Award-season box office is among the most varied and unpredictable, with audiences playing fickle with some major winners, and grabbing on to minor players at times. And while the Golden Globes aren't the greatest of influencers on the public, combine a good win with a film people already want to see, and you'll see the sparks fly.
Weekend Forecast for January 10-12, 2020
By Reagen Sulewski
January 9, 2020
This year's winner for Best Picture Drama may be just that right combination. Sam Mendes' 1917 expands from limited release this weekend after taking top prize at the Globes. A WWI film, it condenses the horrors of war down to one six-hour stretch, in a film-making gambit designed to look like it's all shot in one or two continuous shots. Two British soldiers are sent to the front with a mission - deliver a message to the commander to call off an attack, lest they fall into a trap and be ambushed and obliterated. One of the soldiers has a brother in the company, adding to the urgency of their mission.
The pair trek across battlefields, through dug-in trenches and tunnels, across terrifyingly open and exposed spaces, under fire and under constant peril. Pitched as a bit of a thrill ride of a war film, it's designed to throw the viewer directly into the action, a la Saving Private Ryan's opening scenes, albeit for two whole hours. Avoiding the muddy politics of the war for the more direct muddy action, it's an ode to the madness of war and the capabilities of people under extreme conditions.
Star power is on the light side, with the two leads being relatively anonymous young actors (as befitting their audience stand-in status), though Dean-Charles Chapman might be recognizable as Tommen Baratheon. Cameos from Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Firth, Richard Madden, Andrew Scott and Mark Strong will have to suffice as marquee attraction, but the film's hook is its non-stop premise and technique. That it's a British setting and cast hurts its in North America, as audiences prefer war films involving American stories, to a fault (films like Lone Survivor coming to mind).
I'm also brought in mind of movies like Children of Men, which while not a full film of just one shot, and with much more of a narrative drive, was sold on its technical marvel in the middle of a dreary story. Limited release has been kind to 1917, with almost $3 million in two weeks on just 11 screens, and it expands to over 3,400 venues this weekend. With the condensing of the award season that's taken place, it may be that 1917 has missed its shot at strong Oscar contention. This weekend is its big shot to change that story, and it should see a weekend of $31 million.
Just Mercy is another expanding film that hasn't seen much talk in awards circles, but does have more of a cast to fall back on. Michael B. Jordan plays civil rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson, who fought for the release of Walter McMillan (Jamie Foxx), a black man framed for murder in Mississippi in 1988 and sentenced to death in one of the more obvious miscarriages of justice you can find, and unmistakingly motivated by racism. The film details the several years struggle to set him free. The film also features Brie Larson, Tim Blake Nelson and O'Shea Jackson Jr and should find a solid audience among black audiences with solid reviews leading the way. However, it may find difficulty breaking out of that audience with its lack of notoriety as a case and lack of pizzazz and probably lands around the $11 million mark for this weekend.
While quality can still show up anywhere, January is often where films go to die, and Like a Boss feels like one of those abandoned to its fate in the cold winter months. Tiffany Haddish and Rose Byrne play friends who run their own cosmetics business, which is the target of a buyout by a brash titan of industry (played by Salma Hayek). The visions of dollar signs send the two spiralling, struggling with whether to cash in or stick with what they've built. Of course, because this is how Hollywood comedy works these days, there's a whole bunch of R-rate raunch involved.
Jennifer Coolidge and Billy Porter are also on hand for comedic support for director Miguel Arteta (maybe best remembered for cult classic Chuck & Buck), but the film shows huge signs of studio interference and a poor beginning concept, coming in at a brisk 83 minutes, barely feature length. Depsite the track record of its stars, this looks headed for a mere $8 million weekend.
Low brand horror/suspense also make a frequent appearance in January, and this puts Underwater in the spotlight here. Kristen Stewart and Vincent Cassel star in this film, about a research team trapped at the bottom of the ocean after an undersea earthquake -- which turns out to have released an unknown terror from the deep. Cheap jump scares and ripoffs of Alien ensue. Reviews are pretty dismal, though it does appear to have at least some style, and should come in with about $6 million.
Three weeks will be enough at the top spot for The Rise of Skywalker as it exits the holiday season, running well behind the rest of the Sequel Trilogy, though it's still about to cross $1 billion worldwide. Weekend drops have not been kind to it so far and it should fall to around $16 million this weekend, headed for around $525 million domestic. The Jumanji sequel The Next Level is a different story, and is showing signs of rousing just as its predecessor did two years ago. While I don't think nearly a billion is in store here, it still has room left to run and should find about $15 million this weekend. Oscar contender Little Women is the strongest word of mouth film out there right now, and ought to bring in around $9 million this frame, while Frozen II carries the animation torch this weekend, dropping to $7 million. Spies in Disguise is a little behind that at $6 million, though it's also $400 million back overall. The Grudge will be saved by its ultra low budget, but at $11 million opening, it should be looking at as little as $20 million domestic when it slinks out of theaters.