Quantity, if not quality, arrives this second weekend of January, but with studios still struggling with the concept of how to roll out their end of year prestige films in the new box office environment, we're given one more weekend dominated by 2018's holdovers. Five films new to wide release still won't challenge for the top spot.
Weekend Forecast for January 11-13, 2019
By Reagen Sulewski
January 10, 2019
Leading the way for this motley bunch is A Dog's Way Home, a quasi-sequel to A Dog's Purpose, which was a minor hit in this time period in 2017. While that film was a something like the Cloud Atlas of animal pictures, this one is a much more straightforward adventure tale, with an adorable mutt becoming lost, then finding its way back home, all the while helping people and making connections (The Littlest Hobo's lawyers will be sending their regards).
While the previous film had Oscar nominee Lasse Hallstrom as its helmer, this film has the much less ambitious choice of Charles Martin Smith, best known for the Dolphin Tale movies. The cast is also fairly unimpressive, with few human actors getting more than a few minutes of screen time (other than Bryce Dallas Howard as the voice of the dog). That's hardly important, as the target audience is mostly pre-teens and their parents .
A Dog's Purpose opened to $18 million on the back of a best-seller and a solid amount of hype, a la Marley and Me. This is a little more anonymous of a film, and though solid reviews are still there, it's going to struggle to reach the heights of its spiritual predecessor. I'd expect a weekend more akin to other animal films of around $12 million here.
Did you know that quadriplegic people like to have fun, just like regular people? No? Boy does The Upside have a surprise for you! Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart star in the film, based on a real life story, about a ex-con looking for a break being hired to help out a quadriplegic billionaire, with life-affirming lessons learned by all. Directed by Neil Burger and also starring Nicole Kidman, it has all the hallmarks of a message picture, with Hart in particular trying to establish his dramatic acting chops. No doubt he was likely keen to cross-promote with his high profile Oscar hosting gig... whoops.
In hindsight it turns out to be not that big of a deal as reviews are fairly savage towards the film, calling it mawkish and cliched, doing an injustice to both dialogues about racism and disabilities. Bad timing has hurt this one all around, as it emerged from issues from its distributor the Weinstein Company, only to land in hot water from Hart's tweets (that there's gay panic in the ads does *not* help at all). Were it any good, this might have been overlooked, but we're seeing a film take several body blows here. It should open to a marginal $8 million.
If you're looking for a film that actually deals with issues of race intelligently, If Beale Street Could Talk is your better bet this weekend. The adaptation of James Baldwin's novel about Harlem in the 1970s. Relative newcomers KiKi Layne and Stephan James star as a young couple expecting a child, when James is convicted of a crime he didn't commit. While it seems them fighting against a racist system, this is ultimately a romance, a tragic one, a hopeful one. A strong contender for multiple Oscars, including Best Picture and a sure contender for Best Supporting Actress after Regina King's Golden Globe win, it's already opened in limited release, with $4 million in box office so far. Expanding to over 1,000 venues, it should see a solid weekend of around $5 million.
Another message picture, On the Basis of Sex, also expands this weekend to around 1,900 venues. The story of Ruth Bader Ginsburg's travails through Harvard Law and the case that brought her to national attention, a gender discrimination lawsuit (for a man! I see a million fingers raised and then dropping). Claire Foy stars in what was probably thought to be a good run at an Oscar nomination (ask Chadwick Boseman how that worked out for him with Marshall), though it's pretty clear that ship has sailed at this point. Also featuring Armie Hammer, Kathy Bates, Justin Theroux, Sam Waterson and Jack Reynor, it's a solid candidate for expansion with its limited release run at $4 million so far. I'd expect about $5 million as well.
A more usual January release, Replicas is a dire looking sci-fi film starring Keanu Reeves as a scientist looking to develop cloning technology in order to bring back his family. It's the sort of film where people intently stare at each other in lab coats and say “But what if something goes wrong?” And then get this, something does! In the best case of this kind of movie, you get something like Ex Machina, but often you get something like Life or Splice. Not released for critics, it's clearly being dumped in an off time, and should open to around $3 million.
With little competition at the high end of the box office, Aquaman will get a fourth weekend at the top spot, the first film since Black Panther to pull off this trick. This weekend will tell the best story of where it ends up financially, as a chop in half of its box office points to a domestic total of around $325 million, while keeping up its drop from last weekend, or improving on it, could bring it closer to $350 million. I'd split the difference with a $17 million tally.
The Christmas bonanza wrapped up for family films last weekend, as Mary Poppins Returns started coming back to Earth. No Greatest Showman type run here, though we're probably looking at a domestic total that's at least shouting distance from $200 million. I'd look for $10 million here.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse continues to be a bright spot of the holiday season, and its Best Animated Feature win at the Golden Globes may validate this to a wider audience. It's proving to be fairly leggy and should earn about $9 million this frame. Transformers spin-off Bumblebee, meanwhile, has had decent word of mouth but simply hasn't been able to overcome its low opening weekend. Add $8 million here. Escape Room was super cheap and therefore already profitable with its $18 million start, but should get the typical horror movie drop to around $8 million. Meanwhile, The Mule should get one more decent weekend at $6 million for Clint Eastwood's octogenarian crime caper.