Roland Emmerich’s Moonfall and Paramount’s latest Jackass feature look to potentially bless the the barren box office top ten with some extra nourishment, and you might be surprised at which will likely take the #1 Spot! Meanwhile, The Worst Person in the World finally arrives on US screens by way of Neon!!
OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD! THERE ARE NEW MOVIES!!!!!!!!
Yes, finally! There are some new wide releases gracing us with their presence this coming weekend that hope to entertain audiences as we fully settle into the new year! I’m not kidding when I say that, as I really can’t think of any two titles that could be more rooted in the mantra “A fun time at the movies!” Moonfall and Jackass Forever are perhaps two of the oddest movies to couple up; one a giant, star-studded Roland Emmerich film about astronauts trying to save the Earth from the threat of the Moon, the other the lastest (and ostensibly final) installment in a beloved MTV comedy-stunt franchise that feels like it’s from a completely different era of human history. And yet, both films don’t look to be taking themselves too seriously (especially not Jackass) as they aim to do the exact thing that audience wants from every movie: help you escape to another world, if only for a few hours. I’ve no doubt that each film will do just that for their respective audiences. The only question is: Just how big are said audiences going to be?
As is typical of these discussions, this is the part where the situation at once gets more complicated, but also vastly more interesting. I, personally, find it fascinating that both films being released this weekend are expected to have more people flocking to the box office yet are actually not designed to appeal to the widest audience possible. Instead, both Moonfall and Jackass Forever are actually constructed in a way that appeals much more heavily to the male moviegoing demographic. Moonfall is, fundamentally, a Roland Emmerich film. That is to say that it has a big cast (including the likes of Hally Berry, Patrick Wilson, John Bradley, and Michael Peña) fighting a potentially world-ending event, in this case, “a mysterious force that knocks the moon out of orbit” and sent it hurtling toward earth on a collision course. It is very much in the vein of Emmerich’s most famous works like Independence Day and 2012, and if certain elements of the marketing are to be believed, it may potentially even carry with it a cheeky, over the top sense of humor that poked fun at the very over-the-top nature of the film. Movies like this generally tend to appeal to a more male crowd, and that has worked quite for Emmerich, even at lower points in his career. As recently as 2019, we saw Emmerich’s last film, the historical action drama Midway, overperform on opening weekend thanks to its appeal with older men, particularly veterans. Wisely though, Moonfall seems to center Halle Berry’s character as the protagonist (or at least a primary driving force in the story) which should, at least in small part, broaden the film’s female appeal so as to rope in a larger audience. That certainly does give it something of an edge against its fellow new release.
Where Moonfall has a little something extra to broaden its appeal, Jackass Forever is aiming squarely at the younger male demographic. The MTV brand’s style of humor has always read as very “fratboy” and by the looks of the trailer, that hasn’t changed in the slightest. To be fair, I highly doubt that Jackass‘ fans would want to change at all and, on a budget of just $10 million, Jackass Forever doesn’t need to really appeal to anyone outside of that group to be a success. It’s a notable advantage that Jackass Forever has over the $140 million-budgeted Moonfall; a lack of expectations weighing it down. Getting down to the brass tax of just how much each film will make, I surprise even myself by saying that Jackass Forever will likely be topping the weekend over Moonfall (and even No Way Home).
Just how can a cheaply made movie relying on wacky, over-the-top slapstick be topping a movie that looks like a genuine tentpole blockbuster? Well, when you actually look at the history of the Jackass movies, you’ll discover that they have a genuinely strong audience. The first Jackass movie was released back in 2002 to a very strong gross of $22.7 million (especially given that the first Jackass was budgeted at $2 million total) and legged out nicely with a x2.82 multiplier to a final domestic gross of $64.2 million (and $79.2 million worldwide). On its own, that performance is nice but not special. What really makes it impressive is that the team managed not only to repeat, but also grow that success a whole four years later with the release of Jackass: Number Two, posting $29 million opening weekend, finishing with a domestic haul of $72 million (a x2.51 multiplier), and taking in $85.2 million globally. The franchise reached its box office peak in 2011 with Jackass 3D. After a similarly lengthy hiatus between installments, Johnny Knoxville and company beefed up their presentation with the use of 3D to augment their stunts. The box office receipts ballooned in response, garnering the franchise’s biggest opening: an insane $50.3 million, biggest domestic gross: $117.2 million (though that does give this installment the worst legs of the franchise with a x2.33 multiplier), and biggest worldwide total: $171.6 million! While the fourth installment may have broken the growth streak for the franchise, Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa was still no slouch, grossing $32 million on opening, legging out to $102 million domestic (best legs of the franchise with a x3.18 multiplier), and finishing off with $160.9 million (10.5x its $15 million budget).
