A few months ago, this was a weekend full with Oscar potential. That's still there, but it's muted after expectations haven't been met and outside events have thrown a shade on things.
Weekend Forecast for October 7-9, 2016
By Reagen Sulewski
October 7, 2016
The Girl on the Train is this year's “pulpy-page-turner turned fall thriller” and because Hollywood is nothing but a slave to tradition, the film is released on the same weekend as Gone Girl debuted, two years ago. You know, because there's a specific “I want to see murder mysteries about women on the first weekend in October” thought that people have.
Directed by The Help's Tate Taylor and adapted from Paula Hawkins novel, it's the story of a young woman (Haley Bennett) who's found murdered, and the woman (Emily Blunt) who essentially spied on her and her husband, obsessed with their seemingly perfect life after her own divorce. As a ... slightly unstable person, and because of her connection with the couple, she becomes a subject of interest in the case, and her conflicting and possibly unreliable statements on what she saw serve to further cloud things. Was she a witness to something, purely coincidental to the case, or was it something even more sinister? Women be crazy, so it's soooo hard to tell, amirite?
Also starring Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, Laura Prepon, Allison Janney and Rebecca Ferguson, it's definitely got that moody look that thrillers need, but lacks a bit in the hype department. For one thing, Tate Taylor is no David Fincher, and the book wasn't quite as much of a sensation as Gone Girl was. And while Emily Blunt's performance has been receiving raves, that's an aside to the general thumbs down that the movie has been getting, painted as melodramatic and overwrought in its plotting. A big part of Gone Girl's success was also from a revitalized and buzzy Ben Affleck, leaning right into his type, which this film doesn't have. The Girl on the Train will struggle to match other thrillers of this type and should gross about $24 million this weekend.
The Birth of a Nation was pegged as a surefire Oscar front runner out of Sundance, thanks to its bravado portrayal of the slave revolt led by Nat Turner in 1831. In the current political environment, it's hard to imagine a more topical subject, and a subject more in need of depiction, particularly given how Hollywood has (until very recently) ignored the idea of slavery from the slaves' perspectives. That it was an electric depiction of it only added to the buzz coming out of that festival. Naming itself after a notoriously racist film from the early 1900s was the mot juste.
So it turns out that its director, Nate Parker, was involved in a sexual assault case while in college, and while he was found not guilty, the case was tied up in the courts for ages, and the alleged victim eventually committed suicide after a retrial was not granted. Parker's treatment of the case has been rather callous to say the least, and a PR campaign turned into a disaster after these facts came to light.
Is this all besides the point of the film? Well, yes and no, but that's a problem in itself. In the popularity contest that is the Oscars, giving someone a reason to not support you because of your personal life and past actions is a bit of a killer, and Fox Searchlight has had to dramatically reconsider its push for the film. One can't find much fault in coming down on either side of the “it's important art/the maker is vile” debate, but losing any audience to that issue is killer to its chances both theatrically and economically. There's controversy, and then there's the wrong type of controversy like this, which has nothing to do with the content of the movie itself and only serves as a distraction or a potential excuse to ignore. That Parker is starring as Turner only amplifies this. Still opening in wide release, and still viewed as an important movie for awards season, this has a chance to be seen, but those chances are wounded. I'd look for a $9 million start to its run.
Swerving completely away from that, we have Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life, a film aimed at pre-teens based on a popular-ish book series about a boy with an artistic bent that moves to the school where fun and creativity went to die (because that's a thing, of course). And so, rebelling against authority, grade school level hijinks ensue. Starring veteran TV actor Griffin Gluck as the lead character, with Lauren Graham and the totally-deserves-better Andy Daly, it's a minor film with limited breakout past its small demographic. Give it about $7 million this weekend.
Returning films are led by Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children, which took last weekend's crown with almost $29 million, a bit of a disappointing figure, but probably in line with the level of fame from its book series connection. Buzz is neither here nor there, and it should fall to about $17 million.
Deepwater Horizon, the unromantic disaster film about the titular oil rig disaster in 2010, started with $20 million, a lower figure than normal for a Mark Wahlberg movie, which tells me that this is just another one of those subjects that's a bit too fresh and difficult to get people interested in (bad news for Patriot's Day?). This weekend should see it drop to about $12 million. Wrapping up our significant films are The Magnificent Seven and Storks, each with about $8 million, with both of these high profile films looking to finish well below $100 million.