February 2018 Box Office Forecast

By Michael Lynderey

February 5, 2018

Super. Heroes.

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January felt muted and commandeered by 2017 leftovers, but one movie is poised to so thoroughly dominate February that all Oscar-nominated Greatest Showmen and their fancifully-choreographed musical numbers will soon fade from memory (um, no, February's obvious #1 is not a superhero movie. Definitely not! Don't be ridiculous. It's not based on a comic book, either. Disney also isn't involved. Wrong, wrong, wrong! Your guess was totally off, stupid!).

Fighting it out for number two are the conclusion of one of literature's greatest trilogies, and a Clint Eastwood film of unclear momentum.

1. Black Panther (February 16th)
Why, I could have sworn we all made New Year's resolutions never to see another superhero movie again (ever).

Resolutions will be broken, and soon, because Black Panther arrives as just the first of the year's collection of must-see superhero features. His predicted complete dominance of the beginning of 2018 is consistent with what I've written before: in the 21st century, all-purpose blockbuster filmmaking has been replaced by supermen cinema (quoting yourself means you're very smart).

American actor Chadwick Boseman plays the titular character, an inheritor of the Black Panther suit and name, passed down to him for countless generations by his forefathers, the ruling kingsmen in his African country of Wakanda (or, in modern lingo, he's a "self-made billionaire"). Wakanda, of course, is known in the comic books as the most technologically advanced nation on earth, although one apparently bereft of democratically-elected leadership (I assume that's been amended for the movie version).

T'Challa, The Black Panther was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in July 1966, just months before the somewhat more militant American organization the Black Panthers first came on the scene. T'Challa first scaled cinemadom in Captain America: Civil War (2016), a film I found curious because it sashayed through no less than three different reasons for Captain America and Iron Man to be fighting each other, with each of the calls-to-arms (the Sokovia Accords, Bucky's imprisonment status, and the murder of Iron's daddy, respectively) replacing the previous at approximately 45 minute intervals in the plot. These issues will not be addressed in this film, a largely self-contained story about the Panther's combat with another individual (Michael B. Jordan) armed with that most unfortunate of combinations, 1. a grudge, and 2. a lot of money with which to apply it.

As you will hear, Black Panther is notable as the first of 18 Marvel Cinematic Universe films to star in the lead someone who is not a white male (Blade, Elektra, and the like are not "official" MCU films and don't show up on the tally; meanwhile, Captain Marvel, headlined by Brie Larson, is due next March). As a step forward for representation, it will make a lot of money and receive due plaudits. Its direction is provided by Ryan Coogler, an increasingly blockbuster-prone helmer who began with Fruitvale Station (2013) and continued through Creed (2015) and into the stars. The supporting cast includes Andy Serkis, Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Daniel Kaluuya (the Oscar nominee from Get Out), and Lupita Nyong'o, in what is only her second (!) significant live action role since her early 2014 Academy Award win for 12 Years a Slave.

The reviews are already stealing all of their own old lines, with no attribution or credit ("redefines the superhero film", "the best Marvel film yet", "The one you've been waiting for" - previously used on Logan, Thor: Ragnarök, Wonder Woman, and so on). Indeed, and as I always complain, to no apparent use or effect, not one of the soon to be eighteen Marvel Cinematic Universe films has ever received a Rotten rating on the grand doyen web site Rotten Tomatoes, and I expect that after 2018 has concluded and three more films are added to the pantheon, the complaint will remain unaddressed, the tally of uncorrupted Fresh unbroken still. To Marvel: the true sign of genius is the ability to, occasionally, err and err badly. You have clearly not mastered this skill. Even Pixar had a Rotten movie by this point, for crying out loud. Just stop it! [for once, I'm not being ironic or humorous. Just stop.].

Black Panther will arrive after Valentine's Day but on the traditionally juggernautian holiday weekend, without significant competition, and with an expected 95% rating from the review collectors.

In short: when I said last month that 2018's five biggest films will all open within weeks of each other in May and June, I think I was wrong.

Opening weekend: $155 million (4-day) / Total gross: $357 million

2. Fifty Shades Darker (February 9th)

The trilogy concludes in earnest, just as the posters for these films transition from "Mr. Grey will see you now" in 2015 to "Mrs. Grey" doing same today.

