By Kim Hollis and David Mumpower
October 4, 2018
One of the strangest box office battles in recent memory takes place this weekend. The early awards season front-runner squares off against an unwelcome comic book movie with the Marvel name but not the pedigree. Tracking suggests a blowout; a bit of common sense suggests otherwise. Something’s gotta give.
Venom is the film that will win the battle this weekend, but definitely not the war. Well, it depends on which war you mean, we suppose. Venom will never beat Spider-Man, and a Sony film without the support of the Marvel Cinematic Universe isn’t going to overcome an onslaught of negative publicity.
What Venom does have going for it is the fact that it is a comic book movie told from the villain’s perspective. Non-humorous anti-heroes haven’t necessarily done well at the box office (see: Punisher). Deadpool is more of a complex conversation since A) He’s a member of the X-Men and B) The movies are fun. Venom doesn’t have any of that.
Let’s be clear, the word-of-mouth on Venom is Fantastic Four-like (2016 version). At the time of publication of this forecast, Venom’s Rotten Tomatoes score is 30 percent, making it rotten. This is what we in the business call bad news. The good news is that Venom’s expectations have been lowered to the point where you’re likely to see quite a few comments along the lines of “It was better than I expected.” The next two films we’ll discuss will be graded on an entirely different scale.
Look, the most accurate comparison for Venom is the Daredevil movie from way back in 2003. Yes, three television seasons of Daredevil ago, Ben Affleck starred in a movie based on the character. It opened very well, vanished quickly by the standards of the time, and became little more than a punch line since then. Know thy fate, Tom Hardy.
Venom’s poised for a solid opening weekend of $55 million and an overall global take of $170 million. For a film with a budget of around $100 million, it’s going to do plenty well enough to justify its existence. It’s not going to be the product that Sony needs to anchor an entire Spider-Man universe like they’re hoping for, though. It’s the same issue that Tom Cruise faced with the reboot of The Mummy, although Venom should at least avoid outright opening weekend catastrophe. Anyone on the fence about watching it, however, should probably spend that money on another month of Netflix.
A Star Is Born is an interesting case of history repeating itself. This is – we kid you not – the fourth iteration of this title to find its way into theaters. Once upon a time, the movie made a star out of Barbra Streisand, something for which we will never forgive it, and it kind of made Kris Kristofferson famous for a minute. If you don’t know who Kristofferson is, you’ve just proven our point.
Say what you will about Lady Gaga, she’s always made canny career decisions. A few years ago, she realized that her 15 minutes were up on her music career, at least in the short term. She jumped into acting at this point. Her fans seem to like her as an actress, although they seem to largely line up with critics that she’s mostly playing Lady Gaga in all of her roles. At some point, someone thought, “Why not both?” and that’s when she joined the cast of A Star Is Born.
For his part, Bradley Cooper somehow turned a friend zone role on Alias into a career as a viable leading man. When he’s not pretending to be a foul-mouthed raccoon with a violent streak, Cooper stars in critically acclaimed films that tend to do impressively well at the box office. A Star Is Born marks his directorial debut, which means that he’s faithfully following the George Clooney playbook. Generally, when an actor doesn’t embarrass him- or herself behind the camera, they receive far more praise than a normal director does. This phenomenon seems to be occurring with A Star Is Born. We can say with confidence that we’ll be surprised if Cooper isn’t an Academy Award nominee barring a #metoo incident (we have to say this about everything since it happens all the time now.)
When you compare diametrically opposed box office patterns, Venom and A Star Is Born are two great choices. Whereas Venom becomes a non-factor in ten days, A Star Is Born could feasibly be in theaters in February, presuming it gets the expected awards attention.
We’re going to predict that A Star Is Born breaks out to $50 million. Yes, we understand that there are a lot of factors going against it. It’s R-rated. The record for October is $55 million and we’re saying that two films can do that. However, with Lady Gaga having a huge fan base, Bradley Cooper being a significant draw, a killer trailer, amazing reviews (93 percent fresh as of this writing) and strong appeal in metropolitan areas, this one feels like it’s being severely underestimated for the most part.
In the interest of giving you all the information to make your own judgment call, we’ll note that Venom is tracking at $65 million, while A Star Is Born is tracking at $35 million. We just think it’s off this time.