

If you really think about it, given that the majors released one-third of their normal August output this year, August did pretty well. I know. It’s perverse. But to make up for the lack of product – and this is not an exaggeration – either The Dark Tower or Annabelle: Creation would have had to have been the highest-grossing August release, and by a lot… Say, $500 million domestic. (Guardians of the Galaxy did $333m.) And they still would have needed more help than they got from late-July entries The Emoji Movie, Atomic Blonde and Detroit.

2017 was running roughly 5% behind 2016 at the domestic box office going into this month. That number should be cut in half (or more) by the end of September.

American Assassin will be in the Top 3 all-time of CBS Films (now distributed by Lionsgate) openings. I saw the movie a while ago, to do an interview with Michael Cuesta that never happened. I like Michael Cuesta. He’s a long way from L.I.E. and Twelve these days. He’s become a commercial director. Most famous for launching “Homeland,”this film is an upgraded double episode. Entertaining and expected. Always a pleasure to watch Michael Keaton work (though he needs a big comic role about now… his immature energy is much desired).

It’s an interesting moment to notice that although Summit hasn’t been killing it lately, they are still the stronger part of Lionsgate output. Since Hunger Games ended, one Madea and Power Rangers (output deal) are the only straight LG films to open over $20m while the LG/Summit films have seven such launches. The reasons why can be disputed. But it is.

Of course, American Assassin won’t open to $20m either. The CBS Films experiment only ever had one of those openings… and just barely.

Opening at $3 million and likely falling farther as the weekend progresses, mother! tried to squeeze a studio opening out of a ripe arthouse orange. Paramount made magic with Paranormal Activity, but every advantage that Paramount hoped to have with this film has backfired on them.

Just two years after the end of The Hunger Games, which she eclipsed by sheer star power, Jennifer Lawrence’s future as one of the three top movie stars in the world is under serious reconsideration. Passengers struggled to $300 million worldwide, which still left it bleeding red. Lawrence did X-Men: Apocalypse, having to know that she would have the entire franchise hoisted onto her shoulders… and it, too, wildly underperformed (and probably cost Jim G his Century City job). And Joy, her first of the three post-Hunger outings, was widely seen as a disappointment (and in the red).

Some may scream “SEXISM” about now… but it’s not. The Rule of Three is real and it applies to all genders, races, etc. Tom Cruise has been here. Dwayne Johnson, arguably the biggest star in the world right now, hasn’t been up long enough to fall. Will Smith is still trying to find his mega-movie-star feet since Men in Black III underperformed ($625m worldwide).

I don’t know what advice to offer Jennifer Lawrence. And she certainly isn’t required to be one of the biggest movie stars in the world forever. But the franchise thing keeps turning up. It has saved Tom Cruise. Mission:Impossible III laid him low… but Mission: Impossible IV made him relevant again, and the franchise is now a successful backstop against missteps (American Made, which is probably better than the ads suggest… the next one?).

Red Sparrow is an important film for her now. On a commercial level, Charlize couldn’t pull it off. Taraji Henson is next (January 12, Proud Mary). Red Sparrow has to kick both of those films’ ass. Needs a $30 million launch. Because there is this stat, which I found shocking… J-Law has no $20m openings that aren’t X-Men or Hunger Games. None. Seven $50 million-plus openings in six years is extremely compelling… but the 0-for outside of those two franchises is a real thing and a very real thing to studios getting the $20 million for Lawrence’s work. If you needed an explanation as to why she signed up for Dark Phoenix… that’s it.

If Red Sparrow blows up, Lawrence can make a couple mother!s between episodes and all will be “forgiven.” Or she becomes a really beloved 30something actress who is stuck waiting to relaunch her career as a movie mother. Or she gives up on commercial cinema for a while and makes a run of movies with great indie filmmakers from around the world. Or… who knows? But the ebb and flow of this industry is brutal. And if Red Sparrow does Atomic Blonde business, the “Whither J-Law?” stories will begin.

That brings us to Reese Witherspoon, whose movie career since she won her Oscar for Walk The Line should be closely examined by Team J-Law.

I wonder whether Nancy Meyers would have allowed Reese Witherspoon to recreate the famous Home Alone one-sheet image for the poorly named Home Again. They needed something to break the clutter. As far as I can tell, the story is about a single mother who has sex with or is tempted a lot by college-aged boys to act out their MILF fantasies. (I wonder if Nancy Meyers would have allowed a name change to “MILF.”) That and the Home Alone face on posters may have opened this thing to more than $5 million. I’m kidding… but I’m not. Pretty as the outdoor was for this movie, there was no compelling reason for anyone to be conscious of this film, much less plan to go to the movies, as they did for the crassly named Bad Moms or raunchily-advertised Girls Trip.

