Monday, September 5, 2016

Movie Preview: September 2016

With August being officially over, Hollywood's summer season is also officially over. Thanks mainly to the somewhat critic-proof Suicide Squad making nearly $300 million at the box office so far, this August became just the second August to pass the $1 billion mark at the domestic box office, thus ending the summer on a high note. Overall, this summer as a whole was a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it was just the second summer to ever see three movies cross the $350 million mark (Finding Dory, Captain America: Civil War, The Secret Life of Pets) and once Suicide Squad crosses $300 million, it will be just the third summer to see four movies cross the $300 million mark. But after those four movies, there was a huge drop-off. The fifth highest-grossing movie of the summer is X-Men: Apocalypse with just $155.4 million, meaning this will be the first summer since 2000 to only see four movies cross $175 million. This wasn't due to a lack of high-profile releases, though. It's more along the lines of a lot of high-profile releases disappointing audiences combined with there being too many of said high-profile releases crammed into a short period of time. Now we move onto September, which has historically been the worst month of the year for the box office. This will be no different this year, but there are still some big titles to talk about, so let's dive in!

September 2nd - 5th-

The reason why September is historically the lowest-grossing month at the box office is that it just happens to be the awkward period of time between the summer season and the holiday/awards season. October has Halloween. November has Thanksgiving. December has Christmas. September has... Labor Day? For whatever reason, no one goes to the movies on Labor Day. September is also a bit too early to release the major awards contenders into theaters as studios like to send those through the film festival rounds first, which starts right now. This Labor Day weekend saw two new releases completely misfire at the box office. Claiming the higher theater count of the two as well as the much low box office total was the sci-fi thriller Morgan. Anya Taylor-Joy from this year's The Witch stars as an artificial intelligent woman named Morgan who was created in a lab and has super-human strength. A freak accident happens and things go wrong and suddenly we have a premise that sounds like every other A.I. movie. This was included in the 2014 Blacklist of best screenplays yet to be produced. But, based on early reviews, this appears to be another example of a well-liked screenplay that may not have translated to big screen for whatever reason. This is also the directorial debut of Ridley Scott's son Luke, which is an interesting tidbit. Big shoes to fill there.

The second movie of the weekend that was a major dud was The Light Between Oceans. On paper this movie looks like a solid hit. This is romance drama about a couple who adopts a child who comes floating ashore, which leads to a complicated scenario when they learn what's happened to the actual birth mother. This is based off of a novel written by M.L. Stedman and is directed by Derek Cianfrance, director of The Place Beyond the Pines and Blue Valentine. It also stars Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vickander, two of Hollywood's current biggest stars. Like I said, great on paper. The problem is that it's a movie that's essentially been sitting on a shelf for a couple of years now and with the Labor Day release date seems like a movie that was dumped on the calendar by DreamWorks and Disney. The reviews are better than Morgan, but not by a whole lot.

September 9th - 11th-

After the naturally quiet Labor Day weekend, the rest of September will see studios at least trying with their releases as there will be a total of 13 wide releases in the final four weekends of September. This second weekend is first of two straight weekends that will see four wide releases. The most notable on this weekend will be Clint Eastwood's Sully. One interesting trend recently has been to make movies out of events that happened fairly recently on the news. These aren't just war movies like Lone Survivor, American Sniper, and 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Bengazi, but also other movies such as 127 Hours and The 33. This month we have two more of these movies. I'll talk about Deepwater Horizon a bit later, but Sully tells the story of Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberg had to make an emergency landing in the Hudson River back in January 2009 after hitting a flock of geese. Sully miraculously helped save all 155 passengers of US Airways Flight 1549. I don't know how much of the movie I just described, but that's the story that I remember rather well that made Sully a national hero. The advertising for the movie claims it's telling the untold story behind that, so we'll see. Tom Hanks stars as Sully and awards are possible for him and Eastwood and Eastwood's last film, American Sniper, did very well on all levels.