All of that is a long-winded way of saying that Jackass not only has its fans but also, with regard to the noticeably long gaps between films, strong brand loyalty. You know if you’re going to like this movie or not; or, maybe you are able to sit back as a casual viewer, already knowing what you’re getting into, and just enjoy the ride for what it is. That certainly seems to be the case with critics, who currently have the movie sitting at 90% on Rotten Tomatoes, heavily complimenting the film’s overall amount of heart. Paramount knows that fans of the long-running franchise are bound to show up. Just as with Scream (which just got a sequel greenlit, more on that later…), they know they have something solid on their hands, hence why Jackass Forever is not debuting with a Paramount+ release alongside its theatrical one. They know it will be a party, one that Jackass‘ audience is gonna want to share together, laughing hysterically in a theater. That communal sense of fun is something else Jackass Forever has going for it. I’m hard-pressed to think of the last pure comedy film from a studio that got a fully theatrical release (the last Jackass-adjacent, caught-on-camera, shock-comedy film I can think of, Bad Trip, got sent to Netflix in 2020 after Orion pulled the plug on its theatrical release in the wake of the pandemic). By its very nature, Jackass Forever feels like both a rarity, in that we rarely see this kind of movie anymore, and a straight-up event given that Paramount is making you pay to see it in a theater. Will it be able to match the last installment with a $30 million opening? Given the changes in the film distribution landscape since 2016, I can confidently say no. That said, I don’t think we will be seeing Jackass Forever open below $15 million. In fact, if it manages to strike the right chord, I don’t even think a $20 million opening is out of the question. I’ll be bullish and say $18 million for its opening weekend gross, but don’t be surprised if Jackass Forever manages to overperform like Scream did three weeks ago.
Now, where does that leave Moonfall? Well, Roland Emmerich is certainly a name and the trailers have made the movie out to be appropriately cinematic. Similar to the Jackass franchise, you know if you like Emmerich-style disaster flicks or not, and reviews suggest that this is very much a Roland Emmerich film in all the best (and worst) ways. The thing that holds the film back, however, is that Emmerich has not been that big of a box office draw as of late. If I am being completely honest, I am genuinely surprised that the man continues to find work. While he scored big with (pardon this awkward clause) 2009’s 2012, practically every single film that Emmerich has directed since has been a flop. White House Down brought in a hefty $205 million worldwide but had that gross negated by the film’s $150 million budget and likely $400 million break-even point; Independence Day: Resurgence was critically maligned and arrived during the infamous summer of 2016 where almost every film outside of Marvel movies and family-friendly animations flopped hard; Meanwhile, 2019’s Midway found the same fate as White House Down, this time with $126 million on a $100 million budget (and a minimum $200 million break-even).
On the subject of my surprise with Emmerich continuing to find work, Midway provides a slight answer as to just how he is able to do it. Like I said, Roland Emmerich, despite his reputation for B-movie cheesiness and penchant for directing flops, is still a name talent (he always will be thanks to Independence Day), and a “name” can do a lot for you in Hollywood, including funding a film. Midway‘s release by Lionsgate nearly three years ago was notable in that Lionsgate did not actually produce the film. Similar to the case with Universal and Pinnacle Peak with regards to Redeeming Love (check that out here if you’d like), Lionsgate merely purchased the US distribution rights to the film rather than outrightly funding it, leaving them on the hook solely for distribution and P&A costs. That is largely how the film got funded overall, with Emmerich getting financing from multiple groups (most notably China’s Bona Film Group which put up $80 million for Chinese distribution and world rights), selling the distribution rights to multiple territories through AGC Studios, and the use of a $75 million tax credit, thus spreading much of the exposure on the budget between several parties. While the film may have flopped overall, I do know that Lionsgate was quite happy with the film’s performance in the States as it overperformed on opening weekend-topping $15 million expectations with a $17 million gross in the 3-Day and a $20 million gross in the 4-Day Veteran’s Day holiday frame-and managed an impressive x3.18 multiplier for a total domestic gross of $56.8 million domestic. Reportedly, the film has also been so well received by veterans and the general public that it continues to pull in significant revenue for Lionsgate to this day via the ancillary market (Side Note: if you are curious about the film, it is currently streaming for free, with ads, on Tubi. Midway did receive mixed reviews from critics, but even its harshest detractors have highlighted its historical accuracy regarding the Battle of Midway and the film’s surprising equity between the American and Japanese perspectives on the battle. It might be worth a watch for history enthusiasts.)
