September underwhelmed, maybe, but October is here to even the score. The charge is led on one front by two unremitting awards contenders, and on the other by two films that are more to my tastes, the ones with "Halloween" in the title (could it be that time of year again? Donald Pleasence is comin' to town?) The last two Octobers were among the few recent months of any persuasion not to feature a single, sole $100m earner. But this one ain't joining the club.
October 2018 Forecast
By Michael Lynderey
October 6, 2018
1. A Star is Born (October 5th)
Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga star in the simple old fable about a pair of entertainers, the male a mega-star who eventually falters, the female an up-and-comer who meanwhile beams into the stratosphere - at his expense, or so he thinks. The situation escalates quickly, and the ending of La La Land is probably reprised. A Star is Born has already been made for film theatres three times under that name alone, and a handful more for television, not to mention all the other versions that basically tell the same story without confessing their inspiration.
So it's not the plot, it's how they do it.
Gaga emerged on the scene in 2008 and tore through several ubiquitous pop albums before a short break from the limelight, a break which ends here: her performance in the lead is said to be even better than her work as La Chameleón in Machete Kills (no, really, she's getting raves). For his part, Cooper graduated from playing athletic and unpleasant he-men in 2005 (the fiancé in Wedding Crashers is an early iconic role) to A-list status, and three (!) Academy Award nominations for acting, two of them in the lead, by 2015. This film should net him his fourth, and perhaps the one that goes all the way to the podium (I'd give him 50-50 odds of winning right now, and I've correctly predicted every Best Actor winner since 1927).
This time, Bradley Cooper is also behind the camera (his first time), and the man seems to fit neatly into the legendary pantheon of first-time A-list actors turned directors, a track record that has wielded a surprisingly unshakeable and often-repeated list - Robert Redford's Ordinary People (1980), Kevin Costner's Dances with Wolves (1990), Mel Gibson's Braveheart (1995) - and presumably many, many more others not relevant to the discussion since their directing projects were pathetic failures.
The film seems like a relatively rare breed, a motion picture elevated to monster status at the box office sheerly through uniformly positive reviews, built upon the foundation of a familiar story and big names attached. But stars alone would not have been enough: had the Tomatoe score been 29% instead of 90%+ and going, I could have seen A Star is Born opening in single digits and dropping out of the charts and into the eternal memory hole within one week. Quality makes a difference. This time, it counts.
Opening weekend: $35 million / Total gross: $182 million
2. Halloween (October 19th)
A sixty year-old mental patient breaks out of an institution to stalk an unrelated woman he briefly met once forty years ago.
Well, that is, indeed, the plot summary of what is technically the eleventh Halloween film, starring Jamie Lee Curtis and directed by David Gordon Green, in what is his first horror film and her thirteenth (depending on how you count, but that's the number I got, although I did run out of fingers).
As always, first, a little back story: Halloween was released in 1978, an independent title that inspired the first slasher film boom and forever changed the face of its frightful genre (those are good things). Before Halloween, horror films leaned to a period piece setting, and their lead characters were often middle-aged-ish men, adorned in discomfiting Victorian hairstyles and speaking with cheerfully artificial mid-Atlantic accents. After Halloween had its say, horror moved to the present-day American suburbs, and the only ones who could save the day from the slashers and the ghouls were teenagers, usually girls, who made it to the end while their boyfriends were slain. So, the movies finally got it right.
The film enshrined Curtis as the original Scream Queen (or at least the first actress really known by that moniker), and by the time of his death in February 1995, Donald Pleasence (as Myers' pursuer Dr. Loomis) had become as the Santa Claus of the Halloween holiday. He arrived in Haddonfield, Illinois on every Halloween night like a Paul Revere on an endless loop, his approach signaling that preternatural serial killer Michael Myers was not far behind, or already ahead. Poor Loomis. How the town's residents must have hated him.
All well and good. But now, having read up on Halloween 2018, my only question is: Donald Trump is one thing, but who do I talk to about impeaching David Gordon Green?
