If last weekend was the first major volley in this year's Oscar race, this weekend sees an attempt at a return shot with a great match of pedigree, subject matter and skill. Meanwhile, Jack Black continues his domination of the spooky kids film market and a 90s throwback compete for attention behind it.
Weekend Forecast for October 12-14, 2018
By Reagen Sulewski
October 12, 2018
There have been many, many movies about the space program in the past, both based on real events and fabricated. First Man is the first of these to tackle one of the biggest moments ever in space flight, and for that matter, in all of human exploration. Focusing on Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, through his days as a test pilot, to his initial involvement in the Gemini program through Apollo 11, which saw him be the first person to touch the surface of another part of the solar system in 1969.
Ryan Gosling plays Armstrong, bringing his trademark stoicism to portray the famously private astronaut, part of what likely took so long to make this movie a possibility. Armstrong was not a larger than life figure like some of the Mercury Project astronauts, and didn't put much out there to be dramatized. Like ju jitsu, this uncinematic attitude becomes a strength of the movie, looking at what it took for Armstrong to become a stand in for one of the greatest feats of human engineering.
Damine Chazelle directs Gosling again, doing quite the 180 from the subject matter of La La Land (though perhaps Armstrong had a lovely soft shoe?). Claire Foy plays his wife Janet, continuing one of the great traditions about American space flight movies as the stern, long suffering wife, with Kyle Chandler, Jason Clarke, Corey Stoll, Shea Whigham, Patrick Fugit and Lukas Haas filling in other major roles, among others. Beyond the personal story, the movie also promises some dramatic recreations of the journey to the moon (cue the conspiracy wags, who have thankfully been mostly silent about this).
Premiering at the Toronto Film Festival, it garnered a solid reception and some controversy (mostly manufactured and out of context based on the misinterpretation of what the film did and did not contain) and came out of it not as a front runner for Oscars, but something that should be in the mix for a massive number of nominations in many categories. The comparison for box office would be films like Gravity and Apollo 13, but it lacks a bit in the iconic scene category – instead it's a slow burn, a bit like The Right Stuff (but shorter by an hour or so). It's less of an event film and more of an art film biopic that happens to be about the moon. This makes is a strong candidate for a solid “prestige blockbuster” number opening weekend, with around $32 million.
Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween is the sequel to 2015's medium surprise hit based on the R.L. Stine series of books, which were a staple of making kids mildly afraid for much of the last three decades. The previous film saw most of the iconic characters from the books brought to life, leaving the sequel scrambling a bit for useful material. This film posits an unused manuscript from Stine which, when opened, releases a haunted ventriloquist's dummy (but I repeat myself) who aims to unleash the Halloween Apocalypse.
This comes pretty quickly on the heels of The House With a Clock In Its Walls, which competes for the same tone, if not quite the same plot. Goosebumps is a bit more actiony, zanier than Clock, but also seems to be suffering mightily from one and done syndrome, and the sequel has a much lower profile than the original, which had a bit of an event feel about it. Where that film opened to $23 million, this is probably headed towards a more modest $16 million start.
There's a distinct 90s feel to Bad Times at the El Royale, written and directed by Drew Goddard, of The Martian and Cabin in the Woods fame. It was a time when everyone worth their salt had a “set of strangers who do bad things in an atmospheric location” script in their pocket, and everyone thought they were the next Quentin Tarantino. Then about 98 per cent of them bombed and they mostly went away. Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm, Dakota Johnson and a shirtless Chris Hemsworth are among the most notable names for this neo-noir, set in a run down hotel that straddles the Nevada-California border (quirky! It's a key signifier for 90s pulp cinema).
The film then churns through about 5 movies worth of plot as it uncovers the secrets of these people and the hotel, along with its mysterious management. The whole thing build up to a rain-soaked, twisty finale, possibly with a limited number of survivors.
Being the first film in a trend line carries some advantage, as you're capitalizing on the idea of “oh right, those kinds of films. I love those”, and not the stale feeling of “oh right, *those* kind of films.”. You want to be The Hunger Games, not Divergent. A possible problem here is that these films were never that popular in the first place. Mostly they were cult hits and discovered on video. Baby Driver gives this some hope, but it's really much more likely to find itself in the $9 million area for opening weekend.
It continues to be Marvel's world, even when they bring kind of a stinker. Venom opened to $80 million despite bad reviews and no one seeming all that enthused for the movie. The anti-super hero Spider-Man spinoff was a decent candidate to be the MCU's first true bomb. And while it's certainly not going to rival a Guardians film, or even probably Ant-Man, it's a opening weekend that proves that Marvel continues to be able to sell a concept regardless of anything else. I'd expect a huge fall off to $35 million this weekend, but point proven.
The Bradley Cooper remake of A Star Is Born had a strong opening in its own right, with $45 million, capitalizing on the reawakening romance genre and the fandom of Lady GaGa. There's solid probability of legs here, and I'd expect around $27 million here.
Smallfoot had decent holdover in the kids market, dropping a little over a third, and should be headed for around $90 million domestic. Night School, meanwhile, looks like a one-weekend wonder, having lost over half its business in the second weekend. I'd guess this finishes underneath the $80 million mark, and has around $6 million added to its total this weekend.