Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Movie Preview: September 2019

And just like that the summer movie season for 2019 is in the books. It finished with a decently respectable August that was about par for the course. There was not "Suicide Squad" or "Guardians of the Galaxy" to boost it above average, but "Hobbs & Shaw" did a good job leading the way with just over $150 million total through the end of the month. July holdovers "The Lion King" and "Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood" also did solid business while there were plenty of mid-range hits that performed a bit over expectations, like "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark," "Good Boys" and "Angel Has Fallen," which helped the month avoid disaster and finish around $830 million, which is about average for August. Overall, the box office did quite well over the course of the whole summer movie season, finishing with around $4.3 billion, which is about even with last summer's $4.4 billion and well ahead of 2017's disappointing $3.8 billion. The average over the last decade is right at $4.3 billion. So again, par for the course. But with summer over, it's time to look forward to the fall movie season, which often starts a bit slow in September, but there will be at least one clown wreaking box office havoc.

September 6th - 8th-

Historically speaking, Labor Day weekend is often one of the worst for the box office. That rang true this year as this past weekend became the second worst weekend of 2019, ahead of only Super Bowl weekend. Prior to 2017, the weekend after Labor Day hadn't fared a whole lot better. But then Warner Bros. discovered a secret. Horror movies can do quite well in early September as "IT" sent shock waves through the world, earning an unprecedented $123.4 million in September 2017. That release date proved to not be a fluke as "The Nun" then opened to $53.8 million last September. So if it ain't broke, don't fix it, right? Warner Bros. will be attempting to go three for three in this spot by releasing the highly anticipated IT: Chapter Two. This will be the conclusion to Stephen King's classic story as Pennywise the clown will again be terrorizing the Losers Club, but this time with all of them as adults 27 years later. The adult cast here is rather impressive with Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, Andy Bean and Isaiah Mustafa taking the reigns from the younger cast, who will also all be reprising their roles via flashbacks, with Bill Skarsgard returning as the infamous clown Pennywise, a mysterious presence who preys on people's greatest fears.

Just how much will "IT: Chapter Two" make in its opening weekend? We'll find out pretty quickly here, but given how well received "IT" was, historical logic says people will turn up in droves to catch the next chapter, especially with said chapter being advertised as the final chapter. Not only did "IT" open with $123.4 million, but it also held fairly well for a horror film, earning $327.5 million overall domestically, which is the highest total ever for an R-rated horror film, not adjusted for ticket price inflation (1973's "The Exorcist" easily wins out when you do adjust as it's one of the top 10 highest grossing movies of all time adjusted for ticket price inflation). Can "IT: Chapter Two" top that opening, while possibly capturing the opening weekend record for an R-rated film, currently held by "Deadpool" with $132.4 million? Given that no one expected "IT" to open as high as it did, that's certainly not out of the realm of possibilities. However, it should be noted that the second half of this story is typically seen as the lesser half, both with the book and the 1990 mini-series. If that trend continues, "IT: Chapter Two" could be in for a slight dip in performance. What also can't be ignored is the movie's 169 minute run time, which could be a bit daunting for casual horror audiences. 

September 13th - 15th-

There are more movies being released in September. The other studios just decided to let "IT: Chapter Two" have that first weekend all to itself. But there are two releases in this second weekend of September. The one getting a significant amount of buzz right now is Hustlers. STX Entertainment was a bit late in beginning their advertising campaign for this movie as they didn't release the first trailer for this until mid-July, but said trailer has caught a lot of attention. The movie stars Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, Julia Stiles, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Lizzo and Cardi B as it follows a crew of former strip club employees who band together to turn the tables on their Wall Street clients. It was inspired by the New York Times article "The Hustlers at Scores," which was written by Jessica Pressler and published in December 2015. In Pressler's article, she describes this original story as a modern-day Robin Hood story where strippers stole from "(mostly) rich, (usually) disgusting, (in their minds) pathetic men and gave to, well, themselves." So this movie could be a good one for the female crowd and thus might be comparable to fellow STX film "Bad Moms," which is currently STX's highest grossing film as it opened to $23.8 million and held well, making $113.2 million overall.

The second wide release of the weekend is one that doesn't have quite as much buzz, but is hoping to build said buzz with it's premier at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 8 and that is The Goldfinch. This movie is a collaborative effort between Warner Bros. and Amazon Studios wherein Warner Bros. will control the theatrical release while Amazon gets the exclusive streaming rights later on. Both studios helped finance the film. The movie is about a boy in New York who gets taken in by a wealthy family after his mother is killed in a bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The big draw here is that this is from director John Crowley, whose previous film is the 2015 drama "Brooklyn," which got a best picture nomination at the Oscars as well as as nominations for best lead actress for Saoirse Ronan and best adapted screenplay. Whether or not "The Goldfinch" follows suit will largely depend on how critics and audiences react to the film, which is why its debut at TIFF will be key. The movie does boast a cast that includes Ansel Elgort, Oaks Fegley, Aneurin Barnard, Finn Wolfhard, Sarah Paulson, Luke Wilson, Jeffrey Wright and Nicole Kidman. I'm sure a few of them would love awards season consideration if the movie does play well.