Halloween (2018) may be the first major film in history to completely reboot and retcon its franchise while keeping its star in playing the same character. The new film reunites Curtis with her decades-long pursuer, but chooses to wipe away all of the franchise's continuity but the first, and is indeed simply the story of Michael Myers, escaped psychotic, who happened to kill a few people on Halloween night 1978, was re-captured (off-screen, considering the first film's ending), and has been locked up ever since, apparently waiting to come out of retirement some undated cloudy day in the extremely distant future, if we'll have him. Sure, he stalked Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) for a few minutes, and killed three of her closest friends, but does that really explain why - forty years later - the story now shows her as so intensely traumatized that she's booby-trapped her house and still awaits this specific, random homicidal stranger's return to her life, on the off-chance he'll escape in near senior-age?
Yes, I can believe it. But I don't want to.
As I implied, the most uncharitabe retconning committed by the film is that Laurie Strode is no longer Michael Myers' sister. That makes it scary because Myers stalks at "random," said the film's co-writer. Maybe, but 1) a considerable chunk of unlucky non-relatives got right in Myers' way over the years in these films (lord, probably near one hundred of them - the man is a menace!), and 2) if the film's horror is random - what is Jamie Lee Curtis doing in it? (as legendary as she is).
I can't imagine any die-hard fans of Halloween (1978) don't like at least some of the sequels, or at least acknowledge them as having been made. But I can guess at another reason for the memory wipe: film number seven, Halloween H20 (1998), released among the self-referential horror boom, with a story by Scream's Kevin Williamson, and slotted just in time for the original's 20th anniversary, did, indeed, already tell the story of a grown-up Laurie Strode, sister of Michael Myers, now a headmistress at a private academy, with a teenage son (Josh Hartnett) she understandably fears for. She's traumatized, she sees Myers on every corner (and as the film begins he's on the loose), and eventually, he comes for her. "She's smashing more than pumpkins!," the newspaper ad read.
And so she did. She was a pro.
So Halloween H20 (1998) and Halloween (2018) aren't so different, after all, except the set-up in 1998 made a lot more sense. If Michael Myers is your brother, and you survived his night of horror and changed your name and have a new family, 20 years later you'd still be waiting for the worst, and he could still be out there looking. One of the police officers in the 1998 film mockingly stated that Myers would by then be "a guy with a cane and Alzheimer's," but he'd only have been 40 years old. So the joke wasn't funny then. It is now.
But the plot of H20 is close enough to H40, so that film had to go, even though I have a distinct memory of seeing it in theatres at the ripe old age of twelve (and look how I turned out!). A few others may back me up here: H20 grossed $55m, a very good total for 1998, and one I assume this film will easily best over in one weekend, relegating it to the history books forever. H20 was a good film, too - well-written, with a sharp ending, as Laurie took the ax and chopped her nemesis' head clean off a mere seconds before the clock timed out and the credits rolled. [the next film, Halloween: Resurrection, awkwardly brought Myers back by saying the unlucky decapitated fellow was set up by Myers. But at least it tried.] To rub it in, some reviewers of the new film are adding in illogical boilerplate to buttress their praise: Variety's critic, who admitted (under oath) he hasn't seen any Halloween film but the first, claimed that the 2018 sequel reunites Michael Myers and Laurie Strode "for a final confrontation... [one] audiences had no reason to think they'd ever witness." Michael and Laurie can certainly meet again on the big screen, but I think we've witnessed this confrontation, Pete.
So make of Halloween what you will. I can certainly say nice things about the fact that it's here: slasher films by their very nature earn my highest approval, as the greatest genre cinema ever has produced, or will. And while mature motion pictures for adults serve some purpose, I suppose, I will nevertheless also enjoy seeing a Halloween movie easily outgross "important," artistic releases that should be busily sweeping the awards ceremonies early next year just as this film's predominantly teenage viewers are moving on to the next frightful delight (Happy Death Day 2 is scheduled for Valentine's Day, for one, and that is a must).
