This weekend, all eyes are on one film, or at least Warner Bros sure hopes that’s the case. Yes, after all the buzz surrounding this production and all the hype being built up around its premiere, Crazy Rich Asians makes its (official) debut this weekend as the first American studio film to feature an all-Asian principal cast since The Joy Luck Club 25 years ago. The media has built this film up to be a watershed moment for the Asian community and overall Asian representation screen and there is a palpable sense of anticipation as the film hits theaters. Crazy Rich Asians is aiming for the number one stop this weekend but will have to contend with The Meg as it looks to be racing with Crazy Rich Asians to a photo-finish at the top of this weekend’s box office. The rest of the box office looks to see the additions of Mark Wahlberg’s Mile 22 and Alpha to the top ten line up, hoping to serve as more hard-edged counterprogramming to the lighter fun fare supplied by Warner Bros. through Crazy Rich Asians and The Meg.
Most pundits are predicting Crazy Rich Asians to win the weekend, which would make a lot sense given just how much support the film is getting from the industry. As mentioned above, the film is the first film to feature a completely Asian principal cast since The Joy Luck Club from 1993. Released by Disney at the time, Joy Luck Club focused on a group of Asian-American mothers and daughters trying to connect to one another through an understanding of their cultural heritage and identities and debuted to critical acclaim, making a modest profit at the box office. Crazy Rich Asians shares some themes with Joy Luck Club regarding cultural identity, but where The Joy Luck Club focused on working-class immigrants in America, Crazy Rich Asians is coming from the total opposite end of the field. Based the best selling novel of the same name (another similarity to The Joy Luck Club), Crazy Rich Asians follows a young couple, Rachel Chu (played by Constance Wu) and Nick Young (played by newcomer Henry Golding) who travel to Singapore to attend the wedding of Nick’s best friend. Upon arriving, Rachel discovers that Nick is actual a member of one of the richest families in all of Asia, heir to a very large fortune (thus the most eligible bachelor in Asia), and she is forced to contend with social pressures from Singapore’s upper-class socialites as well as Nick’s disapproving mother, Eleanor (played impeccably by Michelle Yeoh). Featuring a totally Asian cast and helmed by John M. Chu, Crazy Rich Asian‘s has been the subject of intense media buzz ever since the first reviews for the film dropped, which have nearly unanimously sung praises for the film’s cast and its “fresh” use of the tried and true rom-com formula. Entertainment Weekly, Vanity Fair, and the Hollywood Reporter have done massive spreads on the film, highlighting its importance to the Asian community and what this film could to for representation going forward, should it be successful. Clearly, the industry and the media are in Crazy Rich Asian‘s corner as it heads into this weekend. The question is now whether or not it can deliver.
Critically, the film is doing just that. As mentioned above, the reviews are strong, with a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 76 Metacritic Score. However, Warner Bros. clearly sees a bit a risk with this production. Its a been an on-going narrative in Hollywood that films with non-white leads don’t tend to perform well at the box office. While this narrative is slowly but surely being disproven, there remains unfortunate evidence to be seen to the contrary, that film like Crazy Rich Asian‘s that had no major roles filled by any white may simply not be able to connect with a large audience and will be more likely to fail financially. Earlier this year, Love, Simon fell prey to a similar situation. Although the film featured didn’t feature a non-white lead, it was the first studio film to ever focus on a gay protagonist, placing it in a similar trailblazing position to Crazy Rich Asians. Love, Simon (like Crazy Rich Asians) has very strong reviews to bolster it, yet ended up underperforming during its theatrical release. Now, some of this could be contributed to the fact that Love, Simon held a rather large amount of preview screenings to bolster buzz for the film prior to its official release resulting in fewer people paying to see it in theaters later, but the fact remains that audiences simply didn’t show up to support Love, Simon. Now, Crazy Rich Asians may end up facing similar road-blocks regarding race. Recognizing this, Warner Bros. made a smart decision to open the film on a Wednesday (they also held a single round of preview screenings prior) to not only boost the buzz going into the weekend but also give the film more time to make money and bolster its weekend gross. So far, the strategy seems to be working, with audiences indeed drumming up buzz on social media and the film earning an “A” Cinemascore signaling, potentially, strong word of mouth into the weekend. Financially, the film brought in about $5 million on Wednesday and $3.7 on Thursday for a total of $8.7 million going into the weekend.
As for the actual 3-day weekend, it’s actually quite hard to make predictions. For one thing, it’s hard to predict the performance of a film that is one of the first of its kind as there is little to compare it to. On the other hand, the trades are also all over the place with their predictions. Early tracking showed the film heading for a $30+ million gross over the course of its 5-day opening window, with the regular 3-day weekend gross being projected around $25 million. However, the closer we’ve gotten to opening weekend, the smaller the projections that have been made. $20 million now seems to be the magic number with regard to the 3-day, with $25-29 million being projected for the 5-day. Now, it is not out of the realm of possibility for the film to debut in the 3-day weekend with less than $20 million, but the sheer level of coverage has me doubting that the film would debut lower than that. The optimist in me says that the film has strong word-of-mouth and would make for a 5-day gross of around $30 million. This would be a solid opening for the picture, especially given that the film cost only about $30 million to make, making said opening a strong starting point. That said, there is reason to believe that the film could gross even more. According to Box Office Mojo, in terms of IMDB page view data, Crazy Rich Asians is outpacing Girls Trip, which opened to $31 million last year over the course of a 3-day weekend. Girls Trip, when you think about it, could serve as a strong comparison to Crazy Rich Asians given the fact that it featured a predominately non-white cast in a well-regarded comedy, as well as both films having similar levels of pageantry with regard to their productions. Girls Trip ended up being very successful (the first comedy featuring all-female black leads to reach $100 million domestically), so an opening of $30 million for Crazy Rich Asians in the 3-day would be a definite win.
