March 2019 Forecast
By Michael Lynderey
March 2, 2019
March 2019 offers a preview of what moviegoing could look like in the 2020s: as usual for the month, there are three or four pre-approved blockbuster films with big budgets and hungry appetites... but the rest of the release schedule didn't quite show up, ringing in at maybe four non-blockbuster films over five weekends. March is usually one of the busiest months for quantity, but this time, once we've passed the superpowered avenger, the elephantine live action Disney adaptation, the high-ticket horror film, and the CGI animation, there's not much place left to go.
1. Captain Marvel (March 8th)
There are three superhero movies out in April, presumably finally ushering in the apocalypse most people have been so eagerly trying to get a head start on. Begorrah!
But in March, we are deprived, because there is only one.
Captain Marvel straps on the tights, takes to the skies, and punches out space aliens by hand, etc., inducing me to repeat all the passive-aggressive takedowns, some humorous, others just hostile, all accurate, that I've addended to forecasts of superhero movies in the comic strip movie universe we've been plunged into over the last three, four, or ten years: ever since Samuel L. Jackson approached Robert Downey, Jr. from the corner of a darkened room and intoned that he is, indeed, putting together a team of very special people with an extraordinary set of skills. This may have been the single most important scene in our collective moviegoing lifetimes.
Captain Marvel's existence was briefly pinpointed to at the very tail end of the very last scene of the very long credits scroll of the rather lengthy film Avengers: Infinity War (2018), which means that it will not be out of nowhere and surely not a deus ex machina when the good Captain appears to save everyone from the increasingly constipated-looking Thanos in Avengers 4 next month.
The existence of this film justifies her last-minute rescue in Avengers 4 even more so, of course.
Captain Marvel is noted as the first solo female superhero film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which means it is not to be confused with the first solo female superhero film based on a Marvel Comic, Elektra (2005, and hey, it wasn't so bad: Jennifer Garner always works it), nor with the first solo female superhero film of the current DC Cinematic Universe (Wonder Woman), or with the first solo female superhero movie, which appears to have been Supergirl (1984), although Katharine Hepburn really was something back in the day, so maybe a few of her films should count.
This film, therefore, is a milestone, and therefurther still, it will likely gross untold hundreds of millions of dollars, less so because of all of the above and most simply since it is a superhero movie in the year of our lord 2019. The highest-grossing film released between July 2018 and February 2019 is also a superhero movie, Aquaman (so far at a relatively unambitious $333m), and so it's only appropriate that it finds itself moved off the top by yet another entry in the exact same genre (the highest-grossing non-superhero blockbuster of 2018 was Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom... so you can see they're not trying very hard anymore).
Captain Marvel is a prequel, a tale of how, in the dusty, backwards, black-and-white days of 1995, a fighter pilot named Carol Danvers meets up with some cosmic ray or birthright destiny and becomes a super-powered, presumably never-aging being, the only one available then to fight the incoming invasion by green unattractive aliens named the Skrulls. They are led by a prototypically mal-intentioned Ben Mendelsohn, who's always off scheming about something or other, though someone should inform the Skrull High Command that I could get them a better deal anywhere on Alpha Centauri. Earth is yesterday's news.
On Marvel's corner are Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, spending the company's money on CGI de-aging effects) and Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), who was killed in The Avengers (2012) and then resurrected for television's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013), a bizarre cross-screen development that the films have chosen not to address, so as not to dullen the searing and near-unbearable emotional impact of the man's death in the original Avengers (dry eyes in the house, etc.). This film will also reveal exactly where Captain Marvel has been biding her time at in between 1994 and present day (for who among us hasn't spent the last decade pondering the answer to this question? The suspense is killing us). Wonder Woman, whose first film was set in 1917, will have to answer some of the same questions in her upcoming sequel, although in her case they are actually kind of interesting.
Captain Marvel has already gotten rave reviews, with a 96% Rotten Tomatoes rating and a 79 Metacritic score, with Variety's review pointedly noting how Captain Marvel "redefines the superhero film, moves it forward, underlines it, while astutely celebrating its hallmarks," and The Hollywood Reporter's critic unironically adding, "I'm not a superhero guy, but this one - this one - won me over. Not bad, MCU. Not bad at all."
In the interest of integrity, journalistic and otherwise, I should probably admit I made the entire above paragraph up, before any reviews have been released - but you should take it as fact anyway. It will be. The first Marvel Cinematic Universe film to earn a "Rotten" rating will not come in my lifetime, nor in the lifetime of anyone you may know or ever will know. It's an impossibility wrapped inside an unattainability placed knee deep in futility. Not happening.
And box office? Numbers this high are a statistic, not a tragedy. I'd say $350 million is a minimum (this is the definitive film of the spring season, not counting late breaker Avengers: Resurrection). $500 million might be the top guess, but as Carol Danvers will tell you, the sky's the limit.
