August 2018 Forecast
By Michael Lynderey
August 4, 2018
For people who think the theatrical film is dead, here is a sharp rebuttal: the August most of us are about to live through carries a minimum of eighteen films going directly into wide theatrical release, and most of them without hundred million budgets or extravagant special effects departments. Such quantity, spread over five weeks, is the most I've seen in a very long time. The multi-numbered cinematic hooligans are led by a very hungry Disney bear with sharp teeth and a friendly and helpful prehistoric shark, one of whom may well win the month, if some unexpected third way doesn't get us there. So let's get started sifting through this mess.
[Editor's note: number of films subject to change from 18 to 0, on short notice, if Netflix elects to buy them all, and takes them off the release schedule.]
1. The Meg (August 10th)
"The shark ate my Statham!"
As I never tire of telling every unsuspecting + unwilling conversation partner: every August since 2000 has had at least one new film that grossed 100 million dollars, and so for almost two decades I've valiantly hoped for just one more August where no film goes above 99. Last year was so, oh so, just so, close to making it - among the absolute nearest, but evil dummy Annabelle 2 snuck, crawled, and seethed her way to the milestone, weekend after implausible weekend, never looking back, before dropping off the box office charts with a $102m total [and she didn't even call the next day!]. In 2018, with no obvious Suicide Squad-esque blockbuster in the wings for August, can my hopes be falsely raised again?
In an August without a single sequel (!!), our primest contender is like Jaws on an unimaginably gargantuan and hungry scale, as an ancient beast shark with monster big teeth emerges from the ether of the beyond to stalk the blue seas, as if millions of years hadn't passed since its heyday. A PG-13 rating and apparent aim at a teenage audience will keep the presumptive bloodletting at minimum. Action, stunts out on the ocean, and hurried water-skiing are more the focus than gore, and the material has in fact been inspired by a book, though in theory literature would not be the greatest medium for witnessing a giant sea monster wreck havoc on the world's beachdwelling populations.
When it comes to fighting off this menace, Jason Statham is our man. As a solo star he has not to this date headlined a $100m-grossing film, though his partnerships with others have done and done it well (most recently The Expendables, Spy, and, as frustratingly implausible as the plotting is becoming, the Fast and Furious films). Director Jon Turtletaub has some history with blockbusters (National Treasure) and some with others (3 Ninjas), and the film assembles a big international cast of shark haters, for appeal in other lands - Li Bingbing, Cliff Curtis, the irresistible Ruby Rose. None will, I expect, take the shark on face-to-face the way our Jason Statham will (or if not, he should), but all will presumably provide nuggets from some field of expertise that's necessary in confronting and poo-pooing an ancient homicidal shark. Will the film make $100m? Well, every August has one...
Opening weekend: $30 million / Total gross: $99 million
2. Disney's Christopher Robin (August 3rd)
The film essentially borrows the set-up of Steven Spielberg's Hook (1991), with a careful altercation or two. Instead of the grown Peter Pan recruited by his old cohorts from island life, a rather adult Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor, who does seem elderly) is continuously accosted by the beasts and fowl created by author A. A. Milne to inspire him and bray at even mention of his name.
Hook presented some sort of dastardly supernatural crisis on Pan's home base of Neverland, while Robin doesn't bother setting up any kind of malfeasant individual for Eeyore and Winnie to defeat and stand triumphant above with smirking elation. These beasts reside in PG Disney territory, where they are unmugged by reality nor by fantasy.
Goodbye Christopher Robin, a recent biopic of author Milne, starring the marvelous Domhnall Gleeson and the omnipresent Margot Robbie, came and quickly went away last October, at least on these shores, and so this film should be unaffected by another's fortunes. It arrives after a month with just one major decidedly youth-appealing entertainment (Hotel Transylvania 3, which is starting to melt in the sunlight); and, despite a wonderful "Ice to meet you" joke and the best ever Stan Lee reference, the recent Teen Titans was awfully niche.
As such, these gentle adventures of the grown Mr. Robin should have the setting for very young children largely to themselves, despite a couple of movies about puppies also prowling around hungrily eyeing audiences.
