November is a simple, if now historic, month: it begins with what's turned out to be the greatest Marvel Cinematic Universe film ever, and will end with a mega-long weekend in which two horror-esque franchises make their... much anticipated... return, flanked by tennis kings, Disney wizards, fashion and death in the Gucci brand, and a big, sloppy, computer animation calling itself a puppy. The box office roared with pleasure week after week last October, and November should run well, too, as a bridge to the end of this unusual era.
November 2021 Forecast
By Michael Lynderey
November 17, 2021
1. Ghostbusters: Afterlife (November 19th)
With numbers having now been banned from film titles, I have to remind myself that Ghostbusters: Afterlife is actually Ghostbusters 4, and not to be confused with Resident Evil: Afterlife, which was also the fourth film in that particular franchise. In any case, the new Ghostbusters is a direct sequel to a 1984 film that has by this point become perhaps the single most oversacralized, canonized motion picture in the history of film; on the face of the entire planet, of all time.
Seriously, they all really love Ghostbusters, the tale of a handful of scientists who, one day, grew tired of seeing the spirits of the dead knocking us around, and decided to finally do something about it, comedically. The film is viewed as brilliant in sometime contradictory tones: it's holy, it's sacred, you can't touch it; but you need to make a sequel, and it must surely be good.
Over the last 10 years in particular, Ghostbusters has come to be regarded not only as a brilliant comedy, a touchstone moment for its famous actors (Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver), a mega-blockbuster box office performer, and a film with an iconic song (Ray Parker, Jr.!), but also an absolute milestone moment in the history of the 1980s that sums up the decade's best parts in but 105 minutes. Eh, personally, on these counts: it's a decent film, not great; those actors have made screen memories many times; and Friday the 13th part 6, or maybe 5, among many others, stand for the '80s for me. Can't argue on the box office part, though... That f--ker grossed $243m! most of it in 1984 money, so it really counts.
The sequel was released in 1989 (Bill Murray took a few-year sabbatical from all cinema, actually), where it made $29m the week before Batman really began, and was then on its way to $112m, still a huge number, back then, and now again in our box office era. A lot of people like that part 2, too, though there's no question that many seath in at least a moderate anger at its existence.
Then came the silence.
Hey, what are you gonna do, the 1980s ended. The Berlin Wall fell, the neon signs were ripped off from the window ledges one by one and heaved into dank basement pits, the shoulder pads then burnt in effigy. 1989 has so far been the last year Jason, Freddy, and Michael all had a movie out the same year, and it may well always be the last. And, unlike many hard-won franchises and name brands, the Ghostbusters moniker had managed to produce only two aforementioned films in its heyday, a modest ambition before the candle dimmed, the lights went out, and other special effects nightmares came to occupy its potential summer slots all throughout the 1990s.
And after the '80s, for the world of Ghostbusters, behind-the-scenes there came missed deadlines, rejected scripts, greenlights that came and went and went again, and numerous interviews with key actors and personnel hinting at a new film's imminence (usually, some variation on "yeah, you know, I think we'll start filming maybe next summer, or fall. No, it's happening."); hopelessly, all over and over again in cyclical hell from the year 1990 all the way up until 2016. (wouldn't it be funny if they started cranking out Ghostbusters movies every other year all through the 2020s now?).
And in 2016? Paul Feig, who birthed Bridesmaids and The Heat in glory in early 2010s summers, was the wizard who finally fulfilled the promise of setting the Ghostbusters upon New York city streets again, the one who cracked the code on a real studio greenlight, not an ironic one, 27 long years after the birth of the last 1980s baby. Having become known for his work with funnywomen in particular (though I loathe to make such distinctions), the idea was to freshen up the concept by enlisting an entirely female team of Ghostbusters (Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones), plus Chris Hemsworth, quite humorous as the token male secretary in lense-less glasses, in the tradition of Annie Potts in the original films. Murray, Aykroyd, and Hudson cameoed, of course, with tacit approval at the proceedings. Harold Ramis didn't (he died).
