December 4th - 6th-
Sneaking into 1,000 theaters this week is the faith-based film The Letters. These faith-based films have experienced quite the audience in the last few years and because of that there's been a lot of them that have shown up. The Letters comes to us via Freestyle Releasing, who has helped with distribution of quite a few of these films, the most significant being God's Not Dead, which was a huge, surprise hit last year. The Letters won't hit the same heights as that movie. A better comparison might be Freestyle's other recent films in Left Behind or Do You Believe? Both of those came home with a decent chunk of change, but nothing compared to God's Not Dead. What is The Letters about? This might turn your head a bit. It's about Mother Teresa. It tells her story through a series of letters she wrote to one of her spiritual advisers over the course of many years. The lack of advertising might hurt this, but the concept is definitely there.
December 11th - 13th-
December 18th - 20th-
With Star Wars out of the way, what else matters? I might as well end this preview right now, right? Well, unfortunately that's not the case. I gotta talk about the seven movies this holiday season that will try to persuade people to see their movie instead of or in addition to Star Wars. Two this week. Five next. There's gotta be some pretty good counter-programming here to compete with Star Wars and first up is the raunchy comedy Sisters. It's safe to say that Star Wars isn't a franchise enjoyed by men only, but if I were forced to pick a gender that's less into Star Wars, it would be the female gender. Universal is hoping that a few of those females decide to pick Sisters instead of Star Wars as this is a movie that seems to be targeting the female crowd. It kinda reminds me of The Other Woman from last year, another female-centric comedy. In addition to being called Sisters, this is also from the director of Pitch Perfect and stars Amy Poehler and Tina Fey as two sisters who decide to throw one last house party before their parents sell the family home. It does have the R-rating, so those who like R-rated comedies stuffed full of language and sexual humor might also check this out at some point during the holiday season.
The second movie facing off directly against Star Wars is a movie that hopes to attract the younger crowd to the theaters and that is Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip. This could be seen as a decent move to go up against Star Wars in that smaller kids aren't going to be as interested in Star Wars like their older parents are. Yes, the parents are the ones buying the tickets, but if they want to take their young kids to a movie, this makes for a great option, especially considering the popularity of the franchise. The original movie did just fine against I Am Legend and National Treasure: Book of Secrets back in December 2007 while the squeakquel made for one of the biggest weekends ever as it went toe to toe with Sherlock Holmes and Avatar in December 2009. So the problem here isn't the competition necessarily. The problem is franchise fatigue. The first two both made over $200 million in the U.S. box office, but the third one barely cracked $100 million in 2011. Now it's been four years since Chipwrecked and family audiences don't seem to be that interested in this franchise anymore. If parents want to take their young kids to a movie this month, chances are they'll choose Pixar's The Good Dinosaur instead.
December 25th - 27th-
The other major Oscar-contender getting a wide-release this weekend is Concussion. This movie sees superstar Will Smith looking for his first Oscar nomination since The Pursuit of Happyness in 2007. And by goodness talk about relevant. The concussion issue has been a huge one in the NFL over the last several years especially. There's a lot of head-to-head contact in football that lead to a lot of head and brain injuries. Athletes persevere through these injuries and oftentimes even ignore their existence so that they can stay on the field and play. In the heat of the moment, many of them don't realize or don't care that they are throwing their future away and sadly the result is that a lot of football players end up with severe mental issues after they retire that in some cases have led to premature death or suicide. The NFL has made huge efforts to protect their athletes in the last few years, but they're not quite there yet as there have been several examples this season of athletes who stayed in the game when it was later revealed that they were playing concussed and should've been taken out. The movie Concussion attacks this issue directly as it tells the story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, who uncovered the truth about brain damage in football and went to war with the NFL over the issue. Ads for the movie have been playing all over ESPN and during football games this season, reminding us all that this is a serious issue that needs more attention.
On a less serious note, the third movie that seems to be in fine condition is the family comedy Daddy's Home. Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg team up once again in a dad vs. step-dad movie. Will Ferrell is trying his best to be a great step-dad to his wife's two children, but Mark Wahlberg comes in as the real dad and makes things hard for him because Mark Wahlberg is perfect in every way and despite all of Will Ferrell's efforts, he just doesn't seem to live up to him. Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg worked really well together in The Other Guys and carried that movie to pretty good success. Yet that movie was targeted for more of an adult audience while this one is aimed at families with only a PG rating. I wasn't sure about how successful this would be when I first started to see it advertised, but since then I have been paying close attention at how kids react to the trailer when it's shown in theater and almost every time it has all the kids busting up with laughter, so this looks like it could be a success. Most of the time Will Ferrell's humor is aimed at adults, but he has had plenty of success with the family audience, the Christmas classic Elf being a great example.
Before I get to the fourth new wide-release, I'm going to sneak in the major expansion right here because I think it also has potential to find an audience despite the crowded market and that is The Big Short. This is actually scheduled for a limited release run starting on December 11th before it expands nationwide on the 23rd, so we'll be able to follow it and get a sense of how big it could be pretty soon here, but super early reviews are very positive and it's looking a lot like The Wolf of Wall Street, although perhaps not quite as controversial as that almost scored an NC-17 rating. Yet despite the controversy, or perhaps partially fueled by it, The Wolf of Wall Street earned $116 million and scored five Oscar nominations, including one for best picture. I compare the two movies because the premises of both are similar. The Big Short tells the true story of a group of four guys who take advantage of the collapse of the financial market in 2005, flourishing and succeeding based off of other people's failures. The movie stars four Oscar-nominated actors in Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, Steve Carell, and Ryan Gosling.
Finally, the movie that I think is in most trouble this weekend is Point Break. This is a remake of the 1991 movie also titled Point Break which earned a respectable $43 million at the box office and has since gained a pretty large cult following. The movie starred Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves and was directed by Kathryn Bigelow. It was about an undercover FBI agent seeking to take down a group of bank robbers who might be surfers. This time around the plot is pretty much the exact same, although it's directed by Ericson Core, who is mainly a cinematographer, but did direct Invincible. It's written by a guy who wrote the Total Recall remake. It stars Luke Bracey and Edgar Ramirez in the roles previously played by Swayze and Reeves with Teresa Palmer as the lead female in the movie. She being the star of Warm Bodies, I Am Number Four, and The Sorcerer's Apprentice. So pretty much there's not very many notable names attached to this remake. People are kinda mad at all these remakes of 80's and 90's movies that they enjoy, so this movie had bad will begin with and coming out the week after Star Wars should be enough to kill it pretty fast as it will be aiming for the same crowd. It'll be lucky if it makes as much as the original did 24 years ago.
Before I end, I do have to mention that there are a ton of movies coming out in limited release this month that I did not cover. Spotlight, Brooklyn, and Legend are doing decent business right now. Carol and The Danish Girl are sure to succeed as they expand more throughout the month. We also have Macbeth, Youth, and Son of Saul among the crowd of limited releases that I could've brought up. Part of this is due to personal time constraints, but the other part is that covering every last movie, big or small, would make for a really long post. Being that this is already pretty long, I figured it would be best to keep it simple by just talking about the wide releases. I especially want to note that I did not mention two of the biggest movies of the month outside Star Wars: The Force Awakens and that is The Revanant and The Hateful Eight. But don't worry. I will talk about both of these movies. Next month. Both of them are playing it smart by releasing in limited release on Christmas in order to officially be eligible for awards consideration, but are waiting until January to expand when the Star Wars rush has died down a bit. So I'll talk about both in my January preview. Look forward to that!