Annapurna’s second release, Brad’s Status, opened okay. Just okay.

I saw Brad’s Status a month ago. Liked it. Thought it was imperfect and not really an Oscar play. But it was the kind of movie that could have launched a lot of discussion threads and opened to more than this. But it felt like once it didn’t get into Telluride and just gave up. Do some last-second press in Toronto, out comes the baby, less than a week later.

Brad’s Status was never going to be a huge hit. But it could have done better in the bubble and continued Ben Stiller’s reputation for pushing himself beyond commercial cinema (now six years from a $20m opening). Sometimes, you can feel a movie falling through the cracks. Happens.

24 Weeks To Oscar: Where We Are After TIFF

Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

Only two movies came out of North American premieres at TIFF (which is essentially over, even though it goes on for five more days) with legitimate Best Picture hopes, Molly’s Game and the Venice-premiering Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Five more movies that were not at Telluride (two at Venice) and stirred the waters in a big way at Toronto: The Disaster ArtistI, Tonyamother!Roman Israel, Esq. and Victoria & Abdul.

Of these five, only Victoria & Abdul has a legitimate chance of a Best Picture nomination. The others may turn up in other categories, including acting and writing, but it would take an awful lot of A24 magic to make The Disaster Artist anything more than the most beloved inside-baseball (for people under 60) movie of the season.

So what does that mean?

I have a hard time putting either of the big TIFF movies on a list a likely or in without seeing them. So…

IN
Darkest Hour
Dunkirk

LIKELY IN
Lady Bird

TWO OF THESE
Spielberg
PTA
Ridley Scott
Eastwood
Blade Runner

GOOD CHANCE
Victoria & Abdul
Big Sick
Molly’s Game
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

PUNCHER’S CHANCE
Baby Driver
Call Me By Your Name
The Disaster Artist
Downsizing

IN THE GAME… AS LONGSHOTS
Battle of the Sexes
Beauty & The Beast
Detroit
First They Killed My Father
The Florida Project
Get Out
Mudbound
Wind River
Wonderstruck
Wonder Woman

Don’t get me wrong. If the “Longshot” list all got nominated, it would be a great year for Oscars. No one would watch the show, but all those films have passionate support, completely deserved.

Five of the six major studios could all be represented (big studio or dependent) with Best Picture nominations, with A24, Amazon, and against the odds, STX… and perhaps Weinstein, Annapurna, Sony Classics and Netflix.

There is every chance this will be one of the calmer award seasons… lots of very good movies and not a lot of hate. But then again, Greta Gerwig and Denzel Washington could be the primary representatives of women and people of color this season. (Can Greta Gerwig actually get nominated for Best Director for her first solo directing gig? Just writing the question is freaking me out.)

I don’t have a ton more to say at this point, so why stretch? I have four key movies to see, aside from the movies that won’t likely be seen at all until November.

Off we go…

“What’s IT All About, Beee Ohhhh?!”

Tuesday, September 12th, 2017

it money

This is what changed about box office and here is when it changed…

People will go see a movie they really want to see on any date in massive numbers. Passion of the Christ. February 25, 2004. $83 million opening weekend.

Here are other titles that have made Hollywood reconsider release-dating since…

Ice Age: The Meltdown, March 31, 2006, $68 million

300, March 9, 2007, $71 million

Fast & Furious, April 3, 2009, $71 million

Paranormal Activity, September 25, 2009, platform opening

The Twilight Saga: New Moon, November 20, 2009, $143 million

Alice in Wonderland, March 5, 2010, $116 million

The Lorax, March 2, 2012, $70 million

The Hunger Games, March 23, 2012, $153 million

Avengers, May 4, 2012, $207 million

The LEGO Movie, February 7, 2014, $69 million

Captain America: The Winter Soldier, April 4, 2014, $95 million

Guardians of the Galaxy, August 1, 2014, $94 million

Star Wars: The Force Awakens, December 18, 2015, $248 million

Fifty Shades of Grey, February 7, 2016, $85 million

Deadpool, February 12, 2016, $132 million

Furious 7, April 3, 2016, $147 million

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, March 25, 2016, $166 million

Suicide Squad, August 5, 2016, $134 million

Beauty and the Beast, March 17, 2016, $175 million

It, September 8, 2017, $123 million

January and October are now the only months not to have $60 million domestic 3-day openings. (Even if you count American Sniper‘s first wide 3-day, in weekend 4, January and October are still the only months with no $90m+ openings.)

