Friday, April 7, 2017

Movie Preview: April 2017

As I expected, this past March was huge at the box office, becoming the first March ever to cross the $1 billion mark. In fact, its $1.17 billion is the second highest grossing month ever outside July and December. July holds all top five spots in that category while our yearly Star Wars tradition is making December a month to be reckoned with. But the $1.17 billion for March is phenomenal for a non-Holiday/Summer month and goes to show how far Hollywood has come in making the lesser movie months relevant. Although I should note that it's not really worth your time to praise me too much for seeing this coming. I just had to look at the calendar and see that "Beauty and the Beast," "Logan," "Kong: Skull Island" and "Power Rangers" were all on the schedule and it was a no-brainer. "Beauty and the Beast" of course led the way with nearly $400 million in the U.S. alone in just three weeks while "Logan" crossed $200 million and "Kong: Skull Island" is inching close to the $150 million mark. Not bad at all! Looking forward to April, this is where Hollywood takes a bit of a break. The silence before the storm with the official Summer movie launch coming in May. There's a whole host of smaller releases to talk about along with our one major title, so let's knock them all out!

April 7th - 9th- 

The final weekend of March saw DreamWorks' "The Boss Baby" shock the world and topple "Beauty and the Beast," ending Disney's hope for a three-peat. Now instead of Disney going for a four-peat, the two will battle it out again this week for the top spot, both looking to come in just under $30 million. Outside a second straight surprise, that should mean our biggest new release of the weekend is probably looking at a third place finish. That being Smurfs: The Lost Village. This is the third Smurfs movie in the recent reboot franchise of our popular blue people from Sony Pictures Animation. This third movie comes at a bit of a surprise given how few people older than five years old actually enjoyed the first two movies, this shown by their horrific critical reviews ("The Smurfs" - 22 percent; "The Smurfs 2" - 13 percent) and the huge drop-off at the U.S. box office ("The Smurfs" - $142.6 million; "The Smurfs 2" - $71.0 million). For whatever reason, Sony has decided that they're not giving up on this franchise, despite it also being four years since "The Smurfs 2." In an effort to make things new and refreshing, this third movie stands as a semi-reboot and is also the first of the three to be purely in animation as opposed to animation/live-action cross-over.

Looking to finish significantly behind the three aforementioned movies that will top the box office this weekend will be Going in Style. This is a remake of the 1979 movie of the same name, which was directed by by Martin Brest and starred George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg as three senior citizens living a dull life in New York City who decide, despite have no criminal record, that they're going to rob a bank. Their reasoning is that they need to do something that will spark a bit of excitement. If they succeed, they have a bunch of money. If they lose, they get free board for a few years and have a host of social security checks waiting for them when they get out. Seemingly a win/win situation. This 2017 remake has essentially the same premise with three of Hollywood's favorite older actors stepping into the lead roles, that of Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Alan Arkin. Certainly not a bad cast at all if you're going to remake an older 70's film that perhaps your average movie-goer may not have heard of. Directing this remake is Zach Braff, director "Garden State" and "Wish I was Here."

Our final wide release comes via Pure Flix as they present The Case for Christ in hopes of luring in the Christian crowd ahead of Easter, which arrives later than usual this year on April 16. This is our second Easter-themed movie of the season following "The Shack," which opened in early March and has performed rather well so far. It opened to $16.2 million and in five weeks of release has made $53.7 million in the U.S. so far. Pure Flix would be ecstatic to see a result like that, but a quick glance of some of their previous releases that have opened in just over 1,000 theaters might tell a better story. "Do You Believe?" opened to $3.6 million and made just under $13 million total while "Woodlawn" opened to $4.0 million and made $14.4 million total. Both in 2015. Just looking at the movie title, you can probably guess what "The Case for Christ" is going to do and you'd be right. This movie is about an investigative journalist and self-proclaimed atheist whose wife has just converted to Christianity and thus he starts on investigative search to disprove Christ. You can probably make a guess as to how his journey ends. The movie is directed by Jon Gunn, who also directed "Do You Believe?"

