This isn't one of those super-crowded Septembers. We get four new weekends and ten wide releases, nice and simple, with roughly one big or aspirational film per week. As my favorite holiday approaches, horror films and their offspring are on the menu again, plentifully. And while the Oscar season launches elsewhere, 2018 should add another to a long line of recent Septembers bereft of any real Oscar nominations. Eh. We don't want 'em.
September 2018 Box Office Forecast
By Michael Lynderey
September 8, 2018
1. Smallfoot (September 28th)
CGI hits the bigfoot legend. The trailer plot borrows liberally if unremarkably from Adam Sandler's Hotel Transylvania, as a closed-off society of monsters, legendary and frightening for humans but run-of-the-mill to themselves, are confronted with the arrival of a real monster: a human tourist who stumbles into their midst and upends their modest lifestyle (given that we are dealing with yeti here, rather than sexy vampires, monster-human cross-romance will not be as easy as in the Sandler film).
Zendaya and Channing Tatum are the vocal starpower, potentially giving the actress her third $100m-earning film in two years (see Spider-Man and The Greatest Showman for more information) and Tatum his first since, oh, Kingsman last year, but 2014 before that. It's been too long. James Corden, LeBron James, and Danny DeVito, among others, are the character voices, seemingly cast out of a hat (though it's a great hat).
Smallfoot also borrows Hotel Transylvania's release date of late September, a few weeks into back-to-school season and a few more before Hallowe'en comes around, all the better for five weekends of holiday-inspired attendance (though the connection between pale white snow creatures living in a bleak winter landscape, and the orange-hued horror holiday, is more tenuous than the one between Transylvania's monsters and leafy October days. Is a Christmas release date more seasonally appropriate? Do the yeti know Santa?)
I couldn't possibly venture to guess if the movie's any good, though most big CGI animated films receive positive reviews, even in this otherwise-thoroughly advanced day and age. So let us assume Smallfoot is good enough to follow the relatively modest numerical blueprint I lay out for it below, and possibly quite more good enough to exceed those numbers.
Opening weekend: $28 million / Total gross: $110 million
2. The Nun (September 7th)
She's back. Did you miss her?
The story up to now. The Conjuring series began with an exceedingly well-reviewed and buzzy film about a house beset by inhospitable demons (none of the villains in these films are ghosts, sadly). Despite an unnecessary if trendy exorcism clogging most its climactic scenes, the film rode word-of-mouth to a $137 million finish, then the rare traditional horror film to hit three digits, and then some. A sequel did well enough in 2016 ($102m), but the real story goes beyond the roman numerals. That creepy doll Annabelle from the first film got her own movie, and then another, and by the time I chanced to be writing this only one film in this whole franchised-out bunch has been denied a $100m sum by the public (not to snitch, but it was Annabelle 1).
That brings us to now, for among The Conjuring 2's litany of trans-atlantic horrors (the film was set in England) was a particularly ghastly-looking demonic being that masterminded all malfeasance across the whole film, and garbed itself most frequently under the unsuspecting white sheets of a nun's wardrobe (every other outfit in the Horror Store having been sold out). This hellish apparition was pretty creepy, and, likely, she works for scale, so The Nun was grin-lit as a stand alone film in no time, and has reared itself up so much so that it seems poised to outgross even that Conjuring sequel from whence it came: The Nun is set to open with $40 million or thereabouts, if for no particular reason than the fact that, quietly, The Conjuring has become the definitive horror franchise of the 2010s, as Saw was to the 2000s and Scream to the 1990s. (and aside from the additional + inevitable sequels in various states of impending attack - The Conjuring 3, Annabelle 3, The Nun 2 - a Crooked Man spin-off from the second film is also in the works, not to be confused with August's ill-fated and much-begrudged upon Slender Man adaptation).
In this new nun film, supernatural goings on are rampant in the habit. They must be investigated. Academy Award-nominee Demián Bichir is a priest and Taissa Farmiga is a young nun, who search their cursed abode for the title character, the demonic she-bat from hell disguised in the white habits who wreaks havoc on the locals, before, chronologically speaking, putting her affairs in order and moving on to the other Farmiga, Vera, in The Conjuring 2. (don't worry, Farmiga-hating demons of hell. No other members of the family are into acting. Yet.).
