If you're still recovering from the improbably gargantuan and thoroughly dominant performance of comic book adaptation Deadpool, I have some very bad news for you: while March 2016 starts off unassumingly enough, with some action and animation and horror and comedy, what it ends with is one of the most anticipated comic book films in history. And not even a Greek Wedding sequel can stop what's coming.
March 2016 Box Office Forecast
By Michael Lynderey
March 4, 2016
1. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (March 25th)
One of the big concepts of the Century of the Fanboy has been improbable wish-fulfillment: ideas fans had spent decades reverently discussing, debating, and dreaming about on message boards and at comic book conventions everywhere are brought finally to the big screen as mega-budget mass market entertainments. The Force Awakens' reunion of its original characters was the motherlode, but what we have here is almost just as big. Somewhat easily one-upping both Freddy vs. Jason (as much as it pains me to admit it) and Alien vs. Predator is Batman v Superman, the most eagerly-awaited face-off in film history, even though I think we all know that neither Batman nor Superman can or will actually win this brawl ("mangled, lifeless remains of Clark Kent found in bog" or "deformed, crushed body of Bruce Wayne trawled from river" are presumably not headlines The Daily Planet will carry this year).
The film's genesis is kind of brilliant: in a canny move, studio Warner Bros. took in Man of Steel's $116 million opening weekend and dreamed only of greatness. Retaining the leads and setting from that title, they have began to build a whole DC cinematic universe around them, one unconnected to films even as recent as Christopher Nolan's trilogy (sorry, Batman 2005-2012, you have been wiped forever from the historical record. Goodbye.). Batman v Superman is helmed by Zack Snyder, who directed not only Man of Steel but also the often-brilliant Watchmen, and whose shadowy, gothic style always seemed more attuned to Batman than the lively, sunlight-based Superman.
This new iteration takes its duty as a film world-builder seriously: aside from Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill in the title roles, there's Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, set to launch her own franchise next year, and the not-to-be-overlooked Amy Adams back again as Lois Lane, along with a whole batch of new super-characters in bit parts (The Flash, Cyborg, Aquaman, and so on), all soon to depart on their own individual cinematic journeys also. Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor and Jeremy Irons as Alfred are odd decisions that may pay off well, and even with a Star Wars movie lurking around on the release schedule nine months from now (again???), B v S is a decent contender for the biggest movie of the year. If my prediction is at all correct (and there's no reason to think it will be), then the film could also end up as one of only two titles to finish with a gross between $500 million and $599 million. The other one? Assuming it ever existed, it was The Dark Knight.
Opening weekend: $200 million / Total gross: $575 million
2. Zootopia (March 4th)
Probably the most surefire non-DC Comics hit of the month is this latest Disney CGI animation, a movie whose animals-run-amok plotline seems more than vaguely reminiscent of the upcoming The Secret Life of Pets. In that film, the animals rule only behind the scenes; here, they run the whole show. Zootopia's voice cast is led by Jason Bateman and the newly-prolific Ginnifer Goodwin, along with some out-of-the-box supporting actors like Idris Elba and J.K. Simmons. That the film will be successful is surely not in doubt: it has already cleaned up almost $100 million overseas, and its timing, a solid month after Kung Fu Panda 3 and right around this March break (check your schedule), is perfectly attuned to its pre-teen audience. For me, though, Zootopia is mostly distinguished by one particular scene in the trailer: the more than vaguely defamatory moment with that satanic, frightening-looking sloth (surely they can't be that slow?), a joke that goes on and on and on and on for most of the trailer, well past the point of reasonable comedic conduct. On the other hand, it looks like I have a particularly off-kilter taste for comedy, so maybe the children of America will disagree with me and give the movie a huge opening weekend and a long long run. Critics certainly love it well enough (if you check the TomatoMeter right now and it doesn't say 100%, then you just missed it).
Opening weekend: $54 million / Total gross: $215 million
3. London Has Fallen (March 4th)
One of this month's five sequels. And if you liked Olympus Has Fallen, you [may or may not] love... In fact, I did like the original film, which was a solid '90s-style action extravaganza with a clear high-concept ("Die Hard in the White House" would have been the logline), and which opened a few months before the more heavily-advertised and very similar White House Down, outgrossing that latter film handily (well, $98 million to $73 million - and Olympus cost about half as much). More to the point, the film also won the expectations game: Olympus Has Fallen was generally expected to be but a blurb on the release schedule (some opening weekend predictions were as low as single digits - I won't name names), but the film started with $30 million and had more than acceptable legs, finishing just short of one hundred million.
So, the sequel arrives in a reasonably enviable position: it has assembled just about all the principals from the original (battle-hardy Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, who's still president, Morgan Freeman, now the veep, and so on), it has cleverly changed the setting to a less enclosed and more international location (London seems to really take it on the chin in this one), and it has positioned itself on the first weekend of March, oft used to launch some hefty grossers. If it's at all relevant, Gerard Butler's Gods of Egypt isn't doing all that well, and so far, reviews aren't favorable to this film, either, but the momentum from the original should still give it a decent opening, even if it's less taut as a thriller.
