Intriguingly enough, the new releases this weekend are taking a bit of a backseat to the holdovers from last weekend, specifically, Venom and A Star is Born. These two were last weekend’s heavyweights and this weekend seems to be their chance to prove that the buzz surrounding the two films was not just empty noise. Of the two, Venom has the most to prove. With the bad reviews but a very strong opening, the jury is still out on whether or not audiences are actually enjoying the film or just excited about it (that will make a world of difference when it comes to box office gross). A Star is Born has much less to prove given that, frankly, its opening was fantastic. Box office-wise, there is nowhere to go but up as any hold between 30%-45% will only boost its Oscar campaign. As for the rest of the weekend, we’ll see the releases of fellow Oscar heavyweight, the Neil Armstrong biopic, First Man, Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween, and Drew Goddard’s (the man behind Cabin in the Woods) top-secret project, Bad Times at the El Royale. We will also see the specialty market swarm with Oscar hopefuls in the form of Beautiful Boy, Timothee Chalamet’s follow-up to Call Me By Your Name, and The Happy Prince which saw a release this past Wednesday in order to gain momentum.
As mentioned above, Venom is looking to prove itself this coming weekend as an actual audiences favorite rather than a blip on the radar. Last weekend sparked a massive debate as to whether or not the film was any good, with the vast majority of critics deeming it a “trainwreck” while the audience reaction was notably more positive. Many an essay and youtube video appeared online as the weekend (and this week for that matter) rolled on, all titled ” In Defense of Venom” or something similar, but the real concrete evidence that audiences actually enjoyed the film was that of the film’s opening weekend which saw a massive $80 million gross with little decrease in audience day-to-day. This evidence was further compounded by the fact that the film saw very strong weekday box office indicating very large interest in the film. Of course, that is all that these numbers really show, interest. Interest can do a lot for a film with regard to its opening, but unfortunately, if the film fails to sustain that interest, then the film will see diminishing returns going forward. To Sony’s credit, the film did get off to a fantastic start and is now currently at a gross of $229 million worldwide in just six days. However, the final verdict on the film will practically be decided this coming weekend.
The typical blockbuster has a very cut and dry metric for gauging word of mouth. An average weekend-to-weekend drop (particularly a 2nd-weekend drop) for a blockbuster tends to be between 50-60%. This indicates that the film is doing healthy business; blockbusters are typically frontloaded so it would make sense to lose at least half the audience in the second weekend, and over the course of the first few weeks in general. A drop at basically any percent lower than that range (less than 50%) is great, indicating that the film has great, possibly even fantastic, word-of-mouth. However, a large drop (greater than 60%) is not as great an indicator, in fact, this tends to usually indicate more negative word-of-mouth, especially the higher that percentage climbs; between a 60-70%, the studio should be a bit concerned; between 70-80%, the studio should be very concerned; greater than 80%, the film is dead in the water. Currently, Venom is being projected toward a 60% drop and gross somewhere around $30-$32 million, so this could go either way. As I said, Sony has already launched the film quite well; however, if the film falls between 60% and 70%, we’ll know for sure if Venom truly not connecting. Having seen it last weekend, I would argue that it will hold on much tighter, around 58%, but all that remains to be seen.
A Star is Born is currently sitting quite pretty, having gotten off to a great start of $42.9 million last weekend and already climbed up the box office ladder all the way to $61 million domestic in just six days. Like Venom, the film has seen very strong weekday grosses, particularly for a film of its nature, being an R-rated musical drama and awards contender. This fact will undoubtedly get it some Oscar attention but also looks to potentially drive it to a very high domestic gross via some very strong holds. One such hold is being projected for this weekend at around 30%, for a gross of about $30 million, which would be amazing as it would not only drive the film past $90 million domestic, but also showcase some spectacular word of mouth. This does, however, call to question which film will be taking the number one spot this weekend, A Star is Born or Venom? If I had to bet money, I would be bet on Venom based on the sheer enormity of its opening which will give it a large parachute not matter how far it drops this weekend. A Star is Born could potentially overtake Venom if the buzz on the film is indeed that strong, which I certainly would not rule out given the presence of Lady Gaga in the lead. However, it would be hard for any film to compete with Venom‘s spectacle at this point in release, thus I would have to say that I predict Venom coming in first while A Star is Born settles in second, each coming in with a gross around $30 million.
