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

Tale as old as time.

2017 pauses with the horror movies for a while and delivers the kind of blockbuster March whose film slate would not look out of place in the summer month of your choice (except for August, of course). March's leading films will be a moody and predictably well-reviewed superhero film, two remakes that could plausibly be titled Beauty and the Beast, and a film I'll guiltily admit is my most anticipated television show adaptation yet.

1. Beauty and the Beast (March 17th)

Tim Burton's 2010 live-action remake of Alice in Wonderland came in as one of the heralds of the regrettable 3D movie phase, and left as the founding father of another, perhaps even more profitable sub-genre: the live-action remaking of the entire pantheon of Disney's animated fairytale classics, an idea so obvious that everyone except for Disney had been doing it for years. As rival studios got out of the way (the 2012 Snow White films were among the last to try), Disney has unleashed Oz the Great and Powerful ($234 million), Maleficent ($241 million), Cinderella ($201 million), and in particular The Jungle Book ($364 million, wow!). The Little Mermaid and Dumbo are also on their way.

This year's chapter is a live-action filming of the wildly successful 1991 animated film Beauty and the Beast, which grossed $218 million and became the first animation to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture (back under the old, good, system of a maximum five Best Pic nominees per year).

Belle is somewhat predictably played by Emma Watson, in what will surely be her biggest film since the Harry Potter series (and, I'm afraid, Potter fans, this item stands a real chance of outgrossing each and every eight of them). She was also good in 2012's The Perks of Being a Wallflower, whose creator, Stephen Chbosky, she has retained here as a co-writer. As with most previous live-action Disney adaptations, the set design and special effects look like an excellent evocation of the animated draft (Jungle Book just won the VFX Oscar), while the collection of acting talent is impeccable if not particularly radical: the cast is populated with leading men (Dan Stevens, as, temporarily, Beast, and Luke Evans as the beastly Gaston), character actors (Ian McKellan, Stanley Tucci, Josh Gad), and those whom cinema has successfully utilized as both (Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor). Yes, the beast's household ornaments and condiments will talk again, joke again, sing again (Broadway's Audra McDonald co-stars, and Gad is musically-inclined), and the direction is by Bill Condon, who transitioned from lush Oscar-worthy biopics like Gods and Monsters, Kinsey, and Dreamgirls into the tail end of the Twilight series, and now is back again somewhere on the sphere between art and commerce (which is where we should all wish ourselves to be).

A friend of mine has made a point of predicting for about a year now that this Beauty and the Beast is a lock to gross three hundred million dollars. Since I have very little interest in the film myself to think too much about it, I'll gladly defer to his judgment. I get the sense that, for whatever reason, people really want to see this movie (perhaps the material carries the same resonance for them that Power Rangers holds for me?); and what's going to stop them, especially on a warm late-March afternoon?

Opening weekend: $122 million / Total gross: $341 million

2. Kong: Skull Island (March 10th)

The month's other tale of beauty and the beast comes headlined by Brie Larson, here starring in the kind of blockbuster role actresses often attach to after an Oscar nomination or win (the latter, in her case, for 2015's still-under-seen Room). Here she's a photographer thrust into a 1970s expedition to a far-off land lost to time and maps; there, corporate henchmen are picked off by an increasingly-creative roster of fantastic beasts, while Larson attracts the attentions of both of the film's male leads: a Vietnam veteran and British military captain (Tom Hiddleston), and a giant, snarling, if still fairly handsome, gorilla who will again inspire upon himself the nickname King Kong, although the film's title only gives him half the attention.

This reboot or redo cost a lot of money ($190 million, which is a good thing, by the way! don't knock it). It benefits from arriving divorced from the kind of high expectations that perhaps plagued previous remakes, like the 1976 Jessica Lange/Jeff Bridges version, or Peter Jackson's excellent 2005 reiteration, which was released just two years after his Lord of the Rings triumph. The setting has 1970s references (civil unrest) and metaphors (war), if you're still into that kind of thing, and there are some neat character actor turns from John C. Reilly, John Goodman, the ever-cool Samuel L. Jackson, and another of my favorite millennial actors, the effervescent Thomas Mann. The director, Jordan Vogt-Roberts, is the kind of Sundance veteran now often plucked from their annual meet at the snowy mountains of Utah to direct high-price blockbuster films; his only previous feature, The Kings of Summer (2013), was entertaining if light-headed, but Kong's trailer indicates an aptitude for monster action. Larson is vaguely a Lange lookalike, while Hiddleston will help carry what will presumably be his first blockbuster role since persistently playing the villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe for three years straight.

