February 2019 Box Office Forecast

By Michael Lynderey

February 2, 2019

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February 2019 has a neatly symmetrical collection of titles - two CGI animation sequels (why, we all just love them......), a pair of romantic comedies (well, it's the holidays), two horror films (what I really care about), and four remaining miscellanea, unclassifiable, although they mostly involve killing bad people, or at least wrestling them on a WWE stage.

January's overwhelming lack of new films has uplifted some recent releases so much so that even The Upside seems headed for $100m (The Mule just made it a few days ago). February aims to rectify the problem, and it's doing it all at once. Eight of the month's ten big films are scheduled to penetrate theatres at a seven day window, from the 7th to the 14th, so if you like seeing new movies right as they arrive, you'll be busy.

1. The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part (February 8th)
A film whose release might conjecture a few confused glances from audiences - wasn't there already a Lego (LEGO) Movie sequel? Didn't we see this?

The LEGO Movie opened on this weekend five years ago (February 7, 2014, and it's clear studios like to mark these anniversaries almost as much as I do). It was a film that took what appeared to be an extremely mockable and uncinematic premise - a big action-adventure starring tiny little lego pieces with little discernible charisma - and made it into a highly critically-acclaimed blockbuster, a $69 million opener and $257 million totaller. If you've dreamed of lego bricks dressed in superhero outfits ironically mocking each other as dictated by America's greatest comic minds, this was your film.

Most first-time sequels that aren't horror films are released within two or three years of their franchise launchers. One year is "exploitative," "too soon," "don't do it." Four years or more tests the strength of memory (see for example Star Trek Into Darkness, which would have made hundreds millions more had it come out in 2012 and not 2013).

But The Lego Movie here is doing five years because the studio decided that spin-offs should be keeping audiences busy in the long gap until a real sequel finally arrives: the lego piece from the first movie that dressed like Batman and sounded like Bojack Horseman was so popular that it inspired The LEGO Batman Movie, and then the very idea of another LEGO spin-off was so mobilizing that it willed The LEGO Ninjago Movie into existence also.

Both were released on corner ends of the same year, 2017, with Batman totaling $175m in February and Ninjago finishing just that bit lower, with $59 million, in September. In the interest of putting a stop to any more errant off-shoots with even lower totals, the studio is treating us again to the real thing.

Now, after all that, perhaps the brand name isn't what it would have been for a LEGO 2 released first, in, say, 2016. Still, the LEGO part 2 marks the return of Chris Pratt, who had his first leading role in a $100m movie with the original (yes, the day LEGO made 100, February 15, 2014, is when the king of 2010s-era box office popped his cherry), along with Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett (the Bojack reference), and all manner of distinct voices from humorous supporting actors - Tiffany Haddish, Jonah Hill, Gal Gadot - many of them playing pop culture figures that are so memorable they will apparently never face retirement (I'm sure there will be plenty of fresh jokes to be made about Lord of the Rings and Green Lantern even in 2093).

That's not much, but it's about all I know about the film, and probably all anyone really wants and needs to familiarize themselves with here. It's knowing enough to predict that LEGO 2 (or LEGO 4, for those technically-minded people who called last year's Solo Star Wars 10, which it was) will win the month, with likely a bit of leg room to spare (go Happy Death Day 2, go!: I believe in you). There's not been a lot of popular children's entertainment since December days, so the stage is set quite robustly.

Opening weekend: $62 million / Total gross: $199 million

2. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (February 22nd)
At the mirror image of the LEGOs, the How To Train Your Dragon franchise is an interesting case of 2010s-era what might have beens, a question without an answer.

The Dragon series began as a successful upstart animated film. Dreamworks released How to Train Your Dragon on the last weekend of March 2010, where it gobbled up a 98% Tomatoes ranking and an A Cinemascore, and then took its initially unenthusiastic $43 million opening to a solid $217m finish. Featuring norsemen ekking out a dragon-hating living on an island somewhere in the North Sea, it starred North American actors like Jay Baruchel, America Ferrara, and Jonah Hill as viking youngsters and Scottish-accented elders like Gerard Butler and Craig Ferguson as their fathers (the difference in dialects remained unexplained, neatly). The incoming generation bonded with the fearful dragons first. Then the adults followed ("a little child shall lead them," and so on).
And so - like Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda, Despicable Me, and others - a franchise seemed to be born. A Dragon television series debuted in 2012 (Dreamworks Dragons), video games aplenty hit store shelves, and several sequels were commissioned to pepper our selves with throughout the oncoming decade, the first slated for June 13, 2014 and the next for June 17, 2016.

