Monday, February 4, 2019

Movie Preview: February 2019

It was an especially weak January this year as the total gross of the month came in at just $812 million domestically. For context, the last two Januarys both topped $950 million while the two years before that crossed $1 billion. This January was the lowest grossing January since 2011, which grossed $753 million. It didn't help that "Glass," the month's only expected blockbuster, suffered from a bad case of mixed reviews and poor word of mouth, leading it to only making $79 million through its first two weeks, which is what some thought it would make in one weekend before the reviews started trickling in. The only bright side of the month was "The Upside," which challenged "Glass" with $66 million on the month. Nearly every other release was dead on arrival as 2018 holdovers dominated the month. "Aquaman" actually won the month as it added another $119 million to its total. This February isn't going to come anywhere close to last February when "Black Panther" scored a $200 million opening weekend, but it should at least kick start 2019 in gear with several big titles on the schedule, especially when it comes to the animated department, as we prepare for what should be a huge Spring come March and April. So let's dive in and see what the month has to offer.

February 1st - 3rd-

The first weekend of February is one where Hollywood always rightfully avoids as Super Bowl weekend is a bad time to release a movie. Occasionally we'll get some counter-programming that does well, but even then the record for Super Bowl weekend is "Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: The Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour," which opened to $31.1 million in 2008, followed by "Dear John" with $30.4 million in 2010. Outside those two, no other movie has been able to crack $30 million on Super Bowl weekend. The only studio that even tried this year was Sony as they out Miss Bala to the wolves, where it was destroyed with an opening weekend of just $6.7 million. That allowed "Glass" to capture a third weekend win, despite only making $9.5 million, with "The Upside" right behind it at $8.9 million. "Miss Bala" wasn't helped by its reviews as it was awarded a miserable 26 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, with the audience score not a whole lot better at 65 percent. The movie stars Gina Rodriguez, a girl on a mission to rescue her friend, who was kidnapped by a drug cartel that shot down the club they were in. Perhaps it would've been best if Sony released this a few weekends earlier as a mindless January action film. But alas, an action film doesn't counter-program the Super Bowl very well.

February 8th - 10th- 

With the box office nearly completely dried up at this point, the second weekend of February will bring four new releases to the table in an effort to revive the box office. Leading the way will be Warner Animation Group's The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part." Believe it or not, it's now been five years since "The LEGO Movie" blew audiences away in 2014 as a surprise mega hit. The movie opened to $69.1 million that month and fed off excellent reviews to a leggy $257.8 million domestic total. Since then, it hasn't quite been all rainbows and butterflies when it comes to the LEGO franchise. "The LEGO Batman Movie" was well-received, but could only manage $175.8 million at the box office, while it was much worse for the poorly received "The LEGO Ninjago Movie," which could only muster up $59.2 million overall. Heading back to the main franchise should get things back on track when it comes to LEGO movies. The movie also has an encouraging 92 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes, which means fans of the first should at least be in for a pleasant return to the LEGO universe. While the sequel probably won't hit the heights of the first, an opening around the $53 million debut of "The LEGO Batman Movie" is probably what should be expected here. 

Getting a head start on the Valentine's Day week will be the adult-targeted comedy What Men Want. This is a remake of sorts of the popular romantic comedy "What Women Want," which starred Mel Gibson as a man who gains the ability to hear women's thoughts. This helps him realize that most women don't like him, which in turn helps him work to repair those relationships. "What Men Want" flips the script on that by starring Taraji P. Henson as a sports agent who gains the ability to hear men's thoughts, which helps her know how to gain an advantage in her male-dominated field. While "What Women Want" is your traditional PG-13 romantic comedy, and was a huge success in the year 2000, "What Men Want" does seem to be leaning heavier on the comedy aspect of things, even though it does have a romance side arc, and also carries with it an stronger R rating. This could work out, though, given that we haven't had too many adult-themed comedies recently. While comedies are hard to predict at the box office, producer Will Packer has an excellent track record, thus this does have potential to match the opening weekend totals of fellow Will Packer produced comedies "Night School" ($27.3 million) in 2018 and "Girl's Trip" ($31.2 million) in 2017.