As for the (very nominal, long-ago dropped) topic of this article, Halloween's box office future, curiously, this is the first in this very seasonally-oriented franchise to actually open in October since Halloween 5 in 1989 (and if you're thinking September, only one film in the series has made that month home). Halloween 2018's October 19th gives the film two solid weekends before its namesake holiday arrives to invalidate its timeliness until next year. There'll be a mega-opening on the 19th and a second go-around on the 26th, presumably heightened by proximity to the big day. We are now living in the age of blockbuster horror opening weekends, and this is more evidence.
Very well. I just hope that, in 2038, while Jamie Lee Curtis is still screaming away on screen, she is not doing so in a new and improved Halloween reboot that proudly announces that, at last, 60 years after that fateful 1978 night, Michael Myers has finally escaped to haunt Laurie Strode - and this time she's really ready!
If that happens, I'm sure there's a 12 year-old out there right now who'll be very angry then. He has a point.
Opening weekend: $62 million / Total gross: $134 million
3. Venom (October 5th)
Cocooned in black liquid with white stripes, and bearing a lizard-like tongue and unwholesome demeanor, is Venom, a villain turned anti-hero and resident of the Marvel Universe, if not, thankfully, of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. David Michelinie and Todd McFarlane's Venom holds an interesting distinction: unlike most Spider-Man villains you might know of, he was created in the 1980s, not the '60s (indeed, every single other major Spider-foe to have hit the big screen was born in the 1960s, right along with Spidey. The man has trouble meeting new people.).
Venom's origin story is more personal than other bad guys: Venom-to-be Eddie Brock is an ill-tempered photographer who in the comic books bonds with an outer space symbiote that had previously attached itself to Peter Parker. This makes him happy: becoming a muscular, mean, violent, and, indeed, ill-tempered, version of the web-slinger; for whatever angsty reason, he tried to kill Spider-Man, failed, tried again, failed, and then repeated the cycle in temporary perpetuity, before realizing the futility of his goal and embarking on a career of generally benevolent superheroism (well, if The Punisher qualifies as one...).
Venom's popularity was such that he had made his way into cinemadom relatively early in Spider-Man's film career, having found himself played by Topher Grace in Spider-Man 3 (2007), a film I'm perhaps not supposed to mention because it has in fact been retconned and therefore redacted out of existence (twice over now, actually). What big blockbuster sequel did open in theatres on May 4, 2007? Sir, I do not recall.
A lot of fans were not pleased, it seems, with the 2007 Venom (the one who never existed in the first place), and so here he is given a solo outing with an actor who bears much more resemblance to the character's traditional muscle-bound exterior: Tom Hardy, AKA Bane, AKA Mad Max, and AKA whatever that guy's name was in the movie where he was in the car on the phone the whole time. This is not the man's first-comic book character. I predict it will not be his last.
The film is directed by Ruben Fleischer, whose Zombieland (2009) was memorable and droll and whose other work often involves bullets and bombs, sometimes in the arena of hit-and-miss (Gangster Squad, 30 Minutes or Less). Michelle Williams is the love interest, around to scream disapprovingly at the proceedings and express how generally aghast she is at Venom's ungentlemanly conduct. Riz Ahmed, who was in the amazing Nightcrawler and then in Rogue One, which was also a film,* is the nominal villain (*OK, Rogue One was pretty good, too).
As stated, in the comic books, after his failed assaults on Spider-Man's personal space, Venom more or less became a force for a good, or for his own very specific warped moral code, anyway, although his methods were still decidedly more like Jason Statham's than, say, Mother Theresa's. The film's PG-13 hints that while Venom may extra-judicially execute bad guys, his exploits will not be depicted in absolutely clinical detail.
The Venom film kind of looks to me like last month's The Predator, a big-studio, fan-service fall special effects thriller with a beloved character (The Predator's charisma is legendary) and uncharitable critical accreditation. Now, while I did write all these rambling paragraphs at the absolute last minute, my forecast number itself had been set in mind for a long time: I intended to predict some such as $44m for the film's opening, before heavily negative reviews mentally amended the number for me, down to about $30m.
