It's a lively February, with a pair of big-budget action blockbusters, two sports biopics, some material that's just more topical for Valentine's Day, and a book adaptation that might at last get Jane Austen just right.
February 2016 Box Office Forecast
By Michael Lynderey
February 4, 2016
1. Deadpool (February 12th)
The first of many, many, many superhero films set to launch at the screen in 2016 is this Ryan Reynolds vehicle, a Marvel Comics adaptation from Fox, about the foul-mouthed, anti-heroic assassin and mercenary who's not exactly a traditional leading man, as the advertising often reminds us. It's also the film pre-anointed by the powers that be as the month's biggest, and that's not hard to believe: after Kingsman cleaned up on the 13th of February last year, it's clear that R-rated comedic action bloodletting plays unsurprisingly well over the Valentine's Day weekend (everyone's just in the mood for it). Early tracking, which I generally ignore and never ever mention out of general principle, has Deadpool polling at an above $50 million opening, which seems high but is probably no longer implausible.
Reynolds has headlined some really big movies like The Proposal and Safe House, and starred in a few smaller ones (last year's Woman in Gold was underrated); here he sports a mask for much of the film's length, all the better to hide his character's face, which has been mangled beyond recognition in some kind of unfortunate and unavoidable chemical treatment. Reynolds debuted the role back in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), one of the least beloved of the X-Men pictures, but any qualms about that film seem to have generally disappeared from the public's memory in anticipation for this one.
And there are memorable supporting actors along for the ride, including the intimidating Gina Carano, the fetching Morena Baccarin, and perennial comic relief figure T. J. Miller, who spends much too much time in the trailer commenting on Deadpool's deformed, mangled, grotesque, repulsive, face. Deadpool won't, or can't, or maybe it can, open quite as high as Fifty Shades did on the same slot last year, but it should still easily win the month.
Opening weekend: $58 million / Total gross: $151 million
2. Zoolander 2 (February 12th)
In the tradition of Anchorman: the Legend Continues, here is a much-awaited, oft-announced, even oftener-pushed back, comedic sequel that has, to the disbelief of many, indeed finally been written, filmed, advertised, and slated for release. The original Zoolander came at the beginning of Ben Stiller's run as one of the biggest box office stars of the 2000s (it succeeded Meet the Parents and preceded his big 2004 slate).
Now, his Fockers and Museum franchises seemingly behind him, Stiller returns to the well of another potential sequel factory, and it makes a certain kind of sense to pick this one: quality-wise, the original was an okay parody that has somehow gained increasing stature year after year (and it's been 14 years!).
Much of the first film's cast is back, including Owen Wilson, and Will Ferrell's brilliantly-named Jacobim Mugatu, while new faces include Penelope Cruz, as what looks like the female lead, and Kristen Wiig, the latter totally unrecognizable as a truly frightening villain who looks like a particularly satanic Miley Cyrus. The raft of name cameos, hinted at in the trailers, must be here as well.
Zoolander the first made $45 million, and just how much higher the sequel will go, I do not know. The most ambitious of blueprints must be that of another irreverent parody, Austin Powers, which went from a $53 million-grossing original to a sequel that pulled in nearly in four times as much. It's tough to put a finger on the pulse of this film's fans; if they're numerous enough, they might just give the month its second $100 million film.
Opening weekend: $45 million / Total gross: $105 million
3. Race (February 19th)
This ambitious drama is a biopic of legendary runner Jesse Owens, who made a strident and symbolic victory in earning four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany's Berlin, against the face of prejudice both domestic and foreign. Yes, the title surely must have a double meaning. Race is clearly targeted as a prestigious film meant to reflect the box office success of another period piece biopic of African-American achievement, 42, with Stephan James headlining his first really big film as Owens, and Jason Sudeikis in the Harrison Ford role.
Race is opening right before Oscar weekend, and I don't think it's too implausible that some viewers may incorrectly assume it's a nominee. The film seems like a feel-good movie at its most primal and sturdy, and if it gets good reviews (and it's reasonable to assume it will), it ought to play well enough in the second half of the month, even if the subject matter isn't as dear to potential audience's hearts as the baseball setting in 42 must have been.
Opening weekend: $19 million / Total gross: $59 million
4. Hail, Caesar! (February 5th)
The Coen Brothers are back with another big movie, and as usual, an all-star cast comes calling at the directors' behest: George Clooney and Channing Tatum as old-school Hollywood stars (the former is much easier to imagine as such than the latter), as well as Scarlett Johansson, in a not-unexpected display of '50s glamor, Jonah Hill, as comic support, and Josh Brolin, who I think is technically the lead, playing real-life Hollywood producer Eddie Mannix (he's just about the only real person depicted in the film, at least by name).