The third movie of the weekend sees Liam Neeson once again searching for revenge in his new movie "Taken 4"... I mean Cold Pursuit. I joke around with that, but tell me if this premise sounds familiar. Liam Neeson is minding his own business until a group of people do a misdeed to one of his children, causing Neeson to find who did it and get revenge. In "Taken," the people kidnapped his daughter. In "Cold Pursuit," the people killed his son. So "Cold Pursuit" hits a bit darker, but it's a similar idea. Neeson's method of revenge in the movie primarily involves him discreetly getting revenge using his snowplow that he drives around with. Neeson has been rather regular with these gritty action movies, so it's easy to point out a range here as to what this might make. Without the benefit of the "Taken" brand name, said comparisons point this one to the low teens for its opening. The best comparisons are 2018's "The Commuter" ($13.7 million), " 2015's "Run All Night" ($11.0 million) and 2014's "A Walk Among the Tombstones" ($12.8 million). If the R-rating here catches enough people's attention, 2011's "The Grey" ($19.7 million) could be a comparison, but "Run All Night" and "A Walk Among the Tombstones" were also R, so it all depends on the reaction.

Most likely to get left in the dust this weekend is the horror film The Prodigy. This is a movie distributed by Orion Pictures, a studio trying desperately to make a comeback. Back in the day, Orion released movies such as "Dances with Wolves," "Platoon" and "Silence of the Lambs." But then they went bankrupt and shut down, with their final release being in 1997. They were officially revitalized by MGM in September 2017, with their first release being 2018's "Every Day,"  a moderate release that only made $6.1 million overall. They tried again with "Anna and the Apocalypse," but that barely hit 100 theaters, so the comparison isn't good. With "The Prodigy" they are going big with a 2,500 theater release, but the interest level or awareness doesn't seem to be super high. The plot centers around a young boy who is a genius kid, but starts to show disturbing behavior, which causes his mother to suspect that he's being possessed. The budget on this type of film is never too high, so the bar of success is most likely quite low, but nevertheless a good comparison might be to November's "The Possession of Hannah Grace," which opened to $6.4 million. If it gets really lucky, it could even hit the $9.3 million that last February's "Winchester" opened up to. 

February 13th - 18th-

Before I get into this weekend's four new releases, allow me to quickly explain this date range. Valentine's Day is on Thursday this year, so there's two movies that have decided to release on Wednesday, February 13, with the other two opening right on Valentine's Day. Combined with Valentine's Day, we have President's Day on Monday, February 18, which extends the weekend even more, giving this slate of releases a 5- or 6-day weekend. Hence is why I listed this as "February 13th - 18th" instead of "February 15th - 17th." Now onto the new releases.

Despite the slate of new releases, the winner of this weekend looks to be "The LEGO Movie 2." If it follows the trajectory of "The LEGO Batman Movie," that would mean a $32.7 million second weekend. "The LEGO Movie" itself scored $49.8 million in weekend two. Somewhere in that range is where the sequel will hit. Meanwhile, the top new release is looking like it will be Happy Death Day 2U. This is a follow-up to the surprise teen horror flick "Happy Death Day," which was a surprise hit in October 2017, opening to $26.0 million. The movie revolved around a college girl who got stuck on a Groundhog Day style time loop, where she had to relive the day of her murder over and over until she was able to figure out who her killer was. As it turns out, her time loop adventures with death aren't over as she gets stuck in it again, this time with the Baby-face killer seemingly also going after all of her friends. The original film was very self-aware if its silly premise, which is why it was able to entertain its target audience so well. Predicting how a horror sequel does is also quite tricky. Sometimes they explode. Sometimes they are DOA. But the reaction to the trailers seems positive, so there's a good chance this opens in the same general range as the original.

After a very long journey to get to theaters, it appears that Alita: Battle Angel will finally be arriving. This is based on the Japanese cyberpunk manga series titled "Battle Angel Alita" or "Gunnm," which began in 1990 and has produced several volumes or chapters since. James Cameron, director of "Avatar," "Titanic," "The Terminator," "The Terminator 2" and "Aliens" has stated in interviews that he's been trying  to get this made for a long time, since at least the early 2000's, but has been too busy with "Avatar" and all of its sequels to get it done. Eventually he settled in as simply being producer, while Robert Rodriguez, director of "Sin City" was hired as director. Even after being finished, the movie has bounced around on the release schedule quite a bit. The movie stars Rosa Salazar as Alita, a human-like robot girl who is very good at her fighting skills. Thus the movie is yet another one of these human vs. technology films that we've seen a hundred times, which is why the initial reviews here are mediocre. It's being praised for its visuals, but it was a huge uphill battle with this premise, and it looks like its a battle that it'll lose. The very similar live action "Ghost in the Shell" movie opened to $18.7 million in 2017, a total that looks like it'll be on the high end of the range for "Alita."

