January 2019 Forecast
By Michael Lynderey
January 4, 2019
Fans of content... this is not your month. You would have preferred August and November 2018, which practically burst with new releases, demanding to be watched. January 2019, on the other hand, has just seven movies going directly into wide release. That's it. And it's about the third January in a row with a scarcity of new films. But that's okay. At this time of year, we all need a break.
There's one movie that will clearly rule above the rest. And, no, this designated hitter does not involve superheroes. Not at all. No. Not really.
1. Glass (January 18th)
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the year 2017 was home to an unusually large number of runaway horror hits, and, having oddly avoided producing any sequels for immediate next-year release in 2018 (boo), most of those blockbusters have their follow-ups scheduled for release in 2019 instead. Better late than never.
We shall begin with Glass, the sequel to Split, and continue on with Happy Death Day 2U (can not wait!!), Us (Jordan Peele's thematic follow-up to Get Out), 47 Meters Down: Uncaged (lord), "untitled Annabelle film" (I really hate your ass, Annabelle - that's my suggestion for a title), and the increasingly-inevitable It 2 (to be honest, It 3 is the one I'm really looking forward to). The Snowman 2 is, uh, still in the shop.
Glass is in a pretty good position. Its director, M. Night Shyamalan, has a long and complicated history with audiences and with the filmmaking profession, but the man is generally agreed to have redeemed himself for his moral failings over the years with The Visit (2015). That was a low-budget self-financed horror thriller which brought on a great plot twist in true Shyamalan tradition, as well as one moment that seems to have perfectly and uniquely encapsulated the entire decade: an elderly mental-patient with the runs removes his filthy undergarments and sticks them into the face of a young child who's a declared germaphobe. What other scene in modern cinema stands a better microcosm for the state of the world in the late 2010s?
After this zeitgeist-capturing achievement, the director next made Split (2017), a frankly conventional thriller which had a post-credits scene that was a plot development more than a twist; as Shyamalan eventually revealed that his villain, a multiple-personality disordered and occasionally super-powered zoo attendant played by James McAvoy, in fact was residing in the same cinematic universe, and helpfully more so in the same city, as the lead characters in Shyamalan's previous film Unbreakable (2000). This wasn't a big deal to me, since I think all movies take place in the same universe anyway (like Independence Day + Mars Attacks! + Fahrenheit 11/9), but many others were startlingly impressed.
And we must go further back into exposition to explain why. Unbreakable was the story of a good man with bones of steel and an evil little boy who was brittle as hell. It was Shyamalan's second big film, released a year and a fortnight after his mega-hit The Sixth Sense (1999) and reteaming the young director with his star Bruce Willis. Early buzz was understandably so thunderous and unforgiving that when the film, meditative and slow-paced, grossed a mere 95 million dollars, the knives were out for its very being. It was a good film with an awkward spot in movie history.
But in a unique development in cinema, since Split had made hundreds of millions of dollars (okay, 138), its triumphs essentially guaranteed that another film in the series would be made, and that its wedded-to blood brother Unbreakable would therefore technically receive a sequel, 19 years later, as unlikely as that prospect would have seemed over the previous years.
And here it is, a film that gives starring roles to this newly-minted franchise's big three: James McAvoy's Kevin Wendell Crumb, the homicidal loon with a few dozen personalities to spare, Bruce Willis' stoic and unknowable super-hero David Dunn, and Samuel L. Jackson's Elijah Price, who has rechristened himself Mr. Glass, the ultimate supervillain, even more frightening than Professor Chaos and General Havoc ("at your service!"), albeit not more than the two of them put together.
Crumb, Dunn, and Price find themselves together in the film much as they do on the poster, captured face-to-face-to-twenty three faces in a mental institution, having been the beneficiaries of that age-old film stock character: the doctor who foolishly puts them in one room, deliberately and gloriously unaware of the fact that they will escape and that two will go on a homicidal rampage that is probably totally her fault, with the third reluctantly tasked with stopping the rest, as only he can. That gets us a movie, and it's Sarah Paulson who must get credit for it, since she plays the good, foolish, doctor, the medical professional who will never work again.
Glass seems to lay on its characters' trademark tropes for audience satisfaction - Jackson schemes on a hitherto-undreamt of scale, Willis is heroic, ponderously and hesitantly, and McAvoy is fiendishly loony. In true sequel tradition and increasingly bad taste, he is supplied with an even larger gaggle of teenage victims than in the first film.
With Shyamalan's name cleared and his characters acting as the star attractions, few dissenters have come forward with the notion that any film but Glass should reign over January. Its opening weekend should come as some unholy, literally, mixture of the superhero genre and blockbuster horror. Those first three days will probably go above 50, and indeed we are in an age of monster horror openings, with most records having broken swiftly and decidedly - you know, $40m, $50m, $120m weekends, the kind this sadly maligned genre has historically, and modestly, tried to avoid putting on the tab, aside from 2001's Hannibal and such horror-ish releases as the Twilight films or Mummy remakes.