All that said, the main obstacle standing in the way of Crazy Rich Asians is friendly fire. Just last weekend, Warner Bros. oversaw the release of The Meg, the latest Jason Statham actioner which managed to outperform expectations with a strong $45 million debut. Despite mixed critical reviews, the film was a hit with audiences and could potentially hold quite well this coming weekend. That may seem counter-intuitive given the reviews, but the fact is that in America, Shark-themed movies tend to perform surprisingly well. For example, just last year, 47 Meters Down, a critically reviled film from newly minted distributor Entertainment Studios, not only managed a solid opening but also held phenomenally well for the majority of its run at the box office, dropping less than 40% for its first five weekends at the box office. The Meg fits with the end of the summer as a fun, ridiculous actioner with ludicrous thrills to send off the season, so I expect to hold nicely this coming weekend. The trades are predicting a drop in the 50%‘s, however, I see the film holding with at max a 45% drop for a weekend gross of about $25 million. This projection would put it neck and neck with Crazy Rich Asians which is currently project to gross within the range of $20-$25 million. Who will be the victor? Conservatively, I predict that the Meg will take the weekend, as it already has an audience and frankly the projections for Crazy Rich Asians are just too varied from trade to trade (as well as having the 5-day gross mess with the 3-day gross projections). However, there is currently a strong push for Crazy Rich Asians to succeed, so don’t be surprised if the film wins the weekend by popping into the $30 million range (a la Girls Trip) when all is said and done.
Aside from Crazy Rich Asians the rest of the newcomers this weekend don’t look to have a strong showing, only looking to post stronger positioning in the top ten by way of the fact that they are new releases. Mile 22 looks to come in third place with a projected weekend gross range between $14-$16 million. Thursday night preview grosses came in around $1 million, outpacing Tom Cruise’s similarly themed American Made which debuted to $16.8 million. However, Mile 22 is the fourth and most recent outing for the director-actor pairing of Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg, a pairing which, despite having produced critically well-regard films such as Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon, and Patriots Day, has seen continuously dimishing returns with every one of their outings. While Lone Survivor debuted in wide release to a strong $37 million, Deepwater Horizon only saw an opening gross of $20 million while Patriot’s Day saw an even worse $11 million opening when it went wide. Mile 22 is hampered this time around by a very bad critical reception (41 Metacritic Score indicating highly mixed reviews and a 21% Rotten Tomatoes score indicating an overall negative trend), which when paired with a director actor pairing that already is failing to excite audiences, I am inclined to expect that the film will be debuting on the lower end of projections. There is a belief the presence of The Raid alum, Iko Uwais, will help the film appeal to a bigger and more diverse crowd, but with a more celebrated and critically well-regarded film like Crazy Rich Asians potentially drawing in the majority of Asian audiences, that potential for a bigger opening is likely null and void. I am expecting a debut around $15 million.
In fourth place, we are likely to find Mission Impossible-Fallout, with a potential gross of about $11 million thanks to a likely low drop of only 45% (if not lower) as it continues to receive heaps of critical acclaim. Christopher Robin looks to come in fifth as it tries to keep up and forge past the $100 million mark despite tripping out of the gate. I predict a drop of 45-50% for a gross between $6-$7 million. BlacKKKlansman looks to be a bit of an anomaly, as it is too small to expect the film to have a large gross in its sophomore weekend, but has enough critical acclaim and will likely be adding theaters thus is too strong to completely rule out. Based on this, I make the conservative prediction that this Spike Lee joint will see a safe, solid drop of around 40% for a gross of $6.5 million in sixth place, but don’t be surprised if that gross is slightly higher given the topicality of the subject matter and the fact that Oscar season is ramping up.
In seventh place, I’m expected to find Alpha, the Kodi Smit-McPhee “early-man” drama about a young boy and his dog fighting their way through the Ice Age. The film has strong reviews, but virtually no one is talking about it, with little social media activity and little promotion from its distributor Sony. The film is projected to earn $6 million this coming weekend. The film earned $525,000 in Thursday previews, comparable to The Darkest Minds ($550,000) from two weeks ago, but given that Darkest Minds earned merely $5 million when it opened, I think the $6 million max projection holds. With a “D-” Cinemascore, Slender Man should expect a large drop, 65% at least (though likely more given Sony Screen Gem’s track record), for an eighth place spot with a gross of about $4 million. Ninth and tenth place will likely see Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again and The Spy Who Dumped Me, respectively, each with a gross between $3-$4 million. I’m projecting another strong hold in the mid-30%‘s for Mamma Mia 2 for a gross of about $3.7 million, whole The Spy Who Dumped Me will likely see an okay hold of around 45% for a gross of $3.3 million.
Outside the top ten, the specialty market will see the releases of Sundance titles Juliet, Naked (in 4 theaters) and Special Jury Prize Winner Blaze (in 3 theaters). Expect Blaze to have the stronger per-theater-average of the two given the pedigree of the behind the camera talent (Ethan Hawke making his directorial debut) and the subject of Blaze Foley as a musician, but Juliet, Naked looks to have much stronger commercial appeal (interestingly also featuring Ethan Hawke, this time in a lead role opposite Rose Byrne and Chris O’Dowd). The Glenn Close starer The Wife also debuts from Sony Pictures Classics, and is likely to make a splash in the indie market as it is meant to be the start of a Best Actress Oscar campaign for Close who received very strong praise for her performance when the film debuted on the festival circuit last year.