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

I think that dinosaur just picked up a stray.

After a busy month that nevertheless produced only about three films that could honestly be called box office successes, November is a less risky bet, giving us lots of sure things: two of the year's biggest sequels, a handful of Oscar bait, some comedies, and a pair of very different animated films.

1. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 (November 20th)

One of the absolute biggest movie stars of the 2010s, Jennifer Lawrence, is back again, in what will be the first half of yet another Lawrence holiday double-bill. In December, she'll star in David O. Russell's Joy, but first she must conclude the Hunger Games quadrilogy, which began in March 2012, when the first Hunger Games opened to $152 million, which was much, much, much, much, much, more than anyone could have reasonably expected. The first film finished with $408 million, the second somehow bested it with $424 million, and the third was noted for dropping down to the pocket changesque sum of $337 million. That third film received some grumbling reactions from both audiences and professional reviewers, but the deficiency looks to naturally self-correct the fourth time around, with a film that both conclusively ends the series and gives audiences a heavy dose of large-scale action (as they must, beloved characters will die - I'm talking about President Snow, of course).

There's not much to debate about the film's prospects, except to deduce onto exactly what range of mega-blockbuster Hunger Games 4 will slot itself. I'll strike a cautious note and forecast it close to a franchise-best but not quite above it. Whether it makes $385 million, $415 million, or perhaps a more risqué $445 million, though, Mockingjay - Part 2 will almost without question be the month's biggest film, and it's also to be commended for being the less totally obnoxious of the two science fiction mass-audience mega-events of the holiday season (I dare not name the second much-anticipated film, but it's due December 18th and is apparently set in outer space).

Opening weekend: $160 million / Total gross: $415 million

2. The Good Dinosaur (November 25th)

In a move straight out of the Tyler Perry playbook, 2015 will shortly go down in history books as the first time that two Pixar films have been released in the same calendar year. There's a rational explanation, of course: The Good Dinosaur was pushed back from May 2014, a year that was thus the first since 2005 to have been left totally Pixarless. So now, we get two. The Good Dinosaur is another venture into that popular scenario where dinosaurs walked the earth alongside man (is it possible that there are more films positing this scenario than those that depict dinos as living in solitude, without the human race to keep them company?). The Good Dinosaur is helmed by Pixar veteran Peter Sohn, making his feature directorial debut, and it is given voice by the usual glorious cast (Sam Elliott, Frances McDormand, Anna Paquin, Jeffrey Wright, and an apparent lack of Pixar's mandatory John Ratzenberger cameo, although I could be proven wrong there). There aren't any reviews yet, so overwhelming critical adoration is only a likelihood, not an absolute certainty. The late November release slot is clearly positioned to remind box office obsessives of 2013, when another Disney release, Frozen, opened around Thanksgiving and stole the thunder from a weaker early November animation, Free Birds. The dinosaur and his human will outgross poor Snoopy, I'm sure, but it's hard to see them beating out Pixar's Inside Out as the year's definitive Pixar film.

Opening weekend: $82 million (5-day) / Total gross: $241 million

3. Spectre (November 6th)

The month's first blockbuster is the 24th "official" James Bond film, headlined by Daniel Craig's fourth turn at bat as Bond, and given more than a smidgen of villainy by Christoph Waltz, a great actor who nevertheless would probably seem much more at home in a 1960s James Bond film (not that I've seen any of those... whoops). Arriving as it does after a box-office slump, Spectre may in fact be only the second film since October 17th to open to double digits! (assuming Spectre does open in double digits, of course). The film already has solid reviews overseas, though critics across the pond tend to respond to some films much better than locals (The Amazing Spider-Man 2 went from around a 75% Rotten Tomatoes score at the time of its U.K. release down to under 55% when it hit the U.S. three weeks later; though in this case, the Brits were right).

The previous Bond film, epic-scale drama Skyfall, opened to $90 million and finished with over $300 million, almost certainly reaching the absolute domestic high point of the James Bond franchise; the fact that Skyfall was released to coincide with the series' 50th anniversary was part of why, and it does feel like there's less excitement this time around (the last Hunger Games movie and the first of the new 23 Star Wars films are stealing away a lot of attention). Still, the box office is clearly looking for a sleeping giant to wake it from its late-October malaise, and a new James Bond film, and one without significant drawbacks, is as good as anything to get the job done.

Opening weekend: $77 million / Total gross: $238 million

4. Creed (November 25th)

Among the month's sequels, reboots, and remakes is this seventh installment in the saga of a Philadelphia boxer named Rocky Balboa, who is surely one of the few fictional athletes to have inspired such a long-running franchise (who knew there was this much story to tell?). The Rockies haven't been around as long as Mr. Bond, not quite, but Balboa's series has survived in one form or the other since all the way back to 1976. Once among the top summer blockbusters and box office mega-hits of their day, the films have gradually evolved into nostalgia pieces with a bittersweet tone.

