January 2016 Forecast
By Michael Lynderey
January 7, 2016
Once considered the year's least fertile cinematic soil, January has now transitioned into a sort of mini-summer, with a Michael Bay film and two big sequels looking like they wouldn't be out of place in June. The rest of the slate is much more January-esque, with science fiction, more animation, a western, and the inevitable PG-13 horror films.
1. Kung Fu Panda 3 (January 29th)
The Kung Fu Panda franchise began in sunny days, with great reviews and a bigger-than-expected opening weekend ($60 million in June 2008), proceeded with a respectable total ($215 million for that first film), and then encountered an unexpected setback, with a 2011 sequel that was just about as well reviewed as the original, but had somehow grossed not more, but less, taking in $165 million after a lower opening. In some ways, this downturn of events, which remains pretty much unexplained, echoes one of DreamWorks' other big CGI franchises, the How to Train Your Dragon films. The Dragon is taking a time out for a few years, but the Panda is back right now, and he’s got a bold release date strategy, an attempt to test the theory that a film with a big, pre-ordained audience can do well at any time of the year: Panda 3 isn't staking out the Martin Luther King, Jr. four-day holiday weekend on the 15th, leaving that to another animated film, Norm of the North, and has instead been slated into what would otherwise appear to be a generic late-January weekend, with no bells and whistles around to explain quite what a big-name CGI movie is doing there. Jack Black returns to voice the overweight black-and-white creature of the title, joined by some choice new co-stars like Rebel Wilson and soon-to-be Oscar nominee Bryan Cranston (any day now). Not much else is different in this third iteration, and It's tough to gauge how many fans the franchise retains after all these years, but they're likely to be numerous enough to re-arrange expectations about late January scheduling.
Opening weekend: $38 million / Total gross: $131 million
2. 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (January 15th)
What’s likely to be the most controversial film of the month is one that arrives in no uncoincidental terms during what promises to be a particularly intense presidential primary season. 13 Hours is, more important for our purposes, the fourth consecutive film in what has now become an unofficial mid-January tradition: after Zero Dark Thirty successfully expanded on January 11, 2013, Lone Survivor became a huge breakout hit on January 10, 2014, and then American Sniper expanded wide on January 16, 2015 to numbers that almost bested Lone Survivor's total gross in a couple of days, it’s clear that studios have settled on mid-January as the perfect release date for military films that tackle recent events with a strong patriotic visage. The aforementioned films were helmed by Kathryn Bigelow, Peter Berg, and Clint Eastwood, respectively, all known for testosterone, but 13 Hours has at its helm no less than Michael Bay himself, a man whose name ought to somehow be an anagram of "blockbuster." The film's trailers promise his brand of frenetic action in a take on the politically-charged tragedy of the Libyan embassy attacks of September 11, 2012, and the cast is good, with an action turn by John Krasinski (who was once up to play Captain America), surrounded by character actors like James Badge Dale, David Denman, and Pablo Schreiber. Other than looking at the big war films of the three Januaries past, it's tough to pinpoint 13 Hours' floor and ceiling, but between the holiday weekend release date, the in-the-news plot, and what is usually reported as the military fervor of many audience members, the film will likely at least put up a good fight to win the month from that big fat panda.
Opening weekend: $48 million (4-day) / Total gross: $125 million
3. Ride Along 2 (January 15th)
Kevin Hart returns to the well of what is unquestionably his biggest success as a lead actor, Ride Along, the buddy action comedy that seemed to come out of nowhere just two short Januaries ago to open with $41 million and finish with a frankly gargantuan $134 million (yes, those are good legs! And I would have predicted less than half than that, if pressed). Hart's worked hard and often in the two years since, and between his films About Last Night, Think Like a Man, Too, The Wedding Planner, and Get Hard, oversaturation has likely creeped in to one degree or another. His co-star Ice Cube led a big cultural moment last year with biopic Straight Outta Compton, adding capital to this film in an unexpected way. Still, Ride Along was Kevin Hart's first real starring role, it filled a need that was clearly there, and I think expecting the sequel to replicate the original's numbers is too lofty a target. Reviews might not be great, but they didn't much matter the first time, and they likely won't particularly change the box office outcome here, either. Ride Along 2 should still do very well on its targeted holiday weekend.
Opening weekend: $37 million (4-day) / Total gross: $87 million