So, what happened? Ghostbusters 2016 opened in July with $46m and carried a 74% score on the big Tomato, on the way to $127m by summer's end. Some people liked it to, be sure. It's not a bad film, not at all. But under the surface, seething; according to the internet, those dry grey-white prisoner-issue Ghostbusters outfits were not, alas, made for female bearings. A wave of disgruntlement, focused if not restricted to the fact of an entirely female team, was launched, affecting blogs, cultural conversations, reviews, comments sections, the numerous brain surgeons and rocket scientists trawling on Twitter (whoops), the then-forthcoming season 20 of South Park, and, well, probably even the presidential election. Yes, that, too, was the Ghostbusters' fault. People were genuinely angry, not satirically so, and hate flowed red as blood about the land (personally, I found the complaints about an all-female team a little strange; after all, the movie was set in New York, and a lot of women live there).
Now, a new film comes our way, and, as with many other hallmarks of American pop culture, it's back to the original continuity, all sins forgotten. Now, I cynically assumed that, in response to the hostile reactions to an all-female film, this one would star a bunch of macho comedians, but it's actually a single mom and her two kids, who form a new Ghostbusters team with assorted tiny classmates, and assist from their science teacher, who is played by perhaps one of the most inoffensive men to walk upon the face of the planet, gently, Paul Rudd.
The new movie is set in that greatest of horror movie mainstays, anytown, USA, this time out in Oklahoma (I don't know which town, so I wasn't able to check if a lot of women live there, too). But as the film begins, the children and their mother-provider begrudgingly move in to what looks like a decaying old barn, upon which time they discover 1), that ghouls from beyond the grave might again threaten the world, this time right in their own backyard, and 2), luckily, they have a family legacy of combatting mischievous, apocalypse-bringing spirits from beyond the grave. And then a phone in a New York office rings, with a gravelly old baby boomer hand, Murray or Aykroyd's, ready to pick up on the other line; and rejoin the action after all this time.
The heavy make-up on lead teen actress McKenna Grace, and the casting as her brother of the humorous Finn Wolfhard, make-up unnecessary, hints at a relation that is soon confirmed: they're the grandchildren of Egon Spengler, played by Harold Ramis in the originals, and secretary/presumed Spengler concubine Janine Melnitz (Annie Potts reprises). As such, Ghostbusters: Afterlife is like many of the reboots/sequels/re-jiggalinigs that have brought ancient franchises to the fore over the last 15 years, where the lead characters simply MUST be drawn not from the general rando population, but the exact specific gene pool of previous heroes, connected to the stars of other Ghostbusters films through careful genealogical scrutiny. I mean, just look at that Emperor Palpatine's granddaughter go! (for a schizoid example of this phenomenon, the Halloween film in 2018 took out the old brother-sister thing between Michael Myers and Laurie Strode, sacrilegious, BUT still introduced Laurie's granddaughter a sort of co-lead. Incorrigible).
The tradition extends behind the scenes. Just as the heroes count Ramis' Egon as their grandfather, so is director Jason Reitman the son of original Ghostbusters (1+2) helmer Ivan Reitman (co-writer Gil Kenan isn't related to anybody, at all, but he did make Monster House, which was great). The message of these characterizations must be: Don't worry, fans, no interlopers on sacred ghost busting lands have ventured here. It's all in the family again.
Reviews are fair, 68%, a little under the 2016 title (so far) - describing the film as generally entertaining and uncontroversial: good for the fans, and works for others. Ghostbusters: Afterlife was pushed back from summer 2020 (yes, we're still very much getting the lost generation of 2020 releases out), and now has a pretty decent release spot, following the shocking events related to the film Eternals to become perhaps the definitive blockbuster of November 2021, and maybe all the way into mid December. We'll see. It does putatively appeal to both older folk who nostalgize the original and children who can see themselves in the younger lead actors, or something. The weekend should be strong enough, followed by that sweet-spot Thanksgiving drop, and a few pre-holiday frames without a lot of competition push it to around a 3.0 multiple.
Opening weekend: $48 million / Total gross: $142 million
2. Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City! (November 24th)
The magic is back? Based on the Capcom video games, of which there have allegedly been dozens since 1996, Resident Evil the film was one of those elite-team-of-operatives-battling-monsters-in-secluded-location pictures that were just so popular after Aliens (1986)... and right up until that film's release apparently made future entries redundant.