So I was pretty shocked to (accidentally) read Wednesday-era reports that the film is in fact tracking for something like $60m-$70m! Que? R... really?
Having seen these judicious and meticulously-researched forecasts, most sane and logic-based individuals would quickly change their prediction number, so I will not. With this ramble, I hedge my bets, while giving readers the opportunity to mock me when I'm inevitably wrong.
Opening weekend: $35 million / Total gross: $79 million
4. First Man (October 12th)
For his work on La La Land, Damien Chazelle was granted a deserved Best Director Oscar at a mere thirty two years old (making him the youngest winner in the category, by a hair). Instead of choosing to retire on top, he returns a mere fortnight and two years later, with another film starring his new preferred leading man, Ryan Gosling, and in what inevitably will be described as a change of pace from Chazelle's musicals (in space, no one can hear you sing badly). First Man leaves Los Angeles and moves down to Cape Canaveral, Florida, and is about the diligent and successful 1969 mission to land on the moon (you mean the conspiracy theories lied?!? The film does not capture the zeitgeist of the times).
Gosling is Neil Armstrong, the first recorded man to walk on the moon (and so far, one of the last). His cast is top-heavy with somber character actors as astronauts, scientists, and other buzzcut-heavy occupations - Corey Stoll, Kyle Chandler, Jason Clarke, Lukas Haas, and a lot onwards through the list - with Claire Foy filling the advisable Best Supporting Actress spot as Armstrong's wife. If you liked Apollo 13, you'll probably like this... (Noted: While I may do better with First Man, I still haven't quite finished watching Apollo 13, despite a twenty three-year window of opportunity. The great unknown of the cosmos is preferable to me only when it is filled with hateful robots).
In the race of top-heavy awards contenders, the film may somewhat be outshone by the more flashy, star-spangled, and showbusiness-oriented A Star is Born. First Man is a somber picture, serious, about important men doing important things and getting away with it. Its release date could seem random, but it in fact arrives around that release slot that in the 2010s seems like a boon for films about astronauts beating back against the odds (Gravity in 2013, The Martian two years later). It won't match those already unlikely box office totals, and will be overshadowed by films with more violence or music, but its place as sober entertainment for mostly sober adults should have it play well, and well enough, for roughly two months to come.
Opening weekend: $33 million / Total gross: $125 million
5. Can You Ever Forgive Me? (October 19th)
Melissa McCarthy stars in a role that has already positioned her as a Best Actress frontunner (yes, all the tedious and unnecessary awards talk means it's Oscar season again. I know, I know. It sucks).
The time is the 1970s, and McCarthy is Lee Israel, a once-respected author who elects to dabble in forging the writing of of dead celebrities, instead of the usual page-turning fiction, in a bit of a reprise of Richard Gere from The Hoax (he played Clifford Irving, who forged Howard Hughes' bio well before Martin Scorsese and Warren Beatty did it).
Melissa McCarthy makes this a third time's the charm for 2018 films, coming off her agreeable if forgettable comedy Life of the Party ($52m total) and the even more recent The Happytime Murders, a film I'll remember only because my friend had unsatirically forecast it as making $100m (This is day 43 of it not having done so).
Richard E. Grant supports, and the direction is by Marielle Heller, previously of The Diary of a Teenager Girl (that's still on my to-see list). McCarthy carries unmatched potency as a comic actress, having opened any number of films in the teens and twenties. This new release is more serious and less obviously humorous (though literary hoaxes are pretty chuckle-worthy), and, as said, arrives as the third, if presumably best, of a set of 2018 releases which began opening no earlier than May 11. That's a lot of one actress in five months, but the reviews tell us she's that good.
As for her awards campaign, McCarthy will have to contend with Ms. Gaga, above, and the already-released and in action Glenn Close in The Wife. Like Gaga, she will have an element of surprise, an acclaimed performance from a comedian too long mired in easy laughs and sentiment at the expense of higher art. Even if the latter is not always as fun.
