December 2016 Box Office Forecast
By Michael Lynderey
December 1, 2016
3. Passengers (December 21st)
Not to be confused with the little-known 2008 thriller of the same name, which starred Anne Hathaway and Patrick Wilson, and which I keep reminding myself I have to see (it hasn't worked so far), this stab at the same title is a film that has a modest chance to rank among the month's three biggest. As the poster showing two faces in extreme close-up indicates, this is a movie thoroughly marketed on star power, a fact which its advertisers are totally justified in doing.
That is because Passengers, a science fiction film about futuristic space travel gone awry, is carried by two of the world's biggest movie stars, Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, who need no introduction, but whose achievements I will recap anyway. Lawrence is more firmly established, having dominated most or all holiday seasons since roughly 2012, between three Hunger Games films and three more David O. Russell dramas, while Pratt launched from Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World into this year's The Magnificent Seven, which arguably underperformed. The film is helmed by Morten Tyldum, whose Imitation Game did very well two Decembers ago, while co-star Michael Sheen seems funny as the cybertronic upper stump of a robot bartender.
And yet as always, I must nitpick at this set-up: the film is an original idea, one that reminds me just a little of George Clooney's Solaris, another somewhat cerebral sci-fi tale about a big star stuck on a wayward space station, and one which exploded onto the screens and then quickly vanished over Thanksgiving 2002. Sci-fi is a tricky genre, often driven not by big name stars but by concepts and brand recognition.
In short, Passengers is the kind of movie where I look at everything about it and think: sure, it may be good or even great cinema for all I know, but... why science fiction? Wouldn't a traditional holiday-driven romantic comedy starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence - perhaps as feuding lovers in a wealthy Manhattan suburb or a pair stuck in a quirky small town during an impromptu road trip - have been much more of a sure-fire blockbuster hit? Even if this version is quite successful, couldn't the earth-set non-science fiction version of Passengers have obliterated the box office take of this version - especially as a counterpoint to the already decidedly science fictional Star Wars sequel, which will surely be the first choice of genre fans even if they've already seen it once, twice, or many more times? I accept that asking these questions gives a preference to commerce over art, but actually, that's what I'm here to do.
Opening weekend: $51 million (5-day) / Total gross: $135m
4. Assassin's Creed (December 21st)
Genre action films that end the year typically focus more on Hobbit-esque fantasy than time-traveling sci-fi, and so this video game adaptation is not what I would place as a typical December movie, even though Star Wars, moving itself to December for the first time, may have changed all expectations. Star Michael Fassbender navigates between high-minded, verbose indie films and action blockbusters with relative ease, and here plays the title killer, whose (do I have this right?) memories are circulated through time in a genealogical mess that lands him in Inquisition Era-Spain (15th century Spain was a nice place to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there). The film has been rated PG-13, all the better to obscure the unseasonal bloodshed, and the helmer is Justin Kurzel, who teamed with Fassbender and co-star Marion Cotillard on last year's well-received redo of Macbeth, which I assume cost a little less than this film's mid-to-upper hundred million dollar tab.
As I said earlier this year about that other big video game adaptation, all I know about the popularity of Assassin's Creed is that I've heard the name spoken around myself for years and years (usually in hushed, reverent whispers), after which I nodded helpfully and smiled in agreement, as if understanding what they were talking about (I didn't). And as I said about that other film, which was called Warcraft, well, it might just be huge, and all the fans will turn out to the theaters, running past the five screens showing Rogue One and into this one (hey, wait a minute, maybe I like these Assassin's Creed fans after all!). I predicted something ridiculous for Warcraft ($45 million opening and $101 mil total? What the hell was I thinking?), and I have no problem making the exact same mistake again, if need be.
Opening weekend: $48 million (5-day) / Total gross: $122 million