You’ll notice the non-franchise pictures sticking out. 300. The Lorax. The Lego Movie. Fifty Shades of Grey. And now, It.

These movies (and some others, like Deadpool) made a lot of their own gravy. Things that are true about their successes do not translate to other movies. Of course, there is a lot of gray in that. For instance, was Logan‘s success play off of Deadpool or was it so different that it hit a completely different vein (in the same time period).

This analysis is not meant to diminish It. Nor to bury it. The film is a legitimate phenomenon. But it is not the first… not even this year.

And it is not the savior of anything… not even Warner Bros, which has had a nice run of 4 legit hits in their last 5 releases.

Media needs to get out of the old paradigm of how previous media reported box office. Summer and Holiday season are still uniquely important. But it doesn’t much effect the WB bottom line whether that have a massive hit in August or September (detailed cash flow issues, yes, but put those aside for the moment)… but it matters a lot in how the industry is covered.

Beauty & The Beast doesn’t not matter because it was released in Q1. Nor does international box office because we don’t get a clean set of numbers from the studios every week like we do for the domestic box office.

There are many theories about what connected about It. I don’t deny any of them. But I also don’t think I have heard of any combination that can be repeated in any real way either. Warners has had well marketed flops. Lots of Stephen King movies.

Now, did the movie come out of the tracking gate very strong and then build on that sense of a huge hit coming, more by the nature of audiences than by any unique marketing or publicity effort? Yeah. Seems fair to me. But how did it get into the gate at $70 million, which would have made it a record breaker even at that number? And did WB screw up by not flipping the film with Annabelle: Creation and having the film open on August 11? No one can credibly deny that the scheduling makes clear that WB felt A:C was a stronger play (before it came on tracking).

This is central to the nature of the $100m+ opening segment of the film industry which is now very much a part of regular order.

Remember, the first $100 million opening domestic 3-day in the history of cinema was just 15 years ago, in 2002. In 2015, there were 6. In 2016, there were 8. We have already had 5 this year.

And if everyone is being honest – heaven forbid – there is no rhyme or reason to be sorted out between mast of these numbers. No one expects The Spanish Inquisition… or a $248 million opening for Star Wars: The Force Awakens in December.

Yes, I know there are people who predicted it. There are enough voices out there that everything is predicted. And then the 90% of the time they are wrong, no one cares, but we will forever here about the rare moment “they” are right. Yawn.

I am talking about people with a vested interest or who cover this stuff professionally. This is not an insult to the amateur anglers. But with a professional interest, it is not supposed to be such a guessing game. History is taken seriously. And when it comes time to disregard history, you move on… can’t linger in the past, even though it will most often show the answers of the future.

This is the super-tricky thing about analyzing this industry. Movies are not widgets. And I am not saying that because I love movies (though I do and movies are not widgets that way either). Every movie is a new product launch with hundreds, sometimes thousands, of variables that may or way not get the movie where it wants to go commercially (or aesthetically… but not the conversation at hand).

Four of the six top worldwide grossers last year were movies about animals featuring anthropomorphic animals. Finding Dory, Zootopia, The Jungle Book, and The Secret Life of Pets.

Now you do the analysis…

Domestic Opening

Finding Dory, $133m
Secret Life of Pets, $104m
Jungle Book, $103m
Zootopia, $75m

Domestic Total
Finding Dory, $486m
Secret Life of Pets, $368m
Jungle Book, $364m
Zootopia, $341m

International Total
Zootopia, $683m
Jungle Book, $603m
Finding Dory, $542m
Secret Life of Pets, $507m

Worldwide Total
Finding Dory, $1.03b
Zootopia, $1.02b
Jungle Book, $967m
Secret Life of Pets, $876m

These are, obviously, all great successes. But can anyone legitimately differentiate what separates each? One thing that sticks out is that there seems more interested in domesticated animals in the North American while the rest of the world is somewhat more interested in wild animals.

Okay… interesting. But how does one parse that out? And can it be repeated?

Talking Animals of 2016
Total – $3.9 billion – avg $974m

Superhero Movies of 2016
Total – $4.8 billion – avg $796m

Then look at it this way…

Superhero Totals Since 2012
2012 – $3.7 billion (3 – avg $1.1b)
2013 – $2.9 billion (4 – avg $736m)
2014 – $3.6 billion (5 – avg $720m)
2015 – $2.1 billion (3 – avg $698m)
2016 – $4.8 billion (6 – avg $796m)
2017 to-date – $3.1 billion (4 – avg $780m)

Last year was the biggest grossing year for superhero movies ever. Yet, the average worldwide gross per movie is extremely consistent since the blow-up year of 2012, when Marvel’s Avengers, Batman, and Spider-Man were all in play.