Opening weekend: $35 million / Total gross: $83 million
4. The Divergent Series: Allegiant (March 18th)
Chronologists among us will know that Allegiant is the third chapter in this YA dystopian (is there any other kind?) science fiction series, and the first half of two split-off adaptations of the same book (the final episode is coming next year). And just as is true for the month's numerous other sequels, little of relevance has changed from its predecessors: Allegiant keeps the third weekend of March release date ensconced by the first two films, the cast of very young and excitable freedom fighters is still led by Shailene Woodley and Theo James, the supporting players are just about all back (except for those whose characters have died horrible deaths in previous films), and it seems that most of the series' fans are still on board to continue with this enterprise, through rain or shine. Among new faces are Bill Skarsgård (of the acting family of that name) and Jeff Daniels, who seems to be playing his usual unblinking bureaucrat. There's one other striking difference here: while the first two Divergents were set in an enclosed city-state, this third title expands the universe into the great unknown beyond the city's walls.
Examining Divergent's box office history, a clear pattern can be detected: the second film retained a similar opening weekend to the first ($52 million to $54 million) but dropped in take, finishing with $130 million to the original's $150 mil, which almost certainly means that the series' first (and longest, two and a half hours!) film will likely remain its biggest. While it's perhaps not totally accurate to compare the Divergent series directly to its older and more popular distant cousin, the Hunger Games pictures, there's a clearly similar pattern of franchise fatigue, and it seems possible that this third film will be the first not to crack $100 million, even if its numbers are still quite respectable.
Opening weekend: $38 million / Total gross: $85 million
5. Miracles from Heaven (March 16th)
If this drama, about an ill child's religious experience and subsequent remarkable recovery, seems vaguely familiar, that's because it comes from the studio (Columbia/TriStar) and producers (T. D. Jakes and Joe Roth) of the recent spiritual drama Heaven Is For Real. They've clearly found a format that works, and that formula is very specific: a well-known actor starring in the lead of a religious book adaptation (Greg Kinnear in the older film, Jennifer Garner this time), a true story about a child's near-death experience (a boy in the former film, a girl in this one), and "heaven" in the title to announce the film's theme directly and clearly.
Heaven is for Real opened with $22 million and finished with no less than $91 million, and, as such, a box office prognosticator can't really complain about this film's chances: the book is a reasonable seller, the timing (a week before Easter weekend) is right, and modern day-set faith-based films from major studios play well when the makers tap directly into their demographic with their marketing, which I'm very sure they're doing (as we speak). Between Risen and The Young Messiah, there's a lot of material at the movies for those who seek Christian films, but I think this one stands out and will probably more or less replicate the success of its predecessor.
Opening weekend: $22 million (5-day) / Total gross: $73 million
6. 10 Cloverfield Lane (March 11th)
Technically speaking, 10 Cloverfield Lane ranks among the month's more unpredictable releases, but on the other hand, we've been through Cloverfield-mania before, haven't we? The original film, released a little over eight years ago now, was a phenomenon owed entirely to successful advertising, right there at the dawn of the social media age. It was also an entertaining and pretty well-reviewed sci-fi monster movie, even if it also had one of cinema's great front-loaded openings: $17 million on Friday, $40 million for the weekend, and $80 million at its end. The sequel appears connected to the original only by virtue of also being a potentially post-apocalyptic science-fiction tale with some very good marketing - and while some of the trailer is striking, yes, it does not, I think, have any money shots quite as good as what was seen the first time out.
Still, horror fans turn out in moderate droves when so prepositioned by the right studio, and this quasi-sequel should play well enough, especially opening in a year that so far hasn't produced any horror film total grosses above $35 million (or an opening approaching half of that). Cloverfield Lane will probably win its weekend, which is just about the only one this March without a big special-effects action film (we are deprived).
Opening weekend: $20 million / Total gross: $45 million
7. My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 (March 25th)
That's right, Batman v Superman is not the only long-in-the-making follow-up set to explode onto cinema screens on March 25th. Which one will prevail? That's a rhetorical question, as it must be, but credit should be given where credit is due: the original My Big Fat Greek Wedding's run remains one of the most remarkable box office performances of all time. I still remember seeing the first film listed among the limited releases of April 19, 2002. Like many such indies, it got some good reviews and had a pretty solid weekend ($597,362 on 108 screens), but unlike every other such release, it refused to disappear into the eternal video void: week after week, month after month, the film grew some at-first low-key word-of-mouth, and then it grossed, and grossed, and grossed, never making more than $11 million a weekend but finishing with a remarkable total of $241 million (in 2002 dollars!).
