I must say, after weeks of major motion pictures and blockbuster announcements (did you see new teaser for Star Wars: Episode IX), it is quite refreshing to have a weekend of more mid-range pictures entering the fray as a palette cleanser. Sure, there are still some blockbusters in play, most notably Shazam! which needs to prove itself this weekend with a solid hold to show that it is indeed a blockbuster rather than a middling dud for DC, as well as Captain Marvel which is still soaring pretty damn high. However, truly, this weekend belongs to the likes of newcomers. We have both a race and gender-bent take on Big called Little, in which a high-powered (and high-strung) businesswoman wakes up one day to discover that she has turned into a tween girl, Millenium Film’s Hellboy reboot starring Stranger Things breakout, David Harbour, Laika’s latest animated charmer, Missing Link, and the (somewhat) hotly anticipated YA adaptation, After. While all a bit low-key, I see breakout potential in quite a few of these entries, and their very entrance into multiplexes looks to shake up the box office landscape quite a bit. Meanwhile, in the specialty market, Mary Magdalene, Teen Spirit, and Wild Nights with Emily all look to premiere to little fanfare.
Likely to come in first place this weekend is that of Shazam!. This should be obvious given its status as a comic book superhero film and a would-be blockbuster, not to mention little competition from new entries (at first glance at least), but a closer look does through this somewhat into question. Serving as an origin story for Billy Batson, the boy who transforms into the adult superhero Shazam, Shazam! has received strong praise from critics who laud the performances of leads Zachary Levi, Jack Dylan Grazer, and Mark Strong, as well as the lightness of tone and atmosphere of the film, with many critics even labeling it “the best DCEU movie yet!” Yes, Shazam! is the latest entry in the fledgling superhero franchise from Warner Bros. Pictures and seems to have debuted on the tail end of seeming turning point said franchise. Coming after the major critical and financial success of Wonder Woman in 2016 and immediately following the major financial success of Aquaman, it would seem the DCEU, which has been marred by critical (and sometimes commercial) failure since its inception, is turning a corner with Shazam! as further evidence of this. Debuting an official teaser last year at Comic Con which was well-received by audiences, the film had a surprising amount of anticipation surrounding its premiere last weekend. Fueled even more by strong reviews from the advanced screenings held two weeks prior, it seemed as though Shazam! was already a bonafide hit.
Then, the film actually premiered, and the opening was…not stellar. To be clear, Shazam! didn’t open poorly, not at all. In fact, its $53.5 million opening was actually on the higher ended of its projected opening weekend range, and higher than that of the earlier predictions that saw the film only opening in the $40 millions. However, when you step back and look at this opening critically, one fact emerges. Shazam! could’ve done better. This isn’t to say that the film needed to open with over $100 million, it wasn’t made to be a film of scale, and saying that it needed to open on par with Aquaman at $67 million is ridiculous because that film opened during Christmas to a completely different set of circumstances. That said, if I am being honest, Shazam! truly should have opened to at least $60 million last weekend. While the film did not present itself at a film of large scale, instead as a smaller and more light-hearted adventure (Big as a superhero movie), it was a comic book superhero film, produced by a major studio, and released during a time when these kinds of film are at their peak popularity. Combined with the eager anticipation from fans of DC, Shazam!‘s potential for box office success feels, sadly, unfulfilled.
Why was this the case? It’s hard to say. The likely explanation is that advanced screenings for the film were held too early. Clearly trying to mimic the success of Aquaman, which held preview screenings a week in advance of the actual premiere, Warner likely felt the need (understandably) to get ahead of the naysayers and decided to hold advanced screenings even earlier with a two-week gap between them and the actual release. While this certainly did silence naysayers, I do feel that it also likely took the air out of the room. Without the surprise and curiosity regarding whether or not the film was genuinely as good as the trailers, the anticipation waned, and thus Shazam! simply didn’t end up being a priority for moviegoers. It also certainly didn’t help that Avengers: Endgame tickets went on sale the Tuesday prior to Shazam!‘s release. With Shazam!‘s status as a “priority” being dented, many moviegoers likely spent money on Avengers tickets and thus decided to skip out. There is also the potential the Shazam! main have simply looked and felt too small a movie to be seen immediately in theaters, however, given the buzz that the trailers for the film had, I am less inclined to believe that.