So since the average gross of talking animal movies topped the best average in the last 5 years for superhero movies, will Hollywood revert to all talking animal movies? Of course not. But if the media figured out that stat, this would be covered as an inevitability.

Thing is, I think you can be pretty sure that talking animal movies will turn up a lot in the next few years. And most of them will die an ugly box office death.

Stats are a dangerous thing in the hands of people who don’t know what questions those stats should be trying to support.

This also brings us around to the Rotten Tomatoes discussion, wherein Captain America: Civil War gets the highest RT score of the superhero movies and grosses the most… but second-best RT scorer, Doctor Strange, is the 5th highest grosser. What does it mean? Not much… but that is my point.

Deconstructing how things went down on any one movie is virtually impossible from the outside. The takes from inside the group that made the film are, like any high school, variable depending on who is telling the story. Then start trying to qualify the decisions, good and bad, that were made along the way and you realize that “truth” is an illusion.

This is most true of great success and great failure.

Toby Emmerich was quoted somewhere about It, saying something to the effect of “I am gratified by how this has been embraced by the audience.” And that is about as honest a comment as you will find because he isn’t pretending that his vision was of this degree of success, he is not pretending that the bumps in the road weren’t there, and he is not crediting some magic trick done by marketing.

I have believed, going back to the early days of $100 million openers, that every film that wildly over-opens by expected standards starts by being handled in the standard and smart way the marketing departments at every major are capable of delivering (and do regularly). Then, something happens that is really beyond the control of the handlers. And a second level of nourishing and building on the out-sized passions of the audience then occurs. Maybe a third.

Mind you, the explosive nature of this event is mostly happening and changing within a six week period.

And then you have this explosion. And everyone wants to understand why it happened. Why is this movie different than all the other movies?

All the machinery and money and effort and love that goes into getting people to buy a ticket to your Movie X over their Movie Y… all real professionals who are real smart behind the wheel… and the answer is, “Ticket buyers wanted to see it.”

The horror business has been hugely successful in recent years, really starting with Paranormal Activity (in this generation of business) and its terribly clever campaign by Paramount. (Mind you… couldn’t open Ghost in the Shell while another studio had a shock win with Lucy… go figure. Did one group get dumb and the other get Lucy-ed? Of course not.)

Jason Blum, who has become the master of the genre for his generation, has has a 2017 as surprising as It‘s openings. He has made 3 or 4 movies every year since Paranormal and the majority have been profitable hits. But this year, suddenly, after 6 years without a $100m domestic grosser, boom. Split does $138 million domestic and Get Out does $176 million domestic.

What happened? What changed?

And in terms of It, there has been only one horror movie since Get Out, all the way back in February/March, Annabelle: Creation, which carried the weight and advantage of being the 4th in a series (cousins once removed of Mr. Blum). So is that it? A happy buzz from Get Out leading to a 6-month hunger for the next “original” horror film that looked good and It was that?

In the end, I think I feel about the handling of these unexpected mega-openers like parents who give birth to prodigies. Yes, they are capable of breaking the child and killing the gift. But that is rare. Most likely (in this case), they will be responsible and caring and do their best to create the best possible environment for the gift to blossom and grow. And then, when there is success, they will brad on it and enjoy the new cars and houses that their hugely successful child is likely to offer out of love.

These are career-making and career-saving events. Like the director or star of a massive hit, the behind-the-scenes players also get a boost and a pass for a nice period of time. Some will effectively built on the win. Others will quickly fade. Because the real answer to these phenomena is, I think, that it is almost always more than the sum of It‘s parts.

Except when it’s not.

Weekend Estimates By PennyKlady

Sunday, September 10th, 2017

Screen Shot 2017-09-10 at 2.07.19 PM

Friday Estimates

Saturday, September 9th, 2017

Screen Shot 2017-09-09 at 1.53.19 PM

It proves what has been clear for a long time… when you have THE movie that people want to see, you could open it in a sewer during a hurricane and it will still open great.

That said ,It has nothing at all to do with August box office or the summer. Had It been released in August, it would have had a similar opening and delivered a Top 3 all-time August opening and by itself would have made the drop from 2016 about 5% smaller. Had there been another Compton-level August release, the summer would have been about the same as 2014. There still would have been hysteria… but that is entertainment coverage. Everything is tainted by obsessive myopia (in great part because the trades have erased institutional memory).