The film opened back in March 2002, where its $17m first weekend (...$40m total), at least augmented by video and foreign grosses, was considered impressive enough to make many more, even if crushed by Blade II's $32m open the next weekend (and where's he now?). While perhaps a minor entry in the long gallery of action pictures, the film solidified star Milla Jovovich's status as an a-s-kicking goddess valkyrie among men (and gave her what I suppose must remain the definitive role of her career). It launched a potent, multi-million international movie franchise (I hear they love it in Southeast Asia!). It was one of the first in a trend of action-horror combos that lucratively raided the box office through the next decade (and also presumably gave rise to the five Underworld films, a fact one may not view favourably); and it inspired a quite humorous review from Roger Ebert - upon hearing the characters react incredulously to blood coagulating ("blood doesn't do that until you're dead!"), Ebert not unreasonably asked, "How does the blood on the floor know if you're dead?"
Oh, as I'd been waiting to tell you for years: it knows, Roger. It knows.
In the film, some excitement brewed over at the Umbrella Corporation's regional headquarters in Raccoon City, (in Colorado? perhaps; the zombie-strewn mountains looked familiar); A young woman named Alice (Jovovich) had failed in her spy craft mission to reveal the corporation's evil ways, while an entirely passable Hugh Jackman-lookalike (James Purefoy), perhaps in a lousy mood that particular afternoon, unleashed a viral infection that would at the end of the day decimate Planet Earth and kill billions of unwilling human beings (though the worst hadn't happened to them yet). By the end of the picture, Hugh II was hungrily eaten by a living dead, while Alice was left to combat the hordes of infected, zombified populace for years on end so she could finally live in her peace. Over the years, she has lost and gained allies (Michelle Rodriguez's Rain Ocampo, Ali Larter's snarky Claire Redfield, Oded Fehr's Carlos Olivera), foes (Shawn Roberts' Albert Wesker, Iain Glen's Dr. Isaacs, that little computer-generated girl who never aged), and literal clones of herself (at one point recruiting at least a dozen other Alices to take down a screaming bad guy; they succeeded).
And while she was doing this on the big screen, year after year, corpse after corpse, off of it Resident Evil had become one of the most consistent and prolific horror franchises of the 21st century, numbering at six films over 15 years, and ranking in order of quality, in my mind at least, as such: Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010, $60m total, also the highest-grossing), my favourite, an entertaining retelling of the Dawn of the Dead mythos, this time in a massive high-rise; Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004, $51m total), an eat-your-brain-at-the-door nonsense journey through one long and bloody Hallowe'en night in a zombifying small town; Resident Evil (2002), with the famous hallway security system that was known to f--k with people, changing its lasers into all shapes and sizes, before cutting them up to little pieces anyway; Resident Evil: Retribution (2012; $42m total), visually interesting and an homage to the others, even if a bit long-in-the-tooth; Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (2017; $26m total), which at least put this franchise to the ultimate rest (yes...); and then, Resident Evil: Extinction (2007; $50m total), in which Vegas, which had been populated by the living dead, was destroyed again after the zombies decided to invade it, too.
Then, the mission was complete.
But now, the magic is back again.
Resident Evil: Welcome to Racoon City! appears a sort of prequel, filling in some gaps in the story but uncommitted to the general continuity, perhaps in the way Batman Begins played like it was set right before Batman (1989) before we all became better informed about where the reboot concept, and all of human civilization along with it, were headed.
It's got a wily new cast of actors who've done well on television, playing video game characters they're name-checking right good for the fans: Tom Hopper, from The Umbrella Academy (no relation to the Umbrella Corporation, we hope), as that Wesker guy; Robbie Amell, who's proven a funny guy numerous times, as Claire Redfield's brother Chris; Hannah John-Kamen, the assassin lady of Ant-Man 2, as the gun-toting Jill Valentine (a lot of characters here are gun-toting); poor Avan Jogia, who's toiled on the tube for years and really needs a good film breakout, as Leon S. Kennedy (not to be confused with actor Leon Isaac Kennedy); and Kaya Scodelario, who began on Skins in the U.K. but has since headlined Crawl and made her way through The Maze Runner, is Claire Redfield, formerly played by Larter, the putative new heroine before Alice shows up and grabs lead gun. Alice, of course, is irreplaceable, and has not been recast.