April 14th - 16th-

Being that it's April, a month that's not known for its high box office totals, studios seem perfectly content to hand over the monopoly for the month to Universal's The Fate of the Furious. With movies such as "Logan" and "Kong: Skull Island" not having much of an impact anymore at this point, the eighth movie and the Fast and Furious franchise enters the weekend with zero competition as our family affair that will still be doing well is a different target audience. As you'll find out for the ensuing two weeks of April, there's nothing left in April to slow it down. This is a month that the Fast and Furious franchise has done very well in as the fourth, fifth and seventh chapters all performed very well after opening in April. "The Fate of the Furious" will again look to increase the action, intensity and stakes with this story focusing on Vin Diesel going rogue. The movie brings back most of its major players, including Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Michelle Rodriguez, Kurt Russell, Nathalie Emmanuel, Elsa Pataky and Jason Statham while adding Charlize Theron, Scott Eastwood and Helen Mirren. F. Gary Gray from "Straight Outta Compton" and "The Italian Job" fame will direct. Given that "Furious 7" was a tribute to the late Paul Walker, don't expect "Fate" to come close to that movie's $1.5 billion worldwide total, but it still should do very well in its own right as it's guaranteed to be 2017's second $100+ million opener.

April 21st - 23rd-

With "The Fate of the Furious" set to open somewhere between the $97.4 million of "Fast & Furious 6" and the $147.2 million of "Furious 7," that means its second weekend should be between those two movie's $35.2 million and $59.6 million, a mark that none of our five new movies this weekend will even come close to. In fact, there's a good chance that they will all fall short of $10 million, but let's talk about them anyways! And how about we start with Unforgettable, the movie that has the most potential to breakout out of all of these. Despite the potentially ironic title, "Unforgettable" is a thriller surrounding a very angry ex-wife who is specifically targeting her ex-husband's new wife with the goal of making her life miserable. This is a Katherine Heigl vs. Rosario Dawson face-off, with Heigl playing the ex-wife and Dawson playing the current wife. This premise reminds one of a traditional September Screen Gems thriller ala "When the Bow Breaks," "The Perfect Guy" or "No Good Deed," movies that opened to $14.2 million, $25.9 million and $24.3 million. If Warner Bros. can hit the mark of the latter two, they'll be ecstatic here, but a total closer "When the Bough Breaks" might be more realistic, especially since both are similarly "Fatal Attraction" rip-offs or wannabees.

 Perhaps a slightly more memorable outing for filmmakers that could be the top new release if "Unforgettable" is a flop (which is entirely possible) is Free Fire. This movie is an R-rated British action-comedy starring Sharlto Copley, Armie Hammer, Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy and Jack Reynor that is set in Boston in the late-70's. The movie is about two gangs that meet in an abandoned warehouse to buy guns. Things go amiss and suddenly they all find themselves in a big shootout where no one is in control because they all have guns. "Free Fire" made it's debut at the Toronto International Film Festival last year and also closed out the BFI London Film Festival. It was released in the U.K. at the end of March with StudioCanal U.K. handling distribution over there while A24 will handle distribution in the U.S. A24 has become a very prestigious distribution company in the realm of independent films with last year's best picture winner "Moonlight" being one of many films they have handled. Yet despite that, this will be only their second movie that they've opened in more than 1,000 theaters after last year's "The Witch," which opened to $8.8 million. So either this will break a record for them or it will play out like "The Witch" and have a more conservative run.

Next up we have a movie attempting to play "The Blair Witch Project" card and that is Phoenix Forgotten. In 1999, "The Blair Witch Project" was a movie that claimed to be edited from actual camera footage found from three students that went out into the woods hunting a witch a few years previously and were never found again. It was a brilliant cinematic ploy that tricked millions of people and popularized the found footage genre. 18 years later, we're all sick of the genre due to its overuse, but "Phoenix Forgotten" is going to try it again anyways. In this, the trailers claim that the there have been multiple UFO citings throughout history that the government has repeatedly denied. "Phoenix Forgotten" tells the story of three students who caught UFO footage on their cameras in Phoenix, Arizona 20 years ago, then went out searching further and were never seen again. Sound familiar? One of the producers of this film is Ridley Scott, director of the 1979 classic "Alien." This coming a month after "Life," an "Alien" copycat movie and a month before "Alien: Covenant," which is again directed by Ridley Scott. So, you know, aliens are the cool thing in Hollywood right now.