The original film was based on a one-woman play and autobiographical passion project of star Nia Vardalos, whose subsequent movie roles (Connie & Carla, My Life in Ruins) mostly came and went from the release schedule. So this could be a big comeback, and indeed, pretty much all of the original cast have returned once more into the fray, with the story's new elements including the cultural travails of the original couple's daughter, along with another improbable Greek wedding. The plot isn't really the point, though, and while it looks like the Greek Wedding phenomenon is somewhat in the past, I think there's still a very good chance I'm underestimating the material's fan base and its chance at a much higher performance. As much as everyone loves Greek weddings, though, any nuptials on that weekend will likely be obliterated by people finally getting the chance to see Batman and Superman beat the s--t out of each other.
Opening weekend: $13 million / Total gross: $40 million
8. The Young Messiah (March 11th)
The month's other faith-based release, adapted from Anne Rice's book Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, is one of three recent films about Jesus Christ, following Son of God, about the crucifixion, and the weeks-old Risen, set shortly after (this one really breaks the chronological order). Unlike Son of God, which was somewhat put together from a television mini-series and advertised very closely to faith groups, this tale of the seven-year-old Jesus Christ comes from a major studio's indie label, Focus Features, and doesn't seem to have yet set a stir among its target demographic. The Young Messiah has few recognizable faces in its cast, and it's unclear if reviews will end up around Focus's usual aura of prestige. Still, we're close to Easter, so some audiences will likely gravitate towards the film and its original take on a known topic.
Opening weekend: $8 million / Total gross: $27 million
9. The Brothers Grimsby (March 11th)
Sacha Baron Cohen returns to the screen in his first film lead role since the underrated The Dictator (2012). His initial modus operandi - disguising himself as outlandish vulgarians and filming the reactions of the helpless citizens he encounters - doesn't really work anymore, now that people know the contours of his face, so he's turned to fictionalizing basically the same premise. The film's plotline (soccer - okay, football! - hooligan teams up with his MI6 spy brother for action and adventure) has some promise, but it seems to amount to something that'll play much better in its home country, and Cohen is still much more popular across the pond than on this side of it.
The film does pair up some interesting supporting players - the steely Mark Strong along with the foul-mouthed Rebel Wilson and Best Actress nominee Gabourey Sidibe (the star of Precious, long absent from the screen), not to mention Penelope Cruz, appearing in her second comedic spy venture in as many a month (the first, if you must know, was Zoolander 2). Grimsby's reviews, which are fair but unexceptional, place it somewhere in the vicinity of another British spy spoof, Johnny English, and less among the more robust comedies of the everpresent Wilson.
Opening weekend: $10 million / Total gross: $25 million
10. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (March 4th)
This tale of a war correspondent landing in vaguely comedic misadventures in Afghanistan is based on Kim Barker's autobiography, and was originally entitled with the much more evocative moniker "The Taliban Shuffle" (what does its current title mean? I recognize most of the words, but do not know what they stand for in unison). The film's irascible star, Tina Fey, is coming off the recent hit Sisters (speaking of which, something tells me we'll see Fey and Amy Poehler team for a third time sooner than later), and she here is surrounded by Margot Robbie and Martin Freeman, who'll be in some superhero movies this year, but are pulling in fine character work this time.
In its story of an American reporter on a foreign battleground, the film reminds me just vaguely of The Killing Fields, with less killing and a much more arid collection of fields. The film's background also recalls in just a few little ways that of Admission, the Fey-Paul Rudd team-up that opened in 2013 right against both a big CGI animation and the original Olympus Has Fallen, a calendar configuration that's exactly repeated this year (on a presumably totally coincidental basis). I don't think the Butler action films steal too many votes away from the Fey comedies, but Tango Foxtrot's ballpark should be right around Admission's. Reviews are decent but unspectacular, which means the movie will probably play longer on TV, video, and airplanes, even if Fey is very charming.
Opening weekend: $7 million / Total gross: $21 million
11. Midnight Special (March 18th)
A bit of a mystery on the release schedule is this drama, placed in the enigmatic #11 slot but not necessarily doomed to obscurity. Midnight Special is the latest offering by director Jeff Nichols, who's helmed a series of well-reviewed Southern-set tales that decidedly leaned indie (in increasing order of prominence: Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter, and Mud). In its tale of a child with supernatural abilities, Midnight Special reminds me of another similar March release, The Last Mimzy, from almost a decade ago in 2007 (I suppose one could even compare it to The Young Messiah, if pressed). All of Nichols' films have featured Michael Shannon, and this one continues the tradition, along with other strong actors like Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, and Adam Driver. If the film gets good reviews, as Nichols' films tend to inspire, it could play well as a sleeper for a few weeks, even if it isn't all that likely to cede its #11 slot to someone else.
Opening weekend: $4 million / Total gross: $15 million