Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Movie Preview: December 2017

After quite the box office lull from August through October (with Stephen King's "IT" being the only bright spot), a packed November got 2017 back on track as it became the first November since 2013 to cross $1 billion. It's also the first month to do so since July and the fourth month to hit $1 billion this year (following March, June and July). This proves that the box office isn't dead. People are still more than willing to make their way out to the theaters. They will simply wait for some quality films before they do so. Leading the way in that market were our two comic book juggernauts, "Thor: Ragnorok" and "Justice League," with the former outgrossing the latter by a a surprisingly large margin. "Coco," "Murder on the Orient Express," "Wonder" "Daddy's Home 2" and "A Bad Mom's Christmas" all rounded out the month quite nicely as they all managed to please their target audiences. And now we move onto the final month of the year, which will be a mix of awards contenders and Christmas blockbusters, which will of course be led by "Star Wars: The Last Jedi." Our latest Star Wars adventure certainly won't be the only movie vying for people's attention, though. And given past history, there's a solid chance they all live peaceably together this Christmas season, so let's dive in!

December 1st - 3rd-

While there will be plenty of options for everyone around Christmas, studios have decided to wait till right before Christmas to release them all as there were no wide releases this weekend, thus is why I felt no urgency to get this out before the weekend ended. There are two potential reasons for this lack of new wide releases. First, Christmas is a very lucrative season for the box office. Everyone wants to go to the movies during the holidays and a lot of big movies can co-exist because of this. Meanwhile, early December is not quite as lucrative as many people still have work and school to deal with. So Hollywood waits. The other reason is that no studio wants to open their movie right before "The Last Jedi." While the last two years have proven that opening at the same time as or shortly after "Rogue One" and "The Force Awakens" has worked out just fine, opening in the weeks before might be considered cinematic suicide as any movie will be guaranteed to be wiped clean by a Star Wars opening weekend. So no studio even tried this year. This all led to our top five being the exact same as the previous weekend with Pixar's "Coco" leading the way.

However, there were a few major limited releases to talk about that will be expanding throughout the month. The winner of the bunch of them, in terms of per-theater averages, was Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water. The movie's per-theater average came in right in between the $91,109 average of "Lady Bird" and the $80,542 average of "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" as "The Shape of Water" scored an average of $83,400. All three came in behind the $103,233 average of "Call Me by Your Name" as all four of these movies seem guaranteed to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. With no obvious front-runner at the moment, it appears to be anyone's game. For Guillermo, he's probably had a lot of fun recently with the likes of "Pacific Rim" and "Crimson Peak," but "The Shape of Water" will essentially be a return to form, giving the Academy an opportunity to redeem themselves after not including "Pan's Labyrinth" in the best picture race in 2007. "The Shape of Water" looks to be a very layered film with relevant themes that centers on the relationship between a woman and a creature that she discovers as a part of a laboratory experiment in the Cold War era. Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer and Michael Stuhlbarg star.

While I mentioned that "The Shape of Water" was the winner of the bunch in terms of per-theater average, The Disaster Artist was the winner of the limited releases in terms of actual box office gross as it nearly cracked the top 10 with $1.2 million. The difference was that "The Disaster Artist" opened in 19 theaters as opposed to the two theaters that "The Shape of Water" opened in. The per-theater average of "The Disaster Artist" was $64,254. It also looks like it will be expanding faster as it's schedule to add around 800 theaters this next weekend. "The Disaster Artist" sees James Franco directing and starring as Tommy Wiseau, who is known for making the notoriously bad film "The Room" in 2003 (not to be confused with 2015's "Room"). "The Room" is such a bad film that it's gained status as a cult classic due to some claiming that it's one of the best "so bad it's good" films. Rather than spending 103 minutes making fun of Wiseau and his awful movie, "The Disaster Artist" instead takes the time to tell Wiseau's story as an individual whose brain simply works differently than your average human being. While not guaranteed for best picture, "The Disaster Artist" certainly looks to get love in some categories, with Franco for best actor being its best bet.

