Summer 2017 ends on an August of the old school, the kind that wouldn't look out of place in, say, 1992: high-profile blockbusters take a break while horror films, CGI animations, and special effects-free crime dramas duke it out with Stephen King's epic prose, while the Oscar season begins with a scorching look back at American history.
August 2017 Box Office Forecast
By Michael Lynderey
August 3, 2017
1. Detroit (expands August 4th)
Director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal have earned a spot in the upper corners of cinemadom through their work on some of the most acclaimed films of recent years: they put together Zero Dark Thirty, about the hunt for Bin Laden, and the Iraq War-set The Hurt Locker, which won the Best Picture Oscar, and which, hilariously, I still haven't seen (too busy re-watching Transformers 2).
This time, with Detroit, they turn from foreign shores to domestic calamity, focusing on one of the biggest riots in American history, when Detroit was set alight in the summer of 1967 after an instance of police brutality (...this is topical, right?). Much of the film covers a particular incident at the Algiers Motel, where three black teenagers were killed under unseemly circumstances.
The lead police officer and most likely murder suspect is played by Will Poulter, who was very funny as the put-upon teenager in We're the Millers, played a great sourpuss in The Maze Runner, and had been cast as the clown in Stephen King's It, before the studio's removal of the director took Poulter along with it. He's growing into a fine character actor in the British tradition. Newcomer Algee Smith stars, and in other lead roles, Disney lends out two of its franchise mainstays in Anthony Mackie (Falcon in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which will soon consume all of filmdom), and John Boyega, who co-leads the never-ending Friday the 13th Star Wars series and had a neat supporting role in The Circle earlier this year.
Detroit is a film with strong credentials and reviews that live up to that promise - 93% on Rotten Tomatoes, 80 on Metacritic, the works. In releasing it in early August, the studio is presumably aiming for the kind of timely African-American-themed biopic most recently exemplified with The Help (2011), The Butler (2013), and Straight Outta Compton (2015), all released over similar summer frames. It's that last film that perhaps aligns with Detroit most closely, especially in its depiction of relations between police and African-American youth. Advertising makes Detroit seem current, urgent, and necessary (the posters say, "one of the most terrifying secrets in American history" and "it's time we knew", referring to what happens in that motel). Whether the audience is there to bring the box office up to those levels ($100 million++ for all of the above-mentioned films, no exceptions) is another question, but I think the movie can break out strongly over coming weeks. Older audiences will go to relive American history, and younger attendees will eagerly seek parallels with right now. The film should be in the cultural conversation for a while.
Opening weekend: $33 million / Total gross: $99 million
2. Annabelle: Creation (August 11th)
As every horror film fan knows, Annabelle: Creation is a prequel to a prequel and the fourth in The Conjuring series, technically.
To recap, in my tiresome yet necessary manner, the history that brought us here: The Conjuring, set in the 1970s, opened in July 2013 and became one of the biggest straightforward horror films of the decade, grossing $137 million and inspiring fear and terror among its heavily teenage attendees. Even in a supporting role, Annabelle, the film's unfriendly and haunted wooden doll, received such adoration from audiences so as to get her own film, named after, of course, herself, and released even before The Conjuring 2 (which I would rank as the best in the series, by the way).
In that Annabelle prequel, the doll terrorized newlyweds in the heady days of the 1960s, and in this film, set maybe 30 years before, she begins her journey towards malfeasance in the cornfields of the American midwest, in the dark of night. Annabelle wasn't as well-liked as the mainline Conjurings, but it did pretty well for itself in October 2014, opening with $37 million and totaling at $84 mil. So, as my favorite genre dictates, another film was inevitable, and indeed this is the kind of horror entertainment whose poster imagery seems naturally appealing to me: characters move through stark outdoorsy clearings in 1930s America, while the ghosts of their empty mansions rise from the darkness around them.
David F. Sandberg, a Swedish director most recently of Lights Out, takes the reigns here, and presumably knows how to work a good scare. Indeed, this is a film whose box office chances can not be written off, tempting as that could be, because Annabelle: Creation has thus far received glowing reviews, a situation reminiscent of Ouija: Origin of Evil, a prequel film released last fall that proved a solid horror entertainment, far superior to its predecessor in every way. Ouija 2 only halved the box office of its original, but I think Annabelle 2 can keep up pace. Without the hearty approval from Rotten Tomatoes, I could have seen Annabelle: Creation gross half of what I'm predicting. Its nascent quality makes it a contender to win the month.
