Weekend Forecast for February 20-22, 2015
By Reagen Sulewski
February 20, 2015

I think it's time to find a new hot tub.

Last weekend saw a record breaking performance for the month of February, albeit from a terrible film. Despite that film's impending enormous dropoff, the three new wide releases (which may not be any better, to be fair) combined won't match its total this week. Such is the slate of the early part of the year.

Likely leading the way is a film that must have studio execs looking around at each other saying, “Wait, I thought *you* greenlit that! If you didn't, then...” Hot Tub Time Machine 2 is the sequel to the 2010 film that essentially exists as a dare to see how dumb of a premise can get made into a major feature. Although it had some charm, there wasn't a lot to write home about, and it could have been easily filed under the “harmless and mildly enjoyable” file, despite the ludicrousness of the setup. Then it made $50 million on a $30 million budget, so now we have Hot Tub Time Machine 2.

Made for an even cheaper amount, possibly due to shedding John Cusack (although I don't think he was pulling eight-figures or anything), it sends Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry, Clark Duke (at least, the 1980s alternate universe versions of them) and newcomer Adam Scott into the future to solve the mystery of who shot Corddry in the testicles. Heady stuff, this. Loaded to the brim with “wow, the future is sure different” gags, plus a bevy of vulgar and raunchy jokes that take a look at the lowest common denominator and say “We can dig below that!” I'm struggling to find a reason for this film to exist, and it's maybe for Corddry to go full bore on his psychopathic Peter Pan shtick, which even then is stretching. Still, it's a brand, and presumably has some fans looking for a retread of the non-Cusack parts of the original. I'd look for about $9 million here.

McFarland, USA is the latest film from the “Disney True Sports Story” catalog, starring Kevin Costner as a cross country running coach for a small-town California high school, helping to propel his students to national prominence. While these Disney-produced films once were surefire hits, with The Rookie and Miracle being among the most prominent, they've fallen on harder times, as last year's Million Dollar Arm showed, grossing just $36 million.

In the last couple of years, Kevin Costner has attempted a comeback to respectability, and it's been successful to the extent that he's appearing again as a viable lead in wide release films, as opposed to the “not working” that was his fate for a long stretch. That hasn't meant his films have been super-successful – last month's Black or White opened to just $6 million – but he's certainly giving it the old college try. Sports movies have always been Costner's bread and butter, although that's generally been with him as an athlete. Last spring's extended NFL commercial Draft Day only managed $28 million domestic. With the relative obscurity of cross-country as a sport, I can't see this doing significantly better. I'd expect an opening weekend of $7 million.

The high school comedy is a genre that's fallen by the wayside in recent generations, thanks in part to overexposure, and also to the challenge of finding bankable teen stars. Films have to be hits right away these days and can't find their audience organically, so without plausible lead actors, there's no one taking risks on a small demographic. Occasionally we'll get an Easy A, but there's no yearly Can't Hardly Wait, Breakfast Club, or, if you must, She's All That. Landing in theaters this weekend is The Duff, a film that's playing its formulaic cards right out on the table.

Mae Whitman (27! See what I mean?) plays the title character, which stands for “designated ugly fat friend”, a term that's supposed to be endearing, but which she somehow takes offense to after being notified of her position in the social strata of her high school. Go figure. From then on, it's off to the races to make her over and turn her into the desirable female all Rachael Leigh Cook style (I mean, get those overalls off her! OMG!). It's hard to tell if this film is playing this all straight or somehow being subversive, but I tend to lean towards the idea that it's playing it straight. With very little promotion, a cast that doesn't inspire much confidence and being in a genre that barely exists anymore, I expect The Duff to fall flat with around $5 million this weekend.

Last weekend's phenomenon, Fifty Shades of Grey, opened to $85 million over three days, which is both somehow impressive and disappointing. Impressive in that this is a big number for just about any film, disappointing in that if you're going to be a cultural landmark, you'd better shoot for the moon. So while as a notorious project, it certain got legions of fans out to see it, you really sort of expected more, and I'm not just talking about the sex scenes. And now the bad part – because it's so terrible, and because that passion and curiosity from its fanbase was so intense, it's going to make the Twilight films look like Avatar. The biggest question in my mind is whether this will be enough to affect decision making on sequels. I expect not, as the trilogy of books is easy enough to adapt, and even at half the box office is basically found money. Still, I wouldn't put it past Jamie Dornan to be phoning in bomb threats if it'll help stop them from happening. I'd look for about $34 million this weekend.

Kingsman was a bit of a surprise in second place last weekend with $36 million, with the R-rated but young adult-pitched action film scoring well across a lot of markets. Not quite as successful as another Mark Millar adapted film, Wanted, but certainly much better in quality (I mean, it'd have to be), it's got some franchise potential and also has the benefit of not being repellant like another Millar property, Kick-Ass. I'd still look for it to drop to around $20 million this weekend.

The SpongeBob Movie had a solid second weekend with $31 million and crossed the $100 million mark Monday thanks to a spectacular President's Day where it actually finished first. That quirk of the calendar won't come up again, but at this point, we're looking at this being a $150 million or more earner. I'd give it $15 million this weekend.

Heading into Oscar weekend, it's only American Sniper that's really earning significant dollars of the nominees (some could still expand after, like Still Alice). Having raced out to $300 million, it's almost assuredly going to be the top earning film with a 2014 release date, although it's earned just about every dollar of that in 2015. Look for $10 million here.