February 2017 Box Office Forecast
By Michael Lynderey
February 2, 2017

A man and his dog seek vengeance.

The January tradition of dishing out exactly one horror movie per week proceeds at full speed ahead, with the sole exception of February's holiday weekend, when the month's big three sequels will duke it to see who outgrosses the rest. Right now, that looks like a fight between a LEGO in a Batcape and Fifty Shades' chain, whip, and torture rack, with John Wick's arsenal of killing machines a worthy if implausible dark horse challenger.

1. The LEGO Batman Movie (February 10th)
Three years ago, The LEGO Movie arrived on the scene with questionable expectations. It left with enthusiastic reviews, a devoted fanbase, a $257 million total gross, and the launch of both a potential franchise and voice-over lead Chris Pratt's career as a star of shockingly overperforming films (well, other than Passengers, The Magnificent Seven, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, etc., etc.).

That first LEGO movie was a little too meta for my own good, but it broke out to ridiculous and offensive numbers ($69 million first weekend), and seems to have set the building blocks for a whole cinematic den of LEGO-sized and -built spin-offs, with a Ninjago film premiering later this year, and other releases of a similar toy-sized ilk in various stages of deliberation and preparation.

So, then, The Lego Batman Movie is the year's first big superhero film (well...). Most of the live-action actors don't reprise their roles; Will Arnett carries this one as Bruce Wayne and the Bat, Michael Cera lands his dream role of Robin, Zach Galifianakis is the ever-present Joker, and the supporting cast of vocals is distinguished by both comedians and somewhat more serious thespians. The film's poster throws in every major Batman side character and villain except for The Kitchen Sink (The Kitchen Sink is a malevolent plumber whose hands were fused with a pair of radioactive faucets..., etc.; he'll be in the sequel). As a childhood viewer of the 1990s Batman series, seeing some of these characters on-screen at last lit the nodes of memory, with the film promising the likes of Clayface, Blight, Mr. Freeze, and, as prominently as you might expect, Harley Quinn (Jenny Slate). At three years after the original LEGO Movie, it's exactly at the precipice of successful sequels, and LEGO Batman is lucky to come in as only the first follow-up in the wave of LEGO content set to blockade across the screens in the unsuspecting near future.

All that information, and the film's box office still baffles me. So as frank as I'll sound, my question is, I dunno, does anyone take any of this seriously? Should we expect typical caped crusader box office, even if not directly infused by the skill of Christopher Nolan (who, as it turns out, is not involved here)? Can this film overtake Batman & Robin's $107 million total? I could be underestimating LEGO Batman, but I'm still unconvinced that the human race will so readily attend LEGO-made versions of their favorite entertainments, at least so much so as to guarantee blockbuster earnings.

On the other hand, a LEGO version of Fifty Shades Darker would be a must-see; imagine the possibilities.

Opening weekend: $47 million (4-day) / Total gross: $150 million

2. Fifty Shades Darker (February 10th)
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan return for nocturnal festivities two years after their first on-screen date, and launch themselves once again into Valentine's Day weekend, which is one holiday Johnson does not take off (she recently carried the light romantic film How to be Single, which opened on the same weekend in 2016 and was largely S&M-free). Hey, the first film was kinda funny, but it wasn't so bad at all, as far as kinky big-budget romances based on tawdry internet fan-fiction go. You may mock it all you want (as you should), but getting all those chains, whips, and muscle contractors up there on that wall takes a lot of work and dedication.

Other than a change in director (James Foley this time), much of what was true for the first film remains the same, with some expansion of the supporting players; Kim Basinger is nicely cast as one of the male lead's former romantic pursuits. The love story, which seemed during the first film's last frame to have stalled, continues here, with Anastasia Steele still a hopeless if largely untested romantic and Christian Grey retaining his reputation as a stoic practitioner of the dark arts (oh, and by the way, he's still really rich, if it's at all relevant). The trailer plays up a colorful masquerade ball and the film's thriller elements, and seems to point to concurrent threats from the past (his) and the same old hesitations about the future (hers).

The book series is probably a few years off from the height of its popularity, and so the first film's opening ($85 million) and closing ($166 million) will most likely remain high points for the series. While the third film, scheduled for next year, might decline neath $100 million, the ship is sailing ahead this time with only a minimal downsizing of crew. And as for this franchise, too bad the name "Nocturnal Animals" was taken.

Opening weekend: $73 million (4-day) / Total gross: $144 million

3. John Wick: Chapter 2 (February 10th)
The first film was a straightforward action revenge film for dog lovers, even if, after a while, most people probably deduced that John Wick can effectively and efficiently kill armies-worth of career criminals without deigning to obtain a single injury, himself (Denzel Washington had suffered the same condition in The Equalizer, released just weeks before). John Wick seems to have inspired a stronger following, however, because when Wick killed, he not only did so stylishly, but in a film that was directed and acted at a crisp pace, and with a certain lean and logical progression towards its inevitable conclusion. The original grossed $43 million and was wildly popular on DVD, serving as one of the bigger recent roles for Keanu Reeves since the likes of the Matrix sequels and Constantine in the mid 2000s. He's back.