The third major limited release is certainly the lesser of the three both in terms of box office and reaction it's received thus far and that would be our yearly Woody Allen film Wonder Wheel. It's rather impressive that Woody Allen has made at least one film a year from 1982 to today. That filmography goes back even further to his directorial debut in 1966, although he wasn't quite as perfect in hitting every single year during those early. With such a high volume of films put out, the question every year becomes is this an on year or an off year. Unfortunately it's been more quantity over quality for Woody in his later years as "Wonder Wheel" appears to be yet another off year with a current score of 42 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and a per-theater average this weekend of $28,111 from five theaters. Which isn't bad, but leaves much to be desired for compared to our other Oscar hopefuls. "Wonder Wheel" is set at Coney Island in the 1950's and stars Kate Winslet and Jim Belushi as a couple whose relationship is a bit rocky, which causes Kate to start seeing a lifeguard played by Justin Timberlake, who at the same time is also having a relationship with the husband's daughter.

Finally, it's worth noting that Titanic is in theaters yet again for it's 20th anniversary, giving it a chance to add to its already huge box office total, although it only opened in 87 theaters this time around with a total of $415,000, which equates to a per-theater average of just $4,770. With a small theater count and box office total, this probably won't be around for too long, which is OK because these anniversary releases usually only last a few weeks anyways.

December 8th - 10th-

While the first weekend of December had no new wide releases, the second weekend of December only has one new wide release and it's a small one from Broad Green Pictures called Just Getting Started, more proof that Hollywood as a whole is avoiding these first two weekends for reasons discussed previously. "Just Getting Started" is an action comedy and stars Morgan Freeman and Tommy Lee Jones as two rivals who have to put their rivalry aside for the time being in order to fend off a mob hit, thus giving us shades of "Going in Style" from earlier this year or even "RED" from a few years back. All three seem to be movies with older actors having a bit of fun in their old age, led by Morgan Freeman. In terms of it's box office potential, "Just Getting Started" probably doesn't have a chance, given the lack of marketing, to get anywhere close to the $90.3 million that "RED" made in 2010. A more realistic ceiling might be "Going in Style," which opened to $11.9 million this year, finishing with $45.0 million. Although it's worth noting that this is Broad Green Pictures' fifth release and the previous four made between $5.3 million and $8.2 million on opening weekend, so that's probably a good range. It should be enough to sneak into the top five.

The most notable limited release this weekend will be the limited release of Neon's I, Tonya, which is geared to give a lot of awards love to lead actress Margot Robbie as figure skater Tonya Harding. On the surface it might not seem like a movie about a figure skater would be of any interest, but there's a lot below the surface that makes the story of Tonya Harding an interesting one. In 1991, Harding was the U.S. champion in figure skating as well as the World Championship silver medalist. She was also a two-time Olympian and two-time Skate America champion. The drama with her comes in 1994 where she was involved in a scandal where someone was hired to break her opponent's leg, which is the focus of "I, Tonya." The movie was the runner-up for the people's choice award at the Toronto International Film Festival, behind the winner "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" and has also been nominated at the Gotham Awards and Film Independent Spirit Awards, with many more nominations sure to come. In addition to Margot Robbie getting a lot of love in the lead actress categories, Allison Janney is also getting a lot of love for supporting actress.

