Thursday Night Preview Update:
As predicted, Venom is exploding out of the gate with $10 million in Thursday night preview grosses. This a recorded breaking achievement, being the largest October preview gross of all time, besting Paranormal Activity 3 which gross $8 million on its Thursday night. I knew the sheer strength of fan anticipation would translate to a very large Thursday night gross, and I hold fast to the assumption that this Friday will also see another large gross. It is the rest of the weekend that is giving me pause. We’ll have to wait for the Cinemascore to get a better idea of the word of mouth. This preview gross is actually on par with Spider-Man 3 (once again with that Sam Raimi comparison) and Doctor Strange, which each went on to have opening weekend grosses of $151 million and $89 million, respectively. Venom is not likely to get anywhere near those grosses this weekend given that Spider-Man 3 was the third installment of an established franchise (thus already having a built in audience), and Doctor Strange had much better reviews. Still, $10 million bodes very well for a strong opening weekend that will push into the upper $60 million‘s, and potentially to $70 million.
A Star is Born also saw more than solid grosses on Thursday night with $4.55 million. Comparisons for the film are harder to come by given the multi-faceted nature of the film (a remake, a film revolving around music, an Oscar contender, etc…). One would immediately think that La La Land would provide the greatest comparison, but that film opened in limited release, thereby shutting off almost all ability to compare the two. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again provides an intriguing comparison, especially given that it is also a rehash of a musical property (not necessarily a remake, but actually pretty close when you think about it) from years ago. Mamma Mia! grossed $3.4 million in Thursday night previews before going on to gross nearly $35 million upon opening weekend. While that would be solid opening for A Star is Born, the main difference between the two is the level of buzz on A Star is Born, not only in terms of fan anticipation but also critical acclaim. That leads me to believe that A Star is Born will not open below $40 million, a prediction further reinforced by this preview gross. Comparisons to former early-October releases, Gravity ($1.4 million in previews, $55.7 million opening), Gone Girl, ($1.2 million preview, $37.5 million opening), and The Martian ($2.5 million preview, $54.3 million opening) may end up proving more apt by weekend’s end.
September is officially over, thereby officially taking us out of the grey-zone between summer blockbusters and awards fare. This past month saw an odd mix of wannabee blockbusters, films looking for awards traction, and sometimes even a film trying to do both, all of which saw mixed results in both departments (only The Nun truly demonstrated any real blockbuster potential). That said, October’s slate seems much stronger in both the blockbuster and awards areas, the types of films clearly delineated and each packing a lot of firepower. This coming weekend is a prime example with two massive titles coming into the fold, Sony’s Spider-Man-less, Tom Hardy-starring, live-action Venom, and Warner Bros. major Oscar play, the third remake of A Star is Born, directed by Bradley Cooper and starring the indelible Lady Gaga.
Looking to take the number one spot this weekend is Venom, Sony’s latest film from their corner of the Marvel Universe (sans the involvement of Disney like in the case of Spider-Man: Homecoming). Here, we see fan-favorite actor and critical darling, Tom Hardy, take on the titular role of Venom, the alter ego of disgraced journalist and nemesis of Peter Parker, Eddie Brock, who comes into contact with an alien symbiote that transforms him into the beloved Marvel villain (or in the case of the film, antihero). Directed by Ruben Fleischer of Zombieland fame, the film has a surprisingly stacked cast, not in the sense of box office heavy hitters but rather (even more surprisingly) high brow actors; the likes of four-time Oscar nominee Michelle Williams, Emmy Winner and Golden Globe nominee Riz Ahmed, and critical darling Jenny Slate all star alongside Hardy, with even Woody Harrelson rumored to have a role in the film. Interest in the film has been undeniably high given not only the cast and Venom’s status as a fan-favorite character but also the sheer curiosity regarding how one could make a Venom movie without Spider-Man, whose presence is integral to the comic origins of Venom. All the buzz has resulted in pretty high projections for Venom going into the weekend. From the moment the film came on the tracking boards, projections have been leaning toward a debut of about $65 million. These projections have remained pretty consistent throughout the lead up to this weekend, the range being around $60-$65 million, though there is a thought that the film could actually break into the $70 million range. Regardless of where it lands within that range, pundits seem unanimous in their assumption that the film will be making at least $100 million overseas for a global opening weekend gross of $160+ million, not at all a bad start for the $100 million production.
