Amid global turmoil and uncertainty, one of 2020's first tentpole releases will attempt to find its spot in a marketplace that's suddenly wary of gathering in large groups. One major release has already decided to punt on early 2020 - will that decision seem justified soon? This weekend may offer some clues.
Weekend Forecast for March 6-8, 2020
By Reagen Sulewski
March 5, 2020
2020 is a rare double-Pixar year, joining 2015 and 2017 as years in which two Pixar films have hit theaters. In both of those cases, we had a good news-bad news situation as Inside Out/The Good Dinosaur and Coco/Cars 3 both had one of the pair of films be altogether regrettable. This year's lineup of Onward and Soul look more even keeled, but if I were to pick one of the two that seems likely to underwhelm, this weekend's Onward might fit that bill.
Set in a fantasy world, where magic has mostly faded from the world and elves and centaurs exist in mundane jobs alongside unicorn pests, the film focuses on a pair of brothers who have grown up without their father, who died when they were very young. As the youngest nears adulthood, he receives a planned gift from his father - a magical staff that has the ability to bring their father back for one 24 hour period. Unfortunately, the younger brother, who possesses a little bit of the lost magic of the world, botches the spell and only his bottom half comes back, making for an awkward reunion at best. This sends them on a quest to fix the spell before time runs out, so they can finally meet their dad, and for him to see what they've grown into.
While undoubtedly set to rival Up for its "punch you in the gut and make you cry" plot points, this seems less special than their usual fare and seems filled with unusually uninspired antics (a Weekend at Bernie's inspired gag rankles in particular). However, Pixar still retains a sense of good will and good faith that they are going somewhere with this. That it's a very personal story for the director, who lost his father at a very young age, adds somewhat to the appeal, but it still lands more on the "exploiting a weird setting" side of things rather than the "this is a story that had to be told this way", like Inside Out or Coco. The voice cast is a solid group, with Tom Holland, Chris Pratt and Julia Louis-Dreyfus being most prominent among them, though it's been a rare case other than near the beginning of Pixar that voice has driven box office. One of their biggest hits has Albert Brooks and Ellen DeGeneres as its big names, as just one example.
In their middle years, Pixar films settled into a nice middle range of opening weekends, but their move into more sequels has given them a few mega-hits at the expense of their originals. At this point, it's hard to say where their originals do stand, after the utterly massive openings of The Incredibles 2 and Toy Story 4. This is also Pixar's first ever off-season opening, with every other film of theirs having opened either in November or early summer. While this could be an ambitious expansion of territory (now that Disney literally owns everything, so something's gotta move), more likely it speaks of a lack of confidence in how it would play in a more contested market. While I don't think we're looking at the complete underwhelming opening of The Good Dinosaur at $39 million, a fairly ordinary $57 million is probably in store here.
The Way Back stars Ben Affleck as a washed up former basketball phenom who passed on a big college scholarship, descending into a wasted life of alcoholism and regret. He returns to his old high school to coach a group of rag tag misfits to a potential title. Directed by Gavin O'Connor of Miracle and Warrior fame, it sure has the makings of a great sports biopic. The missing part - the "bio" part.
Sports films, often more than any other genre, have a better run when they are connected to real events. There's enough amazing real life sports stories that making one up seems a little superfluous. What it lacks in true-to-life parallels, it makes up for with thematic connections to its cast, with some of the character's struggles reflecting Affleck's own demons. Which is all well and good for him, but "watch this millionaire work out his demons isn't the most compelling pitch. Thankfully, the film actually appears to have solid performances and a decent script. If this had been a real story, we could be looking at Coach Carter type business, but instead we're likely looking at something closer to the Keanu Reeves film Hardball, with around a $12 million start.
The latest update of the Jane Austen story Emma arrives in wide release this weekend with Anna Taylor-Joy (of The Witch) taking the lead role, and putting a whimsical tone on the story of social climbing and match-making. It's been done several times before, notably with Gwenyth Paltrow and quite famously updated for Clueless in the 90s. This purports to be a "millenial" version of Emma, whatever that means, but probably just has them being a little more arch about the sarcasm in the film. So far it's earned a little over a million in limited release, and its expansion to 1,500+ venues should bring it to around $6 million this weekend.
The Invisible Man easily topped the box office in its debut with a $28 million start, proving that with a conventional premise and a recognizable name, Blumhouse is nigh-upon unstoppable. Legs are probably not possible here - it's no Get Out, but it's already an enormous winner on a $7 million budget. I expect $15 million for its second weekend.
Sonic the Hedgehog probably doesn't have a ton more steam left in it, and does face fairly direct competition, but it's more or less guaranteed the sequel it promises in its end tag, with a projected $175 million plus domestic total, and decent worldwide figures (though these are probably starting to be impacted by worldwide COVID-19 fears). Look for $11 million this weekend. The Call of the Wild also faces some struggles in the family market, but doesn't have the benefit of a big haul of cash in the bank so far. This should drop to around $8 million this frame.