The second movie of the weekend looks to be a sleeper hit and that is When the Bough Breaks. This comes to us via Sony's Screen Gems division who, on this exact weekend in the past two years, has released thrillers featuring a predominantly black cast that surprised at the box office. No Good Deed opened to $24.3 million in September of 2014 while The Perfect Guy delivered up $25.9 million in September of 2015. Neither were expected to win their weekend, but both did after being in only around 2,200 theaters. Can lightning strike three times for Screen Gems? When the Bough Breaks is also a thriller with a predominately black cast being released in around 2,200 theaters. This also shares Morris Chestnut from The Perfect Guy. The premise for When the Bough Breaks surrounds a surrogate mother for a couple who becomes dangerously obsessed with the soon-to-be father. It would be quite the feat if this beat out Sully for the weekend's prize, but don't be surprised if it does. Unless of course Sully can manage to open with $30 million or more.

Next up we have two movies that will probably be lost in the September madness. The first of those is the horror film The Disappointments Room. It was initially supposed to be Before I Wake this weekend for Relativity Media, which is a movie that I've already covered twice in my movie previews. But for a third straight time, Before I Wake was taken off the schedule at last minute. I wonder if that movie is ever coming out, but I'm glad they made the change this time BEFORE I did my movie preview. It was three weeks ago when that change was made and The Disappointments Room, which was initially slated for a November release, was put into it's place. It's been a phenomenal year for horror movies as The Conjuring 2, Lights Out, and Don't Breathe are examples of movies that did very well at the box office. The Conjuring 2 wasn't a surprise, but those last two definitely were. The Disappointments Room is a supernatural horror about a family that moves into their dream house only to discover a horrifying mystery in the attic. Personally I do think we're in for another horror breakout this month, but I don't think it will be with this movie. I think it's too late of switch for this to break out.

Last and almost certainly least will be the animated movie The Wild Life. Titled Robinson Crusoe almost everywhere else in the world, The Wild Life is a Belgium animated film that was initially released at the Brussels Animation Film Festival in February this year and has already seen a theatrical release in over 30 countries worldwide, earning a total of $20 million, led by Germany with $5.1 million and France with $2.6 million. As is inferred by it's title everywhere else, this is the story of Robinson Crusoe told from the perspective of the animals on the island. Hence the United States title, The Wild Life. Based on reaction from places where it's been released, this appears to be an animated movie that appeals to young kids only. The type of movie that's perfect for distracting your kids in the morning when it shows up on Netflix and not necessarily the type of movie to rush out to see. Lionsgate is handling the U.S. distribution for the movie as this doesn't come from any major animation studio. The other animated movie that Lionsgate distributed this year in the U.S. was January's Norm of the North, which opened to just $6.8 million on its way to $17.1 million overall.

September 16th - 19th-

Another four movies are slated to hit theaters in the third weekend of September and they will most likely be led by the horror sequel Blair Witch. I mentioned just a bit ago that I think we're in for another horror breakout this month. This is the one. The history of 1999's The Blair Witch Project is a fascinating one. The movie is about a group of young adults that set out in the woods to film a documentary about a witch that legend in the area claimed existed. The three of them disappear in the woods and weren't seen again. The goal for the filmmakers was to give the illusion that the events of the movie actually happened and that the footage shown in theaters was actual camera footage recovered from this group. Given that the found footage genre wasn't a huge thing at the time as well as an effective marketing campaign that pushed this pretty hard, a lot of people were tricked and thus the movie became a cultural phenomenon. There was a sequel made shortly after that no one liked, but this year's Blair Witch tells the story of a brother of the main girl out to find what happened to his sister, convinced that she is still alive. The movie wasn't announced until San Diego Comic Con this year. It was previous disguised as a horror movie called The Woods, thus the movie did the exact same thing 10 Cloverfield Lane did earlier this year. Very early reviews, which sometimes mean nothing, suggest a quality film which would make it prime for a good chunk of money.

