It’s time! It’s finally time! Its finally time for a breath of fresh air at the box office, and boy, does it seem like we are about to get it. Four new wide releases will be entering the multiplex this weekend and they look likely (most of them) to do quite well. Perhaps more importantly though, these new films are clearing out the old. Glass‘ three-week streak in the number one spot at the box office is ending, much of the January filler (as surprisingly potent as it was) is being cleared out, and the last of the 2018 holdouts are being shown the door. Yes, it seems that within the next two weeks, Aquaman will be bowing out of the top ten with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse soon to follow (I’ll never forget you, Spider-Verse!). The entire top half of the top ten looks to actually be shifting downward to make way for newcomers The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, What Men Want, Cold Pursuit, and The Prodigy, with only The Upside looking strong enough to put up a fight.
In first place, there is no question that The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part (what a weird title) will be taking that slot. A direct sequel to the hugely surprising hit from 2014, this installment of the ever-expanding and inventive Lego film franchise once again follows Emmett Brickowski (a perfectly cast Chris Pratt) and his friends as they contend with the invasion of the Lego Duplo toys (as teased at the end of the first film) as well as the arrival of alien toys that threaten their way of life. With most of the cast from the original film returning, as well as the welcome addition of Tiffany Haddish as the alien Queen, Watevra Wa’Nabi (yes, I am spelling that correctly), The Lego Movie 2 is shaping up to be a really fun ride filled with well-written comedy and the mesmerizing animation we’ve all come to know, love, and expect from this franchise. The real question in all of this is: how much money is it making this weekend?
The answer to this question is a little more complex than one might initially expect, especially given the five-year gap between the first film and this sequel. Yes, it has been that long, and yes, you are indeed that much older now. The reason that you don’t feel as old is because, for one thing, The Lego Movie was such a surprising delight and such a pop culture phenomenon that its presence can still be felt today, either in television broadcasts of the film, its brand of tongue-in-cheek humor pervading modern comedy like crazy, or the fact that many people who worked on the film have gone on to greater success in the years since. There is also the fact that, well, its a movie about Legos, so their status as one of the most popular toy brands in the world also likely keeps the film top of mind. But, perhaps the most important reason as to why The Lego Movie still feels like it came out only yesterday is because Warner Bros. Animation decided to run with the success of the film and build it (haha) into a ‘major’ film franchise. I write ‘major’ because (for reasons we will discuss soon) I wouldn’t qualify the Lego movies as major blockbusters on the level of comic book films, or epic space operas, or horror juggernauts, or basically anything that comes out of “The Mouse House”. The first Lego movie absolutely attained blockbuster status thanks to its great opening weekend, its phenomenal holds, and the fact that it managed to play in theaters for 30 weeks (how many movies can say that nowadays?). However, both installments afterward have each seen increasingly diminished (well if that isn’t a hilarious oxymoron) returns with their box office grosses.
This is not to say that either The Lego Batman Movie or The Lego Ninjago Movie are bad. Neither are bad movies, not even close, with every installment of this franchise having garnered praise for the increasingly elaborate meta-humor, heart, vocal performances, and photorealistic animations (someone close to me was actually dismayed to discover that the films are animated with CGI since their photorealism made him believe that they were actually stop-motion films with real Lego pieces). That said, even critically, the films have seen dips in their reception with each subsequent release. The Lego Movie has the strongest reviews of the bunch, aided in no small part by the freshness of the idea and execution, while The Lego Batman Movie has uniformly positive reviews with minor grips for the lack of freshness (a recurring theme with these movies), speedy pacing, and some liberties taken with the characters. The Lego Ninjago Movie, however, was the first Lego film where we saw a mixed critical reaction, with the animation and voice acting being praised, while the story, execution, and even the humor all receiving criticism for not being nearly as fresh as it once was. Overall, the film isn’t a failure so much as a misfire.
The diminished critical reception is also reflected in the box office, with each installment of the franchise seeing a noticeable dip in both domestic and worldwide grosses. The first was a surprise hit, grossing over $250 million domestically and nearly $470 million worldwide (not much by blockbuster standards, but massive compared to what was originally projected) on a $60 million budget. Meanwhile, The Lego Batman Movie took a significant dive, only grossing $179 million domestically and $312 million worldwide on a budget of $80 million; and understandable drop given the lack of most characters from the original film, but still pretty large. Then we have The Lego Ninjago Movie, the Lego franchise’s first true financial failure with a worldwide gross of $123 million on a $70 million budget. Notice that I went right to the worldwide gross there, that’s because The Lego Ninjago Movie only grossed $59 million at the domestic box office, a full $120 million drop-off from Lego Batman. Clearly, that “freshness” factor is a major factor when it comes to these films. All that said, however, The Lego Movie 2 is looking to perform quite well, and I believe this is thanks to another factor that the other two films were missing.
