8. BrightBurn (May 24th)
May 2019 Forecast Part Two
By Michael Lynderey
May 4, 2019
In a rare 2010s month without any movies in... that... subgenre... ("s-----ero") the story BrightBurn tells is actually pretty brilliant: the set-up is of the Superman legend, with a young couple out in the rural outdoors late one night discovering a small spaceship with a tiny child inside it. Since the child happens to also be caucasian, as well as not something like twelve and a half feet tall with a nose on their elbow, the couple raises it as their biological progeny.
At first a normal, healthy, superhero-in-training, the boy grows from manifesting the typical preternatural powers expected of such a being into the evil intent and murderous interludes more common to their villains. Yes, he has been sent here not give, but to take, not to help, but to destroy, and even not to mend but to break (to roughly mangle a line from Krampus).
There was another evil child movie not too long ago, The Prodigy, which was quite scary and more effective than could reasonably have been asked of it. See it.
You could also see BrightBurn. The story is by the Gunn brothers - Mark, Brian, etc., with James producing. Mr. and Mrs. Gunn had a lot of children, yes, and most of them obviously have a knack for playing on science fiction tropes (James Gunn used to work for Troma and, less respectably, Marvel).
For the cast, Elizabeth Banks is the mom and poor David Denman is the dad, who nurture a child that our popular mythology had obsessively taught them will grow up to be a leader of men and of slightly underwhelming superhero team-up films; but who in fact turns out to be one of those agents of evil sent forth by another world from cradle to grave, such as Damien in The Omen, or the Sprouse Twins in The Astronaut's Wife (to use a very direct if pleasingly obscure comparison).
The posters and trailer blast forward the same creepy money shot, a child in a superhero outfit who floats above it all as he looks quite decidedly wrong, with glowing eyes (BrightBurns?) and an inorganic disposition that confesses "I'm evil" ("the only one in the galaxy more evil than myself," etc.). The film also has a great message about how such stories would turn out in real life, and if more people are taught to simply reject their special gifts from the stars the release schedule will be that much clearer of superhero cruft.
Opening weekend: $21 million / Total gross: $55m
9. The Intruder (May 3rd)
The intruder in The Intruder is Dennis Quaid, who softly seems to be remaking his own film Cold Creek Manor, with himself in the starring villain role this time out.
In that 2003 film, Quaid and Sharon Stone played a nice New York couple who flee the city's conflict strife zone and settle in the rural nowhere of upstate New York, where as in all such films they discover that if you're of proper misfortune, no matter where you go, you never stop fighting tooth and nail for your life.
The title screamed of baroque and gothic lamentations and ancient secrets and hurts, but the villain wasn't some ancient zombified 19th century doctor who needs fresh blood to maintain his one hundred and seventy two years (speaking of great movie ideas).
No, the bad guy was just Stephen Dorff, as a lout whose family owned the house and who never quite got over the sell. He unsubtly flirted with the teenager daughter and then the mom, he made menacing overtures to the dad, he falsely gained the trust of the son, and then he attacked all of the above with a sharp pickaxe, before being repelled and sent on his way to the great beyond. In 2019, Meagan Good and Michael Ealy are the nice young couple, and Dennis Quaid, having apparently guided his Cold Creek family to maturity, divorced Ms. Stone, and sent the kids off to college, is the disgruntled former owner, having as Mr. Dorff before him had to make the house sale due to insolvency and never quite gotten over it.
And so Quaid now picks up the pickaxe from Dorff, but not until making too many chummy visits, partaking in veiled threats, and coming over to make impromptu stabs at mowing a lawn that is no longer his own.
Thrillers like this always find some semblance of audience and make a decent rake, unless they're totally awful, and even then some squeeze through. The Intruder may or may not be quite all that good, but Cold Creek Manor ($21m total) should be looking enviously above at its box office receipts, even if it won't have to look too high.
Opening weekend: $14 million / Total gross: $33 million
10. Poms (May 10th)
Residents of a retirement home (for senior citizens, not tech billionaires) band together, in the merry semi-nubile tradition of Calendar Girls before them, to create a cheerleading team consisting of themselves.