So, as with the LEGO Movie, the first film was clearly the beginning of something new and exciting, but how many more have signed up for the second who weren't on board for the first? Chapter 2 has some fortuitous timing, as a vaguely comedic action film opening on the same weekend wherein Deadpool marked similar territory last year. There's a more international setting (Rome), and a new array of people whose life John Wick will gently bring to an end, although it appears his motive is a bit less personal this time (as in, I'm pretty sure the plot isn't: he gets a new dog, then another bad guy comes around with a pick-axe, and...). It's hard to pinpoint Wick 2's exact slot amid that whole blockbuster second weekend of February; presumably it's coming in third, but if the film delivers the goods in an agreeable manner, it can more or less double its predecessor, just as the on-screen body count itself has likely been multiplied by two (at the very least, of course).

Opening weekend: $39 million (4-day) / Total gross: $83 million

4. Get Out (February 24th)
This is a film title that sounds like either a hostile command or a desire for a self-preservative departure, and might mean to evoke both. It's a sort of Micro-aggressive Stepford Wives mixed with a Guess Who's Coming to a killer robot-cooked Dinner, wherein an African-American man and his caucasian girlfriend travel to an estate in the middle of the remote outdoors; there, they will meet her parents, who seem like nice people, but harbor dark and unwholesome secrets, including, oh, I don't know, what appears to be a large collection of telepathically-enslaved African-American houseservants (this is all topical... right?). In this country house, the people spin their teaspoons a little too slowly and stare much too probingly. The maids and butlers appear to be brainwashed remnants of plantation days. The premise and parts of the trailer seem like comic satire (and indeed, The Stepford Wives was re-made as a comedy in 2004), but at bottom line this looks like just plain horror, and kind of a creepy one at that. Writer-director Jordan Peele (of "Key and...") had some success last year with the epic biopic Keanu, and this should be the month's own Split, opening well opposite the Academy Awards and a handful of less noticeable titles. And it's from Blumhouse, which distributes horror films very well and should have no trouble keeping a winning streak through late February, probably outgrossing everything else this month except for forecast slots #1 through #3.

Opening weekend: $22 million / Total gross: $55 million

5. The Space Between Us (February 3rd)
The title is to be taken absolutely literally, because this is a romance drama with a nastily science fictional bend. The Space Between Us is headlined by Asa Butterfield and Britt Robertson, the latter of whom just starred in A Dog's Purpose, and who in this film again takes in a stray: this one happens to be a teenage boy who was born and raised on some other planet, after his astronaut mother fell pregnant shortly before her departure for the stars (Facebook status: "It's complicated").

So yes, this in the territory of young adult entertainments, as the hero picks his teen age to travel to earth and acclimate to his ancestral planet, discovering all its strange and very embarrassing customs. Butterfield for his part is quite the leading man for his age (19), having headlined a slew of book adaptations going back to 2008 and ending with Tim Burton's most recent film; this is his first major film not inspired by literature. As a nice little romance with touches of comedy (he's startled to see a wild horse, for whatever reason), it will likely attract a high school (or junior high) audience, a group that in 2017 lives in a cinematic landscape without many notable YA or even traditional teen films to entice them to the theatre (for example, The Edge of Seventeen was severely underseen last November, a situation I hope its DVD release rectifies). And as the only other romance in town outside of whatever those two in Fifty Shades are up to, maybe it'll get some Valentine's Day audiences looking for a film with just a little less sadomasochistic self-flagellation.

Opening weekend: $14 million / Total gross: $40 million

6. Rings (February 3rd)
Death by videocassette returns yet again for this third film, with a largely unknown cast of teenagers being targeted by the same Japanese-inspired ghost who, at the height of her fame roughly ten years ago, spent two movies chasing Naomi Watts across the country while being parodied rather astutely in Scary Movie 3. Since, these days, only quaint antiques stores carry VCRs, it appears that the joke is now on her and her murderous videotape; although as with all horror movie villains both ectoplasmic and corporeal, she cannot be killed and never dies, except through low box office attendance for her starring roles (there's a good idea for a horror movie). As with many of my horror sequel predictions, I must offer a history lesson before I can issue a forecast, and especially because the original The Ring (2002) remains one of the most influential horror films of the young century, having left in its wake not one but two particularly annoying sub-genres, 1) the American remake of a Japanese film (which it was), and 2), the PG-13 ghost movie (ditto), two film types that are often but not always combined to create movies that are even more annoying (The Grudge, Pulse, The Eye, etc.).