Projected to debut between $50-$60 million this coming weekend, I feel that The Lego Movie 2 is going to do a lot to get the franchise back on track. How? Given the diminished returns that have come from the previous two installments, looking back at the two actually shows that they didn’t have a certain something (or rather somebody) that the original did. I am of course talking about the combined creative force of Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the original engineers of The Lego Movie, or as you may know them at the moment, the men who brought you Spider-Verse. Lord & Miller have been active in the industry for quite a while now, working as writer/producers on How I Met Your Mother before bringing audiences surprise hits like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, the rebooted Jump Street movies, and of course, The Lego Movie which they wrote and co-directed. However, they’ve only more recently jumped to the forefront of pop culture consciousness thanks to their controversial outsing by Kathleen Kennedy from the Solo: A Star Wars Story directing chair(s) (my god, what a movie that would’ve been) before rebounding spectacularly thanks to their shepherding of (and active creative involvement in) Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse as executive producers. This creative team has an unparalleled level of success in comedy sphere and the animation arena thanks to their penchant for genre-bending storytelling and side-splitting meta-humor, and while they have not returned to direct The Lego Movie 2, they did write the script as well as executive produce. Sure enough, reviews of the film reflect their involvement, with many (despite continuing to call out the franchise for not being as “fresh”) calling the film a welcome return to form. Rotten Tomatoes currently has the film at 84%, and while the staleness complaints will make for a hurdle when trying to reach the $60 million mark, I am convinced that a $57 million debut is more than likely.
In second place, I am predicting to find What Men Want, the newest offering from Paramount Players (Paramount Pictures’ new diversity label) which sees Empire star, Taraji P. Henson, playing the lead in a gender-swapped version of Nancy Meyer’s What Women What. This has been the works for a while now and is finally making it to the screen; however, I will fully admit that upon seeing the first trailer for the film, the idea, while certain funny, seemed a bit nonplussed in its execution. Sure enough, there didn’t seem to be much excitement about the film from the onset, which isn’t totally surprising given Taraji P. Henson’s recent box office track record. While she has starred in some genuine hits, and her popularity has been significantly boosted thanks to Empire on the Fox network, her maneuvers to boost her profile as a film actress have not panned out as of late. Outside of starring in Hidden Figures, which was a massive hit, Henson’s Proud Mary (which she produced) was a dud, debuting in eighth place the weekend of its release and barely making it past $21 million worldwide, while her team-up with Tyler Perry for Acrimony also saw lackluster results at the box office.
That said, in the past month, I have begun to notice an increased interest in What Men Want, particularly with women. My assumption is validated a bit by projections for What Men Want‘s opening weekend. While only a month ago the film was looking to open in the mid-teens, suddenly projections have shifted toward an opening gross range from $18-$28 million. I’ve unsure of what exactly caused the uptick-perhaps Paramount started to ramp up the marketing-but whatever they’re doing it is working.
The movie is packaged very well. As mentioned above, it is based on the romantic comedy What Women What from 2000, starring Mel Gibson (a dubious distinction nowadays), about an ad agency executive who suddenly gains the ability to hear women’s inner thoughts. While many like to say that the film has aged very poorly, the concept itself was (and still is) admittedly creative, interesting, and funny and managed to power the film to a gross of over $300 million worldwide. Updating the film for the modern day with a female lead is a very savvy choice, particularly with Henson who is known to have a larger-than-life personality and charisma. She has showcased this more recently with her voicework in Ralph Breaks the Internet as the character Yesss, a standout performance in a film that, while not the strongest performer for Disney Animation, ended up actually doing solid business in theaters, recently having outgrossed its predecessor. Reviews for What Men Want have dropped, and while they are not very good (45% on Rotten Tomatoes and 53 on Metacritic), they actually are better than expected for a film like this. The original also didn’t have amazing reviews and still did quite well, so I feel that with a charismatic lead and a Girls Trip-kind of vibe to the film (What Men Want is also a Will Packer production much like the 2017 breakout hit), I actually think What Men Want has the capacity to break $25 million this weekend.
