It is now par for the course and barely worth commenting on that Hollywood is relying on recycled ideas for the core of its summer box office earnings. One thing that is notable about this weekend's biggest film is that it is at least a new recycled idea. Baby steps, okay?
By Reagen Sulewski
May 15, 2014
Leading off the slate of films this week is Godzilla, the second time that Hollywood has attempted to make its own version of the iconic Japanese monster film. What distinguishes this version from the countless Japanese rubber-suit movies, and especially from the 1998 Roland Emmerich version, is that the subject seems to be being taken seriously. That seems like a contradiction in terms, given the reputation the Godzilla films have for cheapness and weirdness, but let's not forget that some of that is an accident of history and budget, and that the original Godzilla films were always intended with a social conscience in mind, rather than just straight up monster mayhem (though that is always a part of things).
In this version, directed by Gareth Edwards (most notable from the attention-grabbing alternative stream release film Monsters), fear of nuclear annihilation has mostly been replaced by general environmental concerns. And, in an interesting twist that they've kind of been hinting at in the ads but not really coming out and saying explicitly, it's Godzilla that is brought to the rescue after an attack from an array of other mythical giant monsters. Another element, and where the movie seems to jump up to another level of quality, is what seems to be a focus on the effects of individuals from these traumatic and catastrophic events. It's an intimate approach you don't often see in blockbuster disaster films, and whoever came up with the idea of including it in the film and also to highlight it in the ads deserves a raise. More than anything it's helped to foster the idea of this as a "quality" film.
Also helping this along is the solid cast of character actors, including Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe, David Strathairn, Juliette Binoche and Elizabeth Olsen. Mind you, Godzilla 98 had Matthew Broderick, Maria Pitillo, Jean Reno and Hank Azaria, which, while not a murderer's row of great acting talent, was at least respectable at the time. So cast is no guarantee of anything. What is somewhat shocking is the level of positive reviews the film is garnering, well above average for your average summer blockbuster and way, way, way above what you might have expected given the franchise's heritage. This may be testament that any project can be made into a quality film if you treat the subject correctly.
Box office wide, I'd say there's still an element of prejudice that will need to be fought for audiences to fully accept it. It has a fairly direct comparison in last year's Pacific Rim, which underwhelmed despite a heavy ad campaign and interesting visuals. The Godzilla name will both help and hurt here, in giving it an impressive branding, but also putting a cap on ow high it can get. I'd tend to treat this as a typical disaster film, a la 2012 or Twister, but with a bit of brand appeal. Opening at close to 4,000 venues, it should achieve an opening weekend of around $67 million.
The other new film this weekend is Disney's latest foray into sports movies, Million Dollar Arm, a relatively true to life story about the first Indian major league baseball players. Jon Hamm plays an agent who, as a stunt to save his agency, travels to India to recruit cricket players into baseball, figuring that the same skill sets exist, so why not see if they translate?
Cue the heartwarming story of cross-cultural understanding. Disney's had a decent run of these kind of sports movies in the last decade or so, and has been very successful at getting a kind of brand on them. The result in this case might not be as strong as Miracle or The Rookie, with reviews solidly in the “meh” zone. Perhaps that won't matter much, as the concept is a winner, and brings to mind a more straightforward Slumdog Millionaire. At any rate, Disney seems to have found themselves a small niche with these films, and have at least gotten their film out in front of people with the ad campaign. I'd look for about $12 million this weekend.
The surprise of last weekend was not so much that Neighbors won it, which I had put at about a 45/55 split of happening, but in how handily it did so, earning just shy of $50 million. The high-concept comedy starring Seth Rogen and Zac Efron was a clear winner across a number of target demos, and made for an early summer winner. Time will tell if this translates into more success for its stars or whether the concept gets all the credit, but for now it's time for the people behind this to bask in glory. Give it $29 million for week two.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 took the expected 60% drop in its second weekend, falling to about $35 million, but crossed the $150 million mark mid-week. This is on the far low end for holdovers even when considering the rush factor of comic book movies, but such is the place where Spider-Man movies exist in the consciousness now. There'll be quite the struggle to reach $250 million domestic, though international numbers should be better, as much as those matter (they don't really, all that much). Add in $16 million this weekend.
Our final significant movie of the weekend is The Other Woman, dropping to about $5 million in its fourth weekend. The revenge fantasy is steering to around an $85 million final total, and should satisfy everyone at Fox with this result, as it's basically found money.