September 2020 Forecast

By Michael Lynderey

September 5, 2020

The Babysitter: Killer Queen

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So, a Marvel superhero movie has yet again become the highest-grossing film of the summer. After all this chaos and uncertainty - really? Still? - some things simply can not change. And so The New Mutants will likely lead the just-concluded season with a total box office of $15m or so domestic, defeating both Russell Crowe ($9m so far) and The Wretched ($1.8m), which just tried so hard (and no matter what anyone says, for me The Wretched will always be the movie of summer 2020).

August had the first new wide releases since March, and September continues the play with more movies dipping their toe in the water, fearing the lava that may be churning underneath: Three major new films enter the theatrical marketplace, while two more that were previously slated for a wide U.S. release hit on-demand instead, never to return. As always, collect them all.

1. The Babysitter 2: Killer Queen
As a life-long and devoted connoisseur of horror sequels, I must note that Netflix is debuting The Babysitter: Killer Queen on Friday, September 11 (actually, under the cover of black skies at 3AM on the Thursday night is usually specifically when you can start watching it, and should). Netflix bought the original film, shot in 2015, and made it their own when they premiered it for Hallowe'en two years later. We will never see the numbers on that one, but I imagine it's quite popular viewing. It starred the excellent Judah Lewis and Samara Weaving as a young teenager and his cool, smexy, devil-worshipping, babysitter, respectively, and as a film it was funny, sweet, horrific, and well, seriously kind of implausible (set as it was in what doesn't appear to be a completely rural neighborhood, how can it be that no one in the nearby houses could ever hear this kid repeatedly running and screaming into the night, as persistently as he did?).

No matter. A good time was had by enough people so that - the horror genre demands - we are back at square one, as our hero comes under duress again and his very rude Satanic cult member foes are resurrected for bloody and vengeful violence. McG directs, once more. Lewis is back, Weaving, sadly, isn't, but let's all promise to watch this thing anyway. Horror sequels were always the greatest art form when I was a kid (Scream 2, I Still Know, and Bride of Chucky, just for starters). Nothing's changed since.

2. Tenet (September 3rd)
Christopher Nolan's eleventh film, the one with the weird, unknowable, palindrome for a title, has more or less survived its weary trek across all manner of summer release dates and delays; and now, after having already played in Canada for a long, long eight days, hops over next door for its rendezvous with U.S. theatres at last.

So it's not surprising that time travel is Tenet's game. The action is incited by the classic set-up for a Christopher Nolan film: a team of experts are gathered together to complete a delicate mission with science fictional addendums. John David Washington stars as a sort of secret agent who must travel back and forth through time in order to avert a nasty global catastrophe (oh... so, he failed. That sucks). Washington carries a famous name twice over, and is probably and understandably still best known for starring in, and as, that legendary superhero, BlacKkKlansman. He is also the actor who is, as sad as it is to breach the topic, perhaps the one most likely to take over playing Black Panther if T'Challa should choose to come back to the big screen at all.

In his unsuccessful 2020 mission, however, the actor will be joined by WB's latest Batman recruit, Robert Pattinson, previously a relatively unknown English actor who has mostly appeared in indie movies in which he slowly and imaginatively goes mad at a designated isolated location - a lighthouse, a space station (High Life), a limousine (Cosmopolis). You choose the place, he'll lose his mind. Strangely, I can't think of anything Pattinson was in before 2013. Maybe he was out just travelling the world, finding himself, you know.

Also getting their own trailers on set were Elizabeth Debicki, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Michael Caine, and, as the obvious villain, Kenneth Branagh, not to say that one of the abovementioned isn't pretty likely to turn out to be the secret badguy of the bunch, too ("we knew she was a Femme-Bot the whole time, sadly.") Pedantic double-crosses and tediously shifty allegiances are both the bane and hobgoblin of spy films.

Tenet's outline most closely resembles Nolan's Inception, which has been playing again in theatres in weeks past (its box office unreported), perhaps as a trial run for what was coming. If it follows the same dark path, Tenet's plot will become aggressively more complicated and cerebral, with characters converging over time zones and modes of existence as their instructions grow ever more unclear; in short, if you were baffled about the ending of the 2010 Nolan film, it is entirely possible that you will be confused again, especially since, given the runtime, you will have just two and a half hours to figure out the plot. As CinemaSins says, this goes on for some time.

I give Nolan a few hard knocks, as well I should, but his The Dark Knight Rises was actually, strangely, my #1 favourite movie of the past decade, as a grand, topical, pseudo-superhero story that was infinitely preferable to some of the more self-satisfied Oscar contenders, and which also had a lot more Bane, filmdom's most humorously entertaining individual.

In some ways, Tenet has become the most anticipated film of 2020, with industry folk tightly huddled by the radio to hear how strong this bellwether for other releases will play at a troubled time for cinema. Theatres are still closed in parts of the country, but enough have re-opened to give Tenet a decent shot at a respectable opening, especially combined with the Canadian numbers being automatically added to the tally (yes, Canadian box office gets swiped in to the U.S. number, but my home province of Ontario doesn't get even 10 electoral votes in U.S. presidential elections; is that really fair?). In any case, Warner Bros.' other next big film, Wonder Woman 1984, slated for October 2, probably depends on a respectable showing here to keep its own date. Tenet, fate rests its weary one eye on you.