Opening weekend: $21 million / Total gross: $68 million
3. Mile 22 (August 17th)
Apart from the more legendary Daddy's Homeses and Transformerses and other assorted attacks on the fundamental morality of the human race, Mark Wahlberg has quietly amassed a conventional action film resume of some breadth and credit, along the lines of a higher-grossing Statham or Bronson (sorry). Any number of anonymous fictional former special agents with ravishing murder skills have had themselves played by Wahlberg.
Here there's ixnay on the "former", as Wahlberg drops his usual biography of an agent forced back into the field and rather plays such a professional in what is still the prime of his career; entangled in government shenanigans and un-nutritional conspiracies, he must deal with the likes of the quietly-scheming John Malkovich, the angrily grimacing Rhonda Rousey, ready for action, Lauren Cohan, and ace Indonesian martial artist Iko Uwais, who gets to showcase a lot of his dispatching skills in the trailer and hopefully many more so in the film.
The direction is by Peter Berg, a Wahlberg confidante who has previously helmed the man's gallery of true action tales, in order, Lone Survivor ($125m), Deepwater Horizon ($61m), and Patriots Day ($31m), of which two were excellent and one at least quite good (that's the one in the middle). Over time, the box office for these films declined even if the quality didn't, but that's not necessarily be a warning for 2018. Removed from the shackles of realism and of retelling a potentially touchy tragedy, Mile 22 should play as standard action entertainment with a reasonable box office floor and ceiling, the kind enjoyed by Wahlberg with Shooter and Contraband, among numerous other films involving secret missions and shootouts and all the genre's other unimpeachable goodies.
Opening weekend: $20 million / Total gross: $61 million
4. BlacKkKlansman (August 10th)
Among decades of independent films with a social conscience, Spike Lee has just once dabbled with making a blockbuster thriller (Inside Man), and this time tries again, in a true story of the 1970s, here slightly adjusted in the interest of suspense, thematic messaging, and wish fulfillment. Featuring a black police detective who invents a fictional white man he places undercover among the Klu Klux Klan, BlacKkKlansman has the name of a comedy, but it's mostly gallows humour.
Former football player John David Washington makes his starring role debut as the police officer, Stallings, and the casting has some logical symmetry: as I recall, Mr. Washington's father has worked with director Lee in some capacity on quite a number of films (for one, he was the star of Malcolm X, He Got Game, and Inside Man). Adam Driver plays his white partner, who joins on the enterprise and presents the aspiring Klansman's physical manifestation. Irony and suspense must follow.
Marketed as comedy, action, and satire, and receiving an intimidating Rotten Tomatoes score from its Cannes premiere (96% Fresh? ouch), BlacKkKlansman has often been noted as an explicit rebuke of the current presidential administration and also of more historic America-firsters (as I always say, an almost as effective rebuke could be made at the voting booth as at the box office). Arriving about a year after the klansman-friendly Charlottesville rally, the film should find an energized audience ready for topical material, even if it must be painted over with period piece trappings, just a bit.
Opening weekend: $17 million / Total gross: $61 million
5. The Spy Who Dumped Me (August 3rd)
Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon star in this buddy comedy, a Mission: Impossible for the ironically comedic set, as a pair of amateurs in spycraft who stumble through European shootouts and hair-raising locales after one of them is broken up with by some Ethan Hunt wannabe.
After television, Kunis broke out in Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008) and the slightly more comedic Black Swan (2010), before embarking on a remarkably successful run of film comedies of the 2010s, to rival almost anyone, McCarthy included (Friends with Benefits, Ted, and Bad Moms must lead any list). Her partner in crimefighting McKinnon really made her mark in Ghostbusters (2016), and has offered standout supporting roles since, making impact particularly as the token Australian in the underrated Rough Night, which more people should see (well, at least a few more). Justin Theroux plays the suspicious Hunt wannabe, Sam Heughan (of the Outlander telenovela) makes his American lead film debut as another agent, and various comedically-inclined thespians gather at the seems to liven up the proceedings as the girls dodge and aim their way through the refined landscapes.
