August 2015 Box Office Forecast
By Michael Lynderey
August 5, 2015

Clearly his skin cream isn't working.

2015 is shaping up to have one of those lazier Augusts, where a pair of movies open strong in the first weekend or two, while the remainder of the month is filled with smaller films competing for space. This August certainly has its fair share of action movies, released safely now that the bigger hitters of summer have run their course, but the most important question is: when it comes to the title of August's biggest film, can Fantastic Four be usurped?

1. Fantastic Four (August 7th)

Theoretically, Fantastic Four is the month's biggest film, but August has surprised us many times before (remember that Guardians of the Galaxy/Ninja Turtles two-punch last year? I'm still reeling). Marvel's first family find themselves rebooted once more, and this time with a noted youthful bent: its new cast are all at around the same mid-to-late 20s age range, somewhat clearing out a key difference that was always present amongst the team (Reed Richards and the Thing were usually notably older). I imagine moviegoers have mixed feelings of sorts about the two previous Fantastic Four films, released in 2005 and 2007, which were modest entertainments seemingly geared mainly at children (a scant few have seen bootlegged copies of the 1994 version of Fantastic Four, which was produced as a result of a complex scheme on behalf of its filmmakers to retain rights to the property, and which has never had a proper release in North America; we're still waiting. It's never too late).

The choice of director Josh Trank, helmer of just one previous film, the excellent Chronicle, somewhat seems to echo Colin Trevorrow's transformation from one-film indie wonder to director of possibly the biggest movie of the decade, Jurassic World. I don't imagine Fantastic Four will have such luck, but Trank at least has a good start. The reboot story doesn't seem to give the material much of a new angle (once more, the team gain their powers and fight Doctor Doom, and, given that the third time is the charm, maybe the Doc will finally emerge triumphant). And the actors (Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, and Jamie Bell) are recognizable but not yet draws. In short, just about everything about this film's box office will come down to the buzz, which will almost entirely be owed to the film's reviews. So far, those are not kind, so perhaps a million or three should be subtracted from this forecast with each impending day to release.

Opening weekend: $47 million / Total gross: $114 million

2. Straight Outta Compton (August 14th)

If you liked the album, see the film. This ambitious, two and a half hour long, hard-R biopic of pioneer rap group N.W.A. seems to have taken over the second weekend of August as easily its biggest release. That's largely due to the trailers, which have been strong, vivid, and bashful, announcing themselves loudly to their target audience. O'Shea Jackson, Jr., son of Ice Cube, plays his own pa, and the cast is largely unknown, but N.W.A. (I really can't write the words out) seem to have retained their mystique roughly 20 years since their disbandment (given many current events, I imagine their anti-authoritarian lyrics again have resonance for a lot of people). There's an obvious temptation to compare the film to others of its urban-set, musically-inclined ilk (like 8 Mile, Notorious, or even Purple Rain), but as we box office forecasters know, the real draw here is co-star Paul Giamatti (just look at the openings he delivered for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and San Andreas). If Fantastic Four craters, Straight Outta Compton should take #1 for the month. And if anyone can ensure that, Mr. Giamatti can.

Opening weekend: $41 million / Total gross: $87 million

3. Sinister 2 (August 21st)

The winner of August's third weekend seems to be this follow-up to the 2012 Ethan Hawke film, which contained a litany of memorably sadistic moments. The Sinister series' main plot hook - which would probably be a spoiler if revealed - is pretty ingenious in a particularly ghastly way, and it does seem like the first film has become modestly popular in terms of repeat views in the three years since its release. Still, with some notable exceptions, horror sequels almost always take in less than their predecessors - yes, surprisingly, even first-time sequels - and it's unlikely that Sinister has expanded its base the way Saw or Insidious did in preparing for their higher-grossing part 2s. So Sinister 2 ought to bring in solid if unrave-worthy numbers, perhaps in the Insidious 3 tradition, though the absence of Ethan Hawke, or of a star of his caliber, should not be ignored while forecasting.

