And just like that, the reign of Halloween comes to an end with the new regime of Christmas rolling in to take its place. Yes, when it comes to filmmaking and movie release schedules Thanksgiving is rarely represented outside of reruns of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving on TBS (though it is worth noting that the Oscar-winning Hannah and Her Sisters utilizes the holiday as a frame for its central narrative), and this passing over of the holiday is on full display this month as a number of Christmas and winter-themed movies will be seeing a release and hoping to make money as lead-ins to December. This weekend, we have The Nutcracker and the Four Realms filling that role for Disney in their first live-action release since Christopher Robin back in August. This ornate film hopes to capture viewers with its sumptuous atmosphere but it will have to contend with another ostentatious performer taking center stage, that of the Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody. Outside of these two studio blockbusters, Tiffany Haddish returns to grace our screens with her presence in Nobody’s Fool while Oscar-hopefuls Boy Erased and A Private War hope to, in one case, capitalize on their festival success, and in another, build momentum for a potential awards campaign.
Now don’t let my ramblings about the death of Thanksgiving by Christmas overload fool you, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms looks play second fiddle this weekend to the real star of the show. Yes, Bohemian Rhapsody looks to win the weekend, and when you actually take the time to think about it, how could it not? We saw it on full display with The Greatest Showman, and even A Star is Born to an extent, that a soundtrack can really sell a movie. Given that, how can one hope to compete with the greatest hits of Queen? After languishing in the development stage for seven years, cycling through several potential actors who could portray Freddie Mercury, and even undergoing director drama in the middle of filming, the film is finally ready to be seen and fans have been waiting eagerly. The first teaser for the film, as well as the official trailer, each got 15 million views on Youtube alone (imagine how well they did across a variety of social media platforms), and the projections reflect this interest with a potential $40+ million gross, a strong start for the estimated $52 million production.
Of course, there are always factors that can get in the way, and Bohemian Rhapsody has quite a few. That tumultuous time on set actually could come to bite the film in the behind. Back in early December of 2017, director drama erupted on the set of Bohemian Rhapsody when director Bryan Singer, who was already embroiled in the heat of the #MeToo movement with regards to his reported relations with young boys, disappeared after the cast returned from Thanksgiving break. Singer was unreachable for a period of time, with cinematographer Newton Thomas Siegel having to step in to direct several scenes in his absence. Eventually, Singer’s representation did reach out to say that Singer was with an ill family member, but rumors and word from his former X-Men cast (notably Anna Paquin and Ellen Page) cast suspicion on the validity of these claims. While they were never totally verified, clearly something was amiss as by the end of the month, Singer had been fired as director of the film (with Eddie the Eagle director Dexter Fletcher being brought on to replace him) and the production deal between 20th Century Fox and Singer’s production shingle, Bad Hat Harry Productions, was terminated. The film did still complete its filming and post-production on time, though the stink left by Singer’s scandal still wafts over the picture (it also doesn’t help that the DGA ruled that Singer would still receive sole director credit on the film).
Compounding on the film’s scandalous stink is the fact that the film’s reviews are mixed. While not overtly bad, the film is plagued by criticism of its “pedestrian treatment of its subject”. Many of the reviews point to the film’s bland direction and preference for superficial examination rather than in-depth exploration as weak points. However, the film has received near-unanimous critical acclaim for the central performance of Rami Malek, the star of the USA Network’s Mr. Robot, who is said to embody Mercury beautifully, giving the movie a rock solid center. Overall, the film looks to be coasting off its lead performance and its soundtrack, but according to Fandango that just might be enough. The ticket sale site reported that pre-sales for the film have overtaken that of A Star is Born, which opened to $42 million. Given that, I would not be surprised to see Bohemian Rhapsody open in the same range. Its distributor (Fox) is predicting a conservative $35 million opening, but given the circumstances, I would be willing to bet that the film will see at least $40 million by the end of the weekend.