So where does that leave the film this weekend? Currently, Shazam! has grossed $69.7 million at the domestic box office (and $196 million globally to its credit) which has sparked many pundits to make a comparison between it and a fellow comic book film, the appropriately smaller scale Ant-Man from Marvel and Disney. Indeed, this comparison is actually pretty spot on. Both films are smaller scale than others in their respective cinematic universes and feature characters that are not as well known. Both films are directed by directors who typically work with low-budgets, Shazam! being directed by Light’s Out and Annabelle: Creation director, David F. Sandberg, and Ant-Man by Bring-it-On and Yes Man helmer Peyton Reed, and each feature a leading man who is more typically associated with lighter comedies rather than, well, being a feature film leading man. Finally, both films are much lighter in tone than their predecessors. While MCU movies have always had funny elements, Ant-Man really took comedy in a Marvel film to another level (unsurprising given that the film was developed and originally meant to be directed by comedy genius filmmaker Edgar Wright). DC, on the other hand, has taken a much more serious tone throughout, only really beginning to lighten up significantly with Aquaman (to be fair, Wonder Woman also had some wholesome moments of clever comedy as well). With all this in mind, the two films seem to make for the perfect comparison; that, however, really doesn’t help Shazam! all that much. While Shazam! is healthy so far with its $69.7 million gross, it is trailing Ant-Man which had already grossed $81 million by this same point in its release cycle, indicating much stronger word-of-mouth. Shazam!‘s real saving grace on this front is the fact that, as clearly shown by its opening weekend, many moviegoers have yet to see it, thus if the word-of-mouth is good, it should be able to pull out a solid hold. The film did receive an “A” Cinemascore which would suggest such a situation, however, Ant-Man also received an “A” but ultimately dropped 56% in its second weekend, which wouldn’t be a great fate for Shazam!. Personally, given the goodwill the film seems to have, I am predicting a 50% drop for a gross of $26.7 million, but only time will tell.
As for second through third place, this is where we are looking to find most of our newcomers this weekend. Interestingly enough, given the Big-like nature of Shazam!, its a bit hilarious to find that our likely second-place candidate is that of the more direct Big reimagining, Little. Reportedly, young actress and Black-ish TV breakout star, Marsai Martin, was shown the original Tom Hanks film by her mother. Having developed a fondness for it, Martin, who recently started her own production company (at the ripe old age of 13 by the way, just in case you wanted to feel like an underachiever today) decided that it would be a great idea to reimage the film for today’s audience, this time starring a black woman. Cut to the present and here we are, with Little arriving in theaters this weekend to tell the story of black female tech mogul, Jordan Sanders (played by Regina Hall), whose harsh and ruthless attitude has everyone who works for her hating every second of it, including her assistant, April (played by another TV star, Insecure creator and lead actress, Issa Rae). Things take a turn, however, when Jordan wakes up one morning have transformed into a tween version of herself (played by Martin) and, with April’s help, must navigate the situation while also learning to appreciate her youth.
Frankly, as a pitch, Little is a fantastic idea. Everyone knows and loves the movie Big, and placing a black woman in the lead makes the film feel much more modern. On top of this, Little also has some pretty great backing. The film was produced by Will Packer Productions (which produced Girls Trip) as well as Black-ish creator Kenya Barris, and it is being distributed by Universal Pictures which has put on a pretty strong marketing campaign for the film. The only thing I can see getting in the way of its success are the reviews, which aren’t as strong as one might hope. Settling around a 51% on Rotten Tomatoes, critics praise the performances of the cast (particularly Rae who is being called the film’s breakout) but are calling the film “uneven” and the jokes “not as strong as one would expect”. That said, I feel pretty confident that Little will over-index this weekend. Having seen the first trailer months ago and being absolutely taken with the humor, I can’t help but feel that Little makes for a hard package to pass up. The film also has the benefit of a potentially broader audience thanks to its black leads, especially given that Shazam!‘s opening weekend skewed much more Caucasian than expected, so Little may potentially be able to draw in a bigger audience. While the reviews may be a slight deterrent, many Will Packer film have been able to overcome negative reception and still make a pretty penny at the box office, most notably the Ride Along films and more recently, Night School. Little is projected to open between $12-$17 million and I suspect it will debut on the higher end of those projections with $17 million (if not best them all together).
Third place is looking to go to Hellboy, although in this case I am not nearly as optimistic as with Little. Why? Well, unfortunately for Hellboy fans, the reviews for the film are not good, in fact, they are terrible. The film currently sits at a 15% on Rotten Tomatoes and 30 on Metacritic. What was originally billed as a major reboot of the franchise that would bring the property back to its comic roots may have potentially just buried the franchise for good. It is quite a shame too given the talent that was assembled. Stranger Things‘ David Harbour dons the horns as the titular heroic demon while joined by B-movie queen Milla Jovovich, the ever impressive Ian McShane, and several other talented up-and-comers, all under the direction of former Game of Thrones director Neil Marshall (remember “Blackwater”, that was him). Clearly, though, something simply didn’t click as the film has been criticized for bad writing and for not having the same level of creative flair that the original Hellboy films had (then again, it’s hard to compete with Guillermo del Toro). As a result, I don’t see this film being able to best its projections, which peg the film’s opening around $14-$20 million. The interest factor surrounding the reboot makes me feel that it might be able to gross around $15 million, but likely no higher than that.
