While modern Octobers tend to launch numerous big players into the Oscar race, 2016 is different. With one potentially glaring exception, there are no films with plausible paths to awards glory, and strangely, not much in the way of horror, either, with most titles aiming for the kind of older audience that had few films to attend during the summer. October should also be the third (and last) month of 2016 without a single $300 million-grossing film on its tab. Enjoy it while you can.
October 2016 Box Office Forecast
By Michael Lynderey
October 6, 2016
1. Inferno (October 28th)
A month lacking in horror and awards contenders is a month that's also oddly saturated with relatively humorless adult-themed thrillers, exactly one per week, any one of which can frankly find itself as the month's biggest film (and it is one of those four that'll win the month, I'm pretty sure). Tom Hanks closes out the set with Inferno, which unfortunately is not a remake of Dario Argento's memorably baroque 1980 horror film of the same name. No, this Inferno is the third adaptation of Dan Brown's series about the carelessly absent-minded professor Robert Langdon, who keeps finding himself in the midst of the kind of extravagant conspiracies most other Harvard profs only dream of unraveling. Star Hanks and director Ron Howard collaborated on previous Dan Brown films The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, among other joint ventures, and re-team again now to adapt Brown's most recent book in the series, set once again in Italy, which apparently is home to many an ancient puzzle.
When it comes to the first two films, the box office went down (from $217 million to $133 mil) as the plots grew somehow even more absurd (the motivation and methodology of the villain in the second film were particularly remarkable), and Howard is coming off a slate of films - Frost/Nixon, Rush, In the Heart of the Sea - that I thought were well-made and interesting, but which basically left nary a mark on movie theaters. Hanks is given good support and paired here with Felicity Jones, who's about to headline a Star Wars film (what, another Star Wars film??? Was Episode 7 insufficient?). I think there are enough Dan Brown fans left, and Hanks just carried Sully to $100 million, so give Inferno enough gusto to maybe win the month, by a sliver, but it's a coin's toss between two other book-to-films and this one.
Opening weekend: $35 million / Total gross: $90 million
2. The Girl on the Train (October 7th)
The first weekend of October has indelibly been staked out as the prime launching pad for the big adult-aimed hit of the fall, given the presumably not coincidental recent succession of Argo, Gravity, Gone Girl, and The Martian, all released on roughly the same weekend. The Girl on the Train in particular follows the blueprint of the earlier Ben Affleck thriller from 2014. It, too, is based on a best-selling book, and also like Gone Girl, it contains a lead character who may or may not be a killer, a missing woman who may not be dead, and an ending that's thus inevitably a twist (haven't read, so no guarantees).
Early fall thrillers about domestic discord have a storied history, going back to Fatal Attraction (1987) or even the underseen Malice (1993), but enough about the past. The Train Girl's director, Tate Taylor, previously helmed the blockbuster The Help and the underrated Get on Up, making this a distinct change of pace. Star Emily Blunt seems to be riding a wave of goodwill to what may be her biggest role yet, and the supporting cast is deeply stacked, too, between rising actresses Hayley Bennett and Rebecca Ferguson as two other women crucial to the plot, and more unexpected casting like Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, and even Lisa Kudrow. So all good things, but early reviews are coming in on the lukewarm side, though there should still be enough inherent interest in its very popular source material to net the picture a strong opening weekend, even if it'll get overtaken by the month's collection of big-star thrillers as the days edge closer to All Hallow's Eve.
Opening weekend: $33 million / Total gross: $84 million
3. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (October 21st)
A month that is surprisingly strong on star power has a film each by both of the biggest movie star Toms of all time, Hanks and Cruise. The original Jack Reacher was based on a popular character who didn't particularly resemble its cinematic leading man, but it was a strong thriller and played reasonably well over the holiday season in 2012, opening with $15 million and finishing with $80 million (now that's a multiplier). A sequel was uncertain, but the gang is back together for another story, one that doesn't seem to adapt any book in the series in particular. Retaining his star power, Cruise has spent the 2010s delivering roughly one mid-level successful thriller a year, like Edge of Tomorrow and Knight and Day, with the Mission: Impossible films being his decade's high points. As in those films and the first Reacher, he's paired here with a rising actress, Cobie Smulders, and sent on a mission to deal with a corrupt and/or malicious system which appears to have framed him for murder (which, as it happens, is more or less the plot of the Hanks film, too; to be fair, it happens all the time - who among us hasn't been wrongfully accused of homicide?). I think audiences have pretty good memories of the first Jack Reacher, but it's hard to say how this type of thriller will play out over its late October slot, and it's going to be the third entry in its genre in as many weeks, to boot. Still, Cruise is an icon for a reason, and I may be low-balling this one more than a bit.