Opening weekend: $31 million / Total gross: $83 million
3. The Dark Tower (August 4th)
Stephen King has been writing Dark Tower books, more fantasy than horror, since the early 1980s, and their fans have been dreaming of a film version for more or less that long.
The Dark Tower casts Idris Elba as The Gunslinger, while Matthew McConaughey plays The Man in Black (also known as the very bad man). Their careers meet in the middle. By now, Elba is a hardened science fiction veteran, having blazed through Pacific Rom, Thor, and Star Trek, among many others, while McConaughey's 2010s-era resurgence as a respected dramatic actor (I know there's a word for that, but I refuse to use it) has seen him mostly appear in earthbound dramas, not expensive genre fare (other than Interstellar). Tom Taylor plays the protagonist, the teenage boy who finds himself launched into that space that all teenage boys do in films like this, fulfilling their destiny as the decisive focal point between good and evil (no wonder we all developed such high self-esteem). McConaughey insists that a prophecy says the boy will die by his hand, Elba dissents from this position, and they proceed to discharge their firearms at each other until one has been sufficiently killed; though Elba of course has the advantage because he says he is firing with his heart, rather than his hand, his fingers, or any other organs that may be connected to a gunslinger's love of his craft.
The Dark Tower is pleasingly short, at one hour and thirty five minutes, including credits, not including rampant trailers. I have nothing against the film - far from it! - but it's nice to get a nice short genre release after sitting through one summer blockbuster after the other that runs an unholy span of well over two hours (Apes, Valerian, Wonder Woman, Pirates, and on and on); when it comes to length, they all envy the Transformers series, which at least fills its copious running time with pleasing shots of machine-gun toting robots screaming slang English. Since the average duration of science fiction in summer 2017 exceeds even that of your typical Oscar contender, I'm now eagerly waiting the fall just so I won't have to sit through so much length.
Now, let me get something else out of the way: as every serious box office prognosticator knows, the last August not to claim a single $100 million-grossing film to its name was all the way back in 2000. A few Augusts have come close since, often teasingly - 2005, when The 40-Year-Old Virgin ultimately made it there, or 2015, when Fantastic Four disappointed, but Straight Outta Compton then blind-sided all and more than passed the milestone.
August 2016 was Suicide Squad country, so forget that, but it looks to me like 2017 may have the best chance in years for an August clear of a single $100 million movie. Looking at my forecast, you would presume that Detroit has the best chance, but an interesting tidbit is that Detroit is, legally speaking, actually a July film (it opened in limited release last week, so it's off the rolls). That really just leaves Annabelle 2 and The Dark Tower for me to contend with in my 16-year-long quest. En garde, films.
Anyway, that a Dark Tower film has finally been made is a big step in the renaissance of King's works on both film and television, with It on the way, and a King series in stages of casting. I find this agreeable. Fans of the material will attend in sufficient numbers for the film's box office to be respectable, even if it's got a 50-50 chance of losing out to Detroit for the weekend, and an even bigger chance of helping me break that August streak.
Remember this, The Dark Tower: I forecast Augusts with my heart.
Opening weekend: $30 million / Total gross: $68 million
4. The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature (August 11th)
The gang of motley cartoon squirrels, mice, and pugs are back in our lives again, continuing on their endless quest for life-sustaining nutrition. They are led once more by Will Arnett, who has found himself a star of the Lego films, and must by now be a lot of people's favorite Batman (not a bad call). Also starring my friend's favorite actress, Katherine Heigl, The Nut Job 2 has assembled for its voice army the kind of impressive cast of character actors I often see in the credits of CGI monstrosities (I mean that in a good way) - among them Jackie Chan, Bobby Moynihan, Gabriel Iglesias, Peter Stormare, and Maya Rudolph, who was excessively chipper as the permanent smile Emoji just last week.
Here, the gang has been fortuitously placed in a month bereft of a lot of high-profile blockbuster content, especially any aimed at children, and with school still out, the film could draw in reasonable box office week after week well into September. The original The Nut Job used roughly the same game plan to finish with $64 million over the cold early months of 2014, and it's hard to see the sequel escaping its range in either direction - no sudden upwards blasts on the one hand, no drops to rock-bottom on the other. Nutty as you may be, nature likes balance.