Second place is where we are likely to find The Nutcracker and the Four Realms which, as opposed to Bohemian Rhapsody, has actually had a much lower profile. This is actually quite surprising given that it is coming from the blockbuster powerhouse that is Disney. Normally, a Disney film of this magnitude and visual spectacle would be flooding the media with wall-to-wall advertising. The fact that The Nutcracker is not could easily be a sign of oversaturation when it comes it comes to the Disney brand, however. With the soon-to-be-completed acquisition of 20th Century Fox’s film and television studios, many believe Disney to be creating a monopoly on the entertainment industry. However, there are indeed checks and balances to counter that nightmarish scenario as the bigger Disney grows, the more likely it is to buckle under its own weight. With the presence of not only “Disney-proper” films but also the Marvel and Star Wars franchises in tow, Disney is already having trouble staggering their films in terms of releases so that they don’t cannibalize each other’s box office. However, with such a vast library of content and so many properties to oversee, properly releasing their films is the least of Disney’s worries.
Similarly to Bohemian Rhapsody, The Nutcracker has also had a troubled production. Wrapping principal photography in January of last year, the film was ordered into extensive reshoots over the course of 32 days during last December with a unique caveat; Oscar-nominated director Lasse Halleström, who helmed the film during principal photography, was unavailable for said reshoots, resulting in Disney bringing in Joe Johnston, director of The Rocketeer and Captain America: The First Avenger, to direct said reshoots. Further complicating the process was that Halleström then returned to oversee post-production on the film, including integrating the reworked material which must have been quite extensive given that the final film sees Halleström and Johnston receiving co-directing credits (a rarity with regard to DGA rulings).
This complex situation has taken its toll on the film at large, as reflected by the reviews which were released this week. The film reps a 34% on Rotten Tomatoes and a particularly bad 38 on Metacritic currently with many critics calling the film “hollow”. The visual aspects of the film have received extensive praise, from visual effects to production design, and Keira Knightley (who plays the Sugar Plum Fairy in the film) has been receiving positive notices in particular for her scene-stealing presence, but the film has otherwise been criticized for its poorly sketched characters and a story that is, at best, bland and, at worst, incoherent. The icing on top of this gorgeous yet empty cake of a film is that it comes with a price tag ranging between $120-$133 million. This will likely result in a break-even point of at least $340 million; however, with opening weekend projections in the $20-27 million range, The Nutcracker is already shaping up to be a bomb for Disney, which is clearly spreading itself much too thin. Normally, this kind of film would be an easy sell and a big money maker for the studio, but their priorities are clearly elsewhere given the sheer amount of properties the company is trying to maintain. Advertising has been ramping up in the past few weeks, but the level of buzz surrounding the film feels almost nonexistent. Given the fact that Christopher Robin opened to $24 million last August, it would be reasonable to expect The Nutcracker to fall somewhere in that area. Accounting for the bad reviews, I am expecting it to land around $22 million.
Third place is looking to be a close one, with both Halloween and new release Nobody’s Fool projected to make around $15 million. As I have been saying for the past few weeks, I fully believe that now that Halloween has passed, this new Halloween movie will likely be dropping off the map very soon given its lack of a compelling story outside of its scares. Perhaps the film will have still have some lingering fans, however, as the projections see the film only dropping in the 50%‘s. However, I do believe that Halloween will be facing stiff competition (and will likely be overtaken) by Nobody’s Fool. The newest Tyler Perry movie, launching from Paramount’s new diversity label, Paramount Players, the film is the newest venture for Hollywood “It Girl” Tiffany Haddish and for that reason, I have high hopes. With Night School, Haddish proved that she can not only draw in an audience, but also a diverse one at that with the film opening to $27 million with an audience that was pretty equally spread out demographically. This proves that Haddish’s reach is quite wide, and when she is paired with the right material, that reach gets even wider.
Playing a zany woman who has just been released from prison and goes on a mission to find the man who has been catfishing her sister, Haddish’s role in Nobody’s Fool recalls her breakout role in Girls Trip, which earned rave reviews for her performance and even opened to $31 million (the highest opening for a comedy in 2017). Here, Haddish has combine forces with Tyler Perry, whose brand of humor has been cultivated via the Medea movies and is very much in sync with the wild and zany Haddish that audiences love. This potent combination makes me suspect that the film will likely blow past its rather modest projections for $14-$15 million for the weekend. As mentioned previously, Night School brought in $27 million on opening weekend while Tyler Perry comedies have tended to open in at least the low-$20 million range. For this reason, I am suspecting that the film will likely break into this range with at least a $20 million gross this weekend. If it does not, I can’t see the film grossing any lower than $17 million, which would comfortably place it in third place. Halloween will more than likely manage $15 million in fourth.