But a curious thing happened on the way to the prom. Opening with a 92% Tomatoes score and another A Cinemascore, and opposite the R-rated 22 Jump Street of all people, How to Train Your Dragon 2 really wasn't what anyone could have expected it to be: $49m opening, $177m total, one of many summer 2014 films that could have won the season but instead did just kind of ok. Most well-reviewed sequels to CGI films do better than the first. Why not this one?

Nobody knows. It just happened.

(Another footnote: The Amazing Spider-Man 3 was scheduled for June 10, 2016, a week before Dragon 3's original date. After summer 2014, though, neither made their release dates. In fact, The Amazing Spider-Man 3 isn't making any release date. Ever. Goodbye, unresolved plot threads).

But How To Train Your Dragon 3 does arrive, at last, not in the heat of summer but on the last weekend of February, a frame reserved for smaller titles aiming to draw a few aimless viewers from either watching the Oscars or from preparing to do so (yes, that's the weekend). But it's not always a bummer weekend: Get Out opened there in 2017, and Game Night did well there too last year. So there is hope. And Kung Fu Panda 3, another animation franchise initially destined for box office greatness, ended its series with $143m in a January.

For part 3, Baruchel and co return, all these years later. On screen, they've nary aged a day, as animation is wont to do, sometimes to odd effect (I was the same age as the South Park kids when that show started. 22 years later, they're still in grade school).

How To Train Your Dragon 3 is receiving marvelous, stupendous, unimpeachably positive reviews. But you knew that. It's animated, after all. It's How to Train Your Dragon. It makes sense. Unless something has gone horribly wrong in the balance of the universe, getting reviews like that is what films like this do.

Perhaps there's a world somewhere where Dragon 3 out flanks Lego 2. Maybe in that reality it even outgrosses Happy Death Day 2, to boot! But I'm not sure that's where we are. So to #2 you go.

Opening weekend: $40 million / Total gross: $134 million

3. Happy Death Day 2U (February 13th)
Let's do the time warp again.

I don't believe this film will make more than Isn't It Romantic, What Men Want, or the Battle Angel (although it just might). But I rank it higher than those titles because I want to talk about it more, and sooner. Their box office is just a number.

In this sequel, Jessica Rothe returns as college student Tree Gelbman (now now), who's rather remarkably unkillable so much so, as to put any superhero to shame. As an assailant wearing a baby valentine mask chases her, she dies, comes back, is killed, and resurrects, and is offed over and over but returns to the same morning of her birthday every time. In the first film, the pattern persisted until she both 1) became a better person, spiritually, morally, emotionally, philosophically and 2), caught her continuous killer, her roommate, an identity the trailer for part 2 announces, in case you point the finger at me as a spoiler. After splattering this villainous roomie on the sidewalk outside her house on sorority row, Jessica's loop ended, and she finally woke up the next morning to a bright tomorrow she assumed she wouldn't have to repeat.

It (Stephen King's) was the big horror movie of fall 2017, but Happy Death Day snuck in too and did quite well ($55 million total) given its budget and expectations. Rothe was very good, and Israel Broussard, as her humble boyfriend who is doomed to forget who she is day after day, was charming, too. They were a good team.

As soon as the first film opened, I immediately had some ideas for a sequel. How about for the second time, the time loop traps two people? So when one dies, the loop restarts for both. Or perhaps both have to die for the day to begin again, which would lead to some choice moments of one participant having to kill themselves in order to save the other, who'd just been killed. By the time of the fourth film, you could have as many as a dozen people trapped in a time loop, with each of their fates depended on the others (like a more civil Human Centipede, to use a historical comparison).

I'm not sure they've done that exactly.