The film is receiving modest reviews, but the leads have enough star power to make something out of this material, I would say, especially with the eternal spy game on cinemagoers' minds (Mission: Impossible 6 is probably the best in the series, you know).
Opening weekend: $22 million / Total gross: $58 million
6. Slender Man (August 10th)
The film Slender Man borrows the self-propagating internet legend of the decade past, and the subject of a recent violent crime among teenagers in Wisconsin. As horror often does, the subject straddles the line between entertainment and exploitation.
The Slender Man looks like what he sounds like: big arms and tall scary body, and he gets you. Joey King survived years as a child actress (the set of Ramona and Beezus must have been hell) to emerge as a star of teenage entertainment, first in the nasty wish-fullfillment horror Wish Upon last year, and more recently The Kissing Tree on Netflix. (no, The Kissing Tree is not evil. Not any more than it has to be.) Here, the title threat seems to lean toward the psychological, as a band of teenage girls begin developing symptoms of being stalked by the slender man, and the action escalates as promised (will there be a twist ending exonerating the ghost man and placing the blame on human misbehavior? Not so sure).
Slender Man made his online debut in 2009 on the corners of the web, and his film seems to have a lot of promise in appealing to its target audience of PG-13-loving teenage girls. It was moved up from later in the month to open on the same weekend as Annabelle, my hated nemesis from last year. The similarity in elements other than genre (a ghostly presence, threatened young girls) is stark, and the film could play out as a mini-'Belle if it so wishes.
By the way, when it comes to threats spawned from urban legends, Where's the Bunny Man Bridge Killer film I've always wanted?
Opening weekend: $25 million / Total gross: $55 million
7. Crazy Rich Asians (August 15th)
This adaptation of Kevin Kwan's 2013 novel, a bubbly and satirical comedy of cultural manners, is receiving some publicity as the first major Hollywood film starring an all-Asian cast since The Joy Luck Club (1993).
I suppose that it is, various foreign-made Crouching Tigers aside. The lead is Constance Wu, fresh off her show Fresh Off The Boat (sorry) and social activism on Twitter, which in part involved calling for the kind of diverse entertainment that she can star in, and now does. Here, her character is an assimiliated American who journeys to the exotic locale of Singapore, where she drowns in the opulence and eccentricity of the locals (and indeed, Singapore is a very, very wealthy island nation, with the 3rd highest GDP per capita, as the UN personally tells me). Her paramour is played by Harry Golding, and the roster of humourous support includes science fiction villain Gemma Chan as well as Ken Jeong, who a few years back was ubiquitous in our lives on just about every form of broadcasting. Well, he's still here.
A lot of people seem to have read this book (not me; illiterate) and if the film is good, a fair number of them may make it to theatre as well, to confirm their imagination. For better or worse, Crazy Rich Asians will probably be used as a sort of litmus test for diverse entertainment, and may indeed be a successful demonstration that cinema starring Asian-Americans can draw in a real audience cross-section (it may well; for one thing, my mother wants to see it, and we are apparently not Asian).
BTW, Crazy Rich Asians opens on a Wednesday. Why?
Opening weekend: $20 million (5-day) / Total gross: $53 million
8. The Happytime Murders (August 24th)
Melissa McCarthy straps on her glock again (yes, again - see The Heat, please) and joins forces with denizens of the ham-stringed puppet population to hunt down and eliminate a murderer who has targeted these helpless sock-made contraptions for vile death. Along the way, as the trailers promise, there will be simulated puppet sex, uncouth doll profanity, and unshockingly dirty humour. The title doesn't really hint at what's in the box.
One can assume that R-rated puppet films have a long history, and indeed The Happytime Murders is in the tradition of Peter Jackson's Meet The Feebles and the Canadian television series Puppets Who Kill. (by the way, who was it who looked at those Feebles and said, "This is the man I want to direct my century-defining multi-billion dollar Tolkein epic?")