Opening weekend: $122 million / Total gross: $406 million
2. Dumbo (March 29th)
As usual, trends fit very neatly around the schedule of a decade. Putting aside 101 Dalmatians and even number 102, the first big live action version of Disney animation was their own Alice in Wonderland (2010), directed by Tim Burton, and which opened on March 5 of that first decade year to a startling $116 million (well, it was impressive then).
Like it or not, the trend moved rather unstoppably and aggressively through Maleficent (2014), Cinderella (2015), The Jungle Book (2016), and Beauty and the Beast (2017), along with a few less intimidating others, and now explodes through the screen with no less than three live action (broadly speaking) adaptations (religiously speaking) of Disney cartoons slated to knock more than lightly on our theatre doorsteps this year, the decade's last, and one more on streaming. It all comes full circle: what Alice began in 2010 reaches its logical saturation point here. Poof.
Aladdin (May) and The Lion King (July) are next, and Disney's streaming service (it's real) will premiere Lady and the Tramp in October, but first and foremost we have Dumbo. It costs a lot of money and is directed again by Burton, who continues his partnership with Disney after his most recent film Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (2016), with Asa Butterfield, which was kind of fun if very busy with plot developments and dancing skeletons abounding all around the screen.
Dumbo brings to digital pixel non-cartoon life the classic Disney animation about an elephant with very large flying ears - its hopes, struggles, and dreams for tomorrow (this is a very well developed character for a chunk of computer code). The 1941 film, as I have been reliably informed all of my life, is a beloved favourite of children everywhere, a staple of every burgeoning North American adolescence, a ritual they all must pass through.
Needless to say, I haven't ever seen it. (there were Jason Voorhees movies to watch, you know) Here I'll get my chance to fill in any gaps in this story I might not have guessed at.
The setting is again a circus and the crew of carnies includes among its leadership Colin Farrell, Eva Green, Alan Arkin, Danny DeVito, and Michael Keaton, some of them veterans of other Burton films (say, has Michael Keaton ever starred in a Burton movie? That could be a good idea).
Dumbo may miss the lucrative March break periods, and there are legion, and it is knocked from behind by Wonder Park and up ahead on the schedule by every kid's fantasy and mine, Shazam! (April 5). But of the three it's got the most moxie and should begin the end of this live-action Disney decade well.
Opening weekend: $72 million / Total gross: $243 million
3. Us (March 22nd)
Oscar weekend 2017 (February 24) was the home of three new releases, none with very many early great expectations: there was the car-chase monstrosity Collide (crashing all along the Auto-bahn); the frighteningly melodious animated CGI Rock Dog, which was exactly what the title promises; and, finally, comic Jordan Peele making his writer-director debut with horror film Get Out, about body-snatching rich people somewhere in New England who really, really, liked spending their golden years transplanting their own brains into the bodies of young black people (don't ask). Was the option of retirement to Florida unavailable?
No one but myself remembers the other two films (can you name them without looking again?). Get Out, though, opened to $33m and a 98% Fresh Rotten Tomatoes pockmark, and finished with $176m, in the tradition of old school horror legs. The film was its own cultural phenomenon, of course, social commentary and terror, but was also part of a healthy and muscular horror movement based in and around 2017, which also gave us Split, Annabelle: Creation, Happy Death Day, and Stephen King's It (and also The Snowman, of course). Other than the very latter film, they're all getting sequels in 2019, though Get Out's follow-up is just a new horror film by the same man, the Unbreakable to Get Out's The Sixth Sense, if you will (and by the way, I would say Split 2 could have been called "Us").
Get Out was fairly well made and dug up the occasional satirical nugget about race in America, but commentators seemed too much invested in it as a film that, referring to the political climate, defined the times (!) or satirized the moment.
This was all wrong.
As a matter of fact, Get Out had began filming in November 2015, under the completely reasonable and understandable, if in hindsight unforgivable, assumption that Hillary Clinton would be the next president of the United States, her opponents easily smashed away and left well back of the rearview mirror.
And so the subjects of Get Out's satire weren't marching hateful Klan racists but the kind of people who did say, as the chief brain-transplanter does in the film, "Obama was the best president of my lifetime, hands down. I would've voted for Obama for a third time if I could have" - and meant it. So to me at least, far from defining the times, Get Out seemed a little out of step with the new status quo of politics in 2017.
(Still, that is a quotable line that you can have a lot of fun with. I've often said, "I would've voted for Denzel for a third Oscar if I could have," or, "Eddie Murphy was the best Doctor Dolittle of my lifetime. I would have gone to see a third Dolittle film with Murphy if I could have. Does Robert Downey, Jr., the next Dolittle, somehow regard Murphy's Dolitle as... illegitimate?" Sometimes, people get the reference. Not often).