Outside of A Star is Born and Venom, another battle between an awards contender and a mainstream money-maker is also brewing for this weekend, though on a smaller level. This weekend will see the anticipated release of First Man, director Damien Chazelle’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning film La La Land (for which he won the Oscar for Best Director) in which he re-teams with Ryan Gosling to tell the story of Neil Armstrong’s journey to become the first man to walk on the Moon. The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival early last month to critical acclaim and has since been labeled a Best Picture Frontrunner, guaranteed to garner more nominations than any other film on the morning of announcements. While I have absolutely no doubt in the films awards prospects, I do feel, however, that there is reason to question the film’s financial future. Thursday night previews came in around $1.1 million, which is below that of both Gravity‘s $1.4 million and The Martian‘s $2.5 million, both being similarly space-oriented October releases which each went on to be Oscar contenders. While one would think that First Man would definitely be bringing the spectacle given its IMAX release as well as hailing from the director of the eye-popping La La Land, the trailers for First Man instead present a much more toned down story (both narratively and visually), which in turn is backed up by the reviews. The film is not a grand space adventure, but rather takes a more personal look at Neil Armstrong the man. While this has no doubt captured the attention of critics and Academy voters, it looks less likely to capture the attention of regular moviegoers as the film is currently tracking toward a debut in the high teens. I personally believe that the film will likely make into the $20 million range as La La Land was a major success and thus the combo of Gosling and Chazelle should carry some clout when it comes to reeling in audiences. That said, this debut looks a bit disappointing for the $60 million production. Perhaps it will have strong legs, but for now, I see it landing in third place.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween hopes to counterprogram First Man by offering a more accessible and family-friendly option. A sequel to the Jack Black-fronted predecessor from 2015, the sequel is currently tracking toward a $14-$18 million debut. This is less than the original Goosebumps, but the film is off to a good start with a Thursday night preview gross of $750,000, greater than that of the original which grossed $650,000 in previews. That said, Goosebumps 2 is going to run into a bit of a problem in that it has to share the October box office window for family-friendly seasonal fare with a little movie called The House with a Clock in its Walls. It’s funny to think that a big reason that Universal approved the casting of Jack Black in House with a Clock is that of the success that Sony found by casting him as the lead in Goosebumps. The two films are similarly Halloween themed and each revolves around magical happenings occurring around young kids. Now that the Goosebumps sequel is being released, it is looking to have to compete with the man who started it off on its way. Further complicating matters is that while Black was originally thought to not be involved with Sony’s Goosebumps sequel, recent teasers have revealed that he will be, at least in the form of a cameo. Sony probably did this to keep him as in-house talent (he also is one of the main stars of last year’s monster hit Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), but as a result, there is now cause for confusion between Goosebumps 2 and House with a Clock, which will no doubt eat into both their box office grosses this weekend as they cannibalize one another. Goosebumps 2 will still likely manage to place fourth this weekend will a potential gross of about $16 million (a more than okay start for the film which only costs about $35 million to make), but one has to feel sorry see Universal and Sony in this position.