In fourth place, we find a film on the opposite side of the critical spectrum from Hellboy, and is Missing Link. The newest offering from stop-motion filmmaking studio, Laika, Missing Link is receiving the same level of critical adulation as their other fare (Coraline, ParaNorman, Kubo and the Two Strings, you know the ones), with praise for the “incredibly detailed and well-crafted animation” as well as the voice acting from stars Hugh Jackman, Zach Galifianakis, Zoe Saldana, Timothy Olyphant, and Emma Thompson. Telling the story of a scientist who discovers a mythical “Bigfoot-like” creature whom he must escort to the Himalayas, Missing Link has all the makings of a family-friendly charmer. Unfortunately, though, Missing Link is a Laika movie, and in so, its financial prospects are not so great. Sadly, perhaps due to stop-motion animation falling out of fashion in recent years, Laika films have never been able to do very well at the box office despite always receiving near critical acclaim. Only their first feature film, Coraline (a favorite animated movie of mine), has ever come close to financial success, with every subsequent release grossing less and less, most recently with Kubo and the Two Strings only managing a gross of $77 million on a $60 million budget. Part of this can also be blamed on Laika’s penchant for darker storytelling and heavier themes which may scare away family audiences, so kudos to the company for course-correcting a bit with a seemingly lighter and more family-friendly adventure film. However, despite this good business decision, Missing Link still has another obstacle to overcome in that it is being distributed by Annapurna Pictures. The Megan Ellison run studio has had its own financial problems as of late owing to its inability to properly launch movies, and Missing Link seems to be no exception. Projected to open between $9-$14 million on a likely at least $60 million budget, the odds of this movie making a profit (or even breaking even) are slim. The colorful animation and family-friendly appeal make me believe that Missing Link can potential debut with $12 million, but this is still less than ideal.
Rounding out the top five is likely to be Pet Sematary, which, to its credit got off to a solid $24.5 million start last weekend. However, continuously dwindling reviews and a “C+” Cinemascore lead me to believe that Pet Sematary will be back in the ground very soon. It was actually quite startling to watch last weekend as the film, which debuted at the SXSW Festival ahead of its premiere, saw its stellar reviews from the festival be undercut by a way of more mixed reactions. Immediately following its film festival premiere, Pet Sematary had a Rotten Tomatoes score in the mid-80%‘s, with several critics calling it “one of the best Stephen King adaptations ever”. However, that Tomato score began to drop steadily as the film’s release date got closer and closer, hitting 62% by opening night. Now, the film sits at a chilly 59% score, which leads me to believe that less people will be inclined to take a chance on it this weekend. Thankfully, the film is low-budget and looks to have already broken even, but I see a big drop in its future. It’s Cinemascore and opening weekend gross are both in line with fellow horror remakes, Evil Dead from 2013 and Poltergeist from 2015, which each dropped about 63% in their second weekends, so expect Pet Sematary share a similar fate with a gross of $9 million by the end of the weekend.
Outside the top five is where we will likely find the majority of out holdovers, with Dumbo, Captain Marvel, The Best of Enemies, and Five Feet Apart taking sixth, seventh, ninth, and tenth place respectively. Dumbo looks to fall big time with a 55% drop to a gross of $8.2 million, just barely pushing it past $85 million domestically and making the coveted $100 million mark even less likely. Captain Marvel looks to continue its winning streak with a strong hold and a $7.4 million gross which should push it past $380 million domestically and further into the over $1 billion stratosphere. That said, Captain Marvel may receive some competition from this weekend’s last major new release, After. An adaptation of the viral online YA novel that is apparently finds its roots int he One Direction fandom surrounding singer Harry Styles (we’ll talk about that later), After follows the character of Tessa Young (played by newcomer Josephine Langford, sister of Katherine Langford) and her turbulent romance with “bad boy ” Hardin Scott and serves as Aviron Pictures’ late-in-the-game entry into the YA film adaptation genre. After‘s reviews are quite rotten, but given its origin as an online novel, and thus its built-in fandom, I think there is a possibility that it could overperform. After is projected to open between $2-$7 million, and I am betting that it opens with at least $7 million. Finally, The Best of Enemies looks to lose much of its meager audience this weekend with a gross of just $1.98 million while Five Feet Apart will likely round out the top ten with a solid hold and a $1.92 million gross, continuing to be a mini-hit for studio CBS Films.
Outside the top ten, the specialty market will see the release of the self-titled Mary Magdelene movie starring Rooney Mara from IFC Films in 63 theaters, the Elle Fanning musical drama, Teen Spirit from Bleecker Street Films, in four theaters, and the Emily Dickinson biopic, Wild Nights with Emily from Greenwich, starring Molly Shannon in three theaters. Frankly, none of these entries look promising. Mary Magdelene was released on the festival circuit last year to mixed reviews (though it was released internationally and found some success, with star Rooney Mara receiving an Australian Oscar nomination for her portrayal) with its situation further complicated by the fact that its original distributor, The Weinstein Company, falling apart for obvious reasons. IFC Films did pick up the film but clearly has little faith in it as they are burying it this weekend. Wild Nights with Emily does have some strong reviews, particularly for Molly Shannon’s performance, but there is absolutely no buzz about the picture. The only film that has a chance is that of Teen Spirit, which tells the story of a girl named Violet (Elle Fanning) who becomes a finalist in a national singing competition in Britain. Bleecker Street has proven to not be the best distributor as of late which makes me think Teen Spirit won’t really resonate. However, the film does feature covers from well renowned musical artists like Ellie Goulding, Ariana Grande, Annie Lennox, Major Lazer, Grimes, and an original song from Carly Rae Jepsen, so perhaps the film can draw a bigger crowd than expected.