The Murders, Happy and otherwise, open in late August, when less pristine and victorian summer entertainment is allowed to fester and make its last stand. Amusingly, the direction is by Brian Henson (of the Long Island Jim Hensons), the cast partners McCarthy with Elizabeth Banks and Joel McHale, among other puny humans, and the premise and R-rating will almost certainly impose a cult fandom of one sort or the other upon the proceedings. I see the box office as perhaps a cross between Sausage Party ($97 million) and Snakes on a Plane ($34m), the former a crude R-rated satire that panned out and the latter an internet phenomenon that mostly stayed in the air, where it's flying somewhere even now, still looking for a landing. The Happytimes could go in one of those ways or in another, and with such indecision I choose the boring middle again.
Opening weekend: $22 million / Total gross: $50 million
9. Searching (expands August 31st)
John Cho, veteran of any number of comedic entertainments, gets his first solo lead role in a Hollywood film in this thriller, as a man who turns over every (digital) leaf in search for his college-age daughter, who has evidently vanished under sinister pretenses. He does all this from the comfort of his own home, glued to a computer screen, from which he documents her existence, browses through her Twitter feed, and checks every frame of her Instagram pictures for clues (so, basically what most people do every day anyway).
This is on-the-ground detective work in the year 2018, the film suggests, and indeed Searching is a thriller along the lines of the pair of the Unfriended films, with traditional genre hallmarks having been borrowed from the real world and inserted into a monitor, where the entire film's action is set. As a sort of clever gimmick, the film must have novelty appeal, and it's interesting to see Cho in more dramatic work, especially one that rests entirely on his skill and charisma (though Debra Messing co-stars). Screen Gems is taking an unusual strategy for a late summer thriller, seemingly opening Searching in limited release on the 24th, before multiplying to many more screens on 8/31. Perhaps they're confident in encroaching buzz, and since Tomatoes has allowed the film a 90% Fresh rating after its Sundance premiere, perhaps they should be.
Opening weekend: $10 million / Total gross: $32 million
10. Operation Finale (August 29th)
In 1960, Mossad agents go into Argentina on the hunt for Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, in one of Israel's most legendary intelligence operations (this is a big cinema year for Israel's wins: another such mission was depicted in 7 Days in Entebbe, which hit theatres in March, and the on-topic Red Sea Resort with Chris Evans is also on the slate).
Guatemalan-born Oscar Isaac is the lead Israeli, Mélanie Laurent (from Inglourious Basterds) is also on the team, and Ben Kingsley, who among his globe-trotting filmography has played both Nazis and Holocaust victims, is the man in question, Eichmann. His capture led to a lengthy trial and eventual execution in Israel, but the film is angling for the suspense part of the stakeout, as the agents locate their man, set up undercover operators near his residence, and then, get him.
Operation Finale was moved up a bit from September, and is taking over an opening weekend strategy remembered by perhaps no one but yours truly, that of The Debt, also a film about Mossad hunting down a fled Nazi (fiction in that case, but clearly based on Eichmann). That title also opened on a Wednesday, August 31, 2011, and had a $14 million long Labour Day weekend before finishing with $31m. For our purposes, let's just forecast-copy that film's whole box office run, unadjusted for inflation or taste, and wholly disregarding potential accusations of box office plagiarism. If it worked once, let it again.
Opening weekend: $14 million (5-day) / Total gross: $31 million
11. Dog Days (August 10th)
The very funny Ken Marino directs his second film, one that I am compelled to treat with utmost optimism and unbridled positivity, as I always do when writing about a movie about a dog, much less a film that stars so many iterations of such creature.
A picture with a lot of dogs naturally must include a lot of dog walkers, and this one numbers among them Vanessa Hudgens, Eva Longoria, and Nina Dobrev, as well as Finn Wolfhard from Stranger Things and Stephen King's It, who is thus finally starring in a project that doesn't involve missing children or the 1980s (that I know of). This cast and many others in their midst must by definition indulge in canine-related comedic shenaningans, hopefully more in the direction of gentle humour than blatant scatology. In name, make, and model, Dog Days reminds me of another heavily four-legged film, Dog Park (1999), with Luke Wilson and Natasha Henstridge, though this one should be much more prolific, and with its PG-rating and numerous posters adorned by wide-eyed puppies, is aiming younger. Good. With luck, Dog Days indeed might be an agreeable children's entertainment, especially for those in the target age group who are not totally enthused by Disney's Christopher Robin.