December 15th - 17th-

And now it's time for the juggernaut this month as Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the most highly anticipated movie of the year, as well as the movie pretty much guaranteed to make the most money, will finally hit theaters. After a quick break last year to tell the story of how plans for the Death Star got stolen with "Rogue One," essentially Episode 3.9, "The Last Jedi" continues our main saga of Star Wars films as it is set to pick up right where "The Force Awakens" left off with Rey handing the lightsaber to Luke Skywalker. Rian Johnson, known mainly for "Looper" and several well-liked episodes of "Breaking Bad," is taking over the directing duties this time around. Lucasfilm apparently liked his work so much in this movie that they have already entrusted him with a brand new Star Wars trilogy set somewhere in a different corner of the galaxy. As far as this movie goes, Johnson claimed a few nights ago on Jimmy Kimmel that he always saw the title of "The Last Jedi" as singular and referring specifically to Luke Skywalker, which sparked debate online due to the fact that "The Last Jedi" translates as plural in many countries. Regardless of whether or not Johnson was being truthful or trying to throw audiences off, it's safe to say that we can expect a lot of Luke Skywalker in this one as well as a darker direction than we normally get for Star Wars.

As far as how much money "The Last Jedi" will make, it's worth noting that "A New Hope," "The Phantom Menace" and "The Force Awakens" were all event films. "A New Hope" in 1977 was Star Wars exploding onto the scene whereas "The Phantom Menace" and "The Force Awakens"  were Star Wars returning to theaters after a lengthy hiatus. With both the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy, none of the ensuing sequels were able to match the box office total of the first movie of each respective trilogy. Thus it wouldn't be fair to expect "The Last Jedi" to match or top the $936 million domestic total of "The Force Awakens." If "The Last Jedi" were to follow the trends of both previous trilogies, "The Empire Strikes Back" fell 31.9 percent while "Attack of the Clones" fell 29.9 percent. Using those two percentages as a high and low, that would mean "The Last Jedi" gets between $637 million and $663 million. If it bucked the trend and fell softer, a 20 percent drop would equate to $748 million. Regardless of what happens, anything above $600 million should be considered a win. For future reference, the final movies in each trilogy both increased from 20 to 25 percent over the middle chapter. That's a range of $768 million to $834 million for Episode IX.

The only movie choosing to directly challenge "The Last Jedi" by opening on the same opening weekend is the latest animated film from Blue Sky, that of Ferdinand. While it may seem like a foolish choice to do so, counter-programming a Star Wars film with a family-friendly movie for the young kids has worked just fine the last few years. "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip" pulled in a decent $85.9 million domestic total while running at the same time as "The Force Awakens" while Illumination's "Sing" pulled in an excellent $270 million after starting just a week after "Rogue One." In fact, "Sing" ended up topping the final gross of "Moana," which opened just a month earlier. So "Ferdinand" is in good position if it manages to capture the attention of family audiences during Christmas. It's only competition will be families trying to catch-up on "Coco" during Christmas or if they choose to take their kids to "Jumanji," which opens less than a week later. "Ferdinand" is the story of a bull who isn't very good at being bull, but attempts to do his best to become a better bull. Outside the last Ice Age movie, every one of Blue Sky's movies has fallen somewhere in the $100 million range.

December 20th- 

I normally separate these by weekend, but everything around Christmas is a bit jumbled, so it made more sense in my mind to separate it by specific release date this time around. There are two movies that will be opening on Wednesday December 20, with the most notable one being Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. Much like when the new "Ghostbusters" movie was announced, the internet went crazy in a negative way upon the announcement of another "Jumanji" movie. The original "Jumanji," starring the late legendary actor Robin Williams, is a sacred piece of nostalgia for many 90's kids. How dare they remake it! That's what many said, anyways. However, unlike the new "Ghostbusters" movie, when the trailers actually dropped for this new "Jumanji," the internet was actually rather shocked at the fact that it looked like a good movie. Since then, mostly positive buzz has followed to the point where this looks to be a successful bit of counter-programming. Instead of being a straight-up remake, "Welcome to the Jungle" will be more of a sequel as it's set in the modern day with four kids being sucked into a video game instead of a board game. When they get sucked in, they become Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gillan while having to survive in the jungle.