The Coens have spent the last 10 years moving from smaller comedies to a handful of surprisingly profitable films (True Grit, a $170 million+ grosser, remains their apex), and Hail, Caesar! looks to be one of their more approachable titles, at least on paper, with a wide release and an all-star cast somewhat recalling their Burn After Reading. Adult audiences love 1950s movies like this one, even if pictures about Hollywood don't often play well at the box office (the setting time and place and the vaguely black comedy tone remind me of the recent Trumbo, of all films). No matter, though: the talent involved should grant Hail, Caesar! an opening weekend that's above a Hail Mary pass, and given the solid reviews already pouring through the press, it should play out the rest of its run in a more than respectable manner, even if the plot (Hollywood star abducted by screenwriters, I think?) and tone (thoroughly Coen-esque) place the title just somewhat out of the mainstream.
Opening weekend: $18 million / Total gross: $58 million
5. How to Be Single (February 12th)
The month's second missile aimed at seekers of on-screen romance is based on the novel by Liz Tuccillo, who also wrote the print version of He's Just Not That Into You (there is a trend here). And just like that film, which was perhaps not-too-surprisingly successful in February 2009 ($93 million total), How to Be Single has been pitched to play like an ensemble romantic comedy just in time for Valentine's Day, with a cast that seems more distinctly female-led than Tuccillo's previous.
The film is headlined by Dakota Johnson, who ruled over the same weekend last year with her carnal misadventures in Fifty Shades of Grey. She is joined here by Rebel Wilson, who seems to add anywhere from $30 to $100 million to the total grosses of ensemble comedies, and who I would have loved to see play Johnson's role in Fifty Shades (talk about turning the tables on Mr. Grey!). Also on hand are Leslie Mann, who seems to have found her place in this type of ensemble film (she co-starred in, though not as, The Other Woman), and Alison Brie, whose film work has thus far mostly been limited to indies of varying levels of success. They're joined by lower-billed but no less notable names like Jason Mantzoukas, Damon Wayans, Jr., Jake Lacy, and even SNL's Colin Jost, making his big-screen debut. So the cast is game, even if they're not quite at the A-List, and the studio and some of the same team from He's Just Not That... are behind the scenes here as well. This follow-up won't be quite as big, I think, and it should come in third for its weekend; but given the release date, it's certainly in the right time and place to at least open well and fill a niche for a few weeks more after that (February 5th might've been a better slot, but they've ceded it to the Nicholas Sparks film).
Opening weekend: $20 million / Total gross: $48 million
6. Gods of Egypt (February 26th)
In the big-budget mythological B-movie tradition of The Mummy and Clash of the Titans comes Gods of Egypt, a fantasy set many moons ago in northeast Africa and directed by Alex Proyas, whose output usually leans toward more somber genre fare like The Crow and Dark City. Despite the title, the picture's true lead is a mere mortal, embodied by Brenton Thwaites, who previously carried The Giver and will also star in Pirates of the Caribbean 5 (don't look for him in a film set in the present day anytime soon). He's joined by somewhat bigger names playing the aforementioned gods, most notably Geoffrey Rush as sun god Ra, Nikolai Coster-Waldau as the multi-tasking Horus, Chadwick Boseman, the film's only American actor, as wisdom god Thoth, and then by the man who seems to be the film's biggest selling point, Gerard Butler, who's thoroughly pulling double-duty this month (his follow-up London Has Fallen bows just the following week).
Gods of Egypt cost an exorbitant, princely sum ($140 million), and was clearly meant to be cut from the same fantastical cloth as many a summer blockbuster past. Its release date is suspicious, though, and echoes of underperforming epics like Pan and especially the underrated Exodus: Gods and Kings ring loudly through my mind. If critics abandon the film, it will need to work very hard to recoup its budget (I don't want to indulge in punnery, but the film might then be in need of divine intervention).
Opening weekend: $21 million / Total gross: $43 million
7. Eddie the Eagle (February 26th)
Eddie is actually human. He's Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards, a British skier who accomplished numerous athletic feats in the 1988 Olympics and elsewhere (I'd tell you exactly how well he did, but I don't want to spoil the movie). Eddie's film is headlined by Taron Egerton, who got some nice traction carrying last February's Kingsman to well over $100 million, and the film also contains within its cast Christopher Walken and Hugh Jackman, the latter of whom is clearly willing and able to play supporting roles opposite young and less-tested leads (see his atypical villain role in Chappie last year, if for no other reason than to prove that sentence right).
So, the cast and the thus far positive reviews should give the film some recognition, even if the subject matter of a British athlete's fight for glory might still be a tough sell on American shores, all these years after Chariots of Fire. Posters of Eddie and his skis astride Hugh Jackman's presumably moving pick-up truck ought to confuse audiences as to what the film is all about (they still confuse me as well, and I wrote this paragraph).