Opening weekend: $17 million / Total gross: $63 million
5. Kidnap (August 4th)
At least as advertised, Kidnap comes to us from the realm of thrillers about desperate every-persons who must fight like hell to save a beloved relative - a child or spouse, most times (for what would be the point of taking an unloved cousin or a boorish uncle?). This is the tradition of Breakdown, that excellent 1997 film with Kurt Russell, Kathleen Quinlan, and the late, great, J. T. Walsh, Flightplan, with Jodie Foster very good as a distraught mother, and of course, the film everyone will think of, the one where Liam Neeson bellowed after his daughter across European capitals.
Here, Halle Berry gets a nice starring role. It is her first, believe it or not, since she headlined The Call, a kidnapping-themed thriller that came out of more or less nowhere in 2013 to open with $17 million and finish with $51 million, a job well done, despite a questionable third act. Kidnap might play much the same way, especially as the need for counter-programming gives a lot of August's denizens very unexpected legs, attracting enough viewers looking for a B-movie experience. As just such an option, Kidnap looks reasonable enough, even though the film does have the kind of trailer that leaves you with the sneaking feeling that the child's kidnapping is all a hallucinatory experience confined to Ms. Berry's mind (although I actually don't think that happens). 47 Meters Down, another relatively out-of-nowhere thriller, finished with a solid early 40s take two months ago, and there's no reason Kidnap shouldn't encore.
Opening weekend: $14 million / Total gross: $43 million
6. Logan Lucky (August 18th)
In 2013, with gusto in his heart and sweat on his brow, Steven Soderbergh stood before a weeping nation and announced in no uncertain terms that he had, indeed, now retired from the sacred craft of film directing. Never, he intoned in baritone tones, will a theatrical feature film again bear the words "Directed by Steven Soderbergh". It was goodbye.
Time passed, the tears have dried from some of our eyes, and four years later there is a film coming to town that claims Soderbergh as its director (personally, I don't believe it). This film, this pretender, is Logan Lucky, a crime caper which brings us a group of boors or simpletons or what have you to heist out a Coca-Cola NASCAR race for a lot of money. They have perhaps been inspired by taking in a screening of Zach Galifianakis' Masterminds, which covered basically the same ground last year, except one, this isn't a true story, and two, its reviews are more like 90% Fresh than 34% (although, personally, I think quality is overrated; who needs it?).
Channing Tatum stars, in the Galifianakis role (right?), while Riley Keough is the girl, and Daniel Craig appears in albino makeup (at least I think it is), looking and sounding in no way like the man's most famous character (that's the joke, right?). The team is rounded out by Adam Driver, who has stood out as a character player in many good films but is perhaps best known for his role in the franchise that must not be named (I won't give them free publicity), with bit roles from the likes of Katherine Waterston, Sebastian Stan, and Katie Holmes. It sure seems a lot of people are eager to work with whoever directed this film.
From a box office perspective, I'm most interested in Tatum, the superstar who soared above the earthly plain in 2012, and who then spent more recent years taking on supporting roles in less flashy work, like Foxcatcher, The Hateful Eight, and last year's Hail, Caesar! And after starring in the director's Magic Mike and Side Effects, he's practically a Soderbergh mainstay (that would be relevant had Soderbergh this film, which, of course, he didn't. He's retired).
The title is alliterative (and two movies in the same year named Logan, really?), the marketing aims to bring back memories of Oceans's Eleven or Twelve or even Thirteen, and the film landscape will be bare enough that the film should pick up reasonable grosses even without all it has going for it.
Opening weekend: $12 million / Total gross: $35 million
7. The Hitman's Bodyguard (August 18th)
The title plays around with genre tropes as Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson team for a round of odd couple-buddy antics, one a hardened killer, the other the special agent who must reluctantly keep him alive for the good of the American legal system. Among his 175 film credits (seriously; collect them all!), Jackson has of course been half of an odd couple over and over again, like a nightmare on repeat, as he wakes in the morning, and is given a gun and assigned a new verbal sparring partner he must slowly grow to grudgingly like - from Bruce Willis in Die Hard with a Vengeance to Eugene Levy in The Man to Emilio Estevez in Loaded Weapon 1 all the way back in 1993, and which coincidentally was a parody on the kind of movie Jackson would then spend 20 years and more making.