Given that kind of performance for Midway, it comes as no surprise that Lionsgate was quick to set up the same kind of “distribution-only” deal for Emmerich’s follow-up Moonfall, which, given that it was financed the same way, makes it the most expensive independent film ever made with its $140 million budget. Like with Paramount and Jackass, Lionsgate has seen the financial potential of Emmerich in this new filmic landscape and is going to do everything its power to set up Moonfall for at least a similar level of success to Midway (for them at least). As with Jackass Forever, Moonfall is a bit of a nostalgia play, geared toward long-time Emmerich fans, as well as something of a “unicorn” in this landscape as we haven’t gotten a ton of straightforward disaster films in the past few years.
That said, being a disaster film is the biggest factor holding this movie back. Part of the reason we don’t see many disaster movies anymore is because audience tastes have changed a lot since 2009. Many millennials will contend that “we’re already living in a disaster film” given the results of the 2016 election, the ensuing fallout in various sectors, and of course the pandemic we’re living in, but I personally think it’s much simpler than that. The simple fact is that disaster movies in our contemporary world tend to come off as quite hokey. They have an established formula to them as well as a requisite amount of B-movie cheese drizzled right on top, and while I will staunchly defend formulaic/cliche/cheesy filmmaking as “perfectly enjoyable, thank you very much”, it remains abundantly clear that a large percent of critics and audiences are apparently lactose-intolerant. That’s not to say that those same audiences won’t rabidly consume these same cheesy/hokey movies once they hit streaming services for “free” (with your paid subscription), but that B-movie sensibility will create something of a barrier to entry when it comes to getting people to actually pay to see these kinds of films in theaters. Given the ever-increasing cost of going to the movies, especially in a group, audiences are not likely to turn up for a movie unless they feel they will absolutely enjoy it (hence why Marvel is currently dominating the box office with its films’ consistent level of quality), and over-the-top disaster movie feels like too much of a gamble for many.
Whereas back in the 90s and early 2000s, a typical Roland Emmerich movie could rely on sheer scale, spectacle, and epic visual effects work to sell itself as a “must-see” theater-worthy experience, today one can get that kind of VFX quality almost anywhere (even on Netflix). With that ace no longer up the genre’s figurative sleeve, the success of many disaster films is largely now coming down to tone. Whether the film is supposed to be a grounded, serious look at the effects of a large scale disaster (a la the recent and very compelling Greenland with Gerard Butler) or a wildly goofy, winkingly bad thrill ride (like 2018’s “so stupid that it’s fun” The Meg, a prime example of a successful genre-cousin of the disaster film: the monster movie), that tonal clarity and consistency is one that needs to be maintained so that audiences know what they are getting themselves into and can properly getting into the mindset to be entertained. One false move and the movie can go from “so bad, it’s good” to “just plain bad” in heartbeat. As recently as 2017, Emmerich’s frequent collaborator, Dean Devlin, made his directorial debut with a very “Emmerich-like” film, Geostorm, which tracked the effects of a globe-spanning hurricane that wreaks havoc over the earth and the international team of scientists put together to save us all. Unfortunately, despite having a title like that, Geostorm seemed to play it dreadfully straight, and with a derivative story and “lackluster” effects, that disaster film fumbled at the box office with just $33 million total domestically (and an overall middling $221 million worldwide on a $120 million budget which reportedly lost the studio, Warner Bros., $74 million). While I think that Lionsgate has made the effort to play up Moonfall‘s goofier side in the marketing, the fact that I’m saying “I think…” isn’t the best sign for the effectiveness of said campaign. Moonfall‘s premise is ludicrous and reviewers will not be kind, but if the audience doesn’t get the sense that they’re in on any kind of joke, then the movie will be in hot water. A smaller film could afford to roll the dice and see if the film naturally finds an audience, but Moonfall‘s $140 million budget could easily weigh it down. As for how it will perform, I like to be cautiously optimistic in my predictions, and given that Lionsgate was able to handle Midway quite well for themselves, and secure IMAX screens Moonfall as well (they stole them from No Way Home), I would like to think that a potential $17 million opening could be in the cards, especially given the highly recognizable Halle Berry front-and-center in the ad campaign. That said, Geostorm only opened to $13 million, and Lionsgate themselves are predicting a likely $10 million gross. While the studio might be low-balling the film to make it look like an overperformer by the end of the weekend, that kind of projection doesn’t inspire confidence. Cautiously optimistic me will predict $14-15 million, but don’t be surprised to see Moonfall go lower.
