An unusual trio of films arrives this weekend to try and end American Sniper's month-long reign at the top of the box office. One of them will almost certainly be successful, but two of them carry the not-so promising designation of “troubled” and “long delayed."
Weekend Forecast for February 6-8, 2015
By Reagen Sulewski
February 6, 2015
Before we get to rubbernecking, we have our likely champion, the SpongeBob SquarePants sequel, Sponge Out of Water. The second feature based on the Nickelodeon cartoon that's a favorite of pre-teens and stoned college students, it brings the residents of Bikini Bottom to the human world in all their 3D splendor, trying to retrieve the recipe for the underwater town's favorite food, before they all starve or destroy each other in a fit of anarchy. Meanwhile, in a weird bit of meta-commentary, a pirate played by Antonio Banderas has gained control of a magic book that lets him change reality, which he uses to continue to rewrite the movie as it's happening. It's the sort of wild nonsense that the TV series is famous for, and while the results may not be entirely impressive to look at, its fanbase is one that chases after every bit of SpongeBobia.
Strange among modern cartoon series in that it has endured beyond one generation, it's now 16 years old and still running strong. This movie is itself 11 years in coming after the first film, which opened to an even-still impressive number of $32 million. There's some legitimate concern about whether its audience still exists, as a lot of viewers have aged out, but it has managed to create new ones as newer generations discover it. One imagines the entire pitch for this sequel was “It's Spongebob! And in 3D!” “Morty, you're a genius! Take this cash and get started!” Ticket inflation and the added money from 3D tickets should bring about a solid weekend of around $28 million.
Originally scheduled for last summer, Jupiter Ascending sneaks into theaters in a February release, trailing strange looking previews and scathing reviews behind it. The latest from the Wachowski siblings, it's an original sci-fi project with an entire barrel full of plot. In a distant future, a Russian immigrant (played by Milas Kunis) is plucked from her job cleaning houses to fulfill a prophecy that she will become a queen. Meanwhile, aliens (led by Eddie Redmayne, he's so hot right now) are trying to kidnap her and prevent her from reaching her destiny, while a genetically-engineered warrior (Channing Tatum in ridiculous makeup) tries to protect her. Say what you will about the Wachowskis, but they never just phone in their plots.
Filled with stunning imagery and cinematography, it looks utterly bonkers, like Stargate on cough syrup. That's may be good or bad, depending on your tolerance for insanity and incoherence and made-up mythos in sci-fi cinema. Warner Bros. keeps coming back to the Wachowskis in the hopes that they can recreate their lightning-in-a-bottle experience with The Matrix, but at this point we kind of know what to expect – pretty scenes, acting that runs all over the place, questionable casting and design decisions (have you seen Channing's ears and/or eyeliner?) and zero coherence of plot. They are by and large films to be experienced, and Speed Racer remains for me my expectation of what an acid trip feels like. It reminds me of nothing else but another labor-of-love sci-fi epic, John Carter, which adapted a century old novel into an indulgent $200 million flop.
With a $176 million price tag, Jupiter Ascending will find it extremely difficult to make money and might be the last go-round for the Wachowskis on this kind of thing. That weirdly makes it a must-see, as unique visions are hard to find in Hollywood, even if they might not be good visions. The general public isn't likely to agree, of course, and we're probably looking at an opening weekend of about $19 million.
If Jupiter Ascending's eight month delay was bad news, then Seventh Son arriving after two years of sitting on the shelf can only portend disaster on an epic scale. Adapted from a fantasy novel series, the film stars Jeff Bridges as the last of a line of guardians, seventh sons of seventh sons, tasked with keeping an army of demons from overtaking the world. Bringing on a young apprentice (played by Ben Barnes of nothing in particular), the pair must battle the hordes following an evil witch (Julianne Moore, with enough ham for an entire deli).
With dodgy CGI, lazy plotting and actors alternately sleepwalking through their roles and chewing the scenery, Seventh Son looks like a bloated, noisy mess. Reviews rise all the way to abysmal, with the best reviews comparing it to Krull, a film that's really only remembered for being one of Liam Neeson's first roles. I'd already start comparing this unfavorably to The Giver, Jeff Bridges' last literary adaptation, and add to that a non-prime release date, a cheap look and no critical support, and we're looking at about $5 million here.
American Sniper should finally drop out of first place, having earned $250 million to date. Final figures are difficult to project at this point, since a big run at the Oscars could fuel a second round of viewers, but we're certainly looking at $300 million plus, and very likely a late and unexpected contender for the 2014 box office champ. It should fall to about $17 million this weekend, after a Super Bowl weekend that caused it to show its first weakness.
The only other movie that may stay in significant figures is Paddington, though the presence of SpongeBob may throw that into doubt as well. While we are legally required to use the words “charming” and “inoffensive” in reference to it in all documents, it's proving to be a modest family hit, and should wind up with about $75 million domestic. Look for $5 million here this weekend.