This film's advertising takes some stabs at spoofing Houston-Costner's The Bodyguard, which would have been, indeed, timely enough for Loaded Weapon days. Gary Oldman chimes in as one of his Russian villains, threatening the heroes with a presumably note-perfect accent as he prepares to collect many tiny statues for his role as Winston Churchill later this year. Elsewhere, Salma Hayek is Jackson's wife, good for a few scenes' entertainment; while co-lead Ryan Reynolds, of course, came in to 2016 a mere mortal but left as one of the biggest movie stars in the cinematic universe (see Deadpool), so it was a little odd that he picked this more conventional action crime comedy film for his next job. No matter. If The Hitman's Bodyguard receives critical and audience acclamation, it may go beyond its genre and play as a solid under-the-radar hit in the waning summer days, in the tradition of Baby Driver or Atomic Blonde. If not, it should still hit the numbers below with relative ease. Bullseye.
Opening weekend: $10 million / Total gross: $31 million
8. Wind River (limited August 4th; wide August 11th)
In the tradition of Val Kilmer in Thunderheart, Wind River casts Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen as investigators who descend on a Native American reservation to solve a local crime - there, as in films such as these, they confront cultural differences, the indifferent weather, and, for act three, the killer (for one night only!). Taylor Sheridan, who wrote Hell or High Water and made his directorial debut with a little-seen horror film, Vile (2011), chose this as his second film, and once again provides the script. The scheduling is intentional, I assume: Hell + High Water was an August release that turned a platform opening into spectacular word-of-mouth, reasonable box office ($27 million total), and Academy Award nominations for Jeff Bridges and Sheridan. Wind River, which premiered at Sundance, also clocks in well on the critical side, at 86%, and the pattern is ready to be replicated.
Speaking from a purely aesthetic point of view, the film looks like a chilly crime picture, with a bleak pounding rain, big hats, parkas, and gloves atop frosted fingers, the kind of atmosphere that visually fits more in the fall (Hell or High Water, with its scalding sun-drenched fields and endless summer landscape, looked more like August). Still, reviews should give it a couple of reasonable weekends, as Wind River is championed by older audiences; aware that the season for genre excess is ending, they'll begin heading back to the cinemas. The coast is clear, ladies and gentlemen.
Opening weekend: $8 million / Total gross: $24 million
9. The Glass Castle (August 11th)
Not to be confused with The Glass House, the Leelee Sobieski thriller that I remember mostly for having an unholy-long 30 minute climax that went on, and on, and on, as Leelee took an awfully long time to finish off her oppressor.
No matter. The bad man is gone, and this time out Brie Larson stars in a biopic of journalist Jeannette Walls, based on her own book, which depicts her life as part of a vagabond clan and through a marriage or two (expect lots of age-changing makeup). Woody Harrelson, fresh off a role as a crazed militia leader in Planet of the Apes and a kindly father figure in The Edge of Seventeen, perhaps combines the two here as Walls' dad. He is joined in parenting duties by Naomi Watts, who I've seen in at least five new films over the last year or so, which must mean she's been flying from film set directly to film set on a loop that refuses to let her go home.
Brie Larson has quickly attained status as a solid dramatic actress in the Jennifer Lawrence tradition, and here she is directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, who helmed her in the well-made indie film Short Term 12. As a late-summer drama, The Glass Castle should play well relative to modest expectations, and the book has its fans.
Opening weekend: $8 million / Total gross: $24 million
10. Leap! (August 25th)
Also known as Ballerina, a title that strikes me as nowhere near enthusiastic. This is a film from France (and Canada), about France, as a girl who dreams of a career in proper dancing and her inventor friend partake in the wonder of Paris of the 1880s, among other 19th century adventures. Gustave Eiffel will appear, Baguettes will be served, and eaten, and inauthentic French accents may be heard.
The film has been bouncing around release dates and foreign countries for a while now, and has collected some $57 million and change along the way (hey, wait, that's actually really impressive!). It is finally slated to land here at the end of August. The original voice lead, the one heard by European ears, was the infallible Dane DeHaan (whose film, Tulip Fever, is receiving a limited release by the same studio, apparently on the same day). For Ballerina's American version, however, he has been replaced by Nat Wolff, presumably because DeHaan's Pennsylvania accent is too thick for most Americans. Elle Fanning retains the voice of the female lead, though, and a gallery of CGI character actors is present, led by Mel Brooks and Kate McKinnon, with Carly Rae Jepsen contributing a line here or a musical number there.
It's a well-reviewed film - 79% - but it may end up as one of those CGI mainstays like Valiant, rolled out in August to fill a release schedule that often feeds on four titles per weekend. August 25th seems to have almost no other major film, so you can see that Ballerina is sorely needed.
Opening weekend: $4 million / Total gross: $9 million