Another popular trend has been the rival of live-action musicals during the holiday season. The latest in that trend is the new musical The Greatest Showman. Previous holiday musicals have included film adaptations of "Les Mis" in 2012 and "Into the Woods" in 2014 with last year's "La La Land" being an original musical. "The Greatest Showman" is also of the original variety and actually includes some of the same songwriters from "La La Land." The musical is centered around the story of P.T. Barnum as he went from nothing to creating a worldwide sensation by inventing the show business. The movie has a rather large cast that is led by Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum and is accompanied by the likes of Michelle Williams, Rebecca Ferguson, Zac Efron and Zendaya to name just a few. As you might expect, the movie is loaded with all kinds of performers who all look to put on quite the show for audiences. Initially this was seen as a potential Oscar front runner as "La La Land" and "Les Mis" both did rather well on the awards front, but recently it has lost a bit of steam with the awards crowd as the marketing appears to be targeting general audiences instead, which is totally fine and should be able to attract a decent amount of people who love musicals.

December 22nd- 

Two days after "Jumanji" and "The Greatest Showman" hit the market, four more wide releases debut, making for a total of six new movies right before Christmas, and eight if you count "The Last Jedi" and "Ferdinand" from the weekend before. Leading this specific crowd on Friday proper will be Pitch Perfect 3. "Pitch Perfect" was a surprise sleeper hit back in 2012. In only opened with $5.1 million in 335 theaters, but positive reviews and word of mouth spread quickly as it finished with $65 million, a total that was topped in just one weekend with "Pitch Perfect 2" in 2015, as the sequel opened to $69.2 million, finishing with $184.3 million. Now the Barden Bellas are back for one final ride... supposedly. It's hard to believe Hollywood when they claim something is the final chapter, especially when it takes practically no effort to come up with a plot. But that's what the marketing is pushing here as the girls reunite for an overseas tour of Glee-style A Cappella music. Most of the girls are returning again for this "final" movie, but the franchise will get yet another new director as Elizabeth Banks, who was originally slated to return, dropped out for scheduling conflicts and has been replaced by Trish Sie, director of "Step Up All In" and some OK Go music videos.

There's usually at least one adult-targeted comedy that comes out during the holiday season and this year's version is Father Figures. The movie stars Owen Wilson and Ed Helms as two twin brothers who learn that their mother, played by Glenn Close, has been lying to them about their father for their entire life. She had previously told them their father has passed away, but now she reveals that their father is alive, but she actually has no idea who she is, so the two brothers go on a road trip to find their father. Potential father figures for Wilson and Helms are played by J.K. Simmons, Katt Williams, Terry Bradshaw, Ving Rhames and Christopher Walken. It's hard to predict how well comedies like this will do as some that you think might be hits become duds while others come out of nowhere to be mega hits. As an attempted comparison, though, our last two adult comedies during Christmas were "Why Him?" from last year and "Sisters" from two years ago, which made $60.3 million and $87.0 million respectively. The director here is Lawrence Sher in his directorial debut. He is known best as the cinematographer for the Hangover trilogy as well as other similar movies.

In what I'm guessing will be more of a moderate release as opposed to a major wide release, we have Downsizing, the latest movie from director Alexander Payne. Most recently, Payne wrote and directed the 2013 film "Nebraska," which was nominated for six Oscars, all in major categories including best picture, best director, best original screenplay and best actor. Payne has also found Oscar love with movies such as "Sideways," "The Descendants" and "Election." So it seemed like a good bet for him to find more love, especially with "Downsizing" being a social satire wherein Matt Damon's character feels like he will solve all of his problems if he were to shrink himself, only to find himself with a different and perhaps more challenging set of problems. "Downsizing" hit the film festival run, but didn't exactly get the praise that Payne was probably hoping for as it currently stands at a 64 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, meaning that this one will probably be left out in a race that has so many other major contenders. Yet with this unique premise, this could still find an audience among general moviegoers.