All that said, there is one potential roadblock on Venom’s path to box office glory. Press screenings of the film began last weekend, with reviews being released throughout the week, and the result is not positive. Venom is currently sporting a 29% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 34 on Metacritc with critics absolutely slamming the film for nearly every aspect of its production, calling it messy, chaotic, ugly, and poorly executed. The script, in particular, is the focus of many negative reviews for being tonally-confused, awash with terrible dialogue, and for not fleshing out any of its secondary characters, so much so that the critically lauded actors mentioned above are made to look as though they can’t act. The sole saving grace of the film has been made out to be Hardy, who in his dual role (both playing Eddie Brock and providing the voice for Venom) is, at best, able to find good humor and compelling chemistry between Brock and his alien symbiote and, at worst, at least looks like he is having fun with the role. While there was indeed an inkling that Venom may not be a great movie when it was first announced, that narrative has exploded amongst critics and will undoubtedly plague the film’s financial prospects. One should not underestimate the power of sheer fan curiosity as no matter what the context is, people are indeed talking about this film, and I definitely suspect that it will see not only very large Friday box office numbers but also abnormally large grosses from its Thursday night preview screenings. That said, these first two nights will make or break the film. Once the audience sees it in earnest, the full critical narrative of the film will be written and the box office will play out from there. If that narrative happens to be negative, we will definitely see a diminished Sunday gross and a large second-weekend drop in the near future, severely limited its potential for profits.
How this audience reaction develops over the course of this weekend, however, will be very interesting to watch. Despite a negative critical reaction, I am beginning to notice a divergent reaction starting to form. It can be seen amongst lower-level critics (this is not a knock on their credibility, rather a noting of the fact that they do not belong to a major Hollywood media outlet, i.e. Hollywood Reporter, Variety, Entertainment Weekly, etc…), Youtube reviewers, more fringe outlets, and audience members on Twitter. This reaction is notably more positive than that of the major critics, with many citing the film as “surprisingly entertaining”. According to those who support the film, at its absolute worst, Venom has a compulsive watchability factor along the lines of “it’s so bad it’s good” (Think Showgirls or Batman & Robin in the sense that the film is laughably bad and fun to watch as a result) while at its best, the film has a compellingly dark and absurdist quality to it that mimics the style of a Sam Raimi Evil Dead movie. The Sam Raimi comparison, in particular, must make Sony Executives very happy to hear, as it was Sam Raimi who was at the helm for the original trilogy of Spider-Man films starring Tobey Maguire; they are, to this day, still the highest grossing Spider-Man films at the domestic box office, with Spider-Man 3 still holding the record for the highest grossing Spider-Man film of all time with a worldwide gross of $890 million (Spider-Man: Homecoming, the most recent iteration of the franchise starring Tom Holland, only got to $880 million). Obviously, a Spider-Man-less film about Venom, a character whose standalone box office potential is completely untested, is not going to gross anywhere near that amount, but there is still potential for a very strong box office performance if audiences can find enjoyment in the movie despite the negative reviews. Think back to The Greatest Showman, which debuted to weak reviews from critics but managed to strike a chord with audiences, so strongly in fact that it propelled itself to a worldwide gross of $434 million on an $84 million budget. That said, Venom is no Greatest Showman, and by the looks of the reviews will have a harder time finding an audience based on the…..élet’s say ‘complexity’ of its tone. Fan interest is indeed quite high, and will likely make for a strong opening weekend of at least $60 million by my estimate. However, in anticipation of a potential backlash, I’m unwilling to project any higher than that.
The other major release of the weekend is the third remake of A Star is Born, which seems poised to take the number two spot. This film has been in the works for quite a while, cycling through a variety of iterations with different talents attached. Bradley Cooper, as far as I know, has always been attached to the project as a leading actor and in a producorial capacity. At one point, Clint Eastwood was attached to direct the film (likely after Cooper found success alongside him with American Sniper) and Beyoncé was attached as the leading lady. However, time went on, Eastwood dropped out, and Beyoncé soon followed before Cooper would go on to not only step into the director’s chair but also help to pen the script. Finally, the film would officially begin to move forward in earnest with the casting of Lady Gaga, hot off her surprising (and slightly controversial) Best Actress win at the Golden Globes for her notable turn in American Horror Story: Hotel nearly two years ago.
The story of A Star is Born is a tale as old as time. A famed, but fading performer finds a protégé in a young and up-and-coming ingenue, with whom he begins a romance. However, their relationship is strained by his alcoholism as he watches his star fade and her’s rise. The original A Star is Born was released in 1937, starring Janet Gaynor (the inaugural winner of the Academy Award for Best Actress) and Fredric March while being directed by William A. Wellman, and focused explicitly on acting and the business of Hollywood. The film was widely acclaimed, being nominated for six Oscars (winning one for Best Screenplay), and is considered by many to be the superior version of the story. A Star is Born was then remade in 1954, this time directed by My Fair Lady director, George Cukor, into arguably the most famous adaptation of the story, with the film being turned into musical starring Judy Garland and James Mason (the film was also an Oscar contender, particularly for Garland’s performance, but failed to secure any wins). The film would be remade once again in 1976, once again as a musical but this time set within the world of rock music and the music industry at large. This iteration would star Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson and would find success commercially, but not critically, though the film would take home an Oscar for Best Original Song. Now, in 2018, we found ourselves with the third remake, this time starring Bradley Cooper as Jackson Maine, a hard-drinking country music star who falls in love with Lady Gaga’s Ally, whom he mentors as a singer-songwriter and helps to launch a music career.