I spend so much time here giving my own critique of Get Out and its cultural place in our cinematic universe because there's not much to say about Jordan Peele's new film, Us. This is as it should be. It is a horror-thriller arriving without a bevy of information about its plot or theme, the better for its putative viewers to uncover the surprises for themselves.
The posters are very good - especially the ones with Lupita Nyong'o as two-face. The cast is intriguing - aside from Nyong'o (who is, thankfully, finally hitting her stride as an actress), we've got Winston Duke (the friendly rival tribal chief from Black Panther, in a change of pace role) and Elisabeth Moss, in what is really her first big film part. Doppelgängers are somehow involved (you know, "send in the clones."), but I imagine it's not all as simple as that.
Us will premiere at the SXSW festival forthwith, and then find itself released in between light children's entertainments about theme parks and circuses, right where it belongs. So we don't have reviews yet, but wherever they land, Us should have at least a sizable, ribald horror opening, with the Peele name and the promise of more of what Get Out gave.
But you know the rule about first-time horror follow-ups making less than the original...
Opening weekend: $47 million / Total gross: $143 million
4. Wonder Park (March 15th)
As usual for big films these days, Wonder Park has a lot of posters, but it's the teaser image that grabbed me with its elemental image - a big furry blue hand brushing against a seat belt on a rollercoaster, with a smaller human hand next to it. Life doesn't get any more interesting than that, does it?
It is about a small child who is a bit of a fantasist, having conjured into her mind a gang of humorous and particularly furry animals for a roller coaster-fueled adventure in a giant abandoned theme park. But as it turns out, imagination wins again - they'e real! And their park must be saved from the forces of darkness.
The animals' vocal releases, for they have a lot to say, are embodied by John Oliver (a porcupine), Mila Kunis (a boar), Ken Jeong and Kenan Thompson as a wildling of beavers, and professional voice actor Ken Hudson Campbell as the film's star animal attraction, Boomer, the big, blue bear that will probably supply the biggest emotional moments. Matthew Broderick and Jennifer Garner are humans, having drawn the short straws.
Paramount Pictures/Nickelodeon's animated division gives us Wonder Park, and it's a studio that's been behind everything from The Rugrats Movie (1998; Nick's first animated film) to the SpongeBob films (of which there are legion), Rango, and Steven Spielberg's Tintin. There's solid historical ground for this material. Dreamworks has released animated tales intermittently in March, venturing into dangerous Disney territory and generally faring fairly well - Home ($177m), The Croods ($187m), and The Boss Baby ($175m, and that is a remarkably consistent range for these March CGI animations, no?).
Aside from a welcoming release slate, Wonder Park's set-up is elemental - everybody loves a theme park, especially in mid March, in the cold chill air of the movie theatre.
Opening weekend: $44 million / Total gross: $123 million
5. Tyler Perry's A Madea Family Funeral (March 1st)
I call her by her legal name, Mabel Simmons, but you know her as Madea. Madea's Funeral title was not chosen lightly, nor with sleight-of-hand. We are told by film's maker Mr. Perry that this will, indeed, be the last film role of Ms. Simmons, who is said to have been born roughly 84 years ago, and who has amassed a credible filmography of starring roles since.
As played by an unnamed actress sometimes cleverly credited as Tyler Perry (all the better to throw you off the scent of the real thespian), Ms. Simmons first found her way onto the national scene in a series of stage plays, traveling, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, before breaking into film with Diary of a Mad Black Woman (the title does not refer to her). That film opened on a quiet late February weekend in 2005 and surprised every hapless box office analyst, grossing $21m in three days and leaving my eighteen year-old self with the question, "my lord, who is this woman and where did she come from?" (I'm sure I phrased it exactly that way). I worked at a movie theatre, and we never even played the film.
The character lived on in any number of more films, precisely nine and counting, all of them seen by me, and all of which I will now list because rarely again will I get the opportunity - a reprisal in Madea's Family Reunion (2006), a cameo in Meet the Browns (2008; "Jesus, take the wheel!"), and starring roles in Madea Goes to Jail (2009), I Can Do Bad All By Myself (2009; in which she delivers a wonderful soliloquy on Steven Spielberg's Jaws), Madea's Big Happy Family (2011), Madea's Witness Protection (2012), A Madea Christmas (2013, which I think is the worst of these, sadly), Boo! A Madea Halloween (2016, which was more or less not supernatural in nature, despite advertising to the contrary), and Boo 2! A Madea Halloween (2017; ditto). I shall not count Madea's Tough Love (2015), because it was an animated straight-to-video film and I'm prejudiced against both categories.