Yes, our bickering favorites, grievous bodily harm enthusiast Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) and wide-eyed amateur interviewer Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), will enjoin in wedded bliss at last (after all that whipping and snapping, it's time for to make an honest woman out of her!). The first film opened with $85 million in 2015 ($166m was its total), the second was out of the gate with roughly as half ($46m) but still etched out a three digit win in 2017 ($114m total), while Dakota Johnson tried to keep us occupied on the Valentine's Day weekend in the in between year, 2016, with How To Be Single, tragically non-violent as it was.

In the third film, the story rushes on to tie loose ends, often literally. The last film left our heroes with what were evidently no less than three people who wanted to kill them, apparently for lack of anything more interesting to do with their own spare time - a Grey ex-girlfriend with a tendency to flail lethal weapons about the place (Bella Heathcote); an angry and sexually harrasive book editor who pursued Anastasia Steele and wouldn't take no for an answer (played by Eric Johnson, and, this character is topical.... right?); and the spurned woman who turned Christian onto BDSM and likewise pursuits in the first place before remarking "it's on the house" (played by Kim Basinger, understandably).

Some of these rascals, no-goodniks, and villains will return to complicate the plot and contribute to the running time again, but I expect the wedding to proceed largely as planned, the drama to be kept at a minimum (that sexual harasser is screwed), and the box office returns to settle somewhere on the progressive downslope of expectations.

Opening weekend: $34 million / Total gross: $81 million

3. The 15:17 to Paris (February 9th)

On August 21, 2015, an assault rifle-toting terrorist struck an Amsterdam-to-Paris train, and this month, Clint Eastwood brings him to the movie world. The rifle-toter was foiled with no dead casualties by several passengers, including a fortuitously-placed three American servicemen, who tackled the terrorist to the ground. Now, in the tradition of legendary World War II soldier Audie Murphy, who played himself in a Hollywood film and thenby began a successful acting career, Eastwood has chosen as his lead actors the actual Americans involved, Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler, and Alek Skarlatos.

More to the point, Eastwood, like fellow action maker Peter Berg, has taken up re-telling recent memorable real-life incidents of heroism at feature length. His previous film, Sully (2016), depicted an act of gallantry that lasted just a few tense real-life minutes, and so the film expanded the running time with somewhat fanciful distractions, like Captain Sullenberger's self-doubts (he had none, really) and scenes, apparently inspired by the fiction film Flight, where cruel-hearted bureaucrats question the good captain about his unorthodox aviation style (...didn't happen).

The 15:17 incident appears to have lasted just a few minutes, as well, and the film will add background origin stories (also briefly covered in Sully), training montages, and other Hollywood touches, with soldiers' mothers played by the likes of Judy Greer and Jenna Fischer (who are much too young!), a gym teacher who looks like the Schwarzenegger-esque Tony Hale, and an ornery principal essayed by Thomas Lennon.

The most recent film advertised as a patriotic tribute to war heroes, 12 Strong, is performing valiantly, but 15:17 has the Eastwood sheen and a release date in front of a big holiday weekend, though the festivities of Saint Valentine do not necessarily adjoin well to films about military training facing down violent terrorism. On the other hand, Mr. Eastwood's American Sniper is still the biggest film of 2014 (yep, at $350 million; I check every month to see if it's still there), and Sully was no slouch in that department. The 15:17 to Paris is probably the toughest of the month to call, and so in making the forecast, let's be reasonable if not dismissive.

Opening weekend: $27 million / Total gross: $78 million

4. Peter Rabbit (February 9th)
If you liked Paddington 2...

To detour slightly: boy, was I wrong about Paddington 2, a film that has now become, under one way of reading the scores, the best-reviewed motion picture ever on Rotten Tomatoes, replacing in that honor the best teen movie ever made, Lady Bird (I'm kidding... but the critics weren't).

I mention the portly English hibernator because my expectation was that, due to a marketplace starved for children's entertainment after the holidays, and stupendous, wildly enthusiastic reviews not just in its home country but even here, the Paddington sequel would ascend atop the box office throes and conquer all, easily becoming the highest-grossing new January release (this... was not eventually the case).