Third place is looking to go to Cold Pursuit, the newest action-thriller from Liam Neeson, this time based on Norwegian director Hans Peter Molland’s In Order of Disappearance. To my surprise, the film, despite looking like a tired Liam Neeson actioner with a case of tonal confusion (it had a bad first trailer), is actually receiving quite positive reviews, with many praising the film’s surprise comedic tone. It is projected to regularbusiness for a Liam Neeson actioner at the box office in its debut ($12 million, give or take a million dollars) but there is an obvious snag in light of the revelation of Liam Neeson’s recent racism scandal. While doing press for the film, Liam Neeson revealed to a reporter that, years ago, after learning that a female friend of his was raped by a black man, he apparently spent a week walking through different areas while hoping that a black man would get in a scuffle with him so that Neeson could possibly kill him. He then told the reporter that he realized that what he was doing was wrong and did seek help, but word of this story got out and blew up to the point that the Cold Pursuit red carpet premiere was canceled.
When discussing last weeks box office and the performance of Miss Bala, I was reminded by a friend that Gina Rodriguez recently came under scrutiny for comments she made in the past that were interpreted as “anti-black” and how this may have caused Miss Bala to underperform. Given the climate we live in, I would not be at all shocked if the backlash against Rodriguez for these comments did indeed factor into Miss Bala‘s underperformance. However, when I stop to really think about it, I have a hard time believing that that specific backlash would have been such a strong factor in the grand scheme of things. I equated Miss Bala‘s underperformance to Gina Rodriguez being placed in a genre film that alienated her core fanbase. While her comments had sparked discussion on Twitter, overall the news of her comments and her response to them (which several people also considered anti-black) didn’t really permeate nearly as much many would think. I could be wrong (and if so let me know), but the news was not picked up and covered by any major news outlets and the discussion on Twitter didn’t seem to last more than a day or two. Maybe it was the fact that there prominently two sides to the discussion (some agreeing that her comments were anti-black, other disagreeing) but overall, the news really didn’t register that much (at least not from what I could see).
On the other hand, the Liam Neeson news has certainly registered. By the looks of it, many more major outlets have picked up the story and the discussion seems much more heated. The biggest indicator of how big a deal his anecdote was is the fact that the red carpet was canceled for Cold Pursuit, which admittedly will also fuel interest in what he said and expand the controversy. Also not helping Neeson is the fact that he likely doesn’t have a lot of people in his corner. While he does have defenders, many of them, who decry those who call him racist for a past impulse that he “technically” did not act upon, I think that collectively, most are shocked that Neeson would tell the story in an interview, especially given the current political climate. While discourse on Gina Rodriguez was mixed with both positivity and negativity, Neeson’s anecdote has a negative stink to it no matter which way you spin it. Whether or not he is a racist is a conversation that looks to have taken a backseat to the sheer shock of the story and how it came from out of the blue. Projections remain stable for Cold Pursuit‘s opening weekend, but I am genuinely curious to see how the weekend unfolds in the wake of these revelations. Of all the holdovers, only The Upside is looking to potentially squeeze itself into the top five (most likely in fourth place), but I am curious to see if it sees a swell of activity from audiences deciding to skip out on Cold Pursuit.
As for the rest of the top ten, outside of The Prodigy, it looks to be solely holdovers. The newly revived Orion Pictures is looking to launch another weak contender with The Prodigy, which is looking at a debut of around $5-$6 million in fifth place at best. Outside of the top five, Glass looks to see another 50% drop to $4.7 million in sixth place, Spider-Verse looks to hold strong with a 20% drop for $3.6 million in seventh place, Green Book is likely to follow close behind with $3.4 million in eighth place, and Aquaman and Miss Bala are looking at a photo finish with rough $3 million apiece. With Miss Bala likely to drop at least 55%, however, expect it to come in tenth. With regard to the specialty market, only Everybody Knows can potentially have a high profile debut. Directed by Asghar Farhadi, the Oscar-winning Iranian director behind critical gems like A Separation and The Salesman (both recipients of the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film), and starring husband and wife acting duo, Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem, Everybody Knows is a Spanish language mystery drama concerning Cruz’s character as she returns to Madrid for a wedding at which a child goes missing and dark secrets are revealed. Originally screened at the Cannes Film Festival last year, the film was expected to be an Oscar contender given the pedigree of the talent involved. However, reviews for the film were surprisingly mixed and Focus Features (who is handling distribution) clearly realized that it would not be able to compete in the awards race. It is unclear as to whether or not Focus is hoping for it to be an awards contender this year, but I am curious to see if the star power can generate a strong per-theater-average.