Opening weekend: $28 million / Total gross: $84 million
4. Boo! A Madea Halloween (October 21st)
In a change of pace, this forecast will include no ironic comments whatsoever, a pre-amble I must make because I want to declare right here that Boo! A Madea Halloween is, really, truly, madly, deeply, my single most anticipated film of the fall (where you expecting, perhaps, critical darlings like Manchester by the Sea, or Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk? Sad people getting over their problems? What kind of a sadist would be anticipating seeing that?).
I mean, really, how could the film aim for anything but greatness? It combines two of my very favorite things: Madea, the rambunctious and occasionally gun-toting matriarch embodied by Tyler Perry through roughly a dozen film comedies from 2005 to 2013, and Halloween, the holiday which through the centuries has transmogrified from the Celtic end-of-harvest festival Samhain and was then brought onto North American shores, in gradation, throughout the 19th century. Perry's A Madea Christmas, the most recent in the series, did pretty well in 2013 ($52 million total), and after Perry's The Single Moms Club (March 2014), it seems he and his home studio, Lionsgate, took a little break from his writer-director films for a while, until now.
So, Perry's audiences have experienced a three-year drought, and one can assume they'll turn out in respectable numbers for his comeback. And if not, they should. Really, how much more clearly can I express my enthusiasm? I mean, the plot summary declares that this October will find Madea in combat with "misbehaving teens... killers, paranormal poltergeists, ghosts, ghouls and zombies" (!!!). I believe it, because the first poster is really an absolutely brilliant parody on the most famous poster for the film Halloween (1978) - and I demand you google it - while one of the very latest posters features a haughty Madea holding her chainsaw while blood spatters cover her trademark matron's glasses. When I first got into horror movies as a very young child in the 1990s, an image like that is the kind that inflamed my imagination the most. And really, if you can't appreciate the warped grotesquery of a film like this, what's the point of going to the movies at all? Just to see Billy Lynn cry?
Opening weekend: $28 million / Total gross: $65 million (too low!)
5. The Accountant (October 14th)
The second big thriller of the month is a nice movie star role for Ben Affleck, who's otherwise bogged down fighting extra-terrestrial threats in Batman movies on the one hand (he's just finished work on Justice League), and re-creating the dramatic past in more serious awards contenders on the other (his Live By Night is due in December). The Accountant is the kind of film that fits squarely in between. Affleck plays a professional man targeted by some of his more sinister-minded clientele, whom he proceeds to kill until enough have died for the film to be over, in what seems from the trailer like kind of a riff on Denzel Washington's The Equalizer (a film that proved decisively that Washington would make a pretty good Jason Voorhees, if he ever wants the job). The supporting cast is as lively as one can get for this somewhat gray-looking film, with Anna Kendrick as the love interest, J.K. Simmons as the leader of the distinguished opposition (this is the person Affleck has to kill the most), and Jon Bernthal as his best assassin (to be honest, of these three character descriptions, I'm kind of assuming on those last two). The Accountant is not based on a book or a show or on anything else except for a profession, but the trailers are brisk and to the point enough to let us know what we're getting, and good reviews can give an uptick to the below number.
Opening weekend: $21 million / Total gross: $56 million
6. The Birth of a Nation (October 7th)
The only major awards contender of the month is a topical film that, whether by chance of timing or design, exists somewhere between the nexus of #Oscarsowhite and Black Lives Matter. Re-claiming the title but not the story of the infamously racist 1915 D. W. Griffith silent film, 2016's Birth of a Nation is a dramatization of one of the bigger slave rebellions in North America, when Nat Turner broke free of his chains and led a violent insurrection, before being captured and executed.
