Sunday, January 3, 2016

Movie Preview: January 2016

Thanks mostly to the huge success of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, December was able to push 2015 over the hump to being the highest grossing year in movies yet with $11.1 billion, barely topping 2013's previous record of $10.9 billion. In terms of the number of total tickets sold, 2015 didn't even come close to 2002's record. In fact, it's all the way down in 18th place on that list when looking at a time period from 1980 - 2015, which speaks a lot to how much the price of a ticket has inflated in the last 35 years and beyond. But nevertheless, getting the former record is still impressive. The year 2016 will look to build on this success as there's a lot of big movies on schedule for this year. I talked about a lot of them in my yearly preview, so check that out if you haven't already. Now is the time to look specifically at the month of January, which will mainly be a game of which January release can dethrone Star Wars from that top spot. Avatar ended up ruling for seven weeks before it was dethroned by Dear John at the beginning of February. Can Star Wars last that long? We shall see!

January 1st - 3rd-

At this time last month, there were no movies scheduled for a wide release this weekend, so I felt comfortable waiting to talk about The Hateful Eight, which was supposed to wait till January 8th to expand nationwide. Well, they made nearly a last minute decision to expand the movie on December 30th instead, which means I should've brought it up last month. But oh well. Can't change that now. The Hateful Eight is cleverly titled as it's Quentin Tarantino's eighth directorial effort. That of course is if you only count his feature length directing efforts where he was the only one directing. It also assumes that you count Kill Bill: Vol. 1 and Kill Bill: Vol. 2 as one movie. Semantics aside, The Hateful Eight is a murder mystery movie like that of Clue. A group of people are trapped in one room and they need to figure out who is the one who committed a certain murder. Added to this premise are Tarantino's trademark bloody violence and foul language, which have made this a very unique experience for many. The reviews are generally favorable, although not quite as high as some of Tarantino's previous efforts.

I will mention one very intriguing platform release from this weekend and that is Anamolisa. I'm sure this is bound to expand nationwide at some point, but I have no idea when that is, so I'm talking about it now. If you've never heard of this, this is a stop motion animated movie that's receiving very high praise from critics right now. In fact, it's looking like the one animated movie that has the power to steal away the best animated feature award from Pixar's Inside Out at this year's Academy Awards. A movie to take your kids to when it expands? Nope! This is an animated movie made strictly for adults as it carries an R-rating with it. And it's not a raunchy comedy like South Park either, which makes this a very unique movie. It's a drama starring the voices of David Thewlis and Jennifer Jason Leigh about a man who is stuck living a very mundane life. Yet things are about to change for him when he meets someone important. The director here is Charlie Kaufman, who is best known for his writing/producing work for movies such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Being John Malkovich.

January 8th - 10th-

Nothing is going to stop Star Wars this weekend unless The Revanant can surprise big time by earning around $50-$60 million, which is where Star Wars will be at. The Revenant is more than likely only going to get half of that, which is just fine. The hype here is mainly surrounding Leonardo DiCaprio's performance as a man in a fight with nature. This is the true story of a trapper in the 1800's, played by Leo, who was mauled by a bear and left for dead. It's a brutal story of survival showing how unmerciful nature can be at times. The movie was also shot in natural lighting in order to capture the feel of realistically being out in the wild. The director here is Alejandro González Iñárritu, who just barely took home the best picture Oscar last year for Birdman. The question here isn't if Iñárritu can go back to back with best picture. The Revenant seems to be out of the discussion as far as that goes. The real question is can Leo finally win his best actor award being nominated five times now without a win. Things are looking good for Leo, but you never know with Oscar.

There always seems to be a new horror film released at the beginning of January and this year it's The Forest. There's actually a good reason that this keeps happening and that's because horror movies have had a pretty good track record in January. Each of the past four years has seen at least one horror open to $15 million or more. A few of these have come out of nowhere to earn big money for a January release, yet none of them have been very well liked, so it doesn't appear that quality is that important in order for these movies to make a bit of money. So The Forest has history in its favor. It's also kinda based on a true story in that apparently there is a place in Japan called suicide forest where people go to commit suicide every year. But here's the thing. Do people know this movie is coming out? It's not a part of a franchise. It doesn't have any recognizable cast or crew. The advertising hasn't been very strong. You can't just make a horror movie, throw in some horror cliches, give it a generic title, and hope that people show up.

