As September comes to a close and Oscar hopefuls begin to rev their engines, a few films look to take advantage of this lull in the box office to make some cash. This weekend will see the anticipated release of Kevin Hart’s Night School (though the real star of the picture is Tiffany Haddish in her first major role post-Girls Trip) from Universal. Warner Bros. will also try to get in the mix with its star-studded Smallfoot which will compete with The House with the Clock in its Walls for a share of the family audience. Warner Bros. will also find competition in the horror space with the release of Hellfest from CBS and Lionsgate which will go up against The Nun and hope to capitalize the later’s rapidly declining weekend grosses. Finally, the specialty market will see the release of Pinnacle Peak’s modern-day Little Women adaptation as well as Neon’s Monsters and Men and Fox Searchlight’s The Old Man & the Gun, both (Particularly The Old Man & the Gun) looking to parlay their strong reviews into strong per theater averages and potentially launch respective Oscar campaigns in earnest.
Gunning for the number one position this coming weekend, we are likely to find Night School. Having been announced nearly a year ago, Night School is the newest film from the dynamic duo of Universal producer Will Packer and Kevin Hart. Having seen solid returns on films like Think Like a Man Too, The Wedding Ringer, and Ride-Along 2 in particular, Night School‘s high-concept premise (a group of adults return to school to get their GED’s) and modest $29 million budget looks like a hit in the making. The film is helmed by Girls Trip director Malcolm D. Lee which should add a little extra punch to this combination, but the real secret weapon of this production can be found in the form of another Girls Trip alum: Tiffany Haddish. After taking the world by storm last year with her scene-stealing breakthrough performance in 2017 most beloved R-rated comedy, as well as keeping the audience on its toes with her television work on TBS’s The Last O.G., her riotous hosting of the MTV Movie & TV Awards, and even her hilarious work as a presenter at the Oscars alongside Maya Rudolph (the two are currently the fan favorite picks to host the ceremony next year), Haddish is returning to the silver screen with her first ever lead role in a feature film.
Currently, Night School is tracking toward a $25-$30 million gross. This is a more than reasonable estimate given Hart’s box office track record, with Ride Along 2, Central Intelligence, and most recently Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle all having opened to $35+ million. What might be weighing down the estimate here is that the film’s reviews are not positive so far, with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 24% and a Metacritic score of 41. That said, Ride Along 2 had even worse reviews (Metacritic scores of 32) and yet was able to open at $35 million. Like Night School, Central Intelligence also boasted a name-talent as Hart’s co-star, in this case being Dwayne Johnson, and managed a $35 million opening as well so an opening of at least $30 million seems all but guaranteed. Whether or not the film is able to go even hire looks to be up to Haddish. Based on her audience appeal, as well as her audience engagement, the odds seem in her favor, and the movie could potentially be pushing toward a $32+ million opening. Several trades are predicting an even higher gross of $35 million minimum, but that seems slightly too high for me. As for my prediction, I will be sticking with just about $30 million for its opening weekend and anything higher will be a testament to Haddish’s burgeoning star power.
In second place, I’m predicting that we’ll see Smallfoot. This newest title from Warner Animation Group is executive produced by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the duo behind The Lego Movie and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and tells the story of a Yeti who goes on a journey down Mount Everest to prove that Humans (the titular “Smallfoots”) exist. After being booted off of Solo: A Star Wars Story, Lord and Miller have returned to animation, the genre where they first truly managed to make a name for themselves, to shepherd this fledging film from Karey Kirkpatrick (the screenwriter behind James and the Giant Peach). The movie has come together quite well under this team, with reported “Hanna-Barbera-like” animation (fitting for the Warner Bros. Label) and a top-tier voice cast boasting the likes of Channing Tatum, James Corden, Zendaya, Common, LeBron James (who is making waves all on his own thanks to the announcement of his Space Jam 2 casting), Gina Rodriguez, Danny DeVito, and Yara Shahidi. Combined with solid reviews out of the gate, it would seem that the film is poised for instant success; however, there are a surprising number of factors working against it.
In the vast majority of coverage for the film, most trades are naming 2016’s Storks as Smallfoot‘s best comparison. While this doesn’t necessarily speak to the quality of Smallfoot‘s filmmaking, financially, the comparison is right on the money. Both Storks and Smallfoot have similar budgets ($70 million versus $80 million respectively), similar release dates, similar animation styles, and are being released by the same studio under the same label. Unfortunately for Smallfoot, this is resulting in a weekend gross prediction between $22-$27 million, which isn’t something that an $80 million movie wants to be saddled with. To Smallfoot‘s credit, clearly, interest in this picture is stronger than that of Storks as Storks only opened to $21 million. That’s not far off from Smallfoot‘s range, however, with the trades predicting the film to land on the lower ($22-$23 million) side of that range. It also really doesn’t help that Warner Animation Group as a whole is suffering from diminishing returns with every film. The in-house animation label for Warner Bros. got its start with The Lego Movie (from Lord and Miller) which took the world completely by surprise, racking up $469.2 million at the box office along with tons of critical acclaim. Sadly, none of Warner Animation Group’s other entries have been able to match the critical praise or box office haul that The Lego Movie did. Each successive entry in the Lego Movie franchise has seen an even smaller worldwide gross than the last, The Lego Ninjago Movie, in particular, falling all the way down to $123 million on a $70 million budget, and every movie outside that franchise has faired even worse. To its credit, Storks did manage to find an audience despite more muted reviews, seeing impressive holds in the 30%’s throughout its entire domestic run and managing to gross $183 million worldwide on a $70 million budget (the film also seems to have found success as a rental on iTunes as it charted as a number one rental for several months after its VOD release, undoubtedly turning a profit), but that kind of gross isn’t going keep Warner Animation Group afloat. Smallfoot‘s reviews are the strongest the label has seen in a while, so it will have to hope that it catches on.