No forecast of the film can exist without transcribing the off-screen history of its maker, which is thus: after its premiere in Sundance, The Birth of a Nation seemed positioned as an early frontrunner for the Academy Award for Best Picture (with glares at Best Director or Actor, both for star and writer/director Nate Parker, making his debut as helmer). Roughly two months ago, controversy erupted about rape accusations against Parker and Jean Celestin, billed as co-creator of the film's story, and thus turned discussion about the film onto a different topic altogether (Parker was found not guilty, while Celestin was initially convicted, and after his conviction was overturned prosecutors declined to retry him; their accuser ended her own life years later).
The film was left in a somewhat fraught position of having to answer for its creators, although its screenings at the recent Toronto Film Festival went well. The studio, Fox Searchlight, launched 12 Years a Slave, another based-on-a-true-story about 19th century slavery, and was probably hoping for a repeat performance on a similar scheduling bow. That film received a platform opening, and, perhaps sensing that this time is different, the studio is sending The Birth of a Nation into wide release immediately. So the film stands as the month's most unpredictable title, polarizing and relevant for more than one reason, and with the potential, if tracking is off enough, to do well at the box office. Will it have legs? Will Oscar voters evaluate it independent of the off-screen information? (aside from the aforementioned, Nat Turner's crew killed women and children, another fact worth noting). The film's 7.3 score on Rotten Tomatoes is not particularly high for a potential Best Picture nominee, but media coverage and interest may drive up an opening weekend that's stronger than expected. The conversation is just beginning.
Opening weekend: $18 million / Total gross: $51 million
7. Ouija: Origin of Evil (October 21st)
In the tradition of Annabelle, this is a 1960s-set prequel to a recent successful ghost story. But first, and putting Madea aside for just a second, since Ouija: Origin of Evil is the only unabashed horror film this month, it will have to suffer through me inflicting the recent history of the horror genre upon its forecast. Horror films of the 21st century, especially as far as Octobers go, have been dominated by two genre-defining, ultra-low-budget (by modern standards) franchises: first, the torture-heavy Saw, which ran from October 2004 and through every consecutive year until October 2010; and then the shaky-cam Paranormal Activity films, which more or less phased out Saw, beginning in September 2009 and moving on through the next three Octobers (2010-2012), before making one final bow last October 23rd. Those loopy Paranormal films reached greater heights ($100m+, twice!) than the Saws did, but then died an ignoble death, plateauing out to a mere $18 million last fall (I think they're gone for good, but horror series are never dead).
The point is that for the first time in film history, two franchises had staked out each October for persistently consecutive sequels, coaching audience members to return almost exactly year after year for the latest installment. It was a formula that worked (perhaps too well), and so as Kevin Hart would say, what now? Recent years have produced few really long-standing horror franchises, and nothing has arrived to take Paranormal Activity's place as an annual holiday tradition. October 2016 is particularly odd in that Ouija 2 is the only fully self-identifying horror film released between Blair Witch on September 16th, and November 1st. That's a big contrast to October 2015, which fit in roughly five horror movies (Goosebumps included), and so it may well be that this prequel is really the only title that can fill a need for teenage audiences seeking a seasonably-timed fright.
The first Ouija did modest business in 2014, opening with $19 million and finishing at $50 million, despite critical accreditation that can charitably be described as unsupportive. The trailer for this prequel seems to have a bit more bite, including some good and mean-spirited bits (does that boy really sling himself?), and, as stated, the ouija has the field of teenage horror victims all to itself, even if it's opening on the month's busiest weekend.