In a month a little less crowded with blockbuster hordes, I could have seen Kong climb even higher on this chart, but he should still come in somewhere along the lines of the 2014 Godzilla. In fact, Kong and 'zilla may fight again, with Legendary Pictures planning to unleash many more big creature features, engaging the world's most beloved giant monsters in various combinations of battle (and when it comes to fighting oversized beasts, where are the Power Rangers when you need them? Oh, at #7 on this list).

Opening weekend: $74 million / Total gross: $210 million

3. Logan (March 3rd)

Perhaps the most popular X-Man returns for his third solo film (and, uh, his 56th overall big-screen appearance), bringing with him the Wolverine hallmarks of go-it-alone, don't-mess-with-me, angry violence, all set in a desolate desert landscape. The plot seems simple enough, a reprise of the old saw about the gruff, silent, child-hating man of action forced into killing lots and lots of anonymous henchmen to protect the life of a young girl accidentally set into his care (Jason Statham carried out that story very effectively in Safe, 2012, and of course Natalie Portman got her start on the waif-end of this equation in 1994). Jackman is back for what may or may not (therefore, may not) be the last time as Wolverine, Patrick Stewart's resurrected (or never dead) Professor X has the humanizing mentor/task-master role ("please kill fewer people", etc.), and Boyd Holbrook is the pouty leader of the opposition, a man who despite his lanky frame will nevertheless be the last villain standing. This is all workmanlike, but the direction is by James Mangold (of Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma, and the second Wolverine film), the plot digs deep into themes (regrets, of which Wolverine has few, and aging, which he avoids), and the reviews are ratcheting up a luminous Rotten Tomatoes score. In short, this is the kind of highly-anticipated, critically-approved genre film that should easily land on the high end of expectations (including mine), and probably have no trouble becoming the month's third $200 million grosser. The almost comically oversized box office from Wolverine's old drinking buddy Deadpool may help dish out some coattails.

In terms of tone, Logan aims to be even more of a manly, take-no-prisoners entry than his Japan-based The Wolverine (2013), which was possibly the best X-Men film, and which itself attempted to out-man the less fortunate X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009). Not that Wolverine hasn't always been kind of a shady character: I've long been confused by what the character is allowed to get away with - this is a man who fatally clawed his way through what appeared to be U.S. government soldiers, with no moral or legal consequences, in at least two X-Men films (X2 and X-Men: Apocalypse).

This, Logan's most nihilistic-seeming outing yet, has indeed received an R rating, which if anything will help its numbers, especially given the merciless pounding that the hard-R Deadpool gave the box office last year (and he didn't even call the next morning!). On a personal note, the film's running time clocks in at an unholy two hours and 20 minutes, part of a disturbing and very scary recent trend for length amongst genre films, which have historically been pretty short (A Cure for Wellness, which I enjoyed, had even more running time than Logan; one of the longest horror films I've seen!).

Opening weekend: $77 million / Total gross: $210 million

4. The Boss Baby (March 31st)

From DreamWorks SKG and Tom McGrath, helmer of Megamind and the Madagascar films, The Boss Baby is a very high-concept CGI animation, this one about a blond, intemperate toddler/CEO who must juggle an awful lot of responsibilities for such a young age, regaining the affection of his parents while maintaining control of his corporation (I envision lots of scenes of babies screaming at each other and jumping up and down at the New York stock exchange). The Boss Baby stars Alec Baldwin as the title creature, and unlike some of the actor's recent work, the film aims not for political satire but as a gentle animated film for little children, perhaps with a moral lesson at its core. Indeed, by the time it opens in late March, it'll be perhaps the first true kids' movie in many a week, though the young ones' attention will likely be riveted by the likes of Power Rangers, Beauty and the Beast, and even Mr. Kong. Still, The Boss Baby looks cute enough to play as a respectable March CGI entry, along the lines of Meet the Robinsons or the under-seen Mr. Peabody & Sherman, and it may juggle its way to $100 million through the quieter afternoons of April.