Yes, that means The Nun is a prequel. None of the Conjuring films have been set particularly near present day, but the ones with Vera Farmiga were placed in the 1970s, and so the spin-off prequels have had to age farther and farther into the past (in a Benjamin Button way), giving period horror films an unintentional if joyous resurgence. The Nun is pock-marked at 1952, curiously right around the timeframe of another of this month's films, The House with a Clock in Its Walls. For better and worse, this is where the similarities end.
Opening weekend: $38 million / Total gross: $100 million
3. The Predator (September 14th)
The Predator, a noble beast who elegantly shoots and hacks away at worthwhile targets or general dissenters, has again washed up on our galactic shores.
Jacob Tremblay plays a teenage computer whiz whose late-night tinkering with the logistical interwebs may result in the destruction of the whole world (... in what is presumably a play on Mark Zuckerberg's life). No, really, acting purely by accident and with no ill intent (or at least that's what he told his mother), Tremblay launches a signal into space, summoning a Predator back to earth and soliciting another sequel upon his franchise.
Predator was a smooth and entertaining Arnold Schwarzenegger film in 1987, and inspired Predator 2, a 1990 follow-up that painted a plausible if disjointed canvas of an anarchic future Los Angeles. Like every bad dream, The Predator never really went away, jogging back into the spotlight in a pair of Alien Vs. Predator buddy films, where he displayed some marvelous chemistry with those other survivors of the special effects department (though, as I must point out, the Predator is himself an alien, and the Aliens in those films have a rather predatory nature, making the whole title somewhat of a nightmare of nouns).
2010's film Predators divorced itself from the chest-bursters to deliver a sequel focused more on action and less on franchise continuity, with a cast of well-chosen stars and character actors playing killers of one sort or another, trapped by the predators on a far-off planet.
The Predator 2018 seems to have much of the same idea - it assembles a cast known to exude and/or suggest cool, the kind of people who look like they really might be good at Predator-fighting if such creature were to arrive (I mean, not "if," but, "when"): Olivia Munn, Sterling K. Brown, Boyd Holbrook, Jake Busey. All enter, few leave.
A big name boost this time is the direction, by Shane Black, who helped script-doctor the original Predator, and who has been behind any number of iconic action films of the 1980s and subsequent to (Lethal Weapon and The Last Boy Scout then, The Nice Guys now). He co-writes with Fred Dekker, whose film Night of the Creeps (1986) I've vowed always to name-check. Now, Black is known as a devotee of fast-paced violence and humour, and I assume The Predator's R rating will be well-earned. A strong opening weekend is not in question. But how well the film will play through the rest of September is a final ruling left only to the film's reviewers.
Opening weekend: $35 million / Total gross: $82 million
4. Night School (September 28th)
This film should presumably not be confused with the 1981 slasher movie Night School, which received a mildly wide release on September 18 of that year and made a few million for its troubles. It is a movie that even I do not really recommend, wholeheartedly. Although...
Sadly, 2018 Night School promises far less gore: Kevin Hart is a grown man forced by some plot altercations to take evening classes in a high school, where he contends with overtly adventurous co-learners as well as his non-traditional educator, a tough-as-nails teacher, thoroughly played by Tiffany Haddish.
Hart comes into this enterprise after arguably the most successful two years of his career, with Central Intelligence crossing $100m and Jumanji getting through many hundreds of millions worth of milestones more (yes, The Rock ''could'' be given some credit for co-starring in both, but he didn't drag Hart along on Rampage and Skyscraper this year, and look what happened?).
For her part, Haddish burst brightly onto the world stage with Girls Trip last year, and if you missed that film, you almost don't have to worry - she's been cast in so many more that she'd be hard to miss. Hart and Haddish are funny and take over any room, but a good Night School still needs a collection of supporting humourists, and that it has, with Rob Riggle, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Loretta Devine, and a student who takes his classes online, through a security camera in a prison cell (you never stop learning).
Night School is released on September 28, about a month after school really does start and roughly when it ''should'' be starting (August schooling is an abomination, opposed by all of good character, by the way).
So, if we must again ask, "is our children learning?" Night School promises that they are.
Opening weekend: $27 million / Total gross: $77 million
5. The House with a Clock in Its Walls (September 21st)
Getting it some instant points, The House with a Clock on Its Walls has crafted the very best film poster of 2018, an image of a bespectacled young boy, seen from the back, as he peers through the gate of an old gothic mansion, pillars on side, hefty clock ensconced in its center, glowing yellow windows sticking about, and Hallowe'en pumpkins blazingly observing the proceedings, arranged on both sides of the entrance grounds. Other film fans may follow the careers of high-minded directors or acclaimed awards season phenomenae. I don't. That image on the poster is what I go to the movies for.