Another smaller January release that probably fly under the radar is The Masked Saint. This is a faith-based movie distributed by Freestyle Releasing, who has a lot of success the other year with the movie God's Not Dead. However, for every huge faith-based movie like God's Not Dead, there's a lot more smaller releases that simply grab a few million is all. This one seems like the latter. It does its best to go outside the box as its about a wrestler who is also a father and pastor who is trying to be a hero in his community. It's also based on a true story. So there's going to be a handful of people that will be interested in this, but I don't anticipate it breaking out.

January 15th - 18th-

The movie most likely to dethrone Star Wars this month is Ride Along 2 on Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend. Two years ago, Ice Cube and Kevin Hart teamed up in the buddy comedy Ride Along and that proved to be box office gold as it earned $41 million in its opening weekend, scoring the January opening weekend record at the time (which was shattered last year later by American Sniper). Following that, Kevin Hart has gone on to star in several successful comedies and Ice Cube's personal story was put on center stage in last year's huge hit Straight Outta Compton, which could receive a few big Oscar nominations shortly before the release of Ride Along 2. All signs point to this improving on that $41 million dollar opening of the first. The question is how big will Star Wars be in its fifth weekend? Avatar's record fifth weekend was $42 million. Based on current trajectories, Star Wars should be around $30-$45 million, depending on how well it hold in the holiday weekend. Unless Ride Along 2 is a huge disappointment, it should top that number.

The past two years have both had a war drama do well in January. Two years ago was Lone Survivor. Last year was American Sniper. This January there are two of these movies that will each hope to replicated this success. The first is Michael Bay's 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. It's been a while since the phrase "directed by Michael Bay" has excited movie fans. Although Michael Bay is usually the one with the last laugh as is shown by his Transformers movies, which have combined for a worldwide total of $3.8 billion. As far as 13 Hours goes, it remains to be seen if audiences are interested in this specific subject matter. Lone Survivor and American Sniper were both fairly recent, but this is even more recent as it's a movie about events from less than four years ago when a U.S. compound was attacked in Benghazi, Libya. It does seem like Michael Bay is trying to go back to his roots with this as he started his career off with a string of successful R-rated movies that was followed by 2001's Pearl Harbor, another war drama. Is this the movie that gets fans on his side again?

Finally, this weekend will see the release of Norm of the North, which has a good chance of getting completely ignored. This is an animated movie that's not from a major animation studio that is about a polar bear travelling to New York to try to save his home. Family movies have done well in January recently. Two years ago, The Nut Job was a pretty big surprise on this same weekend despite having poor reviews and not being attached to a major animation studio. Last year Paddington did very well, although that was initially supposed to be a Christmas release. Advertising for Norm of the North has been pretty aggressive, but reactions to the trailers have been pretty bad. If kids enjoy it, then none of that matters. However, there's another reason to believe that that this will be passed over and that is the upcoming release of Dreamworks' Kung Fu Panda 3 at the end of the month. It seems likely that parents will save their money and take their kids to Kung Fu Panda 3 instead of Norm of the North.

January 22nd - 24th-

If Star Wars takes the crown at the Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, there's a good chance it'll take this weekend as well as the three new releases here seem like typical January affair that most people ignore. If Ride Along 2 takes the weekend, then there's also a chance that Star Wars goes back to the top as Ride Along 2 will most likely be very front-loaded. The new release with the most potential this weekend is The 5th Wave. Following the huge successes of franchises like Twilight and The Hunger Games, Hollywood has been aggressive in searching for the next big young adult series to adapt to the big screen. Successes have been found recently with the likes of Divergent and The Maze Runner, but The 5th Wave looks to be another miss like that of The Host, Mortal Instruments, or The Giver. Chloe Grace Moretz is our main star in this and although she seems to be committed to the role as she says she's read the book several times, the book series doesn't seem to have a huge following behind it and it doesn't appear that casual audiences are too excited to see this alien invasion series.

In 2013, Johnny Knoxville and his crew entertained audiences with Bad Grandpa, a movie about a dirty, foul-mouthed grandpa (played by Johnny Knoxville) hanging out with his grandson doing funny pranks. This weekend, the completely unrelated Dirty Grandpa hits theaters with essentially the same exact premise and a nearly identical title. This time around Zac Efron is the grandson and he drives his Grandpa, played by Robert De Niro, to Florida for spring break. And yes, his grandpa is a dirty and foul-mouthed grandpa. The premise is one that has obviously worked in the past and the cast here is pretty good, but will people avoid it because it looks too much like a rip-off of Bad Grandpa? Comedies can work in January, but if they are met with poor reviews, they do have a history of going the way of last year's Mortdecai, which debuted on this weekend last year and failed to even hit $10 million in its entire run.

