The year-round release schedule has gotten to the point that it brings us a legitimate franchise film in January, but it's still a date that's not without its stigma – with the question of just how tired this franchise must be to resort to this strategy.
Weekend Forecast for January 29-31, 2016
By Reagen Sulewski
January 29, 2016
Kung Fu Panda 3 is... the third film to feature a panda that also does Kung Fu – it's not a particularly complicated franchise – featuring Jack Black again as the title character, once again protecting China from a supernatural threat. As hinted at in the end of the second film, this sequel reunites our hero with his long lost panda brethren, including his father (Bryan Cranston) as their habitat comes under the threat of some sort of water buffalo type character (JK Simmons). Once the student, he has to now become the master and guide his family to safety by training them how to use kung fu themselves.
Black's effervescent vocal performance and the earnest portrayal of what is essentially a fanboy reaching mastery has been the selling point of both of these films to date, though that element seems to be wearing thin. Indeed, there often seems to be a point with family franchises where after a few successes, audience reaction turns from “Okay, that was mildly entertaining” to “Screw you for trying to entertain me!” Witness the turn on Shrek by the fourth movie, which took a 40% hit in opening weekend despite following the same formula. Audiences grow out of these films, and it can be fairly clear when filmmakers are just going through the motions. Of note, it's been eight whole years since the first KFP movie, about the same length of time it took for Shrek to expire (then again, Ice Age is still ticking a full 16 years later, and that's the very textbook definition of mediocrity).
Reviews are actually pretty decent for this film, although I expect it's being tossed a bone or two for not aspiring to all that much, and for not being irritating, simply just being pleasant and well-animated (it's long been one of the better-looking franchises). However, this release date shows little confidence from DreamWorks, and the ads really fail to inspire. I'd look for an opening weekend of about $34 million, a sizable fall-off from previous entries.
Disaster drama The Finest Hours, or: Bad New England Accent: The Movie, details a rescue of a pair of oil tankers split in half during a storm off the coast of Cape Cod in the 1950s, and basically hits all the notes of The Perfect Storm without the star power or wow factor of that film. Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster and Eric Bana are the notables (nahtables?) in this, but we seem to, as a culture, be well past this whole “CGI disaster movie” phase, as the underwhelming performance of Into the Storm showed. Or at least we're tired of them without a little certain pizzazz, and The Finest Hours seems to just be a soggy and dour drama that eventually gives us a couple of big waves. Seeing C-listers bicker for a while until they're eventually rescued doesn't make for particularly gripping cinema, and we need a lot more than “but there's a really big wave!” Fooled before, thanks very much. I'd look for about $10 million this weekend.
In what would be a case of scraping the bottom of the barrel if they hadn't already been beaten to it by the original film, Fifty Shades of Black (I mean, the title was right there) is the rather hurriedly-produced Marlon Wayans parody of Fifty Shades of Grey, hitting all those obvious jokes and tangentially-related movie parodies that might elicit a smirk or two.
Marlon has inherited the Wayans parody estate established decades back, and managed a surprise hit with A Haunted House in 2013, but quickly ran that into the ground, with the sequel managing just $17 million domestic the next year. The hope would be that drafting off the popular (yet awful and reviled) Fifty Shades title – already close to self-parody – will allow for a bounce back. It's a cynical move for Wayans, and laughs in the ads prove mostly theoretical. With it not being released for critics ahead of time, I think we can all see the writing on the wall here. A tiny opening weekend of about $8 million is in store here, although that's more than enough to cover the film's micro-budget.
Opening in national release, not much is expected from Jane Got a Gun (cue Aerosmith earworm), a Natalie Portman/Joel Edgerton western. When her husband is under threat from a gang of outlaws bent on claiming the bounty on his head, Portman seeks out an ex-beau (Edgerton) to help protect him. So. Awkward. Gunfights ensue, along with a strangely-attired and nowhere-accented Ewan McGregor. This honestly feels like something that should be going day-and-date, and as a orphan film from the Relativity Media collapse, it has basically been abandoned to its fate, with about $2 million this weekend.
Returning films are led once again by The Revenant, which slid backwards into first place with $16 million last weekend. After a solid hold when Oscar nominations were announced, it took a tumble in the raw numbers and should end up at $9 million this weekend. Star Wars: The Force Awakens inches closer to $900 million this weekend with an $8 million total, while Ride Along 2 is quickly on an exit path from theaters following a two-thirds drop last frame. It should hit just $5 million here, and likely ends up at around $75 million domestic. Last week's trio of new films should all exit quickly from relevance, with Dirty Grandpa, The Boy and The 5th Wave all barely cracking $5 million, if that.