The headlining act is by Diane Keaton, who often leads such entertainments. She was wonderful in Something's Gotta Give (2003), a film that launched the current phase of her career and for which she should have earned her second Oscar. She has since appeared back in our lives every once in a while, though not nearly often enough. Last year, she was one of the four legendary members of Book Club, a fair though caricature-prone romantic comedy that earned $68m over some of the same weekends this one is planning for. Having seen that film in a theatre sufficiently populated by its target audience, I can tell they quite enjoyed it; as its leads pursued their modest sex dreams, hearty chuckling abounded around me so much as that I almost felt like joining in.
Keaton's castmates include Rhea Perlman, Celia Weston, Jacki Weaver, and Phyllis Somerville, all not unexpectedly. And then more delightfully, there is Pam Grier, who blew away any number of devils in a string of 1970s blaxploitation films, and who never quite got her proper comeback; what could be more proper than a film about senior citizens lifting pom pom balls high and up into the air?
Whether the film will be appraised by the appraisers is a 50-50 bet. But Calendar Girls grossed $31m, and was so successful for its intended viewers that I still remember its opening day, working in a movie theatre as patron after patron entered the screening, selling out this first show of the day at 1PM. Think of it as an Avengers: Endgame of its time and place.
In fact, Calendar Girls so vividly stuck in my mind I had to borrow its box office total for this one.
Opening weekend: $12 million / Total gross: $31 million
11. UglyDolls (May 3rd)
I don't know much about UglyDolls, other that they are physically unrepossessing and are, indeed, doll-like automatons meant to be enjoyed mostly by children. Launched in 2001, they are deformed, mal-constructed in different ways, and craggy, with an eye there, a leg here, and sharp teeth protruding from wide-angle pores. In short, they are, of course, adorable.
The voice cast for their big film has been trawled for far and wide with a sturdy fishing net, picking up Nick Jonas, Kelly Clarkson, Wanda Sykes, Jane Lynch, and Charlie XCX, among others too numerous and pedantic to name, singers and comedians and artisans all. Director Kelly Asbury has brought forth some Gnomeo and Smurfs films, which must have an audience because new ones are always getting made. And the story is by Robert Rodriguez, who's in fact long dabbled in oddly constructed being occupying children's entertainment (see the devilish Thumb-Thumbs in his Spy Kids).
CGI film box office once seemed so foolproof I recently thought it would be many more years before you'd have to go out of your way not to deliver a $100m grosser (you know, like those genuinely frightful Laika movies all do). But the tides have shifted against CGI lately, with 2018 not recording a single $100m CGI performer until June (yes, this was unusual, the first time in a decade), and then this year's derided Wonder Park and Lego film (which did, at last, make $100m, kicking and crying). The dolls should do OK, but when it comes to CGI adaptations of popular toy lines, the nascent Playmobil: The Movie, which actually exists and is scheduled for release in the visible future, should be worried.
Opening weekend: $11 million / Total gross: $30 million
12. The Hustle (May 10th)
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was a sort of Ocean's Two in 1988, as Michael Caine and Steve Martin played con men who contrive to relieve wealthy debutantes and haughty socialites of their riches (and then donate the proceeds to themselves), with Glenne Headly as the latest subject of their attentions. Reviews were mostly on the upside, and the film went from its December release date to a quite solid $43m total. Christmas season legs have been around since forever.
Now, that film has been remade, with Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson as the cons and Alex Sharp as a hapless tech millionaire; and retitled, with The Hustle somewhat blandly replacing a name that could have perhaps been tweaked to Dirty Rotten Scoundrelettes (another possibility, Nasty Women, also had a certain ring). The film's release has already floated around a few potential weekends, but ultimately settled on May 10th, not far from the 2018 May line-up when another 1980s remake, Overboard, began its run, finishing with $50 million.
The Hustle won't do quite as well, but the trailer is pretty funny, and there's a presumed though uncertain audience turning out to film attendance over the Mother's Day holiday. They'll also have Poms, but Wilson and Hathaway should do comedy well even as they share theatre space with the calendar girl cheerleaders.
Opening weekend: $12 million / Total gross: $30 million
13. The Sun Is Also a Star (May 17th)
The CW's thriller Riverdale has become the prime training ground for teenage movie leads of 2019 (and don't worry, this one's only 27 years old). First, there was Cole Sprouse, who on television leads motorcycle gangs and dodges serial killers on a weekly, and who was very good in Five Feet Apart just last March, about teens with cystic fibrosis contemplating medically forbidden love. Now, Charles Melton, smirking football player Reggie on the show, gets the male lead in another film about the existential anguish of young people.