Smallfoot looks to take the number five spot this weekend. Likely to only drop about 37-40% give the good word-of-mouth, I’m expecting a gross of around $8.6 million, though this could change given the presence of Goosebumps 2. However, given the film’s presence in tandem House with a Clock, they are more than likely to cancel each other out, leaving the family-friendly space wide open for Smallfoot to flourish in. Meanwhile, this weekend’s last new wide-release, Bad Times at the El Royale, will attempt to make a dent. This film, however, is suffering from the exact opposite problem of Smallfoot (and Goosebumps for that matter) in that it does not really know what kind of film it is. Announced last year as a “top-secret” project at Fox from Drew Goddard, the writer-director behind Lost, Daredevil (Season 1, for which he wrote the pilot), Cabin in the Woods, and The Martian for which we wrote the screenplay, the major success of that last picture gave Fox the confidence to give Goddard cart-blanche when directing this new, personal feature. Unfortunately, the immense secrecy surrounding the film has prevented audiences from getting a good read on it. The film stars a large ensemble of named talents, the likes of Jeff Bridges, John Hamm, Dakota Johnson, Chris Hemsworth, Lewis Pullman, and Cynthia Erivo, in a 60’s-style mystery thriller about seven strangers who all find themselves shacked up at the El Royale Hotel and must fight to survive. Reviews for the film are solid, though surprisingly muted for a film coming from Goddard whom, with such a metatextual, splashy thriller like that of Cabin in the Woods under his belt, would be expected to blow critics socks off. Critics praise the cast and the technical work of the film as well as the splash of social subtext embedded in the screenplay, but such reviews don’t do much to help define the film, genre-wise, as the trailers don’t seem to suggest a lot of that (at least not the social commentary). The film is currently tracking toward an $8 million debut, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it fluctuate in either direction. Expect it in sixth place.
As for the rest of the top ten, Night School, The House with a Clock in its Walls, A Simple Favor, and The Nun all look to have drops in the 45-50% range as awards season really ramps up. Crazy Rich Asians will likely be dropping out of the top ten after eight weeks in the top ten, a truly stellar run. As mentioned above, House with a Clock in its Walls will struggle with the presence of a very similar movie in the form of Goosebumps 2, although it may have a slight advantage having come out first and built up some goodwill with audiences. A Simple Favor and The Nun each look to bow out of the top ten soon, though they had nice runs while they lasted.
In the specialty market, we will see the release of Beautiful Boy from Amazon, as well as the official release of The Happy Prince from Sony Pictures Classics. Beautiful Boy stars Timothee Chalamet in his follow-up to his Oscar-nominated performance in Call Me By Your Name. Also starring Academy Award nominees Steve Carrell and Amy Ryan, as well as Golden Globe winner Maura Tierney, the film tells the true story (based on the memoirs of father and son David and Nic Sheff) of a young man dealing with a methamphetamine addiction and his father’s efforts to help him. Having premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, the film has received very strong reviews for the honesty of the storytelling and the performances, particularly Chalamet and Carrell, with several reviewers arguing that Chalamet tops his Call Me By Your Name performance and is a contender this year in the Best Supporting Actor race. However, outside of those two aspects, the film’s reviews have been otherwise quite muted, with reviews saying that the direction and execution of the story blunt the emotional impact. The film currently stands at 65% on Rotten Tomatoes, not a bad score, but much lower than one would expect of a film that was labeled a major Oscar contender at the beginning of the year. It opens in four theaters this weekend and will have to make up some ground with a large per-theater-average if Amazon wants it really wants to contend outside of Chalamet’s performance.
The Happy Prince is a biopic about Oscar Wilde, starring and directed by Rupert Evertt, showcasing the last days of his life. Similar to Beautiful Boy, while good, the reviews for the film are quite muted for a supposed Oscar contender. The film doesn’t have much buzz and likely opened early this past Wednesday to build up hype. We’ll see if it translates at the end of the weekend. The real object of interest is that of Bleecker Street’s Colette which is expanding into 593 theaters. Having been building buzz with a slow rollout (which, based on the numbers, looks to be working) Bleecker Street is likely hoping to push it into the top ten, which would be a major accomplishment for the film. I do think there is a chance, especially given that Colette is fronted by Keira Knightley, who is a very recognizable face and whose persona has become something of a stamp of approval for period dramas. Colette‘s competition to get into the top ten, even in tenth place, is The Nun, which I am expecting to gross around $1.35 million this weekend. BoxOfficeMojo.com is predicting Colette to land in the range of $1.25-$1.75 million which, which if it can accomplish that feat, will have Colette jumping into ninth place over A Simple Favor as well. While I do not personally think that ninth place is do-able, I do think that with the right push, Colette could see itself in the tenth place spot, which would be more than impressive.