It's less clear if the film will outgross Split. In the horror genre, first-time sequels rarely finish above their predecessors. This decade, only Insidious 2 has, although there are three more cases if you count Hotel Transylvania and The Purge as horror, and I do, and Annabelle 2 as a first-time sequel, which I don't.
Now, this is a film with three leading stars, and it has a title that reflects the remaining character, after "Unbreakable" described Bruce Willis' and "Split" was James McAvoy's. For my money, though, the perfect name for this film is being used by someone else: with apologies to Jordan Peele's upcoming film, this movie should be titled "Us."
Opening weekend: $52 million / Total gross: $143 million
2. A Dog's Way Home (January 11th)
Another visual feast for dog lovers, an adaptation of the book by W. Bruce Cameron. That's the man who also wrote the inspiration for A Dog's Purpose, which was released in film form two Januaries ago, and which has itself inspired a sequel, slated for May and probably fated to eventually or presently be confused with this film (does it really matter which is which?).
The film drops the reincarnation angle of Cameron's other work for a more straightforward man-loses-dog story. Jonah Hauer-King plays the owner of a canine named Bella, and the two presumably participate in several if not too many perfectly happy scenes, indicating that the dog will soon be lost to the elements, and then have to spend the entire run time of a motion picture to get back home (it's all the human's fault, I would assume). Ashley Judd, Alexandra Shipp, West Studi, and Barry Watson are also on hand, nice people, all, and presumably playing nicer people, still. Bryce Dallas Howard voices Bella. And the direction is by Charles Martin Smith, who helmed Never Cry Wolf (1983), which helpfully was a wonderful animal story; and then Trick or Treat (1986), which was not, but I thought I'd name check it for good luck.
So, A Dog's Way Home is a title that probably win zero points on originality and then hundreds and thousands of points on cuteness and adorability/adorabilitiness. That's good enough. With a lack of entertainment for adults (and really, even for children), this film should be practically catnip.
Opening weekend: $22 million / Total gross: $71 million
3. The Upside (January 11th)
Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart team together, the elder man as a quadriplegic and wealthy contrarian and the younger an underemployed would-be health worker.
One brings the other out of his shell with street smarts. The other imbues book smarts. Yes, it's a role reversal of Green Book, with a few details re-written for variety on this old formula. But unlike many films of its ilk, it's not a true story: this short and somewhat undescriptive film title masks its origins as a remake of The Intouchables (2011), a French film that actually did quite well in the United States, picking up ten million dollars for its troubles of getting through the border. Hart has weathered some controversy over recent weeks, but he is still a box office star. Here he's given more drama-leaning comedic exploits, and a good playing field opposite co-stars with actorly heft like Cranston or Nicole Kidman, in her fourth film this season, so far.
The Upside's trailers present it as such a mainstream audience crowd-pleaser for 50+ year olds, and honourary 50+ year olds like myself that I'm surprised it wasn't scheduled for the holidays, where a scarcity of content for grown grown-ups has helped Clint Eastwood's The Mule become a decent little hit. For its part, this film has a quietly artsy pedigree, having premiered at the Toronto Festival back in September 2017. Its reviews are fair if not overly giddy, and this is something it must change to inspire that total number to rise and rise.
Opening weekend: $15 million / Total gross: $51 million
4. Escape Room (January 4th)
This film gingerly continues in the beloved national tradition of beginning an unvarnished brand new year with an endearingly bloodthirsty B-horror title, an idea archaeologists usually trace back to White Noise (2005), which opened that year with a shocking $24 million as a reward for its unthreatening PG-13 rating (Michael Keaton has had some great supporting roles lately, but White Noise is, indeed, still his highest-grossing film as a lead since 2005. Yes, bigger than Spotlight. And don't ask about Birdman).
Getting even more needlessly specific, the January 4th Friday configuration has already given us One Missed Call (2008; thank you) and Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013; really, you shouldn't have), and now brings us to Escape Room, a thriller film gainfully employing the formula enjoyed by many of the better Saw pictures - a groupful of strangers diverse in age, occupation, and attitude wake up with no idea why in an unimpeachable maze, where they are beset upon by clever traps and each other's insolence/man's inhumanity to man, which is less clever. It's an idea that might have actually began with the underseen Cube (1998), one of the great all-time movie mazes. And it is such a neat set-up for a film that it continues to be used all these years later, with increasingly bigger budgets (though not too much so).
The film's cast of misfortunates includes Taylor Russell (Lost in Space), Deborah Ann Woll (some other wildly popular TV show), and Logan Miller, who's been on the sidelines of any number of recent teen films, from the Scout-fighting Zombies to the Simon-lovers. The characters may include the usual selection of types for films such as these - the frightened teenager, the angry brawler, the secretive one who's unexpectedly/expectedly in on the scheme. The victims are often punished for their misdeeds outside the maze, to which I would say, I think most of us can handle the gore, but when it comes to these films, it's the moral lessons that are hard to stomach.