Another bee in Smallfoot‘s bonnet (or rather, perhaps, a pebble in Smallfoot‘s shoe?) will be that of our likely third place earner this weekend, The House with a Clock in its Walls. Coming off of a strong debut last weekend, House with a Clock has a lot of goodwill going for it, and will be going toe-to-toe with Smallfoot (no pun intended this time) as they battle for control of the family moviegoing audience this weekend. While I suspect the novelty of Smallfoot will allow it to comfortably place ahead, House with a Clock managed a “B+” Cinemascore last weekend and is riding this weekend right into October and Halloween season; not to mention that the film also boasts Jack Black in his element as a family-friendly comedian, a space where he has found his greatest success at the box office. This Goosebumps-like film also has the benefit of not sharing its primary audience with its fellow Universal Pictures title Night School and thus I am more inclined to think it will do quite well. While many trades seem to be anticipating a drop between 40-50%, I have a sneaking suspicion that will hold more around the 30-40% range for a gross of around $17 million. If the film can steal away children from Smallfoot, expect the gross to climb even higher.
In fourth place, A Simple Favor looks to hold well once again, this time around 35%, for a gross of about $6.4 million, though I am beginning to suspect that this film will be making most of its money via matinee showings throughout the weekdays given its strong performance over the course of this week. Fifth through eighth place, however, looks to be a bare-knuckle brawl as we have four films, each vying for a gross of between $4-$5 million. CBS Films and Lionsgate will be opening their mini-budget slasher-flick, Hellfest, which, with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 22%, will be competing directly with The Nun and The Predator for the feel-bad, gore-loving moviegoing audience while Crazy Rich Asians will find itself in the mix merely as a result of its steady box office drops. While the bad press and ill-will surrounding The Predator will likely preclude it from taking the top spot, The Nun and Hellfest will likely find themselves duking it out directly with each other. Both films are looking to land somewhere around $5 million for the weekend, which in turn is going into Halloween. My guess is that the seasonal interest will likely provide a boost to The Nun given the fact that the film is more atmospheric and comes from a stronger pedigree via The Conjuring franchise. I also feel that Hellfest will suffer from the seemingly complete lack of an advertising campaign, which will result in The Nun taking fifth place with $5 million, Hellfest in sixth with $4.9 million, Crazy Rich Asians sneaking in with $4.4 million in seventh place, and The Predator falling in eighth with $4.1 million.
Finally, at the bottom of the pack, Sony and Studio 8’s White Boy Rick will continue its steady decline, likely ending up with a gross of $2.64 million in ninth place. Many of the trades believe that Peppermint will round out the top ten, however, I am inclined to believe that Pinnacle Peak’s Little Women adaptation might actually push itself into tenth place despite being in limited release. Despite a very a soft ad-campaign, Little Women remains an incredibly popular book; that popularity only being bolstered by the acclaim held by the 1994 film adaptation starring Winona Ryder. Regardless of the reviews, this 2018 adaptation could spark a lot of interest given the fact that it is set in the modern day and for that alone, it is worth keeping an eye on.
As for other limited releases, we will see the debuts of Sundance favorite Monsters and Men as well as The Old Man & the Gun and Black 47. Monsters and Men was quickly snatched up by Neon upon receiving very strong buzz out of Sundance last January, but the sophomore distributor doesn’t seem to have been able to sustain interest in the film, despite the presence of BlacKKKlansman breakout John David Washington (son of Denzel Washington). The film’s positioning as a late September-into-early-October release would suggest that Neon would be looking to make an Oscar play for the picture, but the fact that it will be playing in 18 theaters as opposed to four or five suggests that Neon doesn’t have a lot of faith in the film’s awards prospects; they’re probably right as the film seems much too small to resonate with Academy voters, despite its serious focus on issues of racial profiling and police brutality, and should concentrate on making waves at the Independent Spirit Awards instead. On the other hand, The Old Man & the Gun is positioning itself very well for the Oscars with a release in just five theaters this weekend. The film is also buoyed by strong reviews and the fact that Robert Redford has stated it to be his final film before retirement. Expect the film to potentially win the weekend in terms of per-theater-average before going wider in two more weeks as Fox Searchlight ramps up Redford’s Best Actor Campaign (I plan to see and review the film when it gets to a theater closer to me). As for Black 47, this is the first I have heard of this IFC Films title which is set to debut in one theater; expect it to fall off the radar as quickly as it got on.