September 20th - 22nd-

The third weekend of September might be the most interesting in terms of the fight for the top box office spot. In 2017, "IT" made $29.8 million in its third weekend after a $60.1 million second weekend. If "Chapter Two" ends up with a sharper fall in its ensuing weekends, there could be a fight to dethrone it with all three new wide releases this weekend being in play. The first of them is Rambo: Last Blood. The marketing push for this movie hasn't necessarily been the most aggressive, neither has the interest level been super high. But nevertheless this is the fifth movie in what was at least at one point a popular franchise. The Rambo franchise initially began in 1982 with "First Blood," which was right in the midst of Sylvester Stallone's Rocky success as 1982 was also when "Rocky III" got released. While the second film, "Rambo: First Blood Part II," did excellent business, the third and fourth movies didn't exactly repeat that success, with the fourth film, simply titled "Rambo," failing to reignite the franchise back in 2008, 20 years after the release of "Rambo III." So is "Rambo: Last Blood," supposedly the final film in the franchise, going to fare any better? "Rambo" opened to $18.2 million in January 2008, which is a mark "Last Blood" should hit if it wants to justify its existence.

Fighting for a fairly similar target audience as "Rambo: Last Blood" will be the Brad Pitt space drama Ad Astra. Traveling to space is something that we've done a lot of recently in Hollywood with the likes of "Gravity" (2013), "Interstellar" (2014), "The Martian" (2015), "Passengers" (2016), "Life" (2017), and "First Man" (2018). So, yeah, we've had at least one of these types of movies every year since 2013. We're even going to go back again in October with "Lucy in the Sky." With "Ad Astra," Brad Pitt is heading to space in order to figure out what happened with his father, who went on some sort of expedition 30 years prior that now jeopardizes the universe. The movie has a reported production budget of around $80 million, which means Disney would love it if it opened to the $45+ million that "Gravity," "Interstellar" and "The Martian" all did, but that might be wishful thinking. Rather, last year's "First Man" opened just over $16 million, which might be more around the range that "Ad Astra" hits. The movie premiered at the Venice Film Festival on August 29 to positive reviews and will also have the benefit of IMAX theaters. But looking at that budget, this might be another one of these Disney-distributed Fox films that falls short of its financial expectations.

The biggest wild card of the weekend will be the release of Downton Abbey, which is a continuation of the popular British TV series that ran for six seasons from 2010 to 2015. This movie is written by show creator and co-writer Julian Fellowes and is directed by Michael Engler, who directed four episodes of the show during the final seasons. So that information, combined with the return of much of the original cast, including Hugh Bonneville, Jim Carter, Michelle Dockery, Elizabeth McGovern, Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton, has a lot of the fan base of the show excited to return for another experience. The general premise of this film involves King George V and Queen Mary visiting Downton Abbey in 1927. The question here, though, is how much of the fan base will make the trip to the theaters to see this? Given that they originally watched the show in the comfort of their own homes, will many of them chose to wait to see this until they can also watch this in their own homes instead of paying for a ticket to see it? There's not a whole lot of exact historical precedent to compare this to, in terms of completed shows continuing later via movie by the original creative team, but perhaps the 2015 film "Entourage" is one? That opened to $10.3 million in June 2015.

September 27th - 29th-

The final weekend of September only has one wide release and that is DreamWorks Animation's Abominable. The end of September has been a very popular time to release an animated film as there's been one around this time every year since "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" in 2009. A good percentage of these instances have been Sony Animation claiming the spot as their own with their "Cloudy" and "Hotel Transylvania" franchises, but occasionally another studio will jump in, like DreamWorks this year. "Abominable" continues an odd trend recently of animated yeti movies with "Smallfoot" last September, "Missing Link" this April and now "Abominable" this month. This latest yeti adventure involves a girl finding a magical yeti outside her home and having to go on a journey to return him back to his home. The easiest comparison here to how well this will do is "Smallfoot," given the exact same release date and premise. "Smallfoot" opened to $23 million and made $83 million total. In the two previous years before "Smallfoot," we've also had "The LEGO Ninjago Movie" opening to $20.4 million, making $59.3 million overall, while "Storks" opened to $21.3, making $72.7 million overall. At first look, "Abominable" seems like it will fit right into that range.

If this is the range that "Abominable" hits, that will actually be on the low end of the spectrum for a DreamWorks animated film. If you remove the three Aardman films they helped distribute in the early 2000s ("Chicken Run," "Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" and "Flushed Away"), the average opening weekend for DreamWorks is $44.3 million, while the average final domestic total is $162.7 million. Given that these movies have now spanned over 20 years, if you take things a bit further and adjust for ticket price inflation for each film, the average opening weekend number goes up to $54.8 million, while the average final domestic total going up to $204.7 million. So if "Abominable" only hits the numbers of "Smallfoot," that will be a major disappointment for the studio. They're probably hoping for numbers similar to what the first two "Hotel Transylvania" movies did, that being $42.5 million and $48.4 million, respectively. And it wouldn't be unheard of for a DreamWorks film to drastically overperform and hit those levels. "Home" in 2015 and "The Boss Baby" in 2017 were only expected to open around $30 million, but yet both opened over $50 million. So it's possible that the DreamWorks brand could push "Abominable" higher than expected.

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