The trailer is kind of weird, because it seems that birth day's back... the time loop has somehow restarted, back to the day of the original film, which the heroine must relive yet again for many more iterations, all ending with some memorable deaths for her (jumping nude out of a plane being the highlight, I think). Tree Gelbman's deaths are so tied to triggering time warps that when she finally passes of old age, unpreventably, I assume that will be the last day of the world, doomed to repeat itself forever.

The cast again is led by Rothe and Broussard, and grows to include several others trying to make some sense of the time warp, including a young actor named Suraj Sharma. If his name sounds familiar, as it may well to those with a particularly astute memory, it's because he was the star of Ang Lee's Life of Pi, which opened in November 2012 and grossed one hundred and twenty four million dollars. Now he gets his big follow-up film, not a moment too soon.

Say, confused commentary aside, Happy Death Day 2U is my most anticipated film of 2019, which means in a few weeks I'll be satisfied for the rest of the year. It's a slasher, the greatest and most logical genre ever created by man, and it's a time loop story, which are rare enough to still be fun. Why watch a three hour-long Martin Scorsese movie about angry gangsters when you can watch a slasher movie about time loops? That's a question that wins the argument for me.

But I can only see this movie so many times, and first-time horror sequels don't often outgross their originals. As I've said, this decade the list of part 2 horror sequels to surpass part 1 has been limited to Insidious 2, as well as Hotel Transylvania 2 and The Purge: Anarchy, which are in the neighborhood of horror, and Annabelle: Creation, which due to complicated franchise chronology technically isn't 'really', exactly a first-time sequel (either Annabelle, 2014, or The Conjuring 2, 2016, might qualify better, and neither beat The Conjuring).

The Valentine's Day release date helps, yes. So Happy Death Day 2U should do pretty well, and a third very Happy Death Day coming in time for Halloween 2020 isn't too far out of the question (besides, something has to top my most anticipated of 2020 list).

Opening weekend: $22 million / Total gross: $54 million

4. Alita: Battle Angel (February 14th)
Scheduling and advertising is setting this live-action adaptation of the 1990 manga up as the big mid-February special effects film of the moment, clearly in the tradition of Black Panther before it, if six hundred million dollars and change short of the same domestic result.

I think I've heard this title Battle Angel Alita as a possible film for roughly two decades on upcoming film sites, and I'm happy it's finally here so I won't have to hear for another century about how it might some day be made. James Cameron had always threatened to direct, but he passed it along, perhaps after figuring out it probably wouldn't beat his previous record as the biggest movie ever made, whichever record that may have been. The man behind the camera is now Robert Rodriguez, a director more willing to work in the pure B-movie tradition, and able to make fun-looking sci-fi films on a low budget.


Alita: Battle Angel is also low-budget, by current standards: it cost somewhere between $150 million and $200 million dollars to make, being more expensive than anything by Rodriguez by a hundred million dollars or two.

Rosa Salazar stars in the title role, as a CGI-faced warrior in future war-torn battleground-littered earth, a fierce combat-ready individual who searches for her former identity and those who erased it to make her such a badass (shades of Ghost in the Shell, yes. Does this happen a lot in the manga literaturic universe?).

Christoph Waltz is a kindly scientist who probably has some kind of malevolent secret, lest he would have been played by someone else; imminent two-time Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali stars as an individual more openly villainous; and Ed Skrein and Eiza González play humanoid faces attached to cyborg war machines, whom Alita must duly combat in between romantic interludes with a helpful humanoid (Keean Johnson). And yes, by the way, while Waltz won his two Oscars three years apart, Ali is about to do it with just a two-year gap (he's practically cutting off Green Book haters' noses to spite their faces).

Awards trivia between co-stars aside, all of this plot sounds very futuristic and science fictiony, and while Aquaman did well enough with some ingredients from those genres, I'm not sure if audience goodwill extends very far when the participants don't have an ® after their name as officially anointed superheroes of the comic book kind. Still, marketing points to this film as a bit of an event, and such traction should pull it up for at least a weekend or two.

