October 2016 Box Office Forecast
By Michael Lynderey
October 6, 2016
7. Ouija: Origin of Evil (October 21st)
In the tradition of Annabelle, this is a 1960s-set prequel to a recent successful ghost story. But first, and putting Madea aside for just a second, since Ouija: Origin of Evil is the only unabashed horror film this month, it will have to suffer through me inflicting the recent history of the horror genre upon its forecast. Horror films of the 21st century, especially as far as Octobers go, have been dominated by two genre-defining, ultra-low-budget (by modern standards) franchises: first, the torture-heavy Saw, which ran from October 2004 and through every consecutive year until October 2010; and then the shaky-cam Paranormal Activity films, which more or less phased out Saw, beginning in September 2009 and moving on through the next three Octobers (2010-2012), before making one final bow last October 23rd. Those loopy Paranormal films reached greater heights ($100m+, twice!) than the Saws did, but then died an ignoble death, plateauing out to a mere $18 million last fall (I think they're gone for good, but horror series are never dead).
The point is that for the first time in film history, two franchises had staked out each October for persistently consecutive sequels, coaching audience members to return almost exactly year after year for the latest installment. It was a formula that worked (perhaps too well), and so as Kevin Hart would say, what now? Recent years have produced few really long-standing horror franchises, and nothing has arrived to take Paranormal Activity's place as an annual holiday tradition. October 2016 is particularly odd in that Ouija 2 is the only fully self-identifying horror film released between Blair Witch on September 16th, and November 1st. That's a big contrast to October 2015, which fit in roughly five horror movies (Goosebumps included), and so it may well be that this prequel is really the only title that can fill a need for teenage audiences seeking a seasonably-timed fright.
The first Ouija did modest business in 2014, opening with $19 million and finishing at $50 million, despite critical accreditation that can charitably be described as unsupportive. The trailer for this prequel seems to have a bit more bite, including some good and mean-spirited bits (does that boy really sling himself?), and, as stated, the ouija has the field of teenage horror victims all to itself, even if it's opening on the month's busiest weekend.
Opening weekend: $23 million / Total gross: $50 million
8. Kevin Hart: What Now? (October 14th)
One of the bigger comic actors today returns with his third stand-up concert film, following, in increasing order of magnitude, Laugh at My Pain (2011) and Let Me Explain (2013), a pair of titles that really rhymed. Hart's big box office moment seemed pegged roughly two years ago, when the market was saturated with his comedic output, in roles both lead and supporting. He's still a big draw, of course - his buddy film Central Intelligence crossed $100 million more or less easily earlier this year, and January's Ride Along 2 (whaddya know, another buddy movie) wasn't far behind. His first concert film bowed only in limited release, where it took in a strong $7 million, while the second had a wider slate of almost 900 theaters, and upped the box office to $30 million. The increase in grosses will continue, I think, and Hart has really lorded over the relatively rare concert film subgenre (Richard Pryor was the only other comedian who released so many). While I can only guess what topics may be addressed here (politics and race are certain to come up, as they must), this new film seems like it's aiming to set up a mood of anticipation and scale, with the poster portraying Hart peering down from a helicopter at a city scape bearing a scorched question mark. The film's title is indeed very non-committal, and maybe you can detect a note of uncertainty in my forecast, too, but I know the man still has his fans.
Opening weekend: $18 million / Total gross: $45 million
9. Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life (October 7th)
Just like The Girl on the Train, Middle School seems modeled in the footsteps of a previous big hit - in this case, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which was also a children's book adaptation that included colorful and would-be simplistic drawings in a handful of scenes, and which, of course, was also set in middle school. Indeed, the Wimpy Kid pictures largely agreed with this film's title assessment of middle school as an incomparable hellhole from which only the strong survive (gosh, was it really that bad?). The cast is largely unknown, as they must be, although the parents are played by the intriguing teaming of Rob Riggle and Lauren Graham, and the lead is Griffin Gluck, who I still remember as one of the blackmail-prone children in Adam Sandler's Go with It. Wimpy Kid inspired two sequels before pausing in 2012 (with, yes, a third, recast, sequel slated for next year), so we know the market is wide open for this material, and its early October release date is probably modeled somewhat after the very good children's film Alexander and the Horrible/Terrible/etc. Day (or maybe I just remember too many movie release dates; you decide). In a month that is otherwise full of cold, unfeeling adult movies about people who are pre-occupied with stabbing or shooting each other (or, in the case of Ouija, coming back from the dead after having been stabbed and/or shot), Middle School finds itself the only option for children's entertainment all the way past Hallowe'en. It may not open big, but circumstances will keep it in play for weeks. Although, as I write this, way too close to a non-existent deadline, Middle School still has not been reviewed by critics, which is a dispiriting sign if not a decisive one. Its fundamentals are good enough.
Opening weekend: $11 million / Total gross: $38 million
10. Keeping Up With The Joneses (October 21st)
Keeping Up With The Joneses is the second Zach Galifianakis film in three weeks, following Masterminds, and just like that film, this is a broad comedy with a populous cast and goofy action hijinks. Here, average suburbanites (Isla Fisher is Galifianakis' spouse) are confronted with the seemingly superhuman/amazonian Joneses, spies who move in next door and are played by Jon Hamm, in one of his bigger film roles, and Gal Gadot, who managed to sneak this one in between Wonder Woman movies for DC (say, can you imagine another version of this film, where the Joneses are played by the former Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Pitt and Jolie?). I am amused by the cast and premise (although the words "government conspiracy" are in way too many plot descriptions this month), but I am unsure of the movie's oncoming fate, especially after Masterminds was left waiting among a somewhat crowded slate. Director Greg Mottola has made some good films (hey, he directed Superbad and Adventureland), and so it's possible that the film will receive positive critical notices (I thought Bad Moms would not, and was wrong) and thus will pick up its box office pace. If not, it will probably rank only the fourth of the weekend's openers.
Opening weekend: $7 million / Total gross: $20 million
11. Max Steel (October 14th)
This adaptation of the Mattel toy is one I list with some pause, unsure of its status as a wide release. Max Steel stars Ben Winchell as the title Max, with some choice support like Maria Bello and Andy Garcia. It is an action science fiction film of the sort they made more of in the 1980s (1998's Star Kid also comes to mind), where clever high school students merged their smarts with alien technology to defeat unsmiling agents from shady and discontinued government agencies. If it's a wide release, it may be able to tap somewhat into the children's market, but this property doesn't seem like it's rising in advertising or profile much. Fun fact: in 2009, weeks after the onslaught of New Moon, Max Steel was one of five films Taylor Lautner was cast in, reflecting his newfound popularity. Only one of those prospective films was made: Abduction (2011). Happy Hallowe'en.
Opening weekend: $5 million