Battling for positioning in the top five with "Happy Death Day 2U" and "Alita" will be our big Valentine's Day movie, Isn't It Romantic. This stars Rebel Wilson as a girl who has always thought that what happens in romcoms is all fantasy and never realistic to life. One day she is mugged in a train station and knocked out, which somehow puts her into a PG-13 romantic comedy fantasy world where everything is perfect and she's the only one who realizes what's going on. Thus if this movie hits the notes right, it could be the type of self-aware comedy that has entertains those who are well aware of the romcom cliches as the movie spends its time making fun of all of them, while also potentially being a decent romcom itself. With the "Fifty Shades of Grey" franchise being officially complete, there's a bit of a void this February in terms of Valentine's Day box office that this movie and last weekend's "What Men Want" will attempt to fill. For "Isn't It Romantic," the most obvious comparison is Rebel Wilson's own "How to Be Single," which hit theaters at this exact time in 2016, opening to $17.9 million. The biggest difference with these two is that "How to Be Single" was R, while "Isn't It Romantic" remains PG-13, but the totals should still be similar.

The final film of this extended weekend will be the wrestling drama Fighting with My Family. This is based on the 2012 documentary "The Wrestlers: Fighting with My Family," and tells the story of Saraya "Paige" Bevis, who grew up in a family of professional wrestlers and eventually went onto be a two-time WWE Divas Champion. The movie follows the drama behind her getting into the WWE, especially in regards to her making it in while her brother didn't. Florence Pugh plays Paige in the movie while Jack Lowden plays her brother Zak. Their parents are played by Nick Frost and Lena Headey. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is an executive producer of the film and also makes a brief appearance, playing himself in the movie. The exact theater count on this one hasn't exactly been revealed, making it a bit tricky to project its total, but it did have its debut at the Sundance Film Festival, which just recently finished up. It came out of there with positive reviews from the Sundance crowd. It has an 8.0 on IMDb and a 86 percent on Rotten Tomatoes after 22 reviews. Potential comparisons that I came up with for its opening weekend are "McFarland, USA" ($11.0 million), "Eddie the Eagle" ($6.1 million) and "The Miracle Season" ($3.9 million). But again, theater count will be huge.

February 22nd - 24th- 

Because February only has 28 day this year and February 28 falls on a Thursday, that means this weekend is the final one of February. And there's only one new release, but it's a big one with How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. When it comes to Dreamworks Animation, they've experienced a bit of a nightmare in the last eight years or so. They were pumping out so many films at one point that quality started to lose them, which caused audiences to not care, resulting in them losing a whole ton of money and self-imploding. They ended up shelving a lot of planned movies as they tried to slow things down and recover. Last year they didn't even release anything. This is all probably why it's taken five years to finally release the final chapter of this "How to Train Your Dragon" trilogy. Much like the advertising for the second film, it appears that Dreamworks has included the entire film in the trailers. After successfully creating a Viking/Dragon Utopia, Hiccup and Toothless discover that there's another Night Fury. A female one. Astrid calls it a "Light Fury." They also find out that an evil dude named Grimmel has a goal to hunt every Night Fury, putting them in danger. So they need to go find the Hidden World of dragons before Grimmel does, so they can all be safe.

Since there's no other movie this weekend, allow me to take some time to discuss this movie's box office potential. The first "How to Train Your Dragon" opened to $43.7 million in 2010. It quickly became a well loved film, thus word of mouth pushed it to $217.6 million. Based on good will from the first one, "How to Train Your Dragon 2" was expected to hit $250-300 million domestically. Yet despite great reviews of its own, it only opened to $49.5 million in 2014 and fell harder than the first, ending up with $177.0 million. That's certainly not a failure by any stretch of the imagination. But it was a surprising underperformance. That leaves "The Hidden World" at an interesting spot. It's already had several early screenings and is soaring high at an incredible 98 percent on Rotten Tomatoes with over 50 reviews counted. But what does that mean for its box office? Despite doing better with its recent films, Dreamworks still hasn't had a $200 million film since "Madagascar 3" in 2012 and great reviews didn't help the second movie either. One also has to consider the direct competition from "The LEGO Movie 2" and next month's "Dumbo." So it makes sense to peg this movie at about $45-50 million for its opening and a final total that finishes around $150-175 million.

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