Opening weekend: $32 million / Total gross: $99 million

5. Ghost in the Shell (March 31st)

Not to be confused with the underrated 1993 computer horror film Ghost in the Machine (if I can get a recommendation in here), this film sees Scarlett Johansson aim to continue a hot streak of action stardom, initiated and fulfilled by her performances in multiple Captain America films, and in Luc Besson's truly bizarre and very profitable Lucy. Here, she's stuck in a futuristic art-deco nightmare, a live-action remake of the 1989 Japanese manga series about a cyborg-enhanced policewoman fighting back the future in mid twenty first century Japan. Ghost in the Shell is helmed by Rupert Sanders, who previously directed the lush and effective Snow White and the Huntsman (2012), while Johansson is joined by the likes of Juliette Binoche, Takeshi Kitano, and Michael Pitt, who give the film an artier flair than expected (they also leave it as a referendum on Johansson's drawing power in action roles). Visually striking and hitting on all the tropes of the material (black leather, cyberpunk post-industrial dystopia, guns blasting away at the malcontented), fans of the material must be thrilled at a big-screen revisit, and Ghost in the Shell should get their benefit of the doubt at least through its opening weekend.

Opening weekend: $27 million / Total gross: $67 million

6. Life (March 24th)

Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, and Ryan Reynolds star in this science fiction thriller, which comes to town looking like a sort of comfortable mix of Gravity and Alien, with the stars as astronauts whose space station receives an unwelcome extra-terrestrial visitor ("the creature wasn't nice"), a foreign being who evidently wishes to organize and execute an impromptu sightseeing tour of Earth; this, they must prevent. Gyllenhaal and Reynolds are riding pretty high right now (the former on moody awards-friendly material, the latter as everyone's least favorite superhero), while Ferguson's role in Mission: Impossible 5 still stands strong in memory. The director is Daniel Espinosa, previously of Sweden's Easy Money and the U.S.'s Safe House, but absent more information, I can best peg this as a kind of mid-level science fiction spring thriller, a la Gyllenhaal's own Source Code, and perhaps one that lands in somewhere north of 50 million dollars. Therefore, assuming it's interested, Eddie Murphy's prison comedy Life (1999; $63 million total) may well keep its status as the highest-grossing film with this title.

Opening weekend: $20 million / Total gross: $61 million

7. Power Rangers (March 24th)

Following the television series of the same name, five more teenagers are plucked from their unassuming and worry-free California lifestyle to battle kvetching intergalactic villains. These are bad guys who go for the same old world-domination ploy every week, almost never changing their strategy or learning their lesson (and since the giant alien monsters they sent down to earth inevitably attacked no place else but the same small California town where the rangers lived, it's a wonder no one ever asked them to move).

Largely unknown actors take up the ranger mantles, while Bryan Cranston of all people plays the disembodied essence of their mentor, Zordon. The villain is Rita Repulsa, from Season 1, and the trailer makes it clear that the rangers' giant robots (zords) will again do battle with scaly monsters over surprisingly endless cityscapes (like I said, small town, right?). The film seems to strike a more serious tone, losing some of the goofy humor that characterized the show and its two film spin-offs (the first, in 1995, did fairly at $38 million; the second, in 1997, disappeared with a mere $8 mil).

As a devoted childhood viewer of the 1990s Power Rangers show, this is a film reboot that I must admit I hope is a big hit, if only because there are so many great Power Rangers villains who could be adapted to the big screen - from the hefty mid-Atlantic-accented King Mondo, ruler of the Machine Empire, to the elegantly skeletal Rito Revolto, and of course, Rita's father, Master Vile (she calls out to him, "Papa can you hear me?", a Yentl reference I'm embarrassed to admit I didn't get in 1996). For me, Power Rangers was all about the bad guys.
And that brings us to this film's incarnation of Rita Repulsa: Elizabeth Banks is, I must object, not a good fit for Rita, traditionally depicted as a late middle-aged, non-statuesque, raspy-voiced, and ill-tempered woman (who also happens to be Asian). Banks is none of those things. Aside from miscasting Rita, this choice is a waste of a perfectly good Banks, who is in fact a great fit for one of the series' later villains, space pirate Divatox (flanked on a hilltop by an army of monsters supportively cheering her name, Divatox opens the proceedings by exclaiming, "yes, I am worth every moment of this!" - a line I can easily imagine Banks saying, as I can a current world leader). Perhaps part of a trend, casting Banks as Rita is somewhere on the wavelength of Marisa Tomei's placement as Aunt May in the upcoming Spider-Man film (to be honest, I always saw Aunt May as more of a Jennifer Lawrence or Kate Upton type myself; maybe Elle Fanning if they wanted to go a little younger).