Though, really, it does have too many pumpkins. Just a few.
The House with a Clock in Its Walls, written by John Bellairs in 1973, was the first of twelve novels featuring cautious Lewis Barnavelt, a young boy who persistently finds himself fighting off supernatural menace of all sort (the last of the books, so far, was published in 2008. 45 years had passed, and Lewis is still more or less a young teen. Such is time).
Barnavelt is played by Owen Vaccaro, previously Will Ferrell's quiet stepson in the Daddy's Home films, and here starring in a project that by definition could only be an improvement (I hate to rain on anyone's spirit, but the last half hour of Daddy's Home 2 may have been the single most unbearable treacle of holiday-themed entertainment I've ever seen. Why, Mr. Cena, why?).
The House with a Clock in Its Walls is set in 1953, as Vaccaro's orphan enters the mystery residence, inhabited by relatives, and containing a long-buried family secret that's begging to be solved. Jack Black and Cate Blanchett, adorned with Hallowe'entime paraphernalia, occupy the Vincent Price role as eccentric elders who must assist or confuse the lead character upon his quest. Blanchett is everywhere, but Black particularly may be an asset, having emerged as a perhaps-unexpected if retrospectively obvious star of children's films, beginning with Kung Fu Panda and Nacho Libre and transitioning through assorted Goosebumps and Jumanji films, some of them still upcoming. In any case, the house is the star, rightly.
The House with a Clock in Its Walls carries an unusual curveball in having had itself directed by Eli Roth, a man previously found cackling with hellish glee behind the camera of any number of cruel and unusual mid 2000s horror films about the violent elimination of young people (The Green Inferno, a mild satire about Amazonian cannibals dining on American college students, happens to be my favourite. Your mileage may vary).
So for Roth, Clock is a change of pace. It ought to be his biggest film. It's in season.
Opening weekend: $20 million / Total gross: $65 million
6. A Simple Favor (September 14th)
This is a thriller. Blake Lively is a woman living the ideal life and Anna Kendrick's a blogger who takes it upon herself to investigate the former's carefully concealed secrets, after Lively undergoes a possibly not-too-ideal disappearance. A 2017 novel of the same title inspired all this madness.
The setup is not particularly humorous, but the direction is by one Paul Feig, who has a well-earned reputation as a maker of female-led comedies (yes, Bridesmaids, The Heat, the works), and here turns to honest suspense. In his defense, some of his films have had people getting shot, often all the way into dead, so perhaps he does have some training ground (a thrill and a laugh play on the same muscles).
More than carrying her weight, Lively has moved on from television roles and Green Lantern lore to quietly build herself up as a star of mid-level dramas and thrillers prominently bearing her name on the marquee, in the tradition of 1930s actresses, most especially with The Shallows ($55m total), The Age of Adaline ($42m), and why not Savages ($47m), too. On the reverse, her partner in crime Kendrick is nothing if not confusingly if pleasantly inconsistent, having moved wildly between $100m-grossing musicals and tiny independent films produced continuously at an alarming, rapid pace. She seems like a good foil.
The supporting cast list is long, but its most prominent resident is Henry Golding, the lead Nick Young of Crazy Rich Asians, who is here Lively's husband, perhaps adding some topically-cast interest from a fellow film still merrily raking it in at the box office (and hey, maybe he's the killer, too. That's good for some range).
Mum's the word on the critics, but I think, in the Lively tradition, the film may open modestly and drop only subtly in the early fall weeks ahead. It's got time.
Opening weekend: $11 million / Total gross: $38 million
7. Peppermint (September 7th)
An R-rated action film is always welcome, even if a peppermint really is a gentle flower, one that blooms softly skywards as Jennifer Garner does on the film's poster (I mean, literally, visually-speaking).
Here, Garner plays a quiet and doting family woman and successful mother whose life is probably depicted by the film's opening scenes as too perfect to continue as such. Indeed, this is the case: her family die for someone else's sins, I guess; the killers mostly escape capture; and Garner retreats into quiet hell, from wherce she plans her revenge.
Her decision: she takes on the role usually adapted by aged male action stars, a highly-trained and skillful life-ender who pursues the ones responsible for her current situation; Garner must find all the right people, and then she must kill them (after which she can retire from vigilantism content, free to remarry and reproduce again).
The villains of the piece are largely Mexican gangsters of one sort or the other (...this is topical, right?). Garner is directed by Pierre Morel, the French helmer of Taken, the modern-day cheerleader of the family revenge genre, and as such a man with experience in these dark arts.