And for those of you anxious to tell me how wrong I was about the It opening, yes… I was wrong last month. But I was factually accurate. This opening should more than double the previous best September opening (Hotel Transylvania 2‘s $48.2m launch). That is a major box office event. And WB, before tracking came on insane, would have been giddy with a $40 million opening and wet their pants for a $55m open. This number will have execs wrestling for credit for many months, especially in conversations with the new AT&T overlords.

It should also be the #2 all-time R-rated opening, which gives WB four of the Top 6 of all-time.

Paranormal Activity 3‘s $52.6 million opening was the previous R-rated top opening in the genre. The Conjuring‘s $42 million opening was top original opening. Insidious Chapter 2 was the PG-13 champ with $40 million. (Scary Movie, a spoof of horror, had a second-best ever $42.3 million launch.)

Why did It open like this? There will be stories with numbered lists all next week, explaining that the authors really don’t know. I don’t know either. Hollywood loves formula and this will be a formula that every exec in town – even Jason Blum – will be trying to solve.

I would say that It has It… the difference between Marilyn Monroe and Jane Mansfield… between James Dean and Montgomery Clift… between The Rock and Jason Statham. It’s not that the others are inherently inferior. They aren’t. But some films – and talent – just rises above in a way that can’t quite be explained… at least when we are being honest.

Some will say that I am saying this because I don’t personally have the answer. But that is not completely true. If I were an exec, I would have happily made It and would have expected to make money. But no one can honestly claim they saw this coming. (Yes, fanboys… you saw it coming…. ya.) Hollywood is littered with big expectations for Stephen King movies. Children gathering to fight off ultimate evil is nothing new. Some really terrific movies have done a lot less business in September.

My personal standard for analysis requires the ability to see the repetition of a phenomenon, preferably at least three or four times before being embraced.

For a long while, Sony and Screen Gems owned the September genre slot. There were 26 $20m+ openings in September between 2003 and 2015. Seventeen of them were from Sony divisions. Three were cartoons, but the rest were in the action genre.

This opening, as well as the likely $45 million+ opening of Kingsman 2, will change how studios see September. But it’s worth noting that both of this month’s likely big opens (by September standards) are genre films. Sully is also still on the radar though, with its $35 million launch last year.

BUT… it must be noted, both in micro and macro, that the major studios didn’t release a single movie between Annabelle: Creation‘s August 11 launch and It‘s September 8 launch. Abandoned the space. Almost a full month. And this is with everyone really expecting The Dark Tower to be a bust months out. Atomic Blonde came up from the minors to be handled by Big Universal, but July 21’s Dunkirk/Girls Trip weekend was the end of the summer for everyone except Sony (who had The Emoji Movie and Dark Tower before they, too, shut down).

Who the HELL scheduled this summer for the majors?

Fox did great putting Apes 2 in July in 2014… but they were hammocked by non-competitors, Tammy and Deliver Us From Evil the weekend before, and The Purge, Sex Tape and Planes the weekend after. This summer? Right in there between Spider-Man: Homecoming and Dunkirk. Are you kidding??? With the entire month of August open?

June was brutally dense. Could The Mummy have opened huge, even with Wonder Woman the weekend before, had audiences wanted it? Of course. But was there another $20 million in lazy “we’re at the theater… what should we go to?” in August? Probably. Baby Driver did great, but the strategic move to create more positive energy at Sony by moving the action-comedy to late June, long before The Dark Tower and cleaning up the Rough Night mess, probably cost that film $20 million domestic.

Congratulations to It and to Warner Bros. I would be more thrilled if it was a very good movie. It’s not. Another myth busted… quality reflected in wide release box office… ha.

And by the way… Open Road opened a Reese Witherspoon movie from the Spawn of Meyers/Shyer this weekend. It is doing about what Reese Witherspoon can be expected to do these days. Reese owned the September opening record for a decade with Sweet Home Alabama (2002). So there is something perfect about her having a new release on the date where the new September record-holder lands.

I can hear Nancy Meyers screaming about Open Road screwing up her kid’s movie release from over here on the other side of Beverly Hills from her elegant kitchen in (enter wealthy enclave). But she is wrong. It’s been over eight years since Witherspoon had a $20 million opening. I don’t think RT changed the box office, but the movie is a Rotten Tomatoes 32. The marketing budget at Open Road was never going to be the size of Sony or Universal, perhaps faking out more people into buying tickets this weekend. But a $10 million launch for Home Again is a win, in my book. And no blaming It. In fact, I bet a chunk of this Reese opening is a counterprogramming win for women who like Reese and don’t want to be scared. (They can go to It and not be scared… but…)

25 Weeks To Oscar: What Happened In Telluride

Thursday, September 7th, 2017

telluride 651

Twenty-nine new films premiered (or close to it) at Telluride. About half figure in the award season.