As for the rest of the top ten, it’s all about holdovers. Without question, No Way Home will absolutely take the #3 spot this weekend. While it will be losing IMAX screens, Spider-Man is still the biggest game in town and the surest bet for a good time at the movies. I’ve had friends who’ve watched a single Marvel film over ten times in theaters and I’ve almost positive that some people will be headed back for at least their eighth go-around with No Way Home this weekend. Expect a potential -35% drop for a gross of $7.15 million. In fourth place, Scream will likely be taking a sharp drop as it finally gets some fresh-blooded (haha) competition. It could still hold on nicely, especially with the official news that Scream 6 has been greenlit by Paramount(!) and is already slated to begin production this summer (Scream sequels have historically had fast turnarounds) which could light a fire under anyone who hasn’t seen it yet to get themselves to the theater. Still, I’m going predict around a 50% drop just with regards to the entry of new films into the market and the potential loss of screens that will accompany them. Expect a likely gross of $3.6 million.
After that, fascinatingly, we find ourselves in a situation where most of the rest of the top ten is likely to remain totally unaffected by the arrival of our two new titles thanks to sharing little to no audience appeal with them. Sing 2 will absolutely remain unaffected by Moonfall and Jackass Forever‘s entry into the top ten as neither film is geared toward families in the way that the aforementioned kids-flick is. I fully expect Sing 2 to hold around -25% (or perhaps even better) for a likely gross of $3.45 million in fifth place. Following behind in sixth place is likely to be The King’s Man, which admittedly has some chance of losing its audiences to Moonfall and Jackass Forever as the film skews older like those two. However, I do feel The King’s Man will still be spared as it has demonstrated considerable staying power in the top ten. I would even argue that it can manage to steer clear of Moonfall and Jackass Forever by specifically appealing to history buffs, an even older audience than those who will be heading out to see the other two. I’m predicting a -30% hold for a gross of $1.12 million.
Redeeming Love also looks to be able to skirt around our new entries by appealing specifically to fans of faith-based films. I continue to think that Unplanned is a solid comparison for the period romance, which would see Redeeming Love dropping around -45% this weekend for a gross of $935K in seventh place. Similarly, American Underdog should be able to maintain its streak of excellent holds with around a -30% drop and a gross of $812K in eighth place (a gross that would take the film over the $25 million mark domestically). The 355 should also hold nicely, given that it skews massively more female than either of the new entries. I’m predicting a -45% drop for a gross of $715K in ninth place. That said, The 355 is currently streaming for rent online, and given that its grosses are quite low, it is a prime target to lose screens so don’t be surprised if it has a steeper drop than expected. Finally, finishing off the top ten is likely Ghostbusters: Afterlife. It’s a hard title to predict for, given that it just popped back into a wider release, but the film is well-liked so I will predict around a -25% drop for a gross of $582K.
Last, but certainly not least, is the specialty market where we also FINALLY have something BIG AND NEW! After months of hype and anticipation, Joachim Trier’s acclaimed Norwegian dramedy, The Worst Person in the World, finally sees an official US release via Neon. Telling the achingly bittersweet and tragically funny story of a young woman named Julie as she embarks on four-year journey of self-discovery, navigating school, career, troubled relationships, and making tons of messy decisions on the way to coming to terms with who she really is, The Worst Person in the World was arguably one of the most critically acclaimed films of 2021. Debuting at Cannes, where lead actress Renata Reinsve won the Best Actress Award, Trier’s third installment in his “Oslo Trilogy” has received overwhelming praise for its performances, direction, writing, blend of dark comedy and realistic drama, and its devastating perceptiveness into the realities (both physically external and emotionally internal) of becoming a full-fledged adult, falling in and out of love, and just not knowing who the hell you want to be. Neon has been pushing the film for a Best International Film nomination at the Oscars this year but has only very recently (especially given that Oscar voting literally happened this week!) made an active attempt to have the film considered in other categories, most notably Best Actress for Reinsve. It’s so far seemed like a hopeless endeavor, but just yesterday Reinsve received a nomination at the British Academy Film Awards (BAFTAs) so maybe she is actually on the board! We’ll find out soon enough as Oscar nominations officially arrive this coming Tuesday, but for now, I will be urgently curious as to whether or not 1) all the online and critical hype for Worst Person actually translates into a strong specialty box office showing, and 2) Whether Neon will do right by the film and release it in a smaller number of theaters (4 to 5) than it did for last weekend’s GameStop documentary so as not to muddle the film’s per-theater-average. If they do, that means I won’t be able to see it, but that is a price I’m willing to pay to see Worst Person and Neon succeed. Until then, let’s see how this weekend plays out!