January 2016 Forecast
By Michael Lynderey
January 7, 2016
4. The Finest Hours (January 29th)
January's other based-on-a-real-event thriller is also, after Ron Howard's In the Heart of the Sea, the second film in as many months about the crew of a large New England vessel who encounter catastrophe at sea. This is the one without the big fish. I'd expect higher numbers from The Finest Hours, though the unkind fate that befell the Howard picture ($23 million at the box office so far, on a $100 million budget) is particularly troubling (in fact, between Exodus and the Sea film, it seems like the second weekend of December is turning into a dangerous spot for historical epics). Anyway, this time around, Chris Pine stars, with a supporting cast smorgasborded by the likes of Casey Affleck, Eric Bana, and Ben Foster, playing unlucky crewmen trapped in a storm off the coast of 1952 Massachusetts (as the poster gravely informs us: "32 survivors, room for 12"). The film has a vaguely patriotic sheen and appears noble and heroic in all the right ways, though some of its target demographic might be otherwise engaged with the likes of 13 Hours. The Finest Hours also has the Disney brand behind it, which might help it acquire very good legs if it's well reviewed, and a lack of particularly objectionable material could make it an agreeable family film offering.
Opening weekend: $17 million / Total gross: $55 million
5. Norm of the North (January 15th)
This 3D adventure appears to exist on the release schedule primarily to fill the children's film niche that’s become kind of mandatory on the big Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday weekend (see Paddington last year). The tale of an arctic bear who travels to unfamiliar and foreboding New York City (calling him a "fish out of water" would be offensive to all those underwater denizens the bear has surely consumed) stars the vocal intonations of an eclectic batch of character actors, like Rob Schneider, Ken Jeong, Heather Graham, Loretta Devine, and the irreplaceable Bill Nighy, and it comes from a studio, Lionsgate, with some experience releasing these mid-level titles. Nothing about Norm of the North seems to be particularly distinguished, but its release date is indeed well chosen, many weeks after the last big animated film; and if The Nut Job could take in $19 million on the same weekend, Norm of the Norm should be close enough behind, even if there's no question that a different breed of bear will overshadow it by month's end.
Opening weekend: $15 million (4-day) / Total gross: $43 million
6. Dirty Grandpa (January 22nd)
Not to be confused with the Jackass crew's ribald tribute to lunacy, Bad Grandpa, this relatively more down-to-earth exploitation of the elders among us teams upstart Zac Efron and stalwart Robert De Niro, perhaps not the first two people you'd peg as relatives, and has them embark into one of my favorite genres, the road trip picture. Dirty Grandpa is the first of three big Efron comedies this year, with his upcoming two, Neighbors 2 and Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, scheduled out at intervals of several months each. Efron seems to succeed opposite established co-stars, and De Niro had a big hit not so long ago with The Intern, where another unlikely pairing (with Anne Hathaway) led to some successful chemistry. Dirty Grandpa should do well enough, even if it won't necessarily break out, but one thing about the film is unquestionably very, very funny: the early teaser poster, a play on the most famous image from The Graduate, is pretty brilliant, even if the joke might be lost on much of the film's younger audience.
Opening weekend: $14 million / Total gross: $38 million
7. The Forest (January 8th)
Natalie Dormer, most recently seen participating in harried revolutionary activity in The Hunger Games 4, does the honors of ushering in the New Year in headlining the very first wide release of 2016. These early January horror films - usually involving some of sort of vengeful, unhappy ghost - have been a tradition going back, oh, 11 years ago, when Michael Keaton had a career resurgence headlining White Noise, a PG-13 rated ghost story, to a ridiculous $24 million opening on January 7, 2005 (that's over $30 million in today's dollars, and yes, the movie ultimately out-grossed Birdman; did you even have to ask?). The Forest seems to follow well enough in those footsteps, and further in the spirit of titles such as One Missed Call (2008) and last year's opener The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death, which had a shockingly high $15 million weekend before petering out at a total gross just $11 million more than that. But let's get more specific: The Forest has a really intriguing premise and an inspired setting, a real Japanese forest, Aokigahara, known as a one-way destination for those who wish to commit suicide. Aokigahara, which carries the nickname "Suicide Forest," has inspired a couple of previous, little-seen movies, as well as this film's ironic tagline, "Everyone comes here looking for a way out." I assume it's not going to be a runaway like White Noise, but The Forest should earn its keep.
Opening weekend: $14 million / Total gross: $34 million