Carrying over from last weekend, it looks as though the box office slump is to continue. This time, however, the slump is for a good reason, that being the Superbowl airing this Sunday which most studios wouldn’t dare go up against. That is, most studios. Yes, despite the likely deflated audience that will be available, Sony has positioned its female-led action thriller, Miss Bala, to try and make the most of the weekend by potentially counterprogramming the Superbowl. The likelihood of this plan succeeding is low, made even worse by the several factors going against it. Warner Bros., on the other hand, made a better choice by deciding to release Peter Jackson’s WWII Soldier documentary, They Shall Not Grow Old, to counterprogram given how this film shares very little of an audience with Superbowl watchers. Several holdovers also look to pull in as much money as possible this weekend before we head it full-on blockbuster territory.
Likely to come in first once again is that of Glass, M. Night Shyamalan’s follow-up to Split and superhero blockbuster hopeful. Shyamalan and Universal should really find it gratifying to see Glass threepeating its number one placement at the box office this weekend, especially given the film’s general underperformance. Likely to fall around 55% (or potentially even more if the Superbowl pulls even more of the audience away) for a gross of about $8.4 million, Glass is a long ways away from where it started just two weeks ago with $40 million on opening weekend. It’s currently falling $5 million behind Split at this same point in the release cycle (Split having jumped ahead of Glass thanks to a much stronger second-weekend hold back in 2017) and that gap only continues to grow. I had originally predicted that Glass would be able to make it past $100 million domestically (it currently stands at $77.8 million), however, its current performance is causing me to seriously reconsider. When I think about it, the film’s performance actually looks to be lining up more with that of the original Unbreakable back in 2000, which would go on to end its domestic run just short of $100 million with $95 million (unadjusted for inflation). Given that Unbreakable, much like Glass, was not well-received upon its initial release, $95 million is actually a very good target to place Glass‘ final domestic haul. Given the low-budget nature of the film, this is a more than solid bow for Glass; in the grand scheme of the Unbreakable franchise, however, this can’t be seen as anything other a disappointment.
In second place, we are likely to find another threepeater in that of The Upside, which is likely to fall around 35% (more than usual for this film, accounting for the Superbowl) for a gross of $7.7 million. If the film manages to exceed expectations (as it has been doing for its entire run so far), it could potentially usurp Glass for the number one spot this weekend. However, there is a very slight chance that the film could face competition in the form of newcomer Miss Bala. Based on the critically lauded Mexican drama of the same name from 2011, Sony Pictures commissioned a remake back in 2017 from director Catherine Hardwicke (of Twilight fame) starring Golden Globe winner and Jane the Virgin breakout star, Gina Rodriguez. I saw the trailer for the film back in November and was admittedly quite interested. While the trailer certainly made the film look like a generic action thriller, Rodriguez herself (whom I, personally, am a huge fan on thanks to her work on Jane the Virgin) looked fully dedicated to the role and like she was doing a pretty good job. The 2011 Miss Bala tells the story of a young Mexican woman who is competing in the “Miss Baja” beauty pageant (the title of the film is a play on the word “Baja” as “Bala” is Spanish for “bullet”) who, through an unfortunate set of circumstances, is forced to become a mule for a cartel after she witnesses several gang-related murders. A very compelling story based off of a real incident, the American remake seemed like the perfect vehicle for Rodriguez to both diversify her image as an actress as well as launch herself in feature films.
Fast forward to today and things aren’t looking nearly as good for the film. First off, it’s coming out during the Superbowl. One could argue that Miss Bala would make for great counterprogramming against the big game give that this is a “femme-centric” film and “men are more into football”. However, I really don’t buy that. Anyone can tell you that Superbowl is an event for everyone, a communal experience typically filled to the brim with food, family, and friends. Even you aren’t a football fan, you also get entertainment from high-value commercials (they better be for five million dollars per every 30 seconds), major teasers from major studios for major upcoming films, and a giant halftime show production. In other words, all but the most football-abhorrent eyes will be glued to the screen come Sunday, so releasing a film during this time is not usually good for business. For further proof of this, just look at how Miss Bala is the only major studio wide-release this weekend, with the only other higher-profile film, Mads Mikkelson’s Arctic (his critically acclaimed survival drama from Cannes), only being released in four theaters. While the Superbowl may only be for a few hours on Sunday, Sunday grosses can make or break an opening weekend, so it should come as little surprise that all the other studios steered clear of this weekend with their new releases.