The two clear winners – at a festival without a competition – were Lady Bird (which gets first billing as the less-expected smash) and Darkest Hour, a movie highly anticipated for the performance of Gary Oldman… and then overdelivered.

Expect Best Picture nominations for both. From there, it gets complicated.

Hostiles, a stark, thoughtful western from Scott Cooper, has no distributor and would be hard-pressed to get on an Oscar tear with such a short window and with star Christian Bale on another film, Adam McKay’s Dick Cheney movie, shooting and then racing to be ready, potentially, for a December qualifying Oscar run. Hostiles isn’t getting picked up by a major, so the investment in an instant Oscar run is also a problem. The gigantic balls move would be for producer John Lesher and his/Cooper’s billionaire investor to four-wall the movie and to campaign Bale – who is sensational – as bait to sell the movie after a nomination. Did I mention that the balls would have to be humongous?

First Reformed is another Telluride favorite — everyone loves a Paul Schrader comeback — without distribution and unlikely to ramp up in 2017. Look for it to fall to Sony Classics and get a respectful release in the spring.

First They Killed My Father is a personal epic by Angelina Jolie, who tells the remrakable story of a family trying to survive the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. This is some really fine filmmaking. Best of Jolie’s directing career. Best film Netflix will release this year. But… Netflix. On top of that, Academy powers are already questioning whether the film will qualify if nominated for Foreign Language by Cambodia, as cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle and production designer Tom Brown are British, co-editor Patricia Rommel is French, and art director Patrick Sullivan Jr., is American. Jolie herself apparently has dual citizenship. These issues have been a problem for great Foreign Language entries in recent years. Toss-up. The movie should be a Best Picture player… but it will have to thread the needle perfectly.

Not swimming through difficult distribution waters are Downsizing, The Shape of Water and Wonderstruck. Each of these are amongst the best career work by three beloved veteran directors. But they are also… uh… weird. Gloriously weird, but weird. (And this will surprise none of the three filmmakers.)

Downsizing is latest from Alexander Payne and regular writing partner Jim Taylor. The high-concept idea is, “What if people could be made small and then live in societies built-to-scale, making the world safe from using all the earth’s resources?” It’s the funny version of this, of course. In the hands of these filmmakers, it is more a change of perspective than a story about being small (not one long “help me… help meeee” joke).

The film ran into resistance from people who felt there was too much going on in the story. Payne and Taylor have a lot of homage in the film… and a deep well of originality. To try to explain what happens in the film in 100 words or less is a fool’s errand. “Getting small” is just the launching pad. (No Steve Martin mention that I recall, either.) Matt Damon is the straight man, as it were. Christoph Waltz may give his best performance yet, breaking away from the Tarantino verbal rhythm and appearing to have the time of his life. Newcomer Hong Chau, who is really the female lead (another one of those surprises that throws people off), plays a downsized house-cleaner of unexpected depth. And the parade of cameos is an endless joy (though I am told I misidentified a passing glance at Paul Dano).

This is a true multi-view movie… which is often not the most Oscar-friendly thing. The film came into Telluride with a big head of steam off Venice reviews and then… it wasn’t what people expected. I think it may be the best film in Payne’s remarkable career.

The Shape of Water is classic Guillermo del Toro. Huge, loving, beating heart. He says that it is currently his favorite of his films, ahead of the masterpiece, The Devil’s Backbone. And it will become the favorite of his career for many this fall.

The Shape of Water is a movie that can be summed up easily, in your head. A version of “The Creature From The Black Lagoon” is captured by a Cold War America, seeking to use his special powers. The Russians also want him. And then the mute (but hearing) cleaning woman falls in love with him and he with her and they seek to live happily ever after.

But obviously, it’s wildly more complicated than that. An ensemble cast led by six performers that audiences can’t help but love—Sally Hawkins and Doug Jones as The Lovers, Richard Jenkins and Octavia Spencer as Hawkins’ best friends, Michael Stuhlbarg as the double agent, and Michael Shannon as evil incarnate—live in Del Toro’s hyperreal period universe, where each one gets an unexpectedly full narrative arc. But Del Toro does the near-impossible… to give everyone depth, but to never overreach or bore. The audience gets satisfied, but not overstuffed, not left hungry.

Del Toro has never shown himself to be shy about sex, but this film speaks to love and lust more directly than anything else he has made. Like so much of the film, that passion arrives in many colors. Some audiences may squirm… but it all comes back to love. So Guillermo.