Not until the sequel.
The film was shot in safety in late 2020 (right here in Ontario, to boot), by director Johannes Roberts of the 47 Meters Downs films and the underrated The Strangers: Prey at Night (let us prey!), and moved to the Thanksgiving slot, all the better to relieve us of the utter tedium of the family-oriented entertainment that usually coagulates around the holiday. Why have brain-thirsty zombies on Hallowe'en when you can have them on Hallowe'en and Thanksgiving? And how does the blood know it's dead? Well, for one thing, it doesn't, because it never is.
Opening weekend: $14 million (5-day) / Total gross: $30 million
3. Encanto (November 24th)
Here is a film I was genuinely surprised to discover is not actually from Pixar, and luckily I made this startling find just a day or so before writing. I saved myself the embarrassment (that particular embarrassment. Not the ones from all the other forecasts).
When it comes to these animated films, I've got a standard-issue writer's playbook, worth reprising here. I note the playbook. Then describe the reviews, fresh as they always are - Tomatoes says 91% have nodded their willing heads yes. I point out the impeccable credentials of the creators, and tell some history: Byron Howard and Jared Bush collaborated on Zootopia, while the former co-directed Bolt and Tangled and the latter wrote Moana, all Disney animated films that inevitably devoured copious heaps of box office grosses. I describe the plot - a magical family in the mountains of Colombia, with their non-magic (secular), outsider daughter the only one who can save the others from the forces of darkness. Bet you wish you were non-magic now! I list the cast - Stephanie Beatriz, John Leguizamo, Wilmer Valderrama, and obviously Alan Tudyk in the guise of his standard supporting parrot (it could have been a parakeet).
And then to finish, I state the obvious - that the film is likely to do quite well at the box office. Disney began the (evil) CGI era with Pixar 26 years ago on the exact same weekend, and here they go again. This is just what their animated films do. No need to hit them on the head for it, nor shower praise; nary an animated film shall flop. Sure, Ron's Gone Wrong didn't light the world on fire, as I had hoped - but it's got good reviews, and families will find it some day. And those Minions type sequels aren't as locked in to greatness as they once was, perhaps. But this is still an animated film from Disney studios, and the only thing someone who has been watching them (on the box office charts) for so many years can say is, as always: do your worst.
Opening weekend: $38 million (5-day) / Total gros: $122 million
4. Clifford the Big Red Dog (November 10th)
It's Clifford! Said dog finds its way to New York City (the place really stands out on a map, you know), where it befriends the nearest, token, single dad and his doting niece, the kind of malevolent tyke who, on a daily basis, makes her uncle breakfast and wakes him from his slumber, before suggesting kindly he shave the man-beard and start dating again.
And he will. But first, they need a lovable, physically intimidating (seriously, this little dude is huge) canine in their lives, and, once they've grown into loving that big lug, they'll need that litany of supporting characters (David Alan Grier, Kenan Thompson, John Cleese) who will help them out in slapstick combat as the film's desired villain arrives (I wrote that without checking, and now see - yep, there's a villain; Tony Hale heads a genetic company, and he needs Clifford to carry out his evil deeds).
English comedian Jack Whitehall has another big American role (see his Jungle Cruise, at least theoretically) as the uncle, and Darby Camp moves from harassing poor Santa Claus in The Christmas Chronicles to chasing after big red Clifford in this film, as the tyke who always has a plan.
Created by Norman Bridwell in 1963, the character Clifford the Big Red Dog has enjoyed marking his business right on through a long-running book collection (80 books! time for some late-night catch up reading) and a number of 21st century television series. Back in the 1990s, he did not manifest itself in my childhood, sadly (Goosebumps and Jason Voorhees were guarding my bedroom door, thank heavens), but as a near-adult I did notice he had an animated movie coming out in February 2004 (Clifford's Really Big Movie!), where it was sent only to a moderate, regional, release, grossing $2.9m in 471 theatres. I missed it again.