Opening weekend: $22 million / Total gross: $51 million

4. The Gift (August 7th)

To complete the something-for-everyone batch of releases on August 7th, there's this distinctly creepy-looking horror(?)-thriller. At first, The Gift may seem cut from the same cloth as those neighbor/nanny/mistress/hamster-from-hell films that were so popular about 23 years ago. But at deeper examination, the film appears to be a more complex three-character psychological thriller, and one that has thus far received unhesitatingly positive reviews, with Joel Edgerton, making his directorial debut, receiving particular praise for his helming. Lead Jason Bateman isn't known for starring in dramas, and co-star Rebecca Hall has teetered on the edge of fame, but the cards seem aligned just right here for a decent open and a leggy late-August run, perhaps along the lines of the aforementioned Insidious. If reviews are to be trusted, word-of-mouth should be spectacular.

Opening weekend: $12 million / Total gross: $48 million

5. Ricki and the Flash (August 7th)

A musical-based tale with a quite different temperament than Straight Outta Compton (or at least I assume so), Ricki and the Flash is another film testing the box office appeal of Meryl Streep, who in the last decade has been fully transformed from a merely legendary and brilliant actress into a blockbuster-headlining juggernaut and one of the biggest box office draws around. While her more serious films (Doubt or The Iron Lady) don't really make all that much money, more light-hearted Streep escapades often go beyond best-case scenarios at the box office. But while Ricki recalls the spirit of some of her big hits, like Mamma Mia!, Julie & Julia, and It's Complicated, it's difficult to say how appealing the story is (rocker mom reconnects with her sourpuss family), or how well the film will do without additional gimmicks or other big-draw actors. A surprisingly accurate comparison might be to The Hundred-Foot Journey, the Helen Mirren film from last August, which was carried by good reviews to a respectable $54 million total. Ricki seems easier for an audience to digest than Mirren's French chef fable, but the critical reception may not be as strong, even if a Golden Globe nomination for Streep seems all but assured.

Opening weekend: $11 million / Total gross: $47 million

6. Shaun the Sheep Movie (August 5th)

The somewhat inelegantly titled Shaun the Sheep Movie is a motion picture that seems to contain no dialogue in the English language, or in any other, and that was assigned a Wednesday opening for no discernible reason. Those are negative characteristics, but there's also good news: Shaun comes from Aardman Animation, a studio whose box office clout should not be undervalued (Chicken Run, Arthur Christmas, and a few of their other films were clearly successes). I'm not sure how much of a hunger there is for children's entertainment right now, after a summer that's been dominated by CGI extravaganzas like Inside Out and Minions, not to mention by the heavily younger audience-driven Jurassic World. But a lot of kids movies have done well picking up the slack in the late days of August, and Paddington, a film released this year with no connection to this one other than its British nationality and fur-covered leading character, did quite well. So Shaun the Sheep should get a fairly positive reception, especially from children who don't insist on rapid-fire comic dialogue (or on any other kind).

Opening weekend: $15 million (5 day) / Total gross: $43 million

7. Hitman: Agent 47 (August 21st)

As the longer and more precisely descriptive titles implies, this is a reboot of the 2007 film Hitman, which was based on a video game, starred Timothy Olyphant, and was at least a decent time at the movies (although it seems a lot of the game's fans don't share that sentiment). The title role's now held by Rupert Friend, a good actor oft seen in British period pieces, and one without particular experience as an action star. It's difficult to gauge just how much enthusiasm there is for the brand from its fan base. If the film's good, it'll do pretty well (of course), but even well-reviewed genre pictures haven't always found their audience (another recent reboot, 2012's Dredd, disappeared quickly despite almost universal acclaim). By the time of its latter-day August release, Hitman 2015 might not necessarily have a whole smorgasbord of action film competition, but I have a feeling it'll finish under the first film's $39 million total anyway.