Advertising and a lack of competition did very well for the fourth Insidious movie, Insidious: The Last Key, in its opening over the same weekend last year, and how enticing the ads are will probably make or break Escape Room as well. Insidious 4's director, Adam Robitel, is in fact behind the camera of Escape Room also, having luckily found steady employment and a willing audience.
Opening weekend: $13 million / Total gross: $37 million
5. The Kid Who Would Be King (January 25th)
Louis Ashworth Serkis (son of one of the numerous famous entertainers with that surname) stars as the young teenager of the title, who somehow gets it in his head that he is the reincarnation of King Arthur in 2019 England. Since this is a happy fantasy and not a tragedy set in a mental institution, he's right.
Joe Cornish, lastly of the genre-bending Attack the Block (2011), directs what looks like a straightforward "one special boy" story, with a lead character adorned with such supporting characters as a goofy best friend, a rival mean boy who eventually warms over to his eccentricities (played by Tom Taylor, who himself was the one special boy in The Dark Tower), and a tough female friend who makes his heart innocently afflutter. They are modern-day English schoolkids who conjure themselves into a Round Table reincarnation conspiracy, and then prepare to do battle with classic Arthur nemesis, the witch Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson), whose unwholesome destructive machinations of course only they can possibly stop.
The film with its ingrained Arthurian mythology is possibly a better fit for United Kingdom play, like its distant cousin, adopted train station bear Paddington (the jury is still out on Mary Poppins). Still, as the December titles wind down, there's an audience gap here, and a children's film with quite probably positive reviews isn't something to dismiss with any more brusqueness than this forecast was written with (sorry!).
Opening weekend: $14 million / Total gross: $35 million
6. Replicas (January 11th)
Keanu Reeves stars as a scientist whose wife and children have been killed in one of those film events that takes out whole families but one, the correctly-placed movie star needed to grieve their absence. Since the film is titled Replicas rather, than, say, Pet Sematary, Reeves is assigned to play a scientist, rather than a rural mortician; a man who inevitably uncovers some revolutionary though fiendish way to bring them all back, despite the inevitable result revealing itself as three days of happiness and then a weekend of disappointment and horror.
For his part, Mr. Reeves transitioned from teenage films of the 1980s into a rough-hewn action star all the way back in the 1990s, and did so rather well (his Point Break was released just a week before his Bill & Ted 2 in 1991, in what must have been a nice symbolic moment for Western civilization). Given his work in John Wick and especially John Wick 2 and most probably particularly John Wick 3, he is in demand again as an enactor of violent action, and does what he does well, ever still.
Elsewhere in the cast, Alice Eve is the lovely wife who will presumably befall in harm's way for entertainment's sake, Emjay Anthony (who once summoned the fearsome Krampus) and Emily Alyn Lind are the children, and interestingly placed supporting actors are seemingly selected out of a hat (John Ortiz and Thomas Middleditch are in this? - has someone been messing with the movie's Wikipedia page?). The title sounded so near to me that I thought someone'd used it before: it was actually the Bruce Willis movie Surrogates, about robot humanoids who rent themselves out to wealthy humans. Not an exact plot match. But I think I'll do some more plagiarism and copy Surrogates' entire box office run as my forecast here, minus a few dollars at the tail end for de-inflation.
Opening weekend: $14 million / Total gross: $31 million
7. Serenity (January 25th)
Serenity of the year 2018 is not to be confused with that outer space tug piloted by a hammy Nathan Fillion in both a handful of small-screen episodes and a 2005 feature film; a movie that will likely find itself undergrossed by this one (it did $25m). The tugger here is earthbound, and captained by Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway, in what is a sweaty, southern crime thriller, reminding me in girth and setting of Palmetto with Woody Harrelson, even though I haven't seen it in eighteen years and don't remember anything about it except a single scene.
Diane Lane and Jason Clarke co-star as secondary romantic partners, more expendable than the leads. Since this is a mystery and a thriller, I imagine there's an island in the sun and a murder being commissioned, while money and bad weather and sexual relations are all exchanged in the process. Someone isn't who they say they are. Someone else talks too much. You know the drill (if you must, the official plot description states that Hathaway is McConaughey's ex wife, who helpfully compels him to murder her current bedpartner. This usually doesn't work out as well in the movies as it does in real life).
Our two lead actors have won Oscars quite very recently, and should attract a few curious bystanders to examine this Serenity's make. Hell, despite the endless stream of irony that blackens this forecast, the movie could be quite fun. But I don't think you have anything to worry about, Mr. Fillion.
Opening weekend: $5 million / Total gross: $15 million