January 2017 Box Office Forecast
By Michael Lynderey
January 5, 2017
Appropriately enough, January 2017 has a new horror movie out every weekend, including a particularly terrifying one on January 20th (that's M. Night Shyamalan's latest, Split, which is about a demented, raving lunatic who lurches from common sense to cruel insanity at the flicker of a second). Other than that, January seems to be pretty much ceding ground to 2016's numerous December expansions, one or two of which will easily win the month.
1. Patriots Day (expands January 13th)
In a month where most new films are B-movies and genre thrillers, the unusually supple amount of expanding Oscar contenders will dominate. Smaller titles like The Founder, Silence, and A Monster Calls may run up their numbers over many weeks, but two films should do well right off the gate, even if neither of them is particularly likely to be up for the bigger awards.
The first is Patriots Day, which leads an unusually crowded slate on the second weekend of January. It is the movie that will presumably outgross all comers. Patriots Day documents the Boston Marathon bombing of April 15, 2013, from the day's early morning hours to the subsequent hunt for its two perpetrators. The film reunites director Peter Berg with star Mark Wahlberg, after Lone Survivor in 2013 and Deepwater Horizon a scant few months ago, in a film that like those two aims to give a respectful depiction of a recent American tragedy: as befit a true story, the trailer sells Patriots Day as a mix of thriller suspense and emotional uplift. The female lead is played by Michelle Monaghan, in one of her two films that weekend, and character actors like Kevin Bacon, J. K. Simmons, and John Goodman fill out the Boston citizenry and officials, many playing real people and some amalgams. The blue-print for the film's late December platform release and early January expansion is clear: Lone Survivor was a strong expander over the same slate in 2014, and American Sniper made a whole lot of money over this long weekend a year after that. History might repeat itself, at least part of the way. When predicting Deepwater Horizon, I wrote that Wahlberg both "exudes the right working-class star power" and "opens this kind of film extremely well," and even though my forecast was off by a good $50 million or so, I will repeat the argument here.
Opening weekend: $41 million (4-day) / Total gross: $100 million
2. Hidden Figures (expands January 6th)
From the other tonal end of the Oscar contender pool is this expander, a film that, with its premise of common decency and goodwill towards men and women would have been a much better fit to open wide a few weeks earlier, to fit into the holiday season. Hidden Figures is the true and little-known story of black female mathematicians who helped shepherd NASA's space program in the early 1960s, running up against both the cold majesty of space and the cruelty of man. The film is headlined by Octavia Spencer, who won an Oscar for The Help and is thus no stranger to important historical films; Taraji P. Henson, now a breakout television star; and singer Janelle Monáe, who has also received some strong plaudits for her role in the smaller Moonlight. Helmed by Theodore Melfi, whose first film, St. Vincent (2014) was funny and warm, it also stars the storied Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons, and Kirsten Dunst, as well as rising actor Glen Powell as the now dearly departed John Glenn. I hope he saw it.
Hidden Figures' marketing campaign seems to have a lot of goodwill and energy behind it, with reviews confirming and endorsing its quality (94% on Tomatoes). I may be underestimating the film's opening weekend, but however big the difference, its legs over the next few weeks should be strong enough to put it in contention with Patriots Day, because this looks like the kind of uplifting biopic that plays well over awards season.
Opening weekend: $15 million / Total gross: $78 million
3. Split (January 20th)
The month's biggest non-2016 film is likely to be this loopy-seeming thriller, the latest from M. Night Shyamalan. The anticipation for his film matches the redemption narrative that is so popular in American cinema: Shyamalan went from a little-seen indie drama (Wide Awake) to maverick wunderkind maker of high-profile suspenseful dramas (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs), before directing a number of films that many of his detractors dismissed as running jokes. Then came his 2015 thriller The Visit, which he financed himself for a mere $5 million, and which restored his reputation among many a critic, myself included. Aside from everything else, The Visit also features a moment that brilliantly captured the zeitgeist of 2015-2016 (when an elderly lunatic removes his sullied diaper and slams it into a small child's face; "you have a problem with germs, don't ya?").
So Split arrives with a high amount of hope that Shyamalan's comeback story will continue, and early reviews from its festival premiere affirm that it does (81% fresh). Here, James McAvoy plays the psychopath lead, who kidnaps several young girls in preparation for a scheme concocted by one of his many alternate personalities (yes, that's pretty creepy). Co-star Anya Taylor-Joy established her genre credentials last year with The Witch and Morgan, and Split has a good, solid, scary, trailer. I imagine most people attending expect a twist ending (my favorite of his final acts was Unbreakable), and such a twist, if it exists, is presumably not that all the characters are simply in this guy's mind (that couldn't be it, right?). Other than The Last Airbender, The Visit was Shyamalan's biggest earner since 2004, finishing with $65 million, and there's no reason at all Split shouldn't more or less ape that performance.
Opening weekend: $25 million / Total gross: $64 million
4. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (January 27th)
Between Resident Evil 6 and Underworld 5, both of Screen Gems' signature science fiction/action franchises are having what may or may not be their last big-screen hurrahs this month.
This is a franchise whose scale has gradually risen. It began as one of those Aliens-style films where a military team is stuck in a narrow location with ravenous monsters (the first Resident Evil), progressed into one long night in a midwestern town overrun by zombies (the second film, Apocalypse), and then expanded the setting into the last three films, Extinction, Afterlife, and Retribution, which featured Alice wandering the post-apocalyptic landscape, finishing off whatever zombies may land in her way (unfortunately, most of the earth's population has by now been zombified, so this goal, while noble and useful, may take a few more films). Paul W. S. Anderson directed most of the series and returns here once more. Lead character Alice always remembers everything, as the taglines announce, which is just a bit more than I do, and the film has Jovovich again joined by Ali Larter, along with some new faces, like William Levy and Ruby Rose (who has also found herself plugged into the xXx sequel, probably playing much the same gun-toting, no-nonsense character, a favorite trope of both this series and Underworld). The Resident Evil films' highest grosser is 2010's Afterlife, which I thought was the best of the series and which took in $60 million, while the last film, in 2012, finished with $42 million, a ballpark this one will likely dangle around and hope to overshoot.
As for that title? Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter was the fourth film in that august series, and even though almost 33 years later we know that name was a lie, I will approach this "Final Chapter" with good faith that the entry is indeed the last. No zombie can walk the earth forever. Neither can their killers. The franchise started with an opening weekend of $17 million and a close of $40 million. Perhaps it will end much the same way.
Opening weekend: $17 million / Total gross: $40 million