The third release of the weekend is another thriller from STX Entertainment called The Boy. STX is a newer production company formed with the idea of producing 8-10 medium-budgeted, star-driven films per year. Their first two movies came towards the end of last year with two very different results. The Gift was a thriller written and directed by Joel Edgerton that was praised by critics and made a very healthy $40 million. Secret in their Eyes was a remake of a foreign thriller from just a few years ago and despite a huge cast, it was panned and only made half as much as The Gift. The Boy will hope to follow the success of The Gift rather than Secret in their Eyes, but a January release with a premise that looks fairly unoriginal could mean it could go either way. Not all of STX's movies are planned thrillers, but these first three are, although The Boy is more of a psychological horror thriller instead of a straight-up thriller and is about a woman who takes a job as a nanny and quickly learns that the family's 8-year-old boy is a life-size doll wherein you have to follow strict rules or bad things happen.

January 29th - 31st

If Star Wars has lasted this long as the king of the box office, this weekend will definitely be the weekend where it doesn't come on top with the release of Kung Fu Panda 3. DreamWorks has had a lot of struggles in the last few years as they got a little carried away with the idea quantity over quality. While Pixar has mostly done just one movie per year, DreamWorks started to do at least two or three. In 2012, Rise of the Guardians started a bad streak for them where most of their films underperformed. This sparked a whole ton of internal changes and several films were axed or postponed. Now their current plan is to slow things down a bit. For the next few years, they will have just one original movie and one sequel. All this is why Home was their only movie last year and the success of that film most likely gave the studio a big sigh of relief. Now they hope to start a streak of success with the third movie of their Kung Fu Panda franchise. Kung Fu Panda 3 sees Po reunited with his father, which was teased at the end of Kung Fu Panda 2. The whole gang of voice actors is back again for this sequel while Bryan Cranston, Kate Hudson, and J.K. Simmons join the party as well.

I mentioned earlier that there are two war dramas this January. The first one was 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. If that one doesn't work out, Disney's The Finest Hours will hope to pick up the slack. Neither movie is expected to do huge business, but yet neither were Lone Survivor or American Sniper, so it wouldn't be surprising if one of the two broke out. The Finest Hours has perhaps the more user-friendly premise. Not only is it a lighter PG-13, but it's also the true story of events that took place back in the 1950's instead of just under four years ago. Disney has been advertising this movie as the most dangerous rescue mission in U.S. Coast Guard history as four members of the Coast Guard set out to rescue nearly more than 30 stranded sailors following one of the worst storms ever to hit the New England. Starring in the film are Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, and Eric Bana. Directing the movie is Craig Gillepsie, the director of Disney's 2014 film Million Dollar Arm.

Last year saw the release of the widely hated, yet extremely lucrative film adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey. Because of this success, the whole trilogy will be adapted to film. The sequel is titled Fifty Shades Darker and will be released next year. In the mean time, Marlon Wayans has decided to move forward with a parody of the film called Fifty Shades of Black. They Wayans were once very popular comedic actors and filmmakers as they were responsible for the success of the first two Scary Movie films as well as other films such as White Chicks. However, they seem to have lost their touch recently as it's been a decade or so since any of the Wayans have done something that people have enjoyed. The most recent two films were the Haunted House movies, which weren't received nearly as well as the first two Scary Movie films. Marlon Wayans has written and stars in this newest parody film Fifty Shades of Black while the director of both Haunted House films is on board directing. While this probably won't be hated as much as Fifty Shades of Grey was, chances of it being well-received seems slim.

Speaking of Star Wars, the final film of January is called Jane Got a Gun and is set in an alternate universe of Star Wars where Obi-Wan has turned to the dark side and Padme has teamed up with Owen Lars to rescue her daughter Leia. No, I lied. That's not true. However, it is a reunion of sorts that stars Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, and Joel Edgerton, who played the aforementioned characters in the Star Wars prequels. The movie is another attempt to revive the Western genre, which was really popular back in the day but hasn't been popular in quite some time. Even the most well-liked modern Westerns such as the remake of True Grit seem to have a ceiling as far as how much they can earn. Natalie Portman plays our main character of Jane who when her husband, played by Ewan McGregor, comes home riddled with bullets is forced to go to her ex-husband, played by Joel Edgerton, in order to help save her family. The advertising for this hasn't done a great job at selling the movie, so the potential to break-out in a bit of a crowded market seems pretty slim.

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