Opening weekend: $11 million / Total gross: $35 million
8. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (February 5th)
I've always had just about the same nagging question as I sat and watched any number of Jane Austen and Austen-esque costume dramas: in those films, why is it that we never saw the characters encounter and interact with mastodons, triceratopses, stegosauruses, and all the other prehistoric creatures that Austen's protagonists surely would have encountered during the story's time setting? (Did they just not have the budget for special effects?). This adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith's parody novel doesn't exactly answer my question, but it does add a little extra flavor to Austen's oft-told tale of unrequited love, which has inspired countless adaptations, not least of which was the modernization Bridget Jones's Diary. This edition doesn't quite do something as radical as cast a Texan as a modern-day Austen lead (as Bridget Jones did), but it does add combatting the ravenous undead as an additional plot point in the life of lovelorn heroine Elizabeth Bennett.
Star Lily James headlined another not-quite-period piece, Cinderella, last year, and between that and her role on Downton Abbey, she's got more than enough credentials to carry this iteration. The supporting actor list is chock-full of British thespians, some of whom have probably already played these roles before in zombie-less incarnations of the same material (they've been deprived until now), and one of the producers is no less than Natalie Portman, who we can now reasonably ascertain has at least a fair sense of humor.
People do seem to like zombies, but whether these same audiences can stomach taking a zombie film and adding some Jane Austen to it is a harder bet to place. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a novelty and will play as one, but I suspect there'll be enough interested parties to give it a decent-sized audience, especially if they're reminded that if the film does well, we will surely get a cinematic adaptation of its sequel: Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters.
Opening weekend: $13 million / Total gross: $32 million
9. The Choice (February 5th)
The Choice carries a title that is maddeningly unspecific and could plausibly headline any number of genres, but this romantic drama is our annual entry in the cinematic cannon of Nicholas Sparks. Sparks' literary slate has produced some real big hits (The Notebook and Dear John), but has mostly come down to earth lately, with middling earners like The Best of Me (2014) and The Longest Ride (2015) following the more successful The Lucky One (2012) and Safe Haven (2013). Sparks' films get a bad rap, but they're at the very least earnest and agreeable, if usually totally implausible.
The Choice is headlined by Benjamin Walker, who made for a very convincing Abraham Lincoln in the 2012 biopic (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter; what did you think I meant?), and by Teresa Palmer, who's starred in her share of mid-level genre pictures, most recently in that Point Break remake that came and went just a month back. Walker had his own under-performing December film, In the Heart of the Sea, and it's an interesting testament to the mischievousness of the box office when a fairly inexpensive film like The Choice stands a reasonable chance of outgrossing its stars' most recent and much more high-budgeted titles (both Point Break and the Sea film cost one hundred million dollars a pop; The Choice was made for a tenth of that). I don't see a spectacular breakout here, but it's Valentine's Day and Deadpool isn't really all that romantic, so I assume that for a moderate swath of the population, attendance of the movie will be mandatory.
Opening weekend: $10 million / Total gross: $30 million
10. Risen (February 19th)
The first of the season's two films about Jesus Christ, this one is set in the days and months after his crucifixion, while the upcoming The Young Messiah (due three weeks later, in March) follows his early years. In the interest of chronological order, they should've switched release dates. Never mind, though: the star here is Joseph Fiennes, playing a malcontent Roman Centurion who happens to bear a startling physical resemblance to Michael Jackson (no, really!). He's joined by Harry Potter veteran Tom Felton and a bevy of other British Romans, with Cliff Curtis a unique casting choice to play Jesus.
I assume there's outreach by the studio to the Christian community, but it's difficult to say if they'll embrace what mostly looks like a period piece without strong religious and emotional overtones. The biblical film Son of God did very well for itself two years back, although Risen seems to have less heavy grassroots support. The film it reminds me most of is The Eagle (not to be confused with Eddie the Eagle), the Channing Tatum/Jamie Bell film about Romans from a few years back, and it might end up playing at more or less the same ballpark of a middle-of-the-road historical drama.
Opening weekend: $9 million / Total gross: $25 million
11. Triple 9 (February 26th)
In a month that features more elaborate forms of violence and action, this is a relatively old-school thriller about cops, robbers, and all those men and women who fall somewhere in between on the spectrum, without quite choosing where. I assume there's a big heist, a handful of shootouts, and a plot twist or two involving the allegiances of some of the characters, but while it may seem familiar, Triple 9 is distinguished by its mid-level cast, which is decidedly numerous. That cast contains both quantity and quality, counting among itself leads Casey Affleck and Chiwetel Ejiofor, TV luminaries Aaron Paul and Norman Reedus, both working their way back to big film roles, soon-to-be Wonder Woman Gal Gadot, along with the hard-working Anthony Mackie, who can often be found in ensemble films, and the invaluable and increasingly omnipresent Kate Winslet (now, how did she get involved in this one?). Woody Harrelson, who adds some flavor to just about anything, rounds out that list. I don't feel too strong an aura of anticipation for this film in the air, but critical notices should set the box office template here: if there's strong support from reviewers, Triple 9 should have no problem attracting older audiences and make for a reasonable run. If it's weaker, it'll probably get lost among the month's more flamboyant genre films.
Opening weekend: $11 million / Total gross: $23 million