Opening weekend: $25 million / Total gross: $92 million

3. Mulan (September 4th)
If you've read my March 2020 Mulan forecast, and especially if you've pored over it word-for-word, memorized it, and thoroughly committed it to your brain, then I will say that this new Mulan write-up is... not too dissimilar (self-plagiarism is not actually illegal). However, a few new jokes were added.

Mulan is an ancient Chinese legend, passed on from mother to daughter to father to screen. As in Disney's original animation, Mulan is a wealthy and chique member of the Chinese upper-class who wishes to enjoy all the rights and priviledges of a male member of the wealthy and chique upper-class, and who therefore disguises herself as a boy warrior in order to fight the Hun hordes (family of Attila and co.), and also, uh, the Machine Empire and their army of cogs. Her richness of experience includes befriending a friendly red dragon (Eddie Murphy) and falling in love with the (genuinely) manly man who leads her army platoon (and no, neither she nor he have ever seen Yentl, thank you very much. Papa Can You Hear Me doesn't ring them no bell).

In 2020, we've all become more serious people, so there are no dragons in this version, while controversy has arisen about China being too much of a Communist dictatorship to allow for a heroic historical depiction in such a film. Well, it's too late for that.

The current list of modern-day Disney live action redos and reimagined fairy tales began 10 years ago, when Alice in Wonderland bowed, colored vivid 3D red, on March 5, and has since grown so exhaustive and pedantic as to not merit film-by-film recitation here (Pete's Dragon wasn't bad, though). Suffice to say that by the time we got to 2019, the studio's three big screen remakes of the year (3!) ran the gamut from a low of a $114m box office total (the poor, abused elephant) to the high point of $543m (hakuna matata indeed), with their May-released film landing right in the box office center (that would be Aladdin, with $355m). Notching just 2-3 hours of unsatisfying sleep a night in 2019, Disney also remade Lady and the Tramp directly for TV, uploading it in under the cover of darkness to Disney+ (and they say it's still there, its howls heard faintly above the wind on long summer evenings).

In 2020, there is only one remake, as the mouse beats back into the past to digitally pixelize his $120 million-grossing 1998 animated film into corporeal existence, now starring real people with real faces. (I predict that Disney-Pixar live action remakes will be coming by 2025). Niki Caro (Whale Rider) seems like a pretty good choice as director here, and the cast is led by Chinese actress Liu Yifei as Mulan, with Yoson An as the man of her dreams, and more recognizable actors in the West as pegs on her path to maturity - Donnie Yen (of a Star Wars movie) as her mentor (again, not the dragon), Gong Li as a villainess of the supernatural persuasion (so it's not a totally fantasy-free film), and Tzi Ma, particularly memorable in The Farewell and especially The Ladykillers, as Pa Mulan. Jason Scott Lee, who starred in Disney's 1994 live action Jungle Book, completes the cycle neatly with his role here.

Disney had slotted the film for March 27, 2020, the same weekend as Dumbo the previous year, asserting territorial ownership like the neighborhood canine. But A Quiet Place Part III (or was it part II?) and Mulan were the first two films on the chopping block after theatres mostly shut down on March 17, with John Krasinski's ghostly apparition directing his now father-less family having to wait until 2021, and Mulan slotted back, at first, to July 24th, before the continued dominance of awful things around the United States made holding such a date for a large and shiny theatrical film untenable.

As such, Disney+ lassoed Mulan away from a North American theatre run entirely, and will instead begin streaming it, for a mere extra shilling or two (or whatever 34.99 American can get you in shillings) this Labour Day weekend. Is it the first $200m-budgeted film to bypass a theatrical release? Sure. Is it the last? There it is, probably the more important question of the day.

Anyway, if you scoff at the notion of paying any more than, say, seventeen dollars, the film will stream totally free (minus the base cost of getting into Disney+ at all) on December 4th. Of course, that's a downside of 91 days of painful, pedantic waiting, looking up at the clock on the wall in clenched misery to the day you will finally be allowed to view this film cheaper. As Mulan herself discovered, the path is yours to choose. You decide.

(BTW, is it me, or are there too many Disney movies on Disney+? Couldn't they, I don't know, throw a porno on there or something?).


4. Antebellum (September 18th)
She's no Lady.

One of the season's big new horror films is going from its original April 24th date to streaming and pay-per-view in late September - just in time for the real holiday season.

Janelle Monáe stars as a modern-day author who wakes up one hellish morning trapped in the pre-Civil War South, where she encounters among others Gabourey Sidibe (Precious!), Kiersey Clemons, and Jack Huston, perhaps in period attire. Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz co-direct. With a story like that, will there be metaphors to the present-day black experience? M... maybe. Antebellum is a social thriller with a moral lesson about the horror-tinged past doubling back to strike its racism at the present. And yes, the film announces itself firmly in the tradition of Get Out (as the two movies share a producer, the poster practically demands the connection, spelling out the name in font almost as big as its own title).

I speak morbidly, but the plot is actually a quite clever if scary idea - it reminds me of one segment of The Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), where a bigot would awaken as a different persecuted minority in previous historical eras, all the better to