April 2016 Box Office Forecast

By Michael Lynderey

April 1, 2016

A boy and his kitty cat.

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April 2016 is wrenched into an unglamorous spot, coming after two of the biggest comic book film openings of all time and preceding a May that could give us a third. The month is led by three potential off-season blockbusters, with the rest of the field awkwardly divided up among smaller films and pseudo-limited releases. On the plus side, if you like unpredictability, here's a rare month where the #1 film isn't as easy to guess as usual.

1. The Jungle Book (April 15th)

Disney has grown fond of live-actionizing its near century-long output of animated films, and this adaptation of the 1967 title is as good an idea as any. As with Disney’s Cinderella last year, this is certainly a quality production on all possible fronts: The Jungle Book is helmed by Jon Favreau, who has directed memorable children's films like Elf and Zathura, and whose box office result here may land squarely in between that of those films (so, precisely in between $29 million and $173 million). The star is hitherto unknown actor Neel Sethi as the boy, Mowgli, a character who lives in a land presumably far beyond the reach of child services.

The film is quietly being sold on its impressive voice cast: Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba (as the malfeasant tiger, Shere Khan), Scarlett Johansson (as a slinky snake), the always-recognizable Christopher Walken, and recent Academy Award-winner Lupita Nyong'o (for informational purposes, I will note that the last time Nyong'o's real face was actually seen on screen was in Non-Stop, which opened the weekend of her Oscar win in February 2014). Murray's voicing of Baloo the bear seems to be the main attraction here, with the bear's gelatinous upside-down bodice prancing about in a lake seeming to be the big money shot in the trailer. The scheduling for this children's entertainment also seems to be just right: by the time Jungle Book opens, we'll be a month and a half post Zootopia, and more than a few weeks before anything particularly appealing to this demographic. And speaking of timing, fortune favors the film another way: for one reason or another, there's a rival Jungle Book film opening next year, and the upcoming Tarzan movie seems close enough in the ballpark to mention, so Disney ought to be commended for getting there first.

Opening weekend: $34 million / Total gross: $101 million


2. The Huntsman: Winter's War (April 22nd)

Sort of the biggest question mark of the month is this prequel to the 2012 film Snow White and the Huntsman, which does not include original star Kirsten Stewart (she’s to be seen mostly in hard-edges, special effects-less indies these days) but does retain (or pretain) Charlize Theron and Chris Hemsworth, in a tale of an earlier set of misadventures involving both the huntsman and Theron's Queen Ravenna. The original film, released two months after another Snow White picture, won the war against it easily on what is probably the only relevant front (it grossed $155 million to Mirror Mirror's $64 million), though I'm now surprised to discover that the two ran about even in terms of reviews (I thought Snow White was clearly the better entry, but, on the other hand, I often make erroneous critical evaluations of films).

While the story of the huntsman's more youthful days is unfamiliar to most (it may even be totally fictional), the filmmakers have opened up this world in both plot and cast, adding to the payroll Emily Blunt, as the morally ambiguous sister of Theron's evil queen, and Jessica Chastain as the huntsman's spouse, who aptly resembles a huntswoman and who, barring a divorce, likely won't quite survive this installment, given her absence in the sequel (ditto for Blunt's character). On the plus side, Blunt, Theron, and Chastain have a lot of action film credibility between them, having memorably gone off to respective wars in Edge of Tomorrow, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Zero Dark Thirty. Even so, it's hard to know how receptive audiences will be to this particular spin-off, and I'm reminded - in spirit, anyway - of London Has Fallen, which was also a follow-up to a surprise hit whose sequelizable value turned out to be very questionable.

Hemsworth has a movie star aura, but he’s most recently headlined Blackhat and In the Heart of the Sea, two underrated (especially the latter) entries in somewhat outmoded genres, and two films that made nary a mark at the box office. Still, other studios seemed scared enough of the Huntsman not to schedule any other films for wide release on the 22nd, but surrounding empty space doesn't automatically amount to a strong opening.

Opening weekend: $29 million / Total gross: $81 million

3. The Boss (April 8th)

The latest Melissa McCarthy star vehicle casts her as the title character, one of the richest people in the United States, in a perhaps-timely send-up of the billionaire life. No, McCarthy's Boss isn't running for political office - they're saving that for The Boss 2: Boss Harder - first, she must rebuild her empire after an apparent bout of insider trading and the incarceration that follows. The Boss is directed by McCarthy spouse Ben Falcone, who helmed her film Tammy and has appeared in almost all of her recent starring roles. Supporting actors like Kristen Bell, Peter Dinklage, and Kathy Bates are nice, but the marketing is zeroed in here on one perp: McCarthy, who will easily be counted among the five biggest comedy stars of the 2010s, and who is in possession of a name that's headlined everything from Identity Thief to The Heat and Spy to respectable or very strong numbers over and over again.

I'd argue that her box office has never disappointed, and even Tammy, her lowest-grossing film as a lead, finished with a solid $84 million. Anticipation for the McCarthy-led Ghostbusters is bubbling up, and if The Boss gets reviews that are the very least respectable, it could flirt with coming in above a hundred million dollars, especially since it has a good release date, roughly a few weeks away in either direction from anything resembling a big comedy.

Opening weekend: $27 million / Total gross: $73 million

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