Opening weekend: $32 million / Total gross: $75 million

5. Isn't It Romantic (February 13th)
Rebel Wilson stars in an idea for a film that's good, like Happy Death Day's, that it's a wonder it hasn't been done before. While Jessica Rothe in the Day films is stuck in a time-loop until she exposes and brains her would-be killer, Wilson is a love-lorn woman who is transported into an actual romantic comedy, bound by cliches and a PG-13 rating, until she achieves some internal self-realization that would allow her to return (I'm not sure how this works exactly. The Death Day rules seem simpler).

In the world of rom-com, she is given a tall, strapping, and so on love interest who looks like Liam Hemsworth and is probably played by him, too; and a more down-to-earth romantic possibility that's embodied by Adam Devine, in remarkably realistic casting given that he in fact has already played Wilson's romantic partner (in the Pitch Perfect films, apparently).

Priyanka Chopra (the rival) and Betty Gilpin (the chatty best friend) are also on hand, and the pieces and clichés seem set clearly as to how this story will resolve itself, so that Wilson is able to return the real world, where all these people can stop bothering her.

Wilson hasn't quite headlined a major film of her own, and it's even kind of surprising it took this long. She did make a dent in How To Be Single, the ensemble romantic comedy from a few Valentine's Days past, which totaled $46m. Isn't It Romantic should do a bit better, maybe. With the romantic comedy resurgence, unironic as it is, its timing is certainly perfect, though it could've had a few additional days of pre-Valentine's Day excitement had it bowed, say, a week earlier.

Opening weekend: $27 million / Total gross: $72 million

6. What Men Want (February 8th)
As the title confesses, this is a remake of the 2000 film, more or less, with the genders swapped, and none-too-soon in the interest of topicality. Taraji P. Henson has the Mel Gibson role, as a sports agent who undergoes some accidental event that gives her the power to read men's minds, thus launching her on the course to success in both her personal and professional lives. Tracy Morgan is also on hand, perhaps in the Helen Hunt role (well), Wendi McLendon-Covey is a best friend (in the tradition of Betty Gilpin in Isn't It Romantic), Max Greenfield is a professional rival, and so on.

The original film was Nancy Meyers' second credit as director, and grossed $182m in the winter of 2000, back when such a number was common for films without even a smatter of special effects.
What Men Want doesn't focus on the strictly romantic, I don't think, playing more as a broad comedy (Morgan might be the love interest). Director Adam Shankman, most recently of Rock of Ages, is a veteran of any number of hit films in the genre (The Wedding Planner, Bringing Down the House, and so on). Henson has her fans, and has been spinning through genres at the movies, with Hidden Figures the biggest ($169m), and some questionable B-films (Proud Mary, Acrimony) on the other end of respectability, though Acrimony did pucker up with $43m and an ending that really must be seen, even if you don't believe it.

What Men Want has holiday-bound competition from Isn't It Romantic, of course, another spin on the type with a strong female lead. Women shouldn't be pitted in competition against one another, of course, but that's what the schedule is doing.

Opening weekend: $23 million / Total gross: $64 million

7. Fighting with My Family (February 14th)
The title is punny. They fight because they're all professional wrestlers in this clan, the two kids, Paige (Florence Pugh) and Zodiac (Jack Lowden), and going back one generation, the parents, Rowdy Ricky Knight and Sweet Saraya, who are respectively played by Nick Frost and Lena Headey of all people.

They're all British, too, which is maybe not a country that's produced too many WWE superstars, but this is a true story and therefore must be believed. Vince Vaughn is the crusty trainer, providing caustic commentary as Paige in particular crosses over the pond to make it in America.

Based on a BBC documentary and directed by Stephen Merchant, it must be noted that the film involves Dwayne The Rock Johnson (also known as the greatest ever president Johnson), who co-stars and co-produces and probably was very helpful on set, in general, also supplying a big cameo in the trailer that must have brought the house down, somewhere. This film should be his third consecutive non-$100m earner, before Hobbs & Shaw and Jumanji and everything else he's going to be in will rectify the situation forthwith (yes, his Rampage pulled out of contention at $99m, not a benchmark a lot of films achieve).

