January 2017 Box Office Forecast

By Michael Lynderey

January 5, 2017

Smart Cookie.

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5. Monster Trucks (January 13th)
A film whose title made me think of NASCAR-style races between gas guzzlers in Southern arenas, really turns out to be a nice boy-and-his-dog story, with the boy a little older, if not too much, and the dog some kind of slobbering, literal, monster from the outer nebula, and one which enjoys taking up residence inside large trucks (yes, the title is to be taken absolutely literally). In short, the film aims not for the high-octane summer action of its original release date, but for quiet late-winter children's entertainment, and indeed its mid January slate has inspired many a surprise earner geared to the same demographic (the most shocking of which is probably still Are We There Yet?, which made $82 million in January 2005). Directed by CGI film veteran Chris Wedge (of Robots and Ice Age), it stars Lucas Till, previously of the X-Men series and the MacGyver television reboot, and Jane Levy, who has recently headlined two very impressive horror earners (Evil Dead '13 and Don't Breathe). Monster Trucks seems like the kind of undemanding, generally villain-less PG entertainment that follows much in the January kids' film tradition. I don't expect Monster Trucks to dominate the month, but children will understandably find that title creature to be kind of cute, and the film may do a little better than some of the cynics would have it.

Opening weekend: $13 million (4-day) / Total gross: $38 million

6. Underworld: Blood Wars (January 6th)
The Underworld franchise first reared its gnashing teeth on the scene in 2003, a year after the first Resident Evil film, and has accompanied it as a sort of distant cousin in supernaturally-tinged, violent, pseudo-futuristic action. Blood Wars is the series' fifth entry, with star Kate Beckinsale returning for her fourth outing (she did not appear in the 2009 prequel), along with co-star Theo James, who most recently headlined the Divergent films. And in the Underworld universe, 13 movie years on, not much has changed. Werewolves still snarl at vampires, vampires still appear thoroughly blasé at the sight of their hirsute enemies, young action stars share the screen with stone-faced character actors (Charles Dance here, Bill Nighy previously), and guns still blaze as an evidently more efficient and rapid way of mutual execution than teeth and nails, sharp as they may be. The last film in the series finished with a surprisingly potent $62 million in early 2012, so I predict a notably lower number here with some guided caution. Movie years have started off with a modestly-successful horror film for most of recent memory (The Forest was 2016's jump-starter, The Woman in Black 2 was 2015's). This is close enough. As with Milla Jovovich in Resident Evil 6, Beckinsale's lead character is beset by the problem that not enough of the right villains have been killed for her series to end. This film aims to rectify the situation.

Opening weekend: $16 million / Total gross: $38 million

7. xXx: the Return of Xander Cage (January 20th)
The return of Xander Cage is really the comeback of star Vin Diesel, who exploded onto the screen in the early 2000s as the lead of The Fast and the Furious and xXx, before leaving both franchises and settling into a kind of mid-decade funk, which oddly also befell other early 2000s leading men like Ben Affleck, Orlando Bloom, and Colin Farrell. As with the Furious Fast films, xXx inspired a Diesel-less sequel, with Ice Cube taking over as another agent. That second film opened with a claim that Diesel's character had just been killed, but the movie lied, and now he's back, with everything having been made right again (and, given that an eighth Fast and Furious film is scheduled for release this April, one can argue 'too' right).

The cast combines thespians (Nina Dobrev, Deepika Padukone) with singers (Kris Wu, Nicky Jam) and athletes (mma star Michael Bisping, footballer Neymar), but it's the supporting role by Toni Collete that most intrigues me (I hope she finally gets to kick some ass!). The sequel is helmed by D. J. Caruso, who mostly directs thrillers, and reunites Diesel with co-star Samuel L. Jackson, with the story being such a given that the trailer doesn't bother to properly introduce the villain. The first xXx was a big, entertaining summer movie that took in a solid $142 million. That was a long time ago, though, and I think a xXx sequel (or threequel, depending on how you count) will attract more or less the same muted attention as a few recent Diesel action films like Riddick and The Last Witch Hunter. As with Underworld and Resident Evil, the Return of Xander Cage is a film that may do better internationally, while its domestic fate may have it remaining wedged in around the month's other genre sequels.

Opening weekend: $12 million / Total gross: $34 million


8. A Dog's Purpose (January 27th)
This live action children's entertainment about a dog re-incarnated over and over again through the decades is based on the comic novel by W. Bruce Cameron, author also of the original 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter (the book was so much better than the show, truly). Josh Gad, star of many films but most likely best known for voicing Olaf in Frozen, provides the vocal tones of every iteration of the canine's life. The film is helmed by Lasse Hallström, who in recent years has focused firmly on feel-good entertainments like Safe Haven and The Hundred-Foot Journey, and its humans include Dennis Quaid, Britt Robertson, and a comeback by Peggy Lipton, as well as an actor named Pooch Hall, who was presumably a must-cast. There may or may not be grassroots marketing to children here, but films about cute dogs never bomb. This is especially because A Dog's Purpose makes no bones about announcing and priding in its canine lead, whose expansive enlarged face covers the film's poster, which lists no stars or credits or much else except for the animal's big, wet, nose and the tagline, "every dog happens for a reason". That's correct. As does every film.

Opening weekend: $10 million / Total gross: $29 million

9. Sleepless (January 13rd)
Somewhat on the lower tier of the month's action thrillers is this remake of the evocatively-titled 2011 French film Sleepless Night, about a police officer entangled in shady business (well, that's the job). Sleepless '17 is headlined by Jamie Foxx, who sat out the last two years but had previously carried a few respectable grossers (Law Abiding Citizen and Annie) and one that played on an even bigger scale (Django Unchained). Michelle Monaghan is good to see as the female lead, and the film includes such thriller mainstays as crime, drugs, Las Vegas, and the leading character's child in jeopardy. For this reason or that, Sleepless was moved up from a February slate and dropped into the scalding fire of January's competitive long weekend, where it will likely be crowded out by Monaghan's other big film. Also of note: a Las Vegas setting tends to double a movie's expected box office. Consider that calculation included.

Opening weekend: $8 million (5-day weekend) / Total gross: $20 million

10s. The Bye Bye Man and Live By Night (January 13th)
These are two vastly different films I bind together for no particular reason other than a joint release date and somewhat uncertain prospects (both will open around late single digits, I think). The Bye Bye Man is a horror film about everyone's favorite slasher victims, college students, who are here terrorized by a malevolent entity with an unusual nickname (maybe "Bye Bye Man" just means exactly what I think it means). The more prestigious Live By Night is Ben Affleck's fourth film as director, and, after the triumphs of Gone Baby Gone, The Town, and Argo, is the first to have received somewhat negative reviews. A crime film with a 1920s setting, it was pushed up from deep 2017 into the Oscar season, but now looks largely to be ceding ground to Patriots Day and other January expanders. Still, the cast includes Chris Cooper, Brendan Gleeson, Zoe Saldana, Elle Fanning, and Affleck himself, and these Boston gangster stories tend to do pretty well, even if the film is up against Patriots Day, another thriller set in the same town. Little is known about The Bye Bye Man, whose cast is a bit more original, with horror veteran Douglas Smith, Cressida Jones (whom every person in the U.K. will recognize), and Faye Dunaway, of all people, in her first wide release since 2002. So don't believe the title. Welcome back, Ms. Dunaway.

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