It's been an April tradition around Earth Day for a new DisneyNature documentary to come out. This started in 2009, with the only years DisneyNature taking off being 2013 and last year. But they're back this year with Born in China, a DisneyNature documentary that explores the wildlife of China. DisneyNature claims that this is their most ambitious project to date with how difficult it is to get the footage of this area for several different reasons, high elevation being one of them. They specifically follow the families of a panda, a snow leopard and a golden monkey. For every ticket purchased on opening weekend, DisneyNature will donate $0.20 to the World Wildlife Fund to help protect the wild animals in China, with the minimum donation being $100,000. In case you needed some incentive to go see it. For context, opening weekends for past DisneyNature documentaries have been anywhere from $4.6 million to $10.8 million, with the average being $6.8 million and the median being just over $6 million. So that's the range we're looking at for "Born in China."

The movie with perhaps the least amount of promise this weekend is ironically The Promise. This movie is a historical drama that takes place during the last days of the Ottoman Empire and is centered around a love-triangle between characters played by Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon and Christian Bale. So in terms of cast, this movie is strong. But it reminds me a bit of last month's "The Zookeeper's Wife," a more low-key historical film with an A-list cast that Focus Features decided to open in just 541 theaters instead of their initial planned wide release, a strategy that worked well for them given how high the per-theater average was (it earned $3.3 million in 541 theaters). If Open Road Films wanted to use the same strategy here, that wouldn't be a bad idea given the number of films in the market this weekend. Either way, the reviews will be what carries this film. On that note, it currently carries an early 31 percent on Rotten Tomatoes after showing at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, which isn't a very good sign. Unless general audiences react differently, this could be dead on arrival.

April 28th - 30th-

Based on the third weekend totals of "Fast & Furious 6" and "Furious 7," "The Fate of the Furious" is looking at a third weekend total between $19.6 million and $29.2 million. This is a total that would be beatable if it weren't a weekend that's essentially cinematic suicide to release a film on, so studios don't usually try. Hoping for the best will be STX Entertainment with The Circle. The reason why the last weekend of April is such a bad weekend is that the first weekend of May is the big Summer opening weekend, which in this case means Marvel's "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2," which is poised for one of the biggest opening weekends ever. Does any studio really want to release their movie the weekend right before that? And if they do, what does that say about their confidence towards the movie that they won't give it a little more breathing room? Now "The Circle" does have some positive buzz as it's a sci-fi thriller based on a popular novel from a few years ago and stars Emma Watson, Tom Hanks and John Boyega. Emma Watson takes a job at a powerful internet company and quickly rises up the ranks only to realize that this may not have been the best choice. James Ponsoldt from "The Spectacular Now" is the director of the film.

Finishing off the month will be a pair of releases that will go mostly unnoticed. Starting us off is How to Be a Latin Lover. This comes to us via Pantelion Films, a distribution company focused on delivering movies to the Latino audience. Recent films they've released include "Everybody Loves Somebody," "Un Padre No Tan Padre," "Compadres" and "No Manches Frida." "How to Be a Latin Lover" stars Eugenio Derbez, Salma Hayek, Rob Lowe and Kristen Bell and is about a man who made a career of career of seducing older women. After 25 years of marriage to a woman twice his age, he comes home one day to find that she has dumped him and now he has to start over and ends up moving in with his sister and her son. These movies from Pantelion usually open to a few million or so and play well over the ensuing weeks with their target audience, so this is likely to do the same.

Last and possibly least from the month of April is Sleight., a movie that initially premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last year before being acquired by BH Tilt and WWE Studios and finally arriving in theaters over a year after its Sundance premier. The movie is about a young magician looking after his younger sister following the passing of their parents. When she gets kidnapped, he uses his magician skills to try to save her. At least one critic described it as "Chronicle" meets "Iron Man," which is an interesting comparison. Sundance films don't usually have the best crossover to general audiences. Out of the 2016 crop, "Manchester by the Sea" did very well thanks to its awards season buzz, but the others not so much. "The Birth of a Nation" and "Love & Friendship" led the way with a final total of $15.9 and $15.0 million respectively while most of the others that got an actual push landed between $1 million and $6 million, which seems like a good range for "Sleight." BH Tilt has released a total of five films over the last two years that finished between $2.3 million and $10.8 million.

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