Opening weekend: $11 million / Total gross: $28 million
12. Kin (August 31st)
It's hard to guess what's behind a title like "Kin."
This is a science fiction film with an '80s children's adventure feel in its posters (do people know that most iconic 1980s films didn't star children? I mean, The Color Purple, and there was at least one other one I'll remember by September). More specifically, its trailer presents itself as a darker take on material previously found in PG-rated fare like Flight of the Navigator (1986) and Star Kid (1998), as a teenage boy finds a sophisticated alien weapon, necessary in particular to fend himself off from goons, villains, and charlatans.
Jack Reynor, a very good actor underused by Hollywood, is his brother. James Franco plays some sort of scuzzy drug dealer with malevolent designs on the leads and their technological find (in the tradition of his role in Homefront...), Dennis Quaid is the honourable father figure, a role he'll be playing for at least the next two decades (see Costner, Kevin for more information), and Zoë Kravitz is a kind of nice lady of the night everybody encounters. She helps further the plot. Kin might get a decent share of teen attendance, but oddly, it is one of at least three teenage boy against the world mini-epics out over the same timeframe, all with titles that were named with consideration for brevity (see also A.X.I. and Alpha). For a twelve year old who yearns to see himself the hero, there's a lot to choose from (... just like in the 1980s).
Opening weekend: $10 million / Total gross: $26 million
13. Alpha (August 17th)
A film that tells perhaps the first ever boy and his dog story, chronologically speaking, as a pre-historic teenage boy befriends a wild wolf in the uncertain times of the Upper Paleolithic Age.
Here Kodi Smit-McPhee, the star of Cormac McCarthy's The Road, festoons on loinclothes and ventures into the frozen and angry tundra, as a lost tribesman who battles the ancient elements and cautiously makes a hairy new friend of sorts (when it comes to our two very different species, this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship). Smit-McPhee is a nice actor without a lot of box office history, and films set so far in the past are difficult to forecast (10,000 B.C., at $94m, actually did reasonably well ten years ago). Looking at it a certain way, this is an origin story for the pleasing and relatively uncomplex relationship between humanity and caninehood. If Alpha's good, I think it'll find its tribe somewhere.
Opening weekend: $10 million / Total gross: $25 million
14. The Darkest Minds (August 3rd)
Amandla Stenberg stars as a teenage girl in a glass half full situation: on the minus side of things, she inhabits a desolate future landscape. On the upside, she possess supernatural powers and a helpful and tall love interest who wishes nothing but the best for her life direction. Stenberg has moved on from meeting a memorable end in The Hunger Games (she was the ill-fated Rue, whose death particularly angered Katniss) to a modern-day teen queen in the Duff and Lohan tradition, albeit carrying a more tragic bent: last year, she starred in Everything, Everything, where she feigned dying from a rare and fictional illness. In a month or two, she will headline her third novel adaptation, The Hate U Give, which is as grave as its title suggests.
Stenberg's male lead Harris Dickinson was very good as a sexually confused teenager in Beach Rats (2017), and his reward for little-seen good work is this (he's also the prince in the next Maleficent, and yes, there is a next). Elsewhere on the cast list, The Darkest Minds is one of Mandy Moore's two big live action film roles this decade, along with 47 Meters Down last year (an... animated... film like Tangled does not count, clearly).
The Darkest Minds seems to have received reviews that tether on unkind, with the occasional hostile notice for a little variety. Still, there've not been a lot of stories aimed right at teenagers lately (Netflix seems to have the drop on the market, usually without the superpower angle); so there might be an audience out there waiting to re-assert itself on the box office charts, even for a weekend.