Launching at the Venice Film Festival last month, and continuing through to the Toronto International Film Festival, this new version of A Star is Born has been met with near-unanimous critical acclaim. Upon its release to the press, the film was labeled as a Best Picture frontrunner, with Cooper and Gaga being labeled as contenders in the Lead Actor and Actress categories, respectively. Since then, however, the film has only continued to garner praise, coming out of the TIFF with many pundits predicting that it will walk away with at least ten Oscar nominations on the morning when they are announced. Gaga has been labeled a major contender for Best Actress but, surprisingly, Cooper has emerged as the frontrunner to potentially win Best Actor and even Best Director. The film also features supporting turns from Sam Elliot, Dave Chappelle, Greg Grunberg, and even recent breakout pop star, Halsey, with Elliot being the frontrunner in the Best Supporting Actor race. And on top it all, Gaga has been deemed a lock for a Best Original Song win for her writing of the film’s anthem, “Shallow”, which was released last week in an effort to drum up buzz for the film’s release (with great success, I might add).
Now, how does all of this translate into box office success? Based on projections, the answer seems to be: Quite Effectively. Obviously, casting Lady Gaga in the lead was not only a great artistic choice (having one of the most famous pop stars of this generation follow in the footsteps Barabara Streisand and Judy Garland really makes for a magnetic presence on screen) but also a savvy business choice on the part of Cooper, given that Gaga comes with a built-in fan base; her “Little Monsters” will undoubtedly turn out for anything she does, as well as make massive waves on social media. Speaking of social media, the production team bought a ton of goodwill and free publicity by shooting some scenes at Cochella last year, drumming up social media buzz with the release of some of the first images from the set. The release of the official trailer-which has been viewed over 11 million times on Youtube-only added fuel to the fire, as it not only provided us with our first real look at the film itself but also teased some of the original music that Gaga has written for the film with a sampling of “Shallow”. The song itself was released last week and maintained a six-day streak at the number one spot on the iTunes Music Chart in the US. Where does this leave the film? Currently, A Star is Born is tracking toward a $30-$45 million debut this weekend, with many pundits actually suggesting that is more likely to climb even higher, with a range between $40-$50 million. I personally predict that the film will open to at least $45 million, an absolutely stellar start for the film which carries a $36 million budget, but with the sheer level of buzz that the film has, don’t be surprised if it opens to $50+ million.
As for the rest of the weekend, we are likely to only see holdovers from last week. Night School will be put to the test to see whether it can hold its own against the formidable newcomers this weekend, and it will be a massive testament to Kevin Hart’s and Tiffany Haddish’s star power if it can. That said, I am not totally sure that it will. To the film’s credit, it has played pretty well this week, taking the number one spot in terms of daily grosses for most weekdays. However, in doing my research last weekend, I discovered something intriguing, that being that the film seems to be performing similarly to another Kevin Hart feature, Think Like a Man Too. Both films opened with striking distance of one another (Think Like a Man Too grossing $29.2 million versus Night School‘s $27.2 million), both films saw similar grosses day-to-day during the week, and both films had lower Rotten Tomatoes scores (23% and 29%) juxtaposed with an “A-” Cinemascore. By this comparison, Night School, I feel, is likely to see a drop around 60% for a gross between $10-$11 million. Now, I could easily be wrong. Most pundits see Night School only falling between 45-50%, which would be pretty good for the film overall. That said, I can’t help but feel that I am on to something.
Taking the number three spot, instead of Night School, is likely to be Smallfoot. Given the stronger reviews and, frankly, a bigger push from media outlets, the film seems poised to see a strong hold. I continue to feel that 2016’s Storks (which I actually saw over the weekend, it’s quite funny) serves as the best comparison for the film. To Smallfoot‘s credit, it continues to best Storks financially, even if only by an inch or two, as it saw stronger day-to-day grosses over the course of the week. I do suspect that similar to Storks, Smallfoot will see a hold in the mid-30%‘s for a weekend gross of around $15 million. This will place the film above Night School, which instead will take the fourth place spot this weekend, a bit of a blow to the movie given its strength out of the gate. One film’s lost is another’s gain, however, as it will make for a small victory for Smallfoot.