This time, after some late-career redemption in the last installment, Rocky trains an apprentice, not a hand-picked up-and-comer (as in Rocky V), but the son of former opponent and eventual confidante Apollo Creed. Creed Jr. is played here by Michael B. Jordan, reuniting with his Fruitvale Station director Ryan Coogler, and in what may be a bold move, Creed's taken over the name of the film, too, inexplicably disguising the series' origins as a long-standing franchise. The last entry in the series, released over holiday season 2006, tallied up an impressive $70 million. There's probably less pent-up demand for another sequel right now, but early word on the film gives it some good vibes, and so it, too, might shore up a more-than-respectable total. Among the early reports is Oscar buzz for star Sylvester Stallone - Best Supporting Actor nominee, maybe - and given that Sly's only two Oscar nods came for starring in and writing the series' first film all those 39 years ago, that sounds about right. The circle must be completed.

Opening weekend: $22 million (5-day) / Total gross: $57 million

5. The Peanuts Movie (November 6th)

The Peanuts Movie is technically the fifth in the series of big-screen Charles M. Schulz adaptations, and barring unforeseen terrors, it will most assuredly become the highest-grossing Snoopy movie ever made (the biggest of the previous four films, 1969's A Boy Named Charlie Brown, grossed roughly $12 million in that year's dollars; don't ask me to adjust it - it's probably something like three billion now).

Needless to say, The Peanuts Movie is that rare type of franchise reboot that would not raise the ire of long-time fans (Peanuts fans are just kinder people, I think). The film cost a lot of money. It has been much advertised, has received positive reviews, and opens on a weekend known for breaking out animated films to big numbers, but I can't help and express some reservations about its box office prospects, anyway. Snoopy and the gang are universally beloved, but are they that well-known to today's children? Is there a market hungry to see their relatively tame misadventures projected on the movie screen? Can they headline a big blockbuster film, and just how many older audiences will attend out of deeply-felt nostalgia? The Peanuts Movie will probably do pretty well with smaller children, but its appeal likely won't extend to older, more sophisticated young audiences seeking something resembling complex, high-tech, thrills, something this nice beagle doesn't promise them.

Opening weekend: $20 million / Total gross: $59 million

6. Victor Frankenstein (November 25th)

The month's token horror film has been slotted amongst the smorgasbord of Thanksgiving weekend, the better to scare the stuffing out of you (...). This latest re-telling of the Frankenstein tale is headlined by James McAvoy, still probably best known for X-Men, and here playing the title doctor, and Daniel Radcliffe, as the somewhat ambiguously hunchbacked assistant, Igor. Radcliffe has acclimated himself nicely since the end of yet another book series, Harry Potter (curiously, his one other big studio film since was another period horror, The Woman in Black; has he found his niche?). Victor Frankenstein, which seems purposefully light and wry in tone, was originally scheduled for early October, but switched seats with the same studio's The Martian, which itself had been slated for Thanksgiving. That scheduling decision has worked out very well for at least one of the two, and whether Victor Frankenstein also has some box office luck is hard to say. I'm not sure there's a lot of demand for another re-working of the Frankenstein tale (Aaron Eckhart's I, Frankenstein was released last year), but good reviews can lift it beyond its title, though maybe not much beyond.

Opening weekend: $14 million (5-day) / Total gross: $31 million

7. Secret in Their Eyes (November 20th)

This mid-month thriller pairs '90s A-list stars Julia Roberts and Nicole Kidman with the always-good Chiwetel Ejiofor, in a remake of a highly-acclaimed, Oscar-winning 2009 Chilean film of the same name (well, almost; that film title was preceded by a "The"). It's always nice to see Roberts and Kidman (she was quite good as the villain in Paddington earlier this year, really!), and Ejiofor's presence is usually a mark of quality. The film is helmed by Billy Ray, who's written many noted screenplays and directed two, Shattered Glass and Breach, both good.

Whether even all this talent can stand out in a market populated with pre-sold brand names is difficult to say, but November isn't nearly as full of high-caliber adult-themed pictures as October was. Still, as I write this, echoes of recent big-star dramas ignored at the box office - Sandra Bullock's Our Brand is Crisis and Bradley Cooper's Burnt, for starters, which were thoroughly ignored by audiences who could pay them no heed - run sharply through my mind. Good reviews will help boost this one. Pray that it gets them.