As such, we must approach Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit with caution. Like Paddington 2, it is a British import, based on beloved and cherished novels wildly popular across the pond, and reasonably so too on this end of the ocean border. The film stars some well-chosen human actors, led by Domhnall Gleeson, my favorite new addition to the Star Wars movies, and here playing an even more fearful and unbeatable foe than his General Hux. There is an amusing collection of human voices as the anthropomorphic bunny family: James Corden is the title hare, Daisy Ridley is his wildchild sibling rabbit, Margot Robbie of all people is the middle sister, and Elizabeth Debicki is the tallest rabbit of them all. Sia provides the film's token pop star voice (this is also the first animal film in a long time where at least one of the critters isn't voiced by Gabriel J. Iglesias. Points for originality.).

Even with the bear's recent financial troubles in mind, the four-day holiday weekend strangely placed in the middle of February (Presidents' Day? Okay!) tends to shore up cinema attendance, and I expect the landscape for kids' entertainment to be even less crowded than it was a month ago, assuming they don't all just wander off to see Black Panther instead.

Opening weekend: $14 million / Total gross: $55 million


5. Game Night (February 23rd)
In the tradition of Date Night and The House, Game Night is another film about a conventional milquetoast couple who leave their suburban comfort and bliss to descend into the dark night of the soul of their local metropolis. This time, on a routine evening of suburban ideal, our heroes stumble upon what is apparently a murder plot, and must use their deductive skills to resolve the situation forthwith, in a scenario perhaps recalling the central dilemma in David Fincher's The Game - is all the murder and madness and danger real, or are the madcap misadventures thrust into their lives part of a reasonably entertaining hoax?

Here, Rachel McAdams and Jason Bateman star (though the poster also includes a gun and a dog, both presumably relevant), and the collection of supporting character actors is rich, with Jesse Plemons, Michael C. Hall, Danny Huston, and Kyle Chandler appearing so as to add some local color.

McAdams has lately focused her pursuits on dramas and Doctor Strange, but Bateman produces reasonable box office (Office Christmas Party, Horrible Bosses 2). Game Night has contrived to be the only comedy (i.e. a film that is, intentionally, funny) aimed at audiences older than twelve years this month, which should play to its benefit. Its reviews may or may not do the same.

Opening weekend: $14 million / Total gross: $45 million

6. Winchester: The House That Ghosts Built (February 2nd)
The month's only real horror film is a period work (roughly 1910), with Helen Mirren as Sarah Winchester, the real-life heiress to a rifle manufacturing fortune that was, in a manner of speaking, built on the deaths of hundreds of thousands (though not without some help, it would seem). The film is set in the Winchester Mystery House, a sprawling California mansion, where the widow is idling away, tending to the gardens, re-arranging the furniture, and finding herself besotted by ghostly apparitions of those who have died at the hands of her family creations (...of whom, as said, there must be hundreds of thousands, and indeed the film proclaims its house as the most haunted in history). Winchester is directed by The Brothers Spierig, Peter and Michael, horror specialists, most notably of the more vampiricly-inclined Daybreakers (2010) and the recent John Saw venture, Jigsaw (2017), which I kind of liked. And walking in on Mrs. Winchester's day, Jason Clarke plays a physician who may have an eye on the widow's fiscal splendor, and who encounters spirits whose interests don't particularly tend to accounting (all ghosts are poor).

The film arrives all by its lonesome, without even token opposition, on Super Bowl weekend, a time of year unfairly maligned as a box office dead zone; though one which has produced more than its share of reasonable accomplishments, not the least of which are PG-13 teen genre entertainments like When a Stranger Calls (2006; $21m opening), Chronicle (2012; $22m weekend), and in particular Daniel Radcliffe's The Woman in Black (also 2012), which played just fine in the cinehall even next to Chronicle, and which is of interest to us because it was, indeed, itself a ghostly horror film in a period setting.