Opening weekend: $23 million / Total gross: $50 million
8. Kevin Hart: What Now? (October 14th)
One of the bigger comic actors today returns with his third stand-up concert film, following, in increasing order of magnitude, Laugh at My Pain (2011) and Let Me Explain (2013), a pair of titles that really rhymed. Hart's big box office moment seemed pegged roughly two years ago, when the market was saturated with his comedic output, in roles both lead and supporting. He's still a big draw, of course - his buddy film Central Intelligence crossed $100 million more or less easily earlier this year, and January's Ride Along 2 (whaddya know, another buddy movie) wasn't far behind. His first concert film bowed only in limited release, where it took in a strong $7 million, while the second had a wider slate of almost 900 theaters, and upped the box office to $30 million. The increase in grosses will continue, I think, and Hart has really lorded over the relatively rare concert film subgenre (Richard Pryor was the only other comedian who released so many). While I can only guess what topics may be addressed here (politics and race are certain to come up, as they must), this new film seems like it's aiming to set up a mood of anticipation and scale, with the poster portraying Hart peering down from a helicopter at a city scape bearing a scorched question mark. The film's title is indeed very non-committal, and maybe you can detect a note of uncertainty in my forecast, too, but I know the man still has his fans.
Opening weekend: $18 million / Total gross: $45 million
9. Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life (October 7th)
Just like The Girl on the Train, Middle School seems modeled in the footsteps of a previous big hit - in this case, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which was also a children's book adaptation that included colorful and would-be simplistic drawings in a handful of scenes, and which, of course, was also set in middle school. Indeed, the Wimpy Kid pictures largely agreed with this film's title assessment of middle school as an incomparable hellhole from which only the strong survive (gosh, was it really that bad?). The cast is largely unknown, as they must be, although the parents are played by the intriguing teaming of Rob Riggle and Lauren Graham, and the lead is Griffin Gluck, who I still remember as one of the blackmail-prone children in Adam Sandler's Go with It. Wimpy Kid inspired two sequels before pausing in 2012 (with, yes, a third, recast, sequel slated for next year), so we know the market is wide open for this material, and its early October release date is probably modeled somewhat after the very good children's film Alexander and the Horrible/Terrible/etc. Day (or maybe I just remember too many movie release dates; you decide). In a month that is otherwise full of cold, unfeeling adult movies about people who are pre-occupied with stabbing or shooting each other (or, in the case of Ouija, coming back from the dead after having been stabbed and/or shot), Middle School finds itself the only option for children's entertainment all the way past Hallowe'en. It may not open big, but circumstances will keep it in play for weeks. Although, as I write this, way too close to a non-existent deadline, Middle School still has not been reviewed by critics, which is a dispiriting sign if not a decisive one. Its fundamentals are good enough.
Opening weekend: $11 million / Total gross: $38 million
10. Keeping Up With The Joneses (October 21st)
Keeping Up With The Joneses is the second Zach Galifianakis film in three weeks, following Masterminds, and just like that film, this is a broad comedy with a populous cast and goofy action hijinks. Here, average suburbanites (Isla Fisher is Galifianakis' spouse) are confronted with the seemingly superhuman/amazonian Joneses, spies who move in next door and are played by Jon Hamm, in one of his bigger film roles, and Gal Gadot, who managed to sneak this one in between Wonder Woman movies for DC (say, can you imagine another version of this film, where the Joneses are played by the former Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Pitt and Jolie?). I am amused by the cast and premise (although the words "government conspiracy" are in way too many plot descriptions this month), but I am unsure of the movie's oncoming fate, especially after Masterminds was left waiting among a somewhat crowded slate. Director Greg Mottola has made some good films (hey, he directed Superbad and Adventureland), and so it's possible that the film will receive positive critical notices (I thought Bad Moms would not, and was wrong) and thus will pick up its box office pace. If not, it will probably rank only the fourth of the weekend's openers.
Opening weekend: $7 million / Total gross: $20 million
11. Max Steel (October 14th)
This adaptation of the Mattel toy is one I list with some pause, unsure of its status as a wide release. Max Steel stars Ben Winchell as the title Max, with some choice support like Maria Bello and Andy Garcia. It is an action science fiction film of the sort they made more of in the 1980s (1998's Star Kid also comes to mind), where clever high school students merged their smarts with alien technology to defeat unsmiling agents from shady and discontinued government agencies. If it's a wide release, it may be able to tap somewhat into the children's market, but this property doesn't seem like it's rising in advertising or profile much. Fun fact: in 2009, weeks after the onslaught of New Moon, Max Steel was one of five films Taylor Lautner was cast in, reflecting his newfound popularity. Only one of those prospective films was made: Abduction (2011). Happy Hallowe'en.
Opening weekend: $5 million