Opening weekend: $15 million / Total gross: $66 million
6. Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween (October 12th)
A respected cultural institution of the 1990s, the Goosebumps book series had its original run from 1992 to 1997, producing 62 page-turning novels in which classic horror tropes took turns terrifiying America's youth. Goosebumps inspired a half-dozen spin-offs, as well as a lovely television series that ran from 1995 to 1998 (and which I happened to rewatch just last month - in preparation for this forecast, of course).
The first big Goosebumps film was a neat little horror movie, a pastiche that dropped the book's anthology format to jointly bring to life many of the series' villains (the mummy, a Jack-O'Lantern monster, and so on), as accidentally unleashed by a fictionalized (?) version of author R. L. Stine (Jack Black). It grossed $80 million in October 2015, on a good weekend for horror that also gave us the underrated Crimson Peak, for some real fright film diversity.
As the horror genre correctly mandates, we now have a sequel. An earlier idea to use the HorrorLand books for inspiration appears not to have materialized (no evil theme park run by monsters is coming to our screens this year, sadly). Instead, Goosebumps 2 uses one of my favorite set-ups, children who unleash an evil force that slowly turns their quiet suburbs over into a playground for sanitized evil. Then, their elders run screaming into the night, completely helpless to stop the invasion of the supernatural (in these films, only teenagers are equipped to save us. This is, in fact, correct.). True to its title, Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween features a lot of angry pumpkins and dancing, hateful little candy men on the poster, so it definitely has my vote.
Dylan Minnette led Goosebumps 1 before disappearing into a black hole from which there is no escape (for help with rescue efforts, however fruitless, I recall the hole had the sign "Netflix" on it). Madison Iseman from Jumanji leads part two instead, with Jeremy Ray Taylor from It (Stephen King's) building a nice little niche for himself as the comic relief in terror films (which otherwise would be deathly serious). Jack Black again voices the malevolent doll Slappy, another slander on the ventriloquism profession. It seems the actor returns mostly in spirit, and voice, but does not appear in corporeal form; being busy fighting off another oozing netherworld in the excellent The House with a Clock in Its Walls, and competing for this very specific demographic only with himself.
As I often observe, most first-time horror sequels come in with a smaller total box office number than their originals (Saw and A Nightmare on Elm Street are among the exceptions). Goosebumps will likely too, even if it's a pretty good film, as it certainly may be, and as its predecessor definitely was. Whatever happens, it's nice to see a seasonally-appropriate entertainment assert itself on the release stage amid the self-seriousness of the Oscar onslaught.
Opening weekend: $18 million / Total gross: $52 million
7. The Hate U Give (limited October 5th; wide October 19th)
This adaptation of Angie Thomas' 2017 novel gets a mark for topical content, as an African-American teenage girl witnesses a police shooting of an unarmed young black man...
Amandla Stenberg (who's more prolific by the day) stars in a film about police brutality and black identity - it's a big plot point that she goes to private school and her boyfriend Chris isn't black (KJ Apa, who isn't Riverdale's Archie, but he plays him on TV). Issa Rae, Common, and Anthony Mackie lead a strong supporting cast, and Stenberg's twitter activism plays into the social topicality of the material. Indeed, as with Love, Simon from earlier in the year, The Hate U Give should serve as a teenage entertainment with a higher moral purpose. Reviews are uniformly in approval of its existence, and, with little relevant competition, the film and its memorable if confusing title should play well for a few weekends into the new school year.
Opening weekend: $14 million / Total gross: $45 million
8. Hunter Killer (October 26th)
Gerard Butler is like a Chuck Norris or Charles Bronson of our day, soldiering on in manly action films even as the world around him descends into the chaos of superheroes and their increasingly galactic foes. While they plaster on the capes and take to the skies, Butler is our man on the ground, having most recently headlined such time-weathered action mainstays as severe weather (Geostorm), cops-and-robbers-and-bullets (Den of Thieves), and the classic one-man-against-the-odds (Olympus Has Fallen. London, fell, too. That was the sequel).