The Woman in Black opened to $20 million, and while there are several reasons why Winchester will not follow suit, they are not so innumerable as to prevent the film from landing at the very least into the early teens, these days seemingly the existential minimum for PG-13 poltergeist films. Other forecasts mark Winchester lower, but I think we're on more fertile ground here, a whole month after Insidious: The Last Key tread up with its $29 million weekend, and roughly another before any more horror films get here.

On a sociological note: before Halloween (1978) changed everything, most horror films had protagonists who were middle aged or senior citizens, and their settings often delved into heavily-costumed period days. Now, between Helen Mirren in Winchester and Lin Shaye in Insidious 4, seniors are again reclaiming their historical spot as the stars of horror films. As they should: grandma can blow away teeth-gnashing zombies with the best of them.

Opening weekend: $12 million / Total gross: $35 million

7. Annihilation (February 23rd)
Alex Garland's loopy sci-fi thriller adapts genre author's Jeff VanderMeer's novel, with Natalie Portman as a biologist, Oscar Isaac as her dutiful gun-wielding husband, and a plot twist lying there somewhere waiting to be disclosed, as Portman journeys to uncover just what trouble Isaac had gotten himself into (killer plants? unhappy microbes? The possibilities are endless). Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, and Gina Rodriguez help assemble the cast, and occupy various wonky professions that must necessarily advance the plot (psychologist, anthroplogist, linguist, and so on).

Garland, a novelist by training, previously wrote and directed Ex Machina, a wildly popular film among genre enthusiasts, a slow-paced if well-written exploration of the eternal fight between man and the Machine Empire (as usual, the cyborgs won). Existential questions may arise in Annihilation as well (the title may not be random), though the film also aims for action, with a well-armed cast adorning its headlining poster.

Annihilation is slated on the last weekend in February, often a treading ground for genre entertainment expecting modest means (last year's Get Out not included, of course). Its big names should give it a reasonable first three days, and after that it could do pretty well, or perhaps it will not, depending on grades from the science-enthusiasts in the audience.

Opening weekend: $11 million / Total gross: $32 million

8. Early Man (February 16th)
Aardman Animation strikes back, with another stop-motion film adorned with meticulous cartoonery and quirky smart-aleck humour.

I report these flattering adjectives only through word-of-mouth, because I'm ashamed/secretly proud/whatever to admit that I've scarcely actually seen anything by Aardman (not to be uppity, but I recently realized that I probably lost my taste for almost all animated programming after watching the TV show Spawn when I was twelve).

Early Man's critical notices are solid, Nick Park directs again, and indeed Aardman Studios arrives here with a film whose North American financial futures should follow in the footsteps of much of their recent work - the Wallace and Gromit Movie, the Pirates, and Shaun the Sheep. This is a pre-historical epic, with Eddie Redmayne as a caveman, Tom Hiddleston as some kind of ruffian threat to world order, Maisie Williams as the female lead, and character actors like Timothy Spall and Richard Ayoade contributing their distinct tones in the pursuit of gentle humor.

Early Man will have some minor competition for the children's choice, out there with Peter Rabbit, a fellow pond-jumper, from the UK, even if at the end of the day I fear most children will be a little more into the latest Marvel Cinematic entertainment. Do Panthers look good in claymation?

Opening weekend: $9 million / Total gross: $33 million

9. Every Day (February 23rd)

A teen film with a twist, about a sprightly sixteen year-old named Rhiannon who falls in love with a young man, "A", who is cursed to hop from human body to body daily, in what is presumably a successful attempt to spice up their relationship (it worked!). Fortunately for the censors and moralists among us, the shapes he takes are all age-appropriate (no 45 year-olds auditioned, I expect).

Every Day's star is Angourie Rice, a bright Australian actress, and her male leads are too innumerable to recount or remember (what will Rhiannon and A's kids look like?). The film is based on David Levithan's 2012 novel, and shares part of a title and much of a similar background to Everything, Everything, another youthful romance with a plot twist. That film, with a better release date and a sunnier setting, finished with $34 million, and though Every Day may end up #9 on lists of top February grossers, it should continue a reasonable momentum for what these days is a fiscally poor, publicly unloved genre: the teen film. One day at a time.

Opening weekend: $7 million / Total gross: $20 million



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