Opening weekend: $11 million / Total gross: $35 million

8. Love the Coopers (November 13th)
Arriving almost under-the-radar, the somewhat excitably-titled Love the Coopers is the season's token holiday-themed family reunion picture, and has been slotted onto the month's quietest weekend, the only one free from the burden of having to carry a blockbuster. In the tradition of He's Just Not That Into You, Valentine's Day, and all of the rest, the film has, as obligated, assembled a cast of notables to populate every corner of its poster: in particular, there are veteran character actors (John Goodman, June Squibb), current comedy stars (Ed Helms, Olivia Wilde, Amanda Seyfried), and a few worthy stragglers, like Diane Keaton and Marisa Tomei, who always make everything better.

The family reunion film is actually one of my favorite sub-genres (for me, it's right up there with road trip movies, and with my absolute favorite, slasher films), and Love the Coopers is sort of a thematic follow-up to another cast-heavy reunion film, The Family Stone (2005), a title which must have some fans, given how much its name is invoked in advertisements for this one. The magnificent Diane Keaton appears in both, of course, and I dearly hope that her character can make it out of this one alive for a change (yes, I just spoiled The Family Stone). Love the Coopers' release date may hit just a little too early, though; while the film could do okay, I don't think it'll still be around to get the benefit of full holiday legs in December.

Opening weekend: $10 million / Total gross: $33 million

9. The 33 (November 13th)

Released opposite all those Coopers, who probably outnumber 33 themselves, The 33 is a dramatization of one of the big news media stories of 2010, the Copiapó mining accident in Chile: after a cave-in at a century-old copper-gold mine, 33 miners survived being trapped underground for 69 days, between August and October (by the way, the other big 2010 story, the BP oil spill, is getting its own movie next year, too). While Chilean affairs are not often near nor dear to the heart of Americans, this particular event was followed closely in the United States, and there ought to be some remaining interest even five years later. The cast is headed by familiar faces like Antonio Banderas, Juliette Binoche, and James Brolin (not to be confused with Josh Brolin), but there isn't a really big draw to advertise around. The film has already been released in some parts of South America, where reviews have been somewhere on the borderline (pun not intended, of course!), so it's difficult to see the film doing better than marking time between the month's really big movies.

Opening weekend: $10 million / Total gross: $27 million

10. Legend (limited on November 20th; wide later)

Legend is a re-telling of the lives of notorious London gangsters Ronnie and Reggie Kray, whose exploits in mid-century London were previously depicted in the smaller-profile British film The Krays (1990), where they were portrayed by siblings Martin and Gary Kemp, who sadly were not really twins. Here, both Krays are played by Tom Hardy, who isn't a twin, either, but he does look a lot like himself. There's an echo of Johnny Depp's showy turn in Black Mass from earlier this fall, with a tone promising much darkly comic underworld mass-murder. The Depp film got decent reviews and a duly positive audience reception that nevertheless didn't translate to a big breakout hit; the Krays themselves are already a lot less known on American shores than Depp's Whitey Bulger, and reviews for Legend generally land only on the mildly fresh side. Hardy looks to be a hoot, though, and if the film goes into wide release, it might do okay trading on his growing fanbase.

Opening weekend: $7 million / Total gross: $22 million

As was true of October, November is home to a large number of top-tier Oscar contenders slowly stretching their awards-worthy feet across the country. Most of the big-hitters are out early, on November 6th, when the film world sees the debuts of Brooklyn, with Saoirse Ronan as an Irishwoman in 1950s New York; Trumbo, with Bryan Cranston as the 1950s Hollywood screenwriter; and Spotlight, about 1950s reporters exposing the Boston church sex abuse scandal (okay, okay, Spotlight is actually set mostly in 2001, but I didn't feel like breaking the time period trend). The first and third films have received exceptional, unanimous (Brooklyn) and near-unanimous (Spotlight) praise, with both films considered top-of-the-line best picture contenders. Brooklyn will do well enough with its talented young actors (maybe a $20 million total), while Spotlight, headlined by A-list stars like Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, and Mark Ruffalo, could go above $50 million, or even double that, as it rolls out nationally over the next three months.

Mid-month, on November 13th, there's By the Sea, with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie Pitt, and directed by the latter, which might even be a wide release. A week after that there's Carol, another very well-reviewed film festival veteran, starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara in a same-sex romance... set in the 1950s (for real, this time). And closing out the month on the 27th is The Danish Girl, Eddie Redmayne's bid for consecutive Best Actor trophies, starring as transgender Dane Einar Wegener. These films' eventual expansions will keep early December very busy, even though they'll presumably be overshadowed by the gargantuan arriving to stomp on everything in town on December 18th.