Now it's back, bigger-budgeted ($64m), red-livered, sprung on the whole country this time instead of just remote, fading movie palaces reachable only through an unmarked dirt road. And America'll have him, it seems - Clifford has pawed himself a $22m open over five days, and has a chance for a lot more with some long-form-holiday legs, perhaps like how The Addams Family 2 turned $17m into $55m in about 30 days. Hey, not bad for a day's work. Good on you there, doggie.
Total gross: $54 million
5. King Richard (November 19th)
Will Smith stars as Richard I of England (Richard the Lionheart, 1157-1199), also known as Duke of Normandy, Aquitaine and Gascony; Lord of Cyprus; Count of Poitiers, Anjou, Maine, and Nantes; and overlord of Brittany; who led the Third Crusade and conquered Cyprus as well as Sici---
OK, Ok, I would have preferred to see that movie. Instead we get many scenes of people engaged in the sport of TENNIS! Because Smith is actually just playing Richard Williams, the disciplinarian though loving father who begins training his very young (they were 4!) daughters through grueling conditions, and missed playdates, long days and early mornings. At the end of the day, and the film, they become among the greatest players of the sport ever to have stepped onto a sun-beaten court, having been rated world's greatest by the Women's Tennis Association, and winning numerous Grand Slam titles, and all the others, between the two of them. Thanks to King Richard, his two young daughters grew up to be Venus Williams and Serena Williams.
Well, fine, great, but it's not like they're superheroes or anything. They've never flown into a burning building, or turned back a natural disaster by reversing the earth's gravitational pull. Why didn't Richard teach them to do any of that? They just play TENNIS! That and a buck fifty will get you a cup of coffee with additives.
Reinaldo Marcus Green, of the recent Monsters and Men and Joe Bell, directs, Aunjanue Ellis (Sistah Girl from Undercover Brother) plays Richard's wife Brandy, Demi Singleton (Serena) and Saniyya Sidney (Venus) are the girls, and there are some fun supporting actors - Tony Goldwyn, the ever-ubiquitous Jon Bernthal, Dylan McDermott - as figures that fans of the sport may instantly recognize in a way I literally never could even after hours of study.
The film premiered at Telluride and has been busily working its way through the festival rounds, where it was marked as an audience-grabbing emotional pleaser even by some occasionally grumpy film critics (on Rotten Tomatoes there's 92% approve, for starters). Smith is a likely Oscar nominee this year, perhaps for the first time since his Ali and The Pursuit of Happyness days (though I suspect Peter Dinklage, for Cyrano, has the win in the bag). All well and good, and very respectable. But gee, still they play TENNIS!
The film opens on the family-oriented Thanksgiving slot that has been good to these fulfilling sports films that I always try to avoid - The Blind Side went from $34m on the same weekend to $255m at the end of the line after making Thanksgiving its bitch. Richard doesn't have a blind side in its future, but it should play for weeks, bolstered by awards season, though an HBO Max release will gnaw a bit at the seems.
Opening weekend: $11 million / Total gross: $47 million
6. Eternals (November 5th)
Last week, the moment I had waited for for centuries, and believed would never ever come to pass no matter how long I lived - did!
The unbelievable occurred. The impossible had transpired. The unachievable materialized. Yes yes yes yes! I screamed to the heavens in agonizing pleasure: after releasing 25 (extremely dull) films that were all rated Fresh on the Tomato Meter, the Marvel Cinematic Universe FINALLY made one that was certified Rotten on Rotten Tomatoes! 25 out of 25 films - a streak of unblemished and immoral perfection that had not been matched even by the likes of Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Michael Bay, or the Halloween series, has now been put to a very ceremonious and quite masterful and overdue conclusion. It's over. No soup for you, motherf---er. Rotten, rotten, rotten!