Peppermint opens on the first weekend of September, historically bereft of cinematic interest but lately reignited as a spot for some surprise openings by audience-pleasing if nasty horror films (It last year, The Nun forthwith). Peppermint's place in this new world order is unclear. It is receiving reviews that are increasingly uncharitable, but a woman with a gun crossing names off a list always sounds like a good idea, especially with the star of Alias and 13 Going on 30 at the right end of the barrel.
Opening weekend: $12 million / Total gross: $34 million
8. Life Itself (September 21st)
Say whatever else you will about it, Life Itself freely and sadly borrows away the name of the great 2014 documentary about my favourite writer, the distinctly masterful film critic Roger Ebert. As such, I must insist that this film will always only be the second most associated with its title.
It's a drama crossing generations, relationships, and biological connections, too difficult to explain here or understand at all, but involving at least two continents and seven actors (aside from the U.S., part of "Life" is set in Spain).
With Life Itself, Oscar Isaac gets another leading role, Olivia Wilde's his love interest, Olivia Cooke (of Ready Player One) is a key character, and the Spanish-language side of things is led across the pond by Antonio Banderas. Plot twists should abound and unexpected connections will be established, as is the forte of director Dan Fogelman, who was a writer on any number of light comedy films (everything from Cars to The Guilt Trip), before really striking it big on television, with This Is Us - a show I know exists mostly because it always wins something before they hand out all the film prizes at the Golden Globes, the reason I'm really watching those awards (sorry). The well-reviewed Danny Collins (2015), with Al Pacino, was Fogelman's first film as director, Life Itself is his second, and the comparisons with his television work will be as unavoidable as they are favorable to its commercial prospects.
Opening weekend: $14 million / Total gross: $30 million
9. Hell Fest (September 28th)
Here to fully begin the transition into the horror film season, Hell Fest is an entry in a genre that most critics have by now conceded, however reluctantly, is the greatest subset of moviemaking ever - the slasher film!
Perhaps, along with its cohort, October's treasonously ret-connish Halloween sequel, we're seeing this time-honoured tradition back in style for horror.
In the film, a group of unsuspecting (even after all these years) teenagers attend a seasonal carnival and its ghoulish attractions, where they are stalked and ended by an escaped serial killer who has the goshdarn good luck to perfectly blend in to his costumed surroundings (this, of course, is a useful life tip: if you're a mental patient who's dying to flee incarceration, October is always the best time).
The cast is mostly unknown (Bex Taylor-Klaus has some experience running from the camera in Scream on TV), the plotting is pleasingly simple, a supporting cast member exudes a hint of nostalgia (Tony Todd, formerly and forever known as Candyman, is on the payroll), and the film will presumably offer atmospheric horror tropes if not much else. For people who rightfully acknowledge slasher cinema as indeed the greatest that filmdom has ever produced, Hell Fest is a must see. And in the interest of reviving this most noble art, Hell Fest must gross untold hundreds of millions of dollars. Not just 21.
Opening weekend: $8 million / Total gross: $21 million
10. White Boy Rick (September 14th)
Newcomer Richie Merritt (whose IMDB filmography really does number at just one) stars as Richard Wershe, a real life fifteen year old boy who somehow coaxed his way into the gang lifestyle of urban Michigan in the mid 1980s, and who eventually found himself occupying that increasingly legally ambiguous location between government informant and genuine drug dealer. This is a designation that didn't work out so well for the likes of Barry Seal and Manuel Noriega, nor, as it so happens, for Wershe himself (he spent 30 years in incarceration for his 1980s lifestyle, and was finally out last year. This is... kind of harsh).
Matthew McConaughey plays the Wershe father, bestraddling a mustache in trademark style. He should chew up some scenery opposite Jennifer Jason Leigh, as Richard's legal handler, and Bruce Dern and Piper Laurie as the Wershe grandparents, who I hope were suitably horrified. The film's trailer merrily advertises young master Wershe as the country's youngest drug dealer, hustler, and pimp, which I hope is factually correct even if I suspect is sadly untrue (what about that kid in RoboCop 2?).
The film is receiving fair reviews for awards season material, but as a drama without a lot of obvious commercial appeal, its box office roll out should be more deliberate, occupying some adult-oriented space until the bigger hitters of awards season get here in October. As is the requirement of such films, life is good until it isn't.
Opening weekend: $7 million / Total gross: $18 million