Speaking of victories for Smallfoot, the film looks to have done quite some damage to The House with a Clock in its Walls, damage which the seasonally appropriate film doesn’t look likely to recover from any time soon. At the very least, the bleeding looks to be slowing, as the film is cruising toward a more stable 45% drop this weekend for a gross of $6.9 million. Unfortunately, the momentum that House with a Clock had coming out of its opening weekend looks to have worn out as it is now officially pacing behind Goosebumps in terms of day-to-day gross over the course of the week. The film’s overall domestic gross is still ahead of Goosebumps at this same point in the release cycle, but only by about $1 million, and Goosebumps looks to overtake House with a Clock by the end of the weekend. The only potential saving grace that I can see for House with a Clock is that we have just entered the month of October and Halloween is on the brain. This is diametrically opposed to Smallfoot, which has more of a Christmas vibe by way of its Nepalese setting, so House with a Clock could potentially steal back a few bucks from Smallfoot merely by being seasonally appropriate. The chances of that are looking less and less likely though. Expect to find House with a Clock in fifth place this weekend.
The rest of the top ten looks to play out exactly in the order that it did this past weekend, with A Simple Favor sporting another great hold of around 36% for a potential gross of $4.2 million in sixth place, The Nun coming in seventh with $3 million, Crazy Rich Asians in eighth place with $2.6 million (inching ever closer to a $170 million domestic gross), Hellfest seeing the bottom drop out from under it with $1.8 million in ninth place, and The Predator bidding adieu to the top ten with a final bow of $1.7 million in tenth place.
In limited release, we will see two films come on to the scene, one higher profile than the other. The Hate U Give, an adaptation of the acclaimed young adult novel of the same name by Angie Thomas, will see a release in 36 theaters. Directed by George Tillman Jr., director of 1997’s critically acclaimed Soul Food (he also has two episodes of This is Us on his resume, to his immense credit), the film tells the story of a young black girl named Starr Carter, who while in midst of trying to balance two lives, her home life in a poor, black neighbor and her school life at a mostly rich and white private school, witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood friend by a police officer and struggles to find her voice amidst the chaos that erupts. The film stars Amandla Stenberg as Starr, who has managed rebound beautifully after coming off of the critical and financial bomb that was The Darkest Minds and hopes to potentially contend in the Best Actress race this awards season. The film itself has received great reviews, with Stenberg herself being the standout (Regina Hall, who plays Stenberg’s mother in the film, has also received strong praise for her performance).
Interestingly enough, the critical consensus for the film on Rotten Tomatoes reads: “Led by a breakout turn from Amandla Stenberg, the hard-hitting The Hate U Give emphatically proves the YA genre has room for much more than magic and romance.” That last bit at the end echoes some of the statements I made earlier this summer about the YA genre as a whole. With the financial meltdown faced by The Darkest Minds, I noted that while young adult dystopian fiction seems very much on the way out (taste-wise), the young adult novel space is still alive and well, the main difference being a large influx of new stories dealing with more realistic themes (read my full analysis here). Gone are the days that younger audiences (and older audiences for that matter) want to escape into fantastical worlds and imagine themselves with supernatural powers. Instead, the generation that grew up on Harry Potter is now much more concerned with being “woke” and actively engaging with major social issues like that of race, sexuality, identity, and politics. This is reflected in the newfound popularity of young adult novels that more overtly engage with these issues, taking a more grounded and realistic approach to their storytelling. The Hate U Give is one such novel; written originally as a short story in the wake of the 2009 shooting of Oscar Grant, the story was expanded by author Angie Thomas into a fully formed novel about race and police brutality and went on to receive critical acclaim, topping the New York Times Bestseller list for over 50 weeks. This is quantitative proof that more realistic, grounded, and socially conscious fare is what draws the reader’s attention. It will be interesting to see if The Hate U Give can draw in that same attention as a film.
Aside from The Hate U Give, Loving Pablo will also debut in limited release. However, do not expect anything to come out of this as the film has already been saddled with bad reviews, thus an opening 15 theaters will barely make a dent at the box office overall. The most interesting thing about the film is that it is one of two movies this year to be released starring both Penelope Cruz and her husband, Javier Bardem. The other is Everybody Knows, Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning foreign language film, The Salesman. Unfortunately, that film has also been saddled with mixed-to-negative reviews. Though not nearly as bad as Loving Pablo (which is apparently highly soap operatic and similarly styled to that of a Lifetime movie; an odd choice for a film about Pablo Escobar), the weak reception of Everybody Knows is quite a surprise given the talent and pedigree of everyone involved with the production.