As we begin our slow walk back from the abyss of September's box office, Hollywood tries out the novel strategy of releasing movies that actually appeal to certain demographics, including teenagers, action fans, and people who buy movie tickets. It's just crazy enough to work!
Weekend Forecast for September 19-21, 2014
By Reagen Sulewski
September 19, 2014
In a development similar to the way that studios tried to draft off the wake of Harry Potter, the search for the next Hunger Games is on in earnest. While finding another near billion dollar worldwide earner is a particular long shot, as this year's Divergent shows, more modest, but still positive numbers are possible. This week's entry into the YA Sweepstakes is The Maze Runner, though it's working at a significant disadvantage.
There's a direct parallel to The Hunger Games in that it's set in a dystopian future where a group of boys are dropped into a competitive arena and left to fight among and fend for themselves. Each day, the opening to a giant maze opens up, leading to the hope of escape, but being that it's full of Things That Can Kill You, it makes things a bit challenging. The introduction of a new runner, named Audience Proxy, threatens to change the entire dynamic of the maze, as he seems to have some importance beyond the compound. This is brought home when another runner, the first ever female (a Kristen Stewart-bot model 2.0), arrives and knows little Proxy.
Based on the first of a trilogy of books, this is obviously just the setup for the larger story and is definitely counting on the performance of this to set up future movies. A more action oriented film than some other YA adaptations, it could benefit from some genre effects here. The casting does lack a little something in terms of name recognition compared to something like Divergent, which had a number of recognizable names in both the youth actors and the adult “authority figures." One of the big things that drives mega-hits these days is a perception of cinematic “legitimacy”, and this film doesn't quite reach that hurdle, looking a bit more like a SyFy (a high budget one!) production. What this will ride on then, is the built-in fanbase from the books, which is considerable. The hype machine hasn't managed to extend beyond that in any real fashion, so we're likely looking at a middle-tier YA lit result, a still-respectable $42 million.
A Walk Among The Tombstones is the latest entry in that hyper-specific genre known as Liam Neeson Is A Very Old Man Who Can Kick Your Ass (LNIAVOMWCKYA for short) which sees him playing an ex-cop, now PI, who operates on the seedier side of the law. Hired by a drug dealer to investigate the kidnapping and murder of his wife, he uncovers a sinister conspiracy that takes him into the bowels of the New York City underworld.
A noir film crossed with a serial killer plot that harkens back to the heyday of 90s thrillers, it's filled with dark, serious men with gravelly voices speaking in short, declarative sentences while in the process of Getting Things Done That Need To Be. This actually fits more in the mold of the recent (and highly-acclaimed) HBO series True Detective, albeit compressed into two hours. This has less of Taken and Non-Stop in it, and more of a Denzel Washington thriller in it (who he'll be in direct competition with in all of seven days), so I don't expect an opening weekend quite as large as some of his other films in his career renaissance. However, with solid reviews and a winning streak by Neeson, I don't see much reason to downgrade the opening weekend all that much. In essence, Neeson's got a free-pass from people until he begins to really suck. Give it $21 million this weekend.
Another film with an excessively long title debuts this weekend in This Is Where I Leave You, a dramedy which centers around four siblings returning home after the death of their father, where all family business will be settled. Starring Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver and Cory Stoll as the siblings, along with Jane Fonda as their mother, and let's throw in Timothy Olyphant, Connie Britton, Kathryn Hahn and Rose Byrne to really make this a quality (if not specifically marquee) cast. The story, however, does not seem to be there, and for a film that can only really be trading on its quality, to not have those reviews overwhelmingly indicating quality hurts a great deal. The frequent focus on jokes about Fonda's character's boob job do not bode all that well for what it has to offer. It looks, in large part, like a less messed-up version of August: Osage County, or a wackier version of Everybody's Fine, neither of which really lit up the box office. While there's probably some fine performances in the film, as a whole it seems to be totally forgettable, and should bring in just a modest $8 million this weekend.
Things ticked up from an apocalyptically bad result a couple of frames ago thanks in large part to last weekend's surprise performance of No Good Deed. The Idris Elba/Taraji P. Henson thriller brought in $24 million last weekend, and while that's in line with the upper limits of previous black-focused and starring films, I lean towards this being more of a crossover hit, as the two leads aren't really touchstone figures in black cinema, nor is it a film that hits on the usual messages that have made those films popular. No, it's just a film that a bunch of people wanted to see and was advertised well, which doesn't seem like a thing that should have to be explained, but here we are. I'd look for a slightly above average drop-off thanks to genre effects and middling word-of-mouth to around $13 million this weekend.
Dolphin Tale 2 experienced a bit of a falloff from the first film about its tail-less cetacean, opening to $15 million last weekend. The light and disposable family film nonetheless is the only family option out right now, and should hold well considering that. I'd expect just under $10 million this frame.
We reach the end of the run for Guardians of the Galaxy and significance as it drops to about $5 million in its eighth weekend of wide release. The late summer phenomenon crossed the $300 million mark last weekend and will likely rule the 2014 box office chart until at least late December.