The second issue is that (a bit unsurprisingly) Miss Bala‘s reviews are pretty bad. Shouldering a 33% on Rotten Tomatoes and a dismal 40 on Metacritic, critics have not been kind to this film. This was always going to be a challenge for the film given that it was a remake, thus critics have a foundation upon which to base their criticisms. The original Miss Bala was a major critical success, so much so that Mexico even submitted it as the country’s entry into the Best Foreign Language Film race at the Oscars. The film received heaps of praise for its realism and its portrayal of how women in these scenarios are very much at the mercy of their circumstances. The film was gritty, bleak, and unsanitized so that one could look directly into the psyche of the main character. With the remake, many critics have derided it for how it shunts the realism of the original in order to craft something of an action hero origin story. It seems to be the typical case of favoring “cool” and “badass” shots of action scenes over story and examination of character. There has also been a lot of criticism directed at the casting of Gina Rodriguez the lead role. While her performance in the role has praised, many critics regard her as miscast. Once again citing the original, many critics feel that Gina Rodriguez as an actress whose persona is very much associated with female empowerment going on to become a gun-wielding action hero is at odds with a story which originally centered around a weaker persona whose strength comes not from her ability to fight back but instead her ability to survive in such trying circumstances. Overall, most simply feel that the spirit of the original film is lost on this remake.
The final issue is that Miss Bala is a film that is directly in conflict with the persona that Gina Rodriguez has crafted through her work on Jane the Virgin, a romantic comedy television series that showcases her as bubbly and spunky. Miss Bala, which presents her as a hardened action heroine, is at odds with the is persona and could potentially alienate her Jane the Virgin fanbase. This segues well into how the film is looking to perform this weekend, with projections of $4-$8 million. There are some pundits suggesting that a $10 million debut is not out of the question but I am not buying it. Movies featuring TV stars as their leads are known to not exactly perform well at the box office and given that this film may alienate Rodriguez’s core fanbase, I expect that film’s gross to come in more around $6 million. Perhaps it could over-index given the appeal to the Latino community but, between the reviews and the Superbowl, there are a lot of hurdles for Miss Bala to overcome.
Now, given everything I just said about Miss Bala, what I am about to say may seem counterintuitive. There is a strong belief that Peter Jackson’s WWII documentary, They Shall Not Grow Old, will likely pop into the top five films this weekend. Normally, I would say that this is crazy talk, however, there are several factors working in its favor. Perhaps most importantly, there is the fact that given the nature of the documentary and its focus on WWII soldiers, They Shall Not Grow Old appeals to a much older audience than any other film currently in the top ten. This is an audience that also will be less likely to tune in to the Superbowl, another feather in its cap. Add in a BAFTA nomination for Best Documentary as well as the fact that it will be playing in 3D in some areas, and you have a film that is actually primed to do quite well. Pundits are predicting a gross of $4.6 million and given the circumstances, I am going to agree. There are similar factors surrounding Green Book, which is likely to come in fifth place right behind They Shall Not Grow Old with $4.6 million as well. Green Book also skews older and is actually looking at the best potential hold in the top ten with only a 15% drop, which could actually push it into fourth place if the They Shall Not Grow Old underperforms.
As for the rest of the top ten, there is looking to be little that is new and exciting. I predict that Spider-Verse will have a solid hold (though lower than usual when accounting for the Superbowl) of 25% for gross of $4.5 million in sixth place. It’s worth noting that Spider-Verse has officially passed Hotel Transylvania 2 to become the highest-grossing film ever domestically for Sony Animation, and with the Oscars around the corner, expect the film to continue to play quite nicely through the month of February. Aquaman, having cemented itself as DC’s highest grossing film of all time, is slowly but surely making its way out of the top ten but will continue its fantastic run through this weekend with a likely hold do of 40% for a gross of $4.3 million. A Dog’s Way Home is looking at another potential drop around 30% while The Kid Who Would Be King will be fighting to hold on as it looks to drop between 50-52% for a second weekend gross of $3.4 million in ninth place. Finally, Escape Room closes out with its last weekend in the top ten, looking at a drop of around 35-40% for a potential gross of $2.6 million. One seriously has to admire how this little genre thriller has managed to hang on for the past month despite low expectations, now having grossed $77 million worldwide off of just a $9 million budget.
In the specialty market, outside of the Oscar nominees, the only noteworthy title opening this weekend is that of Arctic, a survival drama starring Danish critical darling, Mads Mikkelson, which premiered at Cannes earlier last year before being picked up by Bleeker Street Media for US distribution. Directed by Joe Penna, the famed youtuber and musician, the film focuses on a man (played by Mikkelson) who is forced to go on a trek through the Arctic when his rescue party’s helicopter goes down. For a film with as lean a narrative as this one, Arctic has garnered extremely positive reviews since its debut at Cannes, with Indiewire even calling it “One of the best movies ever made about survival…”. While the film has certainly caught the attention of the media, I’m not sure that it will post a very strong per-theater-average given not only the x-factor that is Superbowl weekend, but also the fact that the film has no Oscar prospects (having come out much too early in the year and being directed by a Youtuber) and the fact that Bleecker Street has a pretty lowly track record when it comes to building buzz for their films. The film will be opening in four theaters across New York and Los Angeles, so we’ll see how it goes.