Hunter Killer's title may conjure thoughts of prehistoric man battling savagely against the elements at the dawn of civilization (like the recent and very good film Alpha), but that's not at all what happens: Butler mans up and boards a submarine with his crew of Navy SEALs, all to save the Russian president from a coup that apparently poses an even bigger threat (or so the film says).
Aside from Common, Zane Holtz, the late Michael Nyqvist, Linda Cardellini, and the multitude of rest, the film has managed to orchestra the casting of Gary Oldman (yes, 'the' Gary Oldman, Oscar-winner Gary Oldman, star of Red Riding Hood Gary Oldman) in a major supporting role, and in fact even goes one step further by projecting his face, in large font and screamingly explicit detail, next to Butler's in advertising materials as his equal for screen time. Oldman's finally made it.
Hunter Killer (which I assume is the name of a U-boat) almost shares the release date Butler's Geostorm had last year, and will likely be fated to similar box office in the former colonies, though Butler is big overseas and will keep chugging away. Someone has to.
Opening weekend: $12 million / Total gross: $33 million
9. Bad Times at the El Royale (October 12th)
An ensemble drama and mystery, as strangers reveal secrets and unwind the plot at a novelty hotel in the American Southwest of the 1960s. As with a lot of ensembles, the cast ranges from A-list to character style; and is led by Chris Hemsworth, in the kind of quirky supporting role he would do well to attach himself to outside of whatever superhero cinema world he is currently trapped in with little chance of escape.
He is joined by Jon Hamm (pouncing free of typecasting as a vacuum cleaner salesman), Lewis Pullman (son of Bill), Jeff Bridges (son of Lloyd - well, it's only fair), Cailee Spaeny (the monster hater from Pacific Rim 2), Dakota Johnson, and Cynthia Erivo, who has just been cast as legendary former slave and abolitionist Harriet Tubman (Erivo, not Johnson), which means she must have been doing something right here.
I like films like this, with a large and quirky ensemble pawing away at each other, verbally and more, in a closed-off setting (Identity, 2003, did it well). The period detail is nice, and the posters are properly atmospheric, neon lights in the night and characters walking to the El Royale, as seen from their back, just right for this time of year.
The film runs the new average length for American motion pictures, two hours and twenty minutes. I'm kidding (no, it really is that long), but some pretty oddly-picked movies have unpredictably been just that long or longer lately: Den of Thieves, for one, and also last year's underrated A Cure for Wellness, which clocked in at 146 minutes, as one of the longest horror films ever made. Speaking of which, while unforecast by me, the remake of Suspiria opens on the 26th, possibly in wide release, and clocks in it at 152 minutes, another horror film of menacing length. Godspeed to you both, fine films. May your entertainment value be such that your many minutes will pass us by forthwit.
Opening weekend: $7 million / Total gross: $20 million
10. Johnny English Strikes Again (October 26th)
Never confused with the braggardly and perpetually promiscuous Austin Powers, Rowan Atkinson's Johnny English is the clueless British spy who persistently saves the world only his through sheer incompetence. I viewed the original Johnny English in what was indeed an English movie theatre in summer of 2003 (after thirty minutes of previews and commercials, that is), and then somehow chanced upon having missed the second film, Johnny English Reborn, which was released on another cool October weekend in 2011. Perhaps that's a 50-50 toss-up average for me making it to the third one, though I promise I will for sure attend part 4, Johnny English: The Final Nightmare.
Yes, as I am obligated to say, star Rowan Atkinson will forever and always be known as Mr. Bean, and must therefore retain some fans on this side of the Atlantic Ocean (myself included, surely). His biggest box office starring role was indeed that first Bean ($45 million in 1997), and his lot has mostly fluctuated at millions less than that subsequently ($28m for Johnny English; $33m for Bean 2 in 2007), and has been even more deprived most recently (Johnny English II finished with $8m on this continent). So why am I forecasting an abundantly higher total for part three, more than part two could ever muster? Not inflation. Optimism.
Opening weekend: $4 million / Total gross: $11 million