In fifth and sixth place, we once again find A Star is Born and Venom, seemingly forever locked in a loving and slimy embrace. As per usual, A Star is Born is likely to fall somewhere around 30% for a gross of $9.8 million in fifth place. Venom, on the other hand, will be a little more interesting to watch as we will be seeing whether or not the film can continue its steadier than expected decline with a 45% drop for a gross of $5.8 million. Earlier in its release, I had speculated that the film would have trouble crossing the $200 million mark domestically but as of now, it looks as though Venom will hit that mark by the weekend after this coming weekend at the very latest. Venom is also premiering in China this weekend, so we’ll see just what kind of boost the Middle Kingdom can give to the film’s worldwide box office haul.
As for the rest of the top ten, we’ll be looking at all holdovers. Goosebumps 2 is looking to fall pretty hard (relative to its overall performance) with a drop of around 50%. I could be wrong in this prediction given that family films tend to hold better than most since they have a wider audience, but I suspect that now that Halloween has passed there will be little demand for any spooky movies. I predict a gross of $4 million in seventh place. Hunter Killer similarly could hold strong given that Gerard Butler flicks tend to hold well given the enticing nature of their action spectacle. However, whereas something like London Has Fallen was better advertised and has more buzz, Hunter Killer is basically radio silent. The film could fall anywhere between 45-55%, though I am anticipating a drop around 55% for a gross around $3 million in eighth place. Smallfoot will more than likely see another solid hold of 30%, potentially swiping eighth place from Hunter Killer if the later underperforms, but will otherwise end up in ninth place while The Hate U Give will likely take tenth.
In the specialty market, we see to Oscar hopefuls jumping into the fray, Joel Edgerton’s gay-conversion drama Boy Erased (which also serves as his follow-up to his surprise horror hit and directorial debut The Gift) as well as the Rosamund Pike-fronted Marie Colvin biopic A Private War. The more high profile entry of the two is that of Boy Erased. Based on the memoir by Garrard Conley, the film stars Oscar-nominee Lucas Hedges as well as Oscar-winners Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe and tells the story of Garrard’s attempt to come to terms with his homosexuality as he is placed in a program that promises to “cure” him by his parents. The film has received strong reviews out of the festival circuit (particularly Telluride) which praise the performances of the lead trio, the sensitivity with which the subject is tackled, and to my surprise (this is something I’ve never heard with regard to a movie about the LGBT experience), the intelligence with which the film engages with the question of religion and faith in the matter of homosexuality. The film has been labeled a contender in the Best Picture, Director, Actor, Screenplay, and Supporting Actor/Actress categories and is being released by Focus Features in five theaters this weekend. Focus has a solid reputation with regard to the Oscars and actually has a very strong awards slate this year; they are distributiing not only Boy Erased, but also Mary Queen of Scotts and On the Basis of Sex, as well as having already distributed the critically acclaimed titles BlacKKKlansan (which saw surprising box office success and is a Best Picture contender) and this summer’s documentary hit Won’t You Be My Neighbor?. Expect the film to pull in a decent per-theater-average.
On the other hand, A Private War is much lesser known. The narrative feature debut of Oscar-nominated documentarian Matthew Heineman, the film stars Rosamund Pike in a character study of the famed war correspondent Marie Colvin, who worked to cover Middle Eastern conflicts from the frontlines for nearly 30 years until she died in Syria. The film opened the Mill Valley Film Festival and has received favorable reviews for its documentary-like style, though the writing is said to have its shortcomings. The real standout of the film, however, is that of Rosamund Pike herself who has received critical acclaim for her portrayal of Colvin, with some critics even citing the performance as the best of her career (also worth noting, Jamie Dornan appears in his first film post-Fifty Shades and has also received positive notes for his performance as Paul Conroy, a photographer who worked alongside Colvin). The film is being released in four theaters by small-scale distributor Aviron Pictures and the hope is to start a potential Oscar campaign. The odds are slim, however, as the film doesn’t have nearly as much traction as Boy Erased and other Oscar fare, as well as the fact that Aviron is relatively new and has little to no experience running an Oscar campaign. Pike is an Oscar-nominee though, for her acclaimed performance in Gone Girl, and is playing a real-life individual in a film from an Oscar-nominated director, so perhaps there might be just enough here for Academy voters to take notice.