It's a typical mixed bag slate of releases for this lonely August weekend, a trio generally lacking in hype, stars or great concepts, or at least are deficient in some part of that. Until some studio is brave enough to challenge this status quo, ever thus shall this period be.
Weekend Forecast for August 19-21, 2016
By Reagen Sulewski
August 18, 2016
The most hopeful film out of the bunch in both box office and quality is Kubo and the Two Strings, a stop motion animated film from Laika, the studio behind Coraline, ParaNorman and The Boxtrolls. Set in ancient Japan, it follows the title character, a young boy thrust into the middle of a conflict between gods and demons, and who must protect his village armed with just his father's armor and a magical two-stringed guitar that can summon protection from the spirit world (and, one presumes, also can play Lump and Peaches).
Visually spectacular, it also boasts a wry humor in its advertising, thanks to an inscrutable and sardonic monkey character voiced by Charlize Theron, and some wacky comic relief from Matthew McConaughey, a Don Quixoteish beetle knight. We're full on into quirky fable territory here, which is both a solid marketing angle but also one with a fairly low ceiling. In other words, it gets you attention, but doesn't fall into the "normal family entertainment" category that a lot of people will be looking for. They want the cute animals and the easy moral message, which Laika doesn't exactly do.
What they have generally achieved is spectacular reviews, thanks to appealing to the "something else!" sentiment from reviewers. The "alt-animation" crowd requires nothing else, and this tends to get it just to a mid 10s results in general. Their most recent effort, The Boxtrolls, managed a $17 million opening weekend despite a kind of ugly look to it. Now with several solid notches in its belt, Laika is starting to build up a bit of a following and reputation. There's a small sense that they're getting over a hump with this release, although the cultural aspect of the film may be limiting once again. With the miss of the last weekend's Pete's Dragon, a family adventure film may be just what the doctor ordered, with an opening weekend of about $18 million.
In a summer that's been criticized for needless sequels and remakes, this weekend's entry in that genre seems especially pointless. Ben-Hur, a remake of the 1959 Best Picture winning film, stars Jack Huston as a Jewish nobleman at the dawn of the Common Era who is betrayed and sold into slavery. Earning his way to freedom, he becomes a Roman chariot racer as a way to find his revenge and then Jesus is involved somehow.
In addition to the normal reasons this remake is a silly idea, there's also the fact that it heavily tracks the plot of 1999's Gladiator (which also won Best Picture - and this one... will not), making it doubly derivative. The original is known for its inventive action scenes, which have no chance of being seen as particularly notable today thanks to the proliferation of action movies in the ensuing decades. The market for Biblical epics is even thinner, though one gets the sense the movie is chasing after the same territory as 2014's Noah, which managed $350 million worldwide. Those international figures are going to have to be key here too, since the cast is a big old pass (Morgan Freeman in a supporting role being the most notable draw). Reviews are terrible, and this might limp to about a $13 million opening based on a general search for action in the theater.
War Dogs tackles a controversial period in America's War on Terror in the early 2000s, with Jonah Hill and Miles Teller playing two real-life business men who earn themselves a $300 million contract to supply arms in Afghanistan. Of course, it's a comedy. Todd Phillips directs with a "can you believe this happened?" bent, trying to point this towards being this year's Wolf of Wall Street or The Big Short. I think that's a bit ambitious territory for this film, which seems more tonally consistent with being from the director of Old School and the Hangover films than something worthy of Oscar contention. Indeed, reviews have it as a mediocre effort with a facile treatment of the material, which if anything, was more salacious than what the movie puts forward.
While Hill has developed something of a critical following, it's been mostly as a supporting character, making his lead role here problematic to the film's success. Teller, meanwhile, has the buzz as a young actor to watch, but has struggled with any box office success, with prominent roles in the new Fantastic Four flop, and the Divergent series, one of the first series to effectively get canceled to cable. I project this out as a bit of a disappointment with $10 million to start.
Ready to seize first spot for a third weekend, if it's there for the taking, is Suicide Squad despite its precipitous drops. Warner Bros. attempt at expanding their universe started well but has shown tremendous weakness since then. Losing two-thirds of its opening weekend, it may find itself running short of a $300 million domestic total after a $133 million start. This is, to put it lightly, something of a disaster. With no help coming from revisionist word-of-mouth, this should fall again to about $15 million.
Sausage Party, last weekend's second place film, ought to see similar drops more due to demographics than anything else. The raunchy and naughty animated film used up its shock value right off the bat, and the curiosity factor is likely not present at this point. I see a drop to about $13 million in the cards for Seth Rogen and company.
While The Jungle Book comparison was never fair, Pete's Dragon significantly underperformed in its debut with $21 million. I expect this was largely due to a lack of familiarity with the source material, and just a handful of gripping action scenes versus the latter's film's non-stop go. The family aspect of the film should help it it with legs, and a $12 miliion second weekend makes sense here.
Following along in returning films are Jason Bourne, which should grab $8 million, Bad Moms, a genuinely leggy film last weekend, with $8 million itself and The Secret Life of Pets, earning $6 million in its seventh weekend.