Opening weekend: $9 million / Total gross: $25 million
15. Destination Wedding (August 31st)
Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves reteam for this romantic comedy as a pair who travel to observe a wedding and end up on the path to nuptials of their own, or presumably do. These are two stars who first emerged in teenage films of the late 1980s, and who worked together on the opressively baroque Dracula (1992) before mostly going their separate films. Films about weddings are popular, perhaps any time of year, as are films about destinations (exotic and far-off, that is, which the film's California is not, though I'm sure they've found some nice vistas). Destination Wedding will have little evident competition in romance outside of Crazy Rich Asians, and is Reeves' first major romantic film since The Lake House. Ryder has a big role on TV (you know, that show), and hasn't starred in anything light-hearted since perhaps Mr. Deeds in 2002. So it's a good change of pace for all involved, and I wish them well. It's a positive quality for the film's promotion that the stars are eminently likeable, generating goodwill, charisma, and nostalgia in some ungainly but worthwhile combination.
Opening weekend: $8 million / Total gross: $22 million
16. The Little Stranger (August 31st)
in the tradition of English country house horror. Dohmnall Gleeson plays a young professional at a past point in time, who is assigned to complete some incomprehensible task in a sprawling country estate, where he will encounter unusual individuals and their undead friends and relatives.
Gleeson, one of my favorite actors of my generation, the millennials, has been placed in the unfortunate position of grimacing in the corner in those... Star War... films, and indeed also starred as E. E. Milne in that very recent Winnie the Pooh biopic. It's fitting therefore that he be around on the promotional circuits next to the stars of the new Pooh. In the matter of co-stars for this film, distinguished English actress and recent Oscar nominee Charlotte Rampling plays one of the locals, Ruth Wilson is the putative love interest (with a presumable secret, for who among us doesn't have one?), and the direction is by Lenny Abrahamson, previously of one of the better films of the 2010s, Room. The Little Stranger is based on a 2009 novel by Sarah Waters, so if anyone simply must know who is or is not a ghost today they can read it.
No, The Little Stranger isn't an Oscar-contender, but it's nice to see top-heavy talent make a period fright film for those of us who were raised on them, even in the incongruous 1990s.
Opening weekend: $7 million / Total gross: $17 million
17. Papillon (August 24th)
The 1973 film Papillon starred Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman as Louis Dega and Henri Charrière, two respective escapees who fled together from the legendary prisoner-holder Devil's Island in French Guiana (now, say, where is the movie where they escape the Bastille?).
Charlie Hunnam and Rami Malek take over this time, the former as McQueen's Charrière and the latter as Hoffman's Dega. Papillon 1973 was hailed as a suspense classic and grossed something like $40 million ancient unadjusted dollars. And what does the remake have to say for itself? It premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last year, where it received fair if unenthused notices, and the film opens on a more leisurely late August weekend, perhaps a timeframe in search of a hit. Its story appears somewhat international and the film will probably play better there, too (in international countries), where there could be a more strident marketing push and where Devil's Island still sounds a lot scarier.
Opening weekend: $8 million / Total gross: $16 million
18. A.X.L. (August 24th)
If you liked Alpha...
That film tells a story set far in the days of the past, where humans didn't have quite so many four-legged friends, and this one swings the other way, upgrading the material considerably with a robotic version of your friendly neighborhood canine (regular dogs, in the old-fashioned sense, can be seen in Dog Days, thus covering the entire spectrum of puppyhood this month).
A.X.L. reminds me a little of Max Steel, if you've seen it (I have not). Alex Neustaedter stars as a teenage boy who acquires an unusual new best friend, a mechanical contraption shaped like a dog and set on fulfilling helpful tasks, like chasing errant squirrels, eating ungainly and unfinishable homework, and fighting off bad guys who want to use the technology for some ends that are unquestionably nefarious, though probably ultimately fairly small-scale in the grand scheme of things (who in world history ever has used a dog robot to conquer the world? Even the Machine Empire failed).
Mildly humourous plot summaries aside, the film has a bare late August landscape in its favor, and a plot line that fits easily with the mood of the weather (they are the dog days of summer, after all), though most of its viewers will likely find this puppy on video and cable. Waf waf.
Opening weekend: $5 million / Total gross: $11 million