Counting the first and the current, that's eleven Madea films. Their average opening weekend is precisely 25 (million dollars). Their average total box office is 58.5.
Film critic Roger Ebert had awarded Diary of a Mad Black Woman one star (out of four, if it's any consolation), not unreasonably, and indeed subsequent to that, studio Lions Gate mostly stopped screening Tyler Perry's films for critics, with a few exceptions. In an almost reverse Marvel Cinematic Universe, only one single Madea film has ever scored "Fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes (I Can Do Bad All By Myself), but if given a choice between, say, a smoothly hammy Madea picture running one hour and 45 minutes on the one corner, and then a two and a half hour Marvel monstrosity glaring triumphantly at me from the other end of the hall, why, sir, that's no choice at all (to clarify, I would not choose the Marvel film. I mean, honestly, why do some among us complain that eleven Madea films is too many, but not, say, 29 Marvel movies, each longer and more positively reviewed than the last?).
As for Ms. Simmons herself, she never quite made it to Boo! A Madea Halloween 3. Now, it looks like she never will. Still, when the leaves turn grey and fall dusk covers the sky, I will think of her.
Opening weekend: $22 million / Total gross: $63 million
6. Five Feet Apart (March 15th)
Cole Sprouse and Haley Lu Richardson star as teenagers afflicted with cystic fibrosis and easily jangled romantic nerves. It's based on a young adult novel by Rachael Lippincott (of the Hyde Park Lippincotts).
And it's got a good cast. Richardson is a promising starlet who claims to have been awarded her middle name after Cindy Lou Who of Whoville (...). Sprouse is a nice young man who rose into his professional life as headliner of Disney Channel sitcoms (with his twin brother, who may or may not actually exist, he starred in copious seasons of "The Suite Life"), and who has now metamorphasized into playing the world's least probable biker gang leader, Jughead Jones III, on The CW's Riverdale, where his character is, I think, also supposed to be a full ten years younger than Sprouse himself (this show, by the way, had a pretty good season 2 villain - I love me some Black Hood).
Support, both emotional and thespianic, is given to the leads by Moises Arias, of The Kings of Summer, and Parminder Nagra, of Bend it Like Beckham fame, and now on her seventh or ninth role as a doctor.
The film could do well as one of the few scant non-tentpoles that somehow managed to sneak their way onto the release schedule, under the cover of night (and in case I need to repeat myself/re-establish my non-conformist credentials, yes, I would rather view Five Feet Under than Captain Marvel, Dumbo, etc.). The film also opens on what is fast-becoming the traditional slot for teenage movies involving incurable diseases; last year we had Midnight Sun with Bella Thorne and Patrick Schwarzenegger (of the Oyster Bay Schwarzeneggers), which was actually also a nice respite from all the special effects onslaught of the likes of A Wrinkle in Time and Ready Player One, and which at least had the courage to end the way such a story too often does.
The tradition of films like this goes back to at least Love Story (1970) and most likely long before that. It's sad when a young person dies, thought Oliver Barrett IV in that film. And it still is.
Opening weekend: $13 million / Total gross: $35 million
7. Captive State (March 15th)
This is a post-disaster film with a mix of young adults and older ones at the helm, as a crew of Chicagoans fight it out among themselves after the earth has been occupied by evil aliens (from outer space), presumably on one of their routine strolls through the galaxy (is an alien takeover of earth the #1 most common film scenario that's never yet happened in real life? Other than the plots of most romantic comedies?)
John Goodman plays a kindly Chicago police officer, and Vera Farmiga's character must also be important, given that they cast her well. Ashton Sanders (Moonlight) leads the younger generation. A poster with an alien tikki doll adorning a car windshield is fun. All good. But post-apocalyptic films have filled so much space in cinemas it's hard to get overtly excited for one. (another one, Chaos Walking, was moved out of March 1 and into the ether, where it might meet Captive State some day, on a scroll through the galaxy).
Opening weekend: $11 million / Total gross: $25 million
8. Greta (March 1st)
Chloë Grace Moretz is a New York City college student who is unknowingly drawn into the maleficent-minded machinations of an older woman (Isabelle Huppert) who apparently is not just looking for a friend, lest this wouldn't have earned an R rating for "some violence and disturbing images." (thankfully, no one swears, so I should be allowed to see it).
This seems like a nice, artsy, thriller, which premiered at Toronto and earned itself critical appraisals that range in as basically "fair." If you like the genre, and I do, you might try it, as I shall. And it's nice to see Huppert get some American roles off of her Oscar nomination. But with a studio (Focus Features) known for indies and the unbeatable blockbuster mentality encircling around it, Greta's weekend totals likely won't be very intimidating.
Opening weekend: $2 million / Total gross: $5 million