And it wasn't a squeaker, either, a 59% or 57 or any "okay, well, it was close, but a win is a win." No, sir. No asterik, no marginal triumphs. The movie scored FORTY SEVEN PERCENT FRESH. 47%!!! Gdamn, we in New York, baby! Chloé Zhao, who had just directed Nomadland, a film that won Oscar's top prize (deservedly, I thought), has now made history in a completely monumental and revolutionary way. The 2020s will never be the same. Now, anything is possible.
And Zhao truly must be the greatest director ever. I believe it. No mediocrity, or hack, or just only-respectable talent could have possibly have heralded this accomplishment. Jon Favreau, Alan Taylor, Peyton Reed, Kenneth Branagh, and many others - solid filmmakers all - tried so very hard to crack that rotten mark, and they all failed utterly. But Zhao outsmarted the Marvel machine, breaking through the red tomato wall that hadn't budged but one inch since maybe those days when The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man 2 just mildly jumped over that 60 front to safety, then led 22 more films to follow in their wake. The door is shut again now.
And so it was, and so it will be, the day of Eternals' release and official "Rotten" certification, November 5, 2021, has now become one of the greatest days in American history, perhaps greatest. Remember where you were. I cried and shook all Friday. And I wasn't the only one. If you turned on practically any news network (except for, you know, ''that'' one), you'd see crowds of jubilant celebrants filling the streets, shouting, dancing, kissing, high-fiving, initiating intercourse, indulging in well-earned and relieved bacchanalia. All those young blonde women who were twerking in town squares all across America on November 7, 2020, had come back out to do their thing again almost a year later, marking what was an even greater victory.
All of American history has led to this. Paul Revere's spirit can finally be at rest. His ride's over now, man. This is what Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and John Adams all gave their lives for (to a burst lung, bacterial epiglottitis, and a heart attack, respectively). "Tis well," said Washington as he lay dying. It is now, Mr. President. It is now.
This Canadian has now seen that America truly is the land where anything is possible; even an MCU film just not really being all that good, for a change. Thank you, Eternals, thank you, for finally making America great again.
Total gross: $151 million
7. House of Gucci (November 24th)
Another month, another 2 hour and 35 minute-long historical epic directed by Ridley Scott with Adam Driver in it. Where does the time go?
In October there was The Last Duel, with Matt Damon and Driver as historic Frenchmen who had gotten violently upset with each other over some sexual relations one had perhaps elected to have with the other's wife; and now we have House of Gucci, with Lady Gaga and Driver, respectively as a woman who marries into the vaunted Gucci family of high couture fame, and then the unfortunate offspring Maurizio who will soon feel her lethal wrath. (she wasn't called the Black Widow in the press for nothing).
The Gucci brand was founded by the rather alliterative Guccio Gucci, who passed away in 1953, long before the peak era of this film. The film runs with generations 2 and 3, born into wealth and running it well, at least for much if not all of the film's screen time: as Guccio's sons, Al Pacino is Aldo and Jeremy Irons his movie-star brother Rodolfo (no, really, he was a popular Italian leading man in movies), who shared the Gucci empire 50-50, while Jared Leto is Aldo's son Paolo and Adam Driver is Rodolfo's, Maurizio, known as more bookish than many in his more glamorous family. And then arrives Gaga as Patrizia, the woman Maurizio was wed to for over 20 years, and who upon their divorce cold-bloodedly engineered his death.
When it comes to symbols of Italian decadence and elegance, the killing of Versace's founder Gianni has received more attention in North America, perhaps owing to its Florida location, but the fate of poor Maurizio Gucci is now addressed in its own movie, too. The film's review status has yet to be determined, but something called House of Gucci would clearly carry a glossy pseudo-modern sheen that may attract younger audiences that have been averse to "adult"/awards-oriented content over the recent frame. The Last Duel, for one, was set too far back in pre-history, the late 1300s, to have attracted the sort of viewers that can barely relate to the late 1970s. Gucci moves the action 600 years from Scott's previous film to the 1990s, a decade whose ranking on the national nostalgia-meter has yet to be determined. But the 1980s, as Ghostbusters fans will tell you, it isn't up to par with.
Opening weekend: $8 million (5-day) / Total gross: $20 million