So, putting fan service aside, Power Rangers comes in at the latter half of a very loud and flashy special effects blockbuster month. That placement may not help the film, but if it's good, I think it can find its audience.

Opening weekend: $24 million / Total gross: $55 million

8. The Belko Experiment (March 17th)

The month's sole real horror film is this indie effort that premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last September to fair reviews, and which presents us with some 80 office workers locked in together and ordered to participate in the mass murder of each other, for a reason that I am sure will turn out to make perfect sense. So, The Belko Experiment is part Hunger Games, part the future of humanity, and is directed by Greg McLean, previously of Wolf Creek (what a nasty film), and written by James Gunn, director of these rascally Guardians of the Galaxy movies; we can thus assume that the film combines the cutthroat genre sensibility of the former with the humor of the latter, if such merging is possible. There's a lot of underground buzz for this title, and reviews are strong enough to lead me to think the film will easily beat most expectations, even if its over performance is unlikely to be noticed among the month's bigger-charting arrivals.

By the way, who is Belko and why is he doing this to us?

Opening weekend: $16 million / Total gross: $42 million

9. The Shack (March 3rd)

In this faith-based film, the father of a murdered teenage girl finds redemption and hope in a divinely-inspired clearing in the middle of the Oregon wilderness, which while he wasn't looking has become populated by a group of mysterious people who seem to carry with them a divine purpose. The Shack features Octavia Spencer as the almighty (an act of casting which, I think, was a matter of time), while the male lead is Sam Worthington; this is an actor who once starred in some of the biggest movies in the world, and now enjoys a comeback in more earthy (well...) fare, following up his neat supporting role in Hacksaw Ridge with something a little quieter and less apocalyptic this time. The Shack is based on William P. Young's 2007 novel, which was presumably well-read enough to inspire this adaptation. Its fans, and some of those curious, ought to give the film a fair opening weekend, and a reasonable box office total after a few weeks at the second rung of the charts.

Opening weekend: $8 million / Total gross: $25 million

10. Before I Fall (March 3rd)

Zoey Deutch makes her well-deserved starring debut after years of essaying the love interest to everyone from James Franco to Blake Jenner to Zac Efron, including a co-starring role in the arguably awful yet sneakily-enjoyable Dirty Grandpa, which despite all common sense I still recommend. Here, she essentially reprises the Bill Murray role from Groundhog Day, playing a teenager who relives the same day over and over ad nauseum, without as much comedy but with the same stab at profundity about the meaning of life (whaddaya know, even at that age!). For a teen thriller (adapted from a 2010 novel), the film has certainly received solid reviews, and the picture must be cerebral and astute enough to have played at Sundance a few weeks ago. In fact, Before I Fall comes in almost like a third peg after the hit thrillers Split and Get Out, even if its ambitions are probably more modest. It should open okay, but let's give it some legs.

Opening weekend: $7 million / Total gross: $22 million

11. CHiPs (March 24th)

Curiously opening on the same day as another television adaptation (those gallant Power Rangers), CHiPs is the film version of a 1970s series that is mostly known to me from Chris Pine's Wikipedia biography (his father Robert Pine was a co-star). This big-screen CHiPs, like its series inspiration, is presumably a fairly straightforward buddy police comedy about an unavoidably mismatched pair of highway patrol officers in Southern California, played in the 1970s by Erik Estrada and Larry Wilcox, and in the 2010s by Michael Peña and Dax Shepard. Here, they're up against Vincent D'Onofrio as the snarling villain on the one hand, and the nonchalant indifference of a crowded March slate on the other. Shepard previously directed Hit and Run (2012), a fitfully entertaining comedy chase film, and takes the director reigns on this one as well, casting as his co-stars Adam Brody, Wilmer Valderrama, Kristen Bell (as Shepard's character's wife...), and Jane Kaczmarek as the captain, who will demand her charges' badges and guns sooner than later. I wish them all well.

Opening weekend: $5 million / Total gross: $15 million