The challenge for Wonderstruck is that it is unlike anything you have experienced in a movie theater. (In some ways, it is more like a theater experience than a normal film experience.) But if you can leave your cynicism at the door – as your children will, without being asked – the depth and richness of the sheer beauty of the duea stories (which accordion out to four stories, really) is overwhelming.

Also, we’re back to the no-logline situation. To simplify Wonderstruck to the story structure would be to miss the point altogether. The silence that the deaf characters creates their own unique emotional space, where the audience is deprived of easy verbosity and distraction, our senses heightened in much the way that losing one sense is said to enhance the others.

This is one of the great films for families – children of all ages – ever made. And it is so deep and rich that adults will love it on its own level.

But serious art that doesn’t connect easily on a narrative level is always a challenge to Academy voters. So there is a lot of work to do to overcome this extremely beautiful problem.

There were three films at Telluride that I suspect will be in play – you never know what will happen in the pre-February processes of these categories – this award season. Ai Weiwei’s documentary, Human Flow, is 140 minutes of traveling to locate the world’s refugees. Its enormous power is in the seeming simplicity of the film, crossing the globe and finding our shared humanity every place it goes. Samuel Moaz delivers his second feature eight years after Lebanon left a big footprint (but not an Oscar nomination) with Foxtrot. And looking to break into the animation category is “the first oil-painted movie,” Loving Vincent.

And finally, the less happy stories.

Annette Bening and Jamie Bell are both excellent in Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool. But the movie just isn’t as compelling as one might hope. Bening, who deserves a bushel of Oscars and who gave probably the performance of the year last year in 20th Century Women, but still went without a nomination, gives a perfect performance, but of a not intensely memorable character. What could have been made of this true tale of Gloria Grahame’s last great romance is tantalizing. But it’s not on screen. Wish it was.

Battle of the Sexes suffers the classic biopic problem. It can’t make up its mind about what story to tell. This movie desperately wants to be a Billie Jean King biopic with Bobby Riggs as one small side story. But the name of the movie says it is about the collision of the reluctant feminist leader and the ultimate smirky macho conman. As a result, the movie is all over the place in a distracting effort to keep balance. King coming to her true sexuality as a lesbian during her marriage to Mr. King is a key… so we get to see Bobby Riggs’ marriage, which is predictable and adds nothing (with no aspersions on Elizabeth Shue’s performance). On top of that, Larry King (husband and namesake, not the talker) is given no depth or purpose, as blonde and bland and distant as a cardboard cutout. What was the marriage before BJK’s first gay love? The movie is obsessed with Marilyn Barnett, much as Billie Jean is. Fine. But even there, the movie never really gets down to in. There is an exclusively gay sex moment… but is Billie Jean having her first orgasm? What does a person feel when they are sexually fulfilled for the first time. The movie gives us googley eyes and all, but it’s a million miles from lustful. But even worse, Billie Jean’s tennis skills go on a rollercoaster ride and the movie doesn’t answer the question of whether she was distracted or afraid or tired or what. It asks the question, but it doesn’t offer an insight… because it is too busy moving on to the next storyline.

There are a bunch of really good movies in this movie. A movie about a bunch of young female athletes breaking away from the mainstream male- dominated tennis world and empowering themselves could be great. A movie about a hugely popular celebrity of the 1970s slowing coming out in the face of a nation that is not generous of forgiving… could be great. A movie about the “Battle of the Sexes” event that really made a change in the world discussion of female power (the world outside the tent is shockingly non-existent in this film)… great. Even the Bobby Riggs story, of one of the great hustlers of all time, who was funny and charming and could win a million and lose a million in the same afternoon, and the rich wife who put up with him… could be great. It is almost impossible to make a good movie, much less a great one, about this many ideas. A biopic that takes on this much almost never works, even when the audience is deeply familiar with the story that is coming.

One part of the genius of Darkest Hour is that the entire film takes place over 26 days. It is one Churchill story told in great detail, with all the meaning and metaphor contained in this concentrated period.

I am a big fan of pretty much everyone involved in The Battle of the Sexes, on-screen and off. They have all not only done good work, but unique and special work, from Little Miss Sunshine to Slumdog Millionaire to La La Land to Foxcatcher (and more for all of them). I would bet on the top-line five people on this movie every time they made a film.

But as wonderful and important as Billie Jean King is, it’s just not a good movie. It has its moments. Score is good. Recreations of the period are strong. Acting is all excellent. But it left me wanting in every single section of the film. Sarah Silverman as “The Loud Mouth Feminist Power Jewess” and Alan Cumming as “The Magic Gay Man Who Knows All” should be amongst the most memorable supporting performances of the year. Both actors have the skill to hit these roles out of the park and into the stratosphere. But they are just “good.” It’s infuriating, really. For many, it will be entertaining. How can it not be? This is a murderer’s row of talent. But for me, it was a movie without a single surprise or deep insight. The villain, Jack Kramer, is written as a caricature. The real story is that the guy actually helped create professional women’s tennis in the 1940s before being a block to equal pay in the 60s and 70s. What a turn! Not in this movie. At all.