But not every film has to be a blockbuster. Fighting with My Family has earned itself some good reviews after its Sundance pemiere, and in a month that probably has some space for dramas and uplifting sports films as the Oscar season winds down, it'll be fine.

Opening weekend: $11 million / Total gross: $33 million

8. Cold Pursuit (February 8th)
Once in a while, Liam Neeson vows to stop making these action films - never again to blow away screaming bad guys on screen - and so on, but it's okay if he occasionally breaks his promise. He's getting a pass from me.

His new action-thriller is a film that appears to have already been parodied a year and a half before its release, against its will, and in an accidental manner. My memories of Daddy's Home 2 are not a pleasant bunch, and they include that moment when Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg sit down in a crowded movie theatre to watch a Liam Neeson film. Unseen, Neeson makes a vocal cameo, starring in Missile Tow, about a truck driver who battles nuclear terrorists in a snow-bound setting.

Cold Pursuit sounds... just a little different. In the film we're actually getting, Neeson drives not a cargo truck but a snow-plow, and the stakes are less apocalyptic: he's chasing bad guys who killed his son (having apparently failed miserably in protecting him), and so the motivation replaces Neeson's oft-pursued theme of rescue with good old fashioned revenge.

This is a remake of a foreign film (In Order of Disappearance, 2014, Norway), which starred Stellan Skarsgård and may have been more of a black comedy, though reviews praise the humour here too. Emmy Rossum is his daughter, and there are all kinds of British-accented cast, some expendable, as the villains (Tom Bateman, from Murder on the Orient Express, leads the opposition, and should therefore be the last to be killed).

Those reviews are pretty good, in fact, but I noticed some of Neeson's best recent work is less appreciated than his more broad roles (The Grey and Run All Night in particular seem underloved). In any case, with that title Cold Pursuit, the film should be congratulated for such a topical and timely release date. Looking at the thermometer, few could question its accuracy.

Opening weekend: $12 million / Total gross: $33 million

9. The Prodigy (February 8th)
A young mother (Taylor Schilling) must contend with her son, who is equal parts intelligent and evil, or at least possessed by supernatural elements that lean that way. The concept of a single woman dealing with a haunted young man reminds me of The Boy (2016), sort of, and that's a title this film could have probably also used (If you missed that film, don't worry, because The Boy 2 is now in production).

Jackson Robert Scott plays the title character, which is a turnabout to fair play, after the fate that befell him as the ever-fallible Georgie in the opening moments of Stephen King's It in 2017. Here, he presumably has enough otherworldly fortitude to survive any number of clown attacks. Director Nicholas McCarthy was previously behind low(er)-budget horror films like The Pact and At The Devil's Door.

As always, horror movies are prominent visitors on the first few months of the year, where they go down nice on chilly Friday nights. This year has already had Escape Room ($48m and counting) and Glass ($77m), and while The Prodigy should not be the month's dominant horror release (see a few slots above), a genre title that finishes even with $20m or so must be delivering a profit somewhere.

Opening weekend: $6 million / Total gross: $21 million

10. Miss Bala (February 1st)
The month begins on the quiet Super Bowl Day weekend, where there's peace on earth and goodwill toward all men. The quiet and fortitude is interrupted by just one new film, as Miss Bala has Gina Rodriguez playing a Los Angeles naif who tracks down her friend, who has gotten herself involved in all sorts of nasty business with Mexican drug dealers, guns, crime, and all those other things movies love to love so much. Directed by Catherine Hardwicke (previously of Thirteen and that first classic Twilight), this is a remake of a 2011 Mexican film of the same name, which didn't play much over here.

Studios have oft given up on this big game weekend, assuming most civilians are occupied elsewhere, but they really don't have to. Witness When A Stranger Calls ($21 million opening, 2006), or that legendary slot in 2012 when The Woman in Black ($20m) and Chronicle ($22m) both broke out, even as their target audience of young people would have been putatively split between the two. That wasn't a problem.

Bala has some critical legacy back there (the first film was 87% Fresh, this one isn't), and Gina Rodriguez has her fans (her show Jane the Virgin has been on the air since 2014). But that #10 has to be occupied by something, and Miss Bala, I choose you.

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



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