There's a bit of a mix of old star power and new in this week's releases, as the box office wakes up from the collective hangover of giving 50 Shades of Grey two weeks at the top of the charts. You'll deny it ever happened, right up until the moment the sequel comes out.
Weekend Forecast for February 27-March 1, 2015
By Reagen Sulewski
February 27, 2015
Leading the way is Focus, starring Will Smith and Margot Robbie as con artists trying to pull off the mother of all scams, while running just on the edge of getting caught, beaten up and maybe killed. And because it's a Hollywood thriller, and a male/female lead casting, they'll also fall in love and let that affect their thinking to the detriment of the plan. Sex just ruins everything.
A stylish looking thriller from the directors of Crazy, Stupid, Love and I Love You Phillip Morris, it reminds us of nothing so much as 2009's Duplicity, which had a similar corporate espionage angle, combined with a semi-effective romantic subplot. The twisty-turny adult-focused thriller is a bit of an endangered species these days, mostly because they can't be easily franchised (oh, but we get *two* Hot Tub Time Machine movies?). We still have to do a weird May-December pairing here (Will Smith is now two years older than James Avery when Fresh Prince of Bel-Air premiered – tick tick tick), but it is also a nicely unforced color-blind casting that has largely gone unremarked, and that's a good thing.
Smith is still hurting after 2013's bomb of After Earth, which felt like a personal rebuke of all that he stood for as a movie star. He effectively took all of last year off, and it's been almost eight years since he's had an unequivocal hit (I Am Legend). This feels like a perfect choice to get back in stride, though. Robbie is looking for her first hit as a lead - she got a bunch of notice for Wolf of Wall Street, but the film wasn't sold on her presence. This is a bit of a test of her drawing ability, and while I'm not sure she's much on her own, as a co-lead she has some pull with audiences and an easy charisma on screen.
One of the other issues with adult-thrillers is how limiting they can be in their audience. While the R-rating is no barrier to big opening weekends as we just saw, in non-tentpole films it means you're excluding that core group of ticket buyers. As a moviegoer I say that's just fine – as someone who looks at numbers, that becomes a problem. Mostly this affects the ceiling of the film, and it should be all right with around $23 million this weekend.
In other “remake but not of Julia Roberts films” news, we have The Lazarus Effect opening, which plays a bit like a cross between Flatliners (kids, ask your parents) and Poltergeist. A group of young researchers, led by Mark Duplass and Olivia Wilde, are working on a method to revive people from death. This is, needless to say, kind of controversial, and when Wilde is accidentally electrocuted during an unsanctioned experiment, well, we've got all this equipment here...
And of course, by the laws of moviedom, things that die always come back evil. It's just a law of nature, oh, and also makes you telepathic. We're into pure slasher demon territory after this, and any of the film's notions about scientific ethics or the nature of humanity and life are thrown out the window for cheap scares, albeit with a more professional looking budget than usual.
Wilde is the biggest draw here, although the cast also includes Donald Glover (you gave up Community for *this*?) and Sarah Bolger in supporting roles/slasher bait. From the producer team of Insidious and The Purge, this will undoubtedly be a much less successful movie than either of those two, and looks to make around $11 million this weekend.
In one of the more spectacular and predictable falls from grace in recent history, 50 Shades of Grey lost nearly three-quarters of its business last frame, although it still won the weekend with $22 million. After opening to $85 million, it now faces the possibility of finishing with less than double that for its final domestic total. With a tiny $40 million budget, this is obviously all gravy at this point, but it's a troubling development for any sequels, since it'll undoubtedly shed some viewers for further outings. I'd expect about $8 million this weekend.
Kingsman: The Secret Service fared much better in its second weekend, dropping “just” one half to $18 million. The action-comic adaptation should be headed for a little bit more than $100 million, and with strong international numbers, probably does justify a sequel. It should find about $10 million this weekend.
A similar number is in store for the Spongebob sequel, which did take a hit in its third weekend, but seems headed for around $175 million domestic – found money for Paramount in a series that's well over a decade old.
Two of last week's new films, McFarland, USA and The Duff, surprised a little with around $11 million, and should sit at $5-6 million this weekend. Oh look, way down there is Hot Tub Time Machine 2. Perhaps HTTM3 can be about stopping this movie from being made.
With the vast majority of Oscar films now out on video, American Sniper is left to carry the torch. Unfortunately, it only won one relatively unimportant award – not that its core audience really cares about Oscars, anyway. It should earn a little over $5 million this weekend.