And the story of The Battle of the Sexes match is that is was a massive social event, much bigger than Riggs, or certainly King, ever imagined. America was the biggest part of the story… but not in this movie.

So frustrating. I believe a lot of the reaction coming out of Telluride had to do with Billie Jean King being in the room. And I would be gobsmacked by her too. She is an important social figure in the history of this nation. And Emma Stone does her justice. But she’s a tennis god, not a filmmaker.

So, that is the story of Oscar and Telluride 2017. My version.

I expect there to be four or five key stories to come of Toronto this year. I’ll write about those soon.

Weekend Estimates

Sunday, September 3rd, 2017

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Weekend Estimates by Contractual Obligation

Sunday, August 27th, 2017

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I’m not sure of the last time we had a weekend without a $10 million movie… and really don’t want to know.

You ugly… ya ya… you ugly!

I have learned over decades not to make events of any single weekend (or two) into a symbol of the entire industry. Bias confirmation is often incorrect, whether positive or negative.

More significant than any theories about the sky falling is the lack of new releases from majors (or their Dependents) or even serious hopefuls from indies. Obviously, the blame for the low high-end can be blamed on the weakness of holdovers from the first two weekends of August. Fox might be wishing they held Apes until August and one wonders whether Baby Driver could have added $20 million to its domestic total if it had stuck to its original slot.

But in terms of this specific slot and new movies, a new release has grossed more than this weekend’s #1 in each of the last three summers: Don’t Breathe (WB), War Room (TriStar) and If I Stay (WB).

Warner Bros has no regular slots for the Conjuring films and this, the fourth of the group, is the first in August. Had it opened this weekend, it would have likely delivered the $35m it opened to a couple weekends ago. Likewise, logic would suggest that either Paramount’s mother! or WB’s It would have slotted in here rather than in back-to-back weekends in September. My guess is that WB wanted to leave room for Annabelle: Creation to run and that Paramount, which moved mother! into September late in the game, couldn’t get a full launch together in time for this weekend. The current record for a late August opening is about $10m less than for a September opening, so with WB feeling very ambitious with It – projections are now looking at a $70m opening or more – September looks like the better berth.

Anyway… the answer to the current “slump” – which will get worse next weekend – is that unless The Dark Tower was a hit that almost no one thought was going to happen in recent months, there is nothing really surprising about where we are now. It’s not the industry… it’s the movies in release.

Look at last August, where you had five major studio holdover August releases over $7 million on “this” weekend… Suicide Squad, Kubo, Sausage Party, Pete’s Dragon and War Dogs which joined the two new releases in the Top 7. This weekend’s Top 7 consists of two Weinsteins, a Lionsgate, and a Bleecker Street/Fingerprint Releasing, plus three major studio holdovers, only one of which was released in August, the other two in weekends 6 and 8.

If you are serious about wondering why this weekend sucked liked a starving baby, look to the schedule, not alternative entertainment opportunities. Wasn’t the fight, although the $100 price tag could have slowed some plans to leave the house. Wasn’t Netflix. Wasn’t pre-season football. The simple truth is, with due respect to some terrific indie films, nothing out there that would draw big box office numbers.

And next weekend… NO wide releases. Tulip Fever, which pushed out a red-band last week to assure some small part of the ticket-buying public that you will see Alicia Vikander naked, and the Close Encounters re-issue in 4K on 700 screens or so. There is no reason to expect even an $8 million top-movie over the three-day next weekend. (I will be in Telluride and trying to avoid the cataclysm projected by the trades when that happens.)

And you know what would KILL next weekend, breaking every kind of record even more dramatically than it appears to be heading towards a weekend later? It.

As for the rest… Wind River expanded decently. By next weekend, Logan Lucky will be the biggest Bleecker Street release of all time, albeit co-released by Fingerprint Releasing.

Three-digit per-screens for Detroit, The Only Living Boy in New York and Good Time are greatly disappointing. Worth noting that all three have title problems, in terms of marketability.

The Chinese market is re-opening for foreign business and should give worldwide gross boosts to Dunkirk, Spider-Man: Homecoming and Valerian.

Have a lovely holiday. I will be in Telluride, and if there is any box office commentary from me next weekend, it will be via Twitter.