The fourth wide release of December 22 is probably another small to moderate wide release and that is All the Money in the World. The story behind this movie is actually quite fascinating. As is well known by this time, Hollywood has decided to have a zero tolerance policy towards sexual assault and sexual harassment in the work place. Many people are coming forward with allegations towards all sorts of celebrities, which in turn is rightfully causing the careers of many of these perpetrators to be in serious jeopardy. One of said people who has been completely disowned by Hollywood is Kevin Spacey, who was originally set to star in this film. When all of these allegations came out towards him, Spacey was cut from the film and replaced with Christopher Plummer. Thus two weeks and $10 million of reshoots were commissioned to refilm these scenes, which began on November 20. Instead of postponing the film because of that, TriStar is maintaining this December 22 release date, which is a pretty insane commitment. This will certainly give the film a lot more attention than it probably would've initially had. The movie, by the way, is the true story of the kidnapping of a 16-year-old boy wherein his mom is begging his billionaire grandfather to pay the ransom.

The final movie to talk about on this release date is the latest from legendary filmmaker Steven Spielberg as he delivers The Post. This is a movie that will be released in just four theaters this weekend as it gets its Oscar-qualifying run in before expanding nationwide in mid-January, but we might as well talk about it now while we're in the Oscar mood this month because this is definitely a major contender. At this point there isn't really one major front runner like there usually is at this point, which should make the awards season interesting, but it's worthy of mentioning that the National Board of Review named "The Post" as their best movie of 2017, which in turn means that this could end up as our best picture winner, which would give Spielberg his first best picture win since "Schindler's List" in 1994 and 10th overall best picture nomination. The movie sees Spielberg taking on the story of the Pentagon Papers, which was a major battle between the press and the government in the 1970's as the government, through four U.S. presidents, were covering up their involvement in the Vietnam War. Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks are the leads in the movie.

December 25th-

The final weekend of December begins on the 29th and goes through New Year's Eve, with New Year's Day landing on a Monday. There are no wide releases on this weekend as Hollywood usually avoids New Year's, allowing the box office to instead be dominated by our Christmas holdovers, of which we will have plenty to choose from as you have seen in this post. On Christmas Day, though, while there are no new additional wide releases, two final limited releases that are worth briefly noting will be hitting theaters. The first of these two is Phantom Thread, which is said to be the final film from legendary actor Daniel Day-Lewis, who has won three best actor Oscars for "Lincoln," "There Will Be Blood" and "My Left Foot," while being nominated for an additional two in "Gangs of New York" and "In the Name of the Father." While the competition is strong, thus not guaranteeing Day-Lewis goes out on a win, he's a surefire bet to at least get nominated. "Phantom Thread" reunites Day-Lewis with director Paul Thomas Anderson ("There Will Be Blood") as he stars as a dressmaker in 1950's London who becomes disrupted by a strong-willed woman. If this is indeed Day-Lewis' final film before he retires, he will certainly be missed in Hollywood.

Last but not least, we have the directorial debut of writer Aaron Sorkin with Molly's Game. Sorkin at this point in his career is a very well-loved screenwriter as he won an Oscar for "The Social Network" and got nominated for "Moneyball." He also wrote "A Few Good Men" in the early 90's and most recently "Steve Jobs" while also being the creator of the TV series "The West Wing." His first dive into directing has at least gotten the attention of various critics and if received well it's feasible that this could sneak into the best picture race, although currently you can say it's one of the many on the fence. The movie stars Jessica Chastain, who is overdue for another nomination after just missing out on several acclaimed roles. She was previously nominated for "The Help" and "Zero Dark Thirty." In "Molly's Game," Chastain stars as Molly Bloom, who became the target of an FBI investigation that zeroed in on her underground poker empire that included celebrities, athletes, business tycoons and the Russian mob. "Molly's Game" debuted at Toronto International Film Festival to solid reviews and co-stars Idris Elba, Kevin Costner and Michael Cera.

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