Opening weekend: $13 million / Total gross: $35 million

8. American Ultra (August 21st)

The title doesn't really suggest it, but this is an action comedy about stoners turned deadly assassins, and judging by some of the posters and trailers, the characters here are so far into their drug abuse as to make the Pineapple Express crew blush. The film re-teams Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart, who co-headlined the well-made Adventureland. It is helmed by Nima Nourizadeh, whose Project X was a fairly successful shaky-cam teen comedy a few years back (actually, it's just about the only major shaky-cam teen comedy). Overall, American Ultra is the kind of film that appears largely and naturally designed for a cult audience on home video, and indeed opening this hitman parody on the same day as, well, Hitman, seems like an added bit of satire that might be lost on those not prone to memorizing the film release calendar. Eisenberg did headline another cultish-looking genre release, Zombieland, into numbers far greater than anyone could have expected, but it doesn't really feel like the same momentum is here this time around.

Opening weekend: $12 million / Total gross: $31 million

9. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (August 14th)

This 1960s television series adaptation stars two actors who were most recently the faces of a pair of summer 2013 films: Henry Cavill, this generation's Superman, and Armie Hammer, who was an excellent leading man in, and as, the underrated The Lone Ranger. The aura of rising stardom continues with their co-stars, Alicia Vikander, who broke out in Ex Machina this year, and Elizabeth Debicki, who had a showy part in The Great Gatsby. The style promised in the trailers is a sort-of European-flavored retro, with Cavill precisely recreating what appears to be a mild-mannered secret agent, here working for the CIA (as in the recent film Spy, British nationals now seem to constitute a plurality, or maybe even a majority, of on-screen CIA employees). How good the film is and how well critics may treat it will remain mysteries for the moment, but I just don't know that a big-screen version of this series will appeal to much of any audience regardless. It's true that director Guy Ritchie has transformed historical action into box office triumph before, with his two Sherlock Holmes adventures (and may do so again next summer, with his take on King Arthur). But the film that The Man from U.N.C.L.E. reminds me most of all of is The Avengers - you know, the real Avengers: Uma Thurman and Ralph Fiennes' 1998 adaptation of another 1960s spy television series, which was released exactly 17 years before this film's scheduled date.

Fate was not kind to the 1998 Avengers. I am not sure if fate's temperament has improved since.

Opening weekend: $11 million / Total gross: $28 million

10. We Are Your Friends (August 28th)

A recent scheduling trend leaves both the last week of August and the first of September particularly bereft of new films, and this title is one of the few challengers entering the ring then. It's a romantic dramedy about Los Angeles DJs, and it is headlined by Zac Efron, a man who, after years of often-successful forays into a multitude of genres, seems to have finally settled on the one he likes most, the broad buddy comedy (he has no fewer than three of them scheduled for next year). Like another buddy film, Efron's That Awkward Moment, We Are Your Friends is an independently-made studio pick-up that surrounds him with an up-and-coming cast (his cohorts in That Awkward Moment, Miles Teller and Michael B. Jordan, now comprise two of the members of the Fantastic Four, which perhaps is good news for his co-stars in this film). Efron's co-lead Emily Ratajkowski has a sort of hold on a moment in pop culture right now, but on the other hand, while the music industry subject matter may be of interest to some, I see numbers only somewhere along the lines of the Awkward picture from last year. Efron's 2016 should be bigger.

Opening weekend: $10 million / Total gross: $23 million

11. Underdogs (August 14th) and No Escape (August 26th)

Also opening in wide release are Underdogs (August 14th) and No Escape (August 26th). Underdogs is the sort of foreign-made animated film that gets thrown into theaters in the year's slower months, and in fact reminds me directly, for whatever reason, of Valiant, another such title from an August schedule past (2005). Underdogs' voice cast is recognizable, but the film has juggled many a release date, and its subject matter (football - but the wrong kind, with the feet) would seem singularly unappealing to local audiences. No Escape, on the other hand, has comic actor Owen Wilson re-entering the straightforward action genre, along with Pierce Brosnan, a man who's starred in an action film or two. No Escape has the feel of the kind of late-August lower-budget action picture that first started emerging in the late 1980s, and barring a really strong barrage of critical adoration, it's unlikely to escape its genre history.

Opening weekends: $7 million / Total gross: $21 million (each)