The cast consists of hitherto unknowns, while Vincent D'Onofrio reprises his usual plot-explaining luminary (ala Sinister). The first Ring took in $129 million, a lofty goal this one will not achieve, but we've seen that thus far the year has a knack for awarding decent openings to PG-13 horror films (though maybe not so much to their R-rather action hybrids, a la Underworld and Resident Evil).

So did America miss Samara, the killer videotape ghost? She has a strange sort of pre-embalmed charisma that's hard to resist. But we must try.

Opening weekend: $15 million / Total gross: $38 million

7. The Great Wall (February 17th)
Matt Damon, Willem Dafoe, Pedro Pascal, Jing Tian, and Andy Lau headline this action fantasy film carrying yet another topical title; in events that are not meant as metaphor, The Great Wall depicts 1000s-set combat between gallant warriors and giant monsters who had previously been held back by the title structure, the Great Wall of China (so that's what they built it for!). The Great Wall poster emblazons the line "What were they trying to keep out?" square opposite Matt Damon's face, producing an imprudent if comical answer to its own question.

The Great Wall cost $150 million and was released in China last year, where it has performed reasonably. Over here, it has been delayed a little and occasionally accused of whitewashing, I guess because neither Matt Damon nor his antecedents were around in 11th century China. Damon carries star power, to be sure (Jason Bourne finished with a more-than-respectable $162 million last summer), but these faux-history historical epics have largely come and gone from both screen and memory in recent years. The vaguely if inelegantly comparable Gods of Egypt totaled at just $31 million at a similar release window last year, while another Asian-set epic, 47 Ronin, was largely overlooked on the domestic front in December 2013, though its star is now seeing much better days as the leading man of film number 3 on this list. So there's hope.

Opening weekend: $13 million / Total gross: $35 million

8. A Cure for Wellness (February 17th)
Director Gore Verbinski may well be known for pricey action-adventures, specifically ones in which Johnny Depp often happens to appear (Pirates, Rango, and the still-underrated Lone Ranger), but he had in fact also launched the American branch of the horror franchise The Ring, and this month returns to provide it with some competition. Dane DeHaan, probably my favorite actor of my generation, is the star; having dabbled in indies in recent years, here he carries his first wide release since Chronicle, which was also kind of a high-concept genre film and which broke him out as a star on a cool Friday night five Februaries ago. A Cure for Wellness is about some kind of sinister clinic holding forth experiments on innocents in the Swiss Alps, with DeHaan playing the investigator who scours the place looking for the twist ending. I don't know if the trailers and posters sell this film quite clearly, and the title is eccentric and opaque, though I will defer to DeHaan's good judgment.

Opening weekend: $13 million / Total gross: $32 million

9. Fist Fight (February 17th)
Fist Fight's plot seems a mild nudge at workplace conflict, with two teachers setting up an epic brawl after school to sort out their differences (wait, what?), though it's always great to see educators who are really passionate about their work. Returning to self-effacing suburbia for a bit, Fist Fight stars Ice Cube in the kind of comedy he could've headlined at just about any time in the last 21 years, post-the day when Friday (1995) made him a perhaps unlikely comedy leading man. Charlie Day, who always did look like he suspects that he's about to get his face pummeled in, broke out in Horrible Bosses but hasn't gravitated toward a leading film role until now, while the supporting cast consists of Tracy Morgan and more than a handful of humorous thespians (Jillian Bell, Kumal Nanjiani) on the verge of breaking out, though here they're only on the verge of the poster. As the month's only real intentional live action comedy, it might score a few points, but barring good reviews, I'm uncertain of its longevity. Still, let the best man win.

Opening weekend: $9 million / Total gross: $28 million

10. Collide (February 24th)
Nicholas Hoult plays an American without a special set of skills who nevertheless finds himself engaged in a sort of younger iteration of Taken, chasing down his girlfriend (Felicity Jones) across the Autobahn highway in Germany (no speed limit there, remember?), while combating whichever group of hard men are earning a minimum wage doing muscle work for the film's villain. Collide may or may not have been pushed back from a 2016 release to capitalize on Jones having just carried Rogue One, which overcame great odds to become the biggest domestic earner of last year (wait, was it? That sucks), as well as having co-starred in Inferno, which remains one of the better Tom Hanks films (okay, that was trolling. There are at least four or five that are more excellent). Anthony Hopkins and Ben Kingsley are the supporting Sirs ("Sir Anthony Hopkins", etc.) who dabble in malfeasance, Hoult seems like a nice guy, "Autobahn" is a very cool word, and the film should probably do okay in the month's later days.

Opening weekend: $10 million / Total gross: $19 million

11. Rock Dog (February 24th)
Rock Dog is a Tibetan mastiff who's musically inclined (but at least he doesn't blog about it). Like The Great Wall, this is a Chinese-American co-production that's already played on the other side of the world. There's a noted voice cast (Luke Wilson, J. K. Simmons, and Lewis Black) and some cute animated bits, and so with this prediction I wish to be flattering but must ultimately be honest.

Opening weekend: $5 million / Total gross: $18 million