His co-star is Yara Shahidi, who debuted as Eddie Murphy's seven year-old daughter, whose every fantasy came to comic life, in Imagine This; She had fallen off my radar since that film's cort June 2009 release, and indeed this is her first big film in just shy of ten years, while she's been busying herself on Black-ish on television.
The pair embark upon a romance that must be tarred or stopped or endangered or at least honestly second-guessed by some factor - let's see - ah - he's a free spirit and she's anal retentive, and while neither party is subject to a horrific, flesh-eating disease that menaces their lives, the contrasts will presumably make sure the film will not end too early. (why The Sun Is Also a Star as opposed to a planet or a gas giant or a metaphor, is not immediately explicable).
The young adult book that inspired such film must be at least reasonably popular (it was written by Nicola Yoon, also of Everything, Everything), and so even if the movie is a middling grosser - like the recent After - it may deliver what is still a reasonable profit on what's likely more of a rounding error than a budget.
Opening weekend: $10 million / Total gross: $22 million
14. Booksmart (May 24th)
Elsewhere at America's high schools, Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever star as two students who've spent just a little too much time hitting the books and not enough indulging in the kind of technically illegal criminal activity that's sometimes associated with teenage good times (sadly, no evil-looking Octavia Spencer ever came around to offer them a free barn in which to sin).
Feldstein played a college student three years ago in Neighbors 2, her film debut, but as with many actors she's been repeating high school at the movies for a few years, on an endless loop that perhaps ends at age thirty. Dever has much of the same experience (she was in Men, Women and Children five years ago).
The film is directed by Olivia Wilde (... of Life Itself fame), and has received the kind of enthusiastic reviews expected of a title that premiered at the SXSW festival, the Cannes of American modern comedy. The supporting cast is filled with many other twenty something teenage actors, and Jason Sudeikis, Lisa Kudrow, and Will Forte are the grown-ups landed in their midst.
High school films still have their box office limits, though recent tearduct-breaking romances with a tragic bent (Five Feet Apart) or tales of social import (Love, Simon, The Hate U Give) have broken through to respectable ends, though still not in the ball park of some of the teenage films of 1999 through 2001, when it seemed every other movie ended at prom. With no tragedy and less topicality than some of the titles above, Booksmart is more in the mold of Lady Bird, a coming-of-age film without an overarching social message, and may play well on video, though with any luck its audience will find it sooner.
Opening weekend: $8 million / Total gross: $21 million
15. Tolkien (May 10th)
No deceptive title here. This is the month's other biography of a very famous (some may say too famous?) British person, a film about the writer J. R. R. Tolkien as a young man, before he penned The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings and started having to answer for giving inspiration to extremely lengthy, fan-friendly films that were split into multitudes of sequels, follow-ups, and trilogies. I know, I know, he's not guilty. Blame the filmmakers and the fans. And I do and will. But even though he was a good writer, this is a serious charge.
J. R. R. (John Ronald Reuel) is played by Nicholas Hoult, a young actor who has worked very hard and quite often since About a Boy in 2002 (the film everyone writing about him must mention from cradle to grave; check) and through any number of blockbusters (a multitude of X-Men films, one solitary Mad Max) and smaller titles, for an average of about two a year this decade. I assume no scary old age make-up is involved here in the Tolkien role, though Hoult does sometimes play a little past his twenty nine years - watching The Favourite, I had the impression that his character Robert Harley (...1st Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer) rose to become de facto Prime Minister of the land at an unusually young age, not at a more conventional 49 years or so, which is how old he would have been at film's setting. The casting was tricky.
The biopic goes through Tolkien's school years and the onset of World War I. Lily Collins is the love interest Edith Bratt, and the film and advertising go far to draw out the inspirations between Tolkien's quiet English country upbringing and the man's literature - his group of friends were practically a fellowship. CNN plays trailers for this one a lot, so you know someone means business. I suspect the audience of Hobbit fans and Ringers is not strictly translatable, but for an off-season awards-style film a few will surely attend.
Opening weekend: $4 million / Total gross: $13 million