One of the most controversial figures of today is a man by the name of Edward Snowden. This weekend the movie about him finally hits theaters and that is Snowden. Joseph Gordon-Levitt place Edward Snowden and the movie is directed by Oliver Stone, who is well known for his controversial war/political thrillers such as Platoon, JFK, Born on the Fourth of July, Natural Born Killers, Wall Street, and many more. Given the release date in the middle of election season where Edward Snowden has been one of the hot topics, this could be a timely movie. Or a movie that angers a lot of people. Or a movie that people just don't care about due to the fact that the Edward Snowden documentary Citizenfour just barely came out two years ago and won best documentary at the Oscars last year. A lot of people are very well aware of the situation here with Snowden and thus if the movie strays a bit from actual events or doesn't hit people like it has potential to, there's a chance this could be ignored. The fact that it was postponed two different times could also be seen as a red flag. Or it could be a sleeper hit. So call this movie the wildcard of the month.

Next up is a third movie in a series that most people probably didn't anticipate being a trilogy and that is Bridget Jones's Baby. Bridget Jones's Diary was released in 2001 and became a sleeper hit after opening to just $10.7 million, but finishing with $71.5. This was enough to justify the sequel three years later called Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, which didn't do quite as well, but did well enough. Now we are 12 years after the second one with this third chapter. Renee Zellweger returns as Bridget Jones for a third time, as does Colin Firth's Mark Darcy. Being added into a love triangle is the well-loved Patrick Dempsey. Call that an all-star romance drama cast for this movie. The drama in this third chapter is such that Bridget Jones is pregnant, but she doesn't know if either Colin Firth or Patrick Dempsey is the father, so she kinda courts both until she can figure out who the father is and who she would prefer to be with more. This could end up as a sleeper hit like the first two, especially since the female crowd hasn't been treated to a romance drama in a while and there really isn't any on the schedule for much of the fall season. Or this could end up going the way of most other sequels this year by under-performing especially with how much time has passed.

Pulling up the rear this weekend should be Hillsong - Let Hope Rise. This comes to us via Pure Flix, a Christian distribution company that was responsible for God's Not Dead 2 and Woodlawn. This is a documentary/concert film following the musical group Hillsong UNITED, a very popular Christian music group. They've had five albums hit #1 on the US Christian Albums chart and plenty of hits on the US Hot Christian Songs chart. They even had one song, "Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)," cross over to the US Billboard Hot 100. So there's potential here. The problem is that documentary/concert films like this never do super well at the box office. The only three that have done super well at the box office have been Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, Michael Jackson's This is It, and Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: The Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour. One Direction, Katy Perry, the Jonas Brothers, and Glee are examples of very high profile singers/groups that had concert movies that didn't really hit. Christian movies do sometimes surprise at the box office, but it would be very surprising if this one managed more than $10 million this weekend.

September 23rd - 25th-

The fourth weekend of September is a lot less crowded and that's most likely due to studios smartly avoiding the high profile remake of The Magnificent Seven. This is remake of the 1960 classic of the same name, which was in turn a Western-remake of Seven Samurai from six years earlier. Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven are typically found on plenty of lists of all-time favorite movies and have been very influential to the history of cinema. Just think of any movie that has a group of protagonists teaming up to fight off an antagonist of some sort and that can most likely be traced back to being inspired by these two movies. This year's remake is also not the first high profile remake of a remake to hit theaters this year. Last month saw Ben-Hur get the same treatment. The result of that was a complete disaster as Ben-Hur to say the least. The Magnificent Seven definitely won't suffer the same fate. In fact, Hotel Transylvania's September opening weekend record of $48.5 million is in jeopardy. The difference between The Magnificent Seven and Ben-Hur? A good director, a good cast, and a good marketing campaign will definitely do the trick. Antoine Fuqua, director of Training Day and The Equalizer, is at the helm here and starring as the Magnificent Seven are Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D'Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, and Martin Sensmeier. Thus instead of comparing this to Ben-Hur, a more accurate comparison is the fellow Western remake of True Grit in 2010.

The other release of the weekend is Warner Animation Group's Storks. Pushed very heavily in marketing here is that this is the same team that released The LEGO Movie. The idea here is to keep up with the likes of Disney and Pixar with the animation party, so they're really hoping Storks is a success. Sony has learned recently that late September can be a very good time for animation as their Hotel Transylvania movies and their Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs movies have done very well in this slot, so there's a good chance for success here, especially since it will have been a couple of months since the last big animated movie and there won't be another animated movie until November with Trolls and Moana. In the movie Storks, the storks no longer deliver babies. Instead they have modernized to deliver packages. However, the baby making machine is accidentally activated, causing our main stork to have to deliver a baby once again. This is directed by Nicholas Stoller, who directed Forgetting Sarah Marshall, The Five-Year Engagement, and the Neighbors movies, as well as Doug Sweetland, who worked in the animation department for several of Pixar's movies. The voice talent includes Andy Samberg, Jennifer Aniston, Ty Burrell, Kelsey Grammer, and Key & Peele.

September 30th - October 2nd-

The final weekend of September, which starts in September and ends in October (I always include these weekends in the month the weekend starts), will see three additional releases. Depending on the reaction to all three, there could be a bit of a battle for the top spot, especially with the second weekend of The Magnificent Seven likely to be fairly strong as well. The first movie I will talk about is Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar People. When you watch the trailers for this movie, you get the vibe here that this is an awfully lot like a Tim Burton version of X-Men. A group of children with unique and extraordinary abilities have all been gathered into one home under the direction of a teacher or mentor of sorts. Yup. That describes both of these stories. Except Miss Peregrine looks a whole lot weirder than X-Men, thus this looks like a Tim Burton version of X-Men. Tim Burton is very well known for his strange movies. Miss Peregrine wasn't his initial creation. It's based on the young adult novel of the same name written by Ransom Riggs in 2011 that was a New York Times best seller. Given that this is right up Tim Burton's wheelhouse, I'm sure he jumped for joy at the chance to direct this. The PG-13 rating is a bit curious as this now appears to be intended for more of a young adult audience as opposed to a family audience, but this could work well as an early Halloween trip to the theaters for this young adult crowd.

Competing with Miss Peregrine to dethrone The Magnificent Seven will be Peter Berg's Deepwater Horizon. Earlier during this preview when I was talking about Sully, I mentioned the trend of turning recent national news stories into major motion pictures. Deepwater Horizon pairs with Sully to make for two movies during this month to follow this trend. This movie is specifically based on the New York Times article "Deepwater Horizon's Final Hours," which was released on December 25, 2010 and told the story of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and subsequent oil spill, which headlined the news for quite some time during 2010. Peter Berg is the director here. He previously found success with the Navy SEALs movie The Lone Survivor back in January of 2013. Both The Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon star Mark Wahlberg in the lead role. Speaking of Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg, this won't be the only time this year the two will team up for a modern news story turned into movie. Patriots Day will be released in December and is about the Boston Marathon bombing and the subsequent manhunt to find the bomber. Both stories should be fresh on people's minds and it will be interesting to see if they translate into box office and/or awards success.

The final movie of the month is a comedy titled Masterminds. This movie is a PG-13 heist comedy that is directed by Jared Hess, who wrote and directed both Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre. The movie features a talented cast of comedians which includes Zach Galafianakis, Owen Wilson, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, and Jason Sudeikis. In other words, three of the four female Ghostbusters from a couple months back plus Galafianakis, Wilson, and Sudeikis. So this has the star power to be a sleeper hit and a PG-13 rating that could appeal to a broader audience. There's also not a whole ton of comedies this fall, so it could hold well if it's received well by audiences. The problem might be a lack of awareness for this. It's also a Relativity Media production that has been pushed back several times partially due to Relativity's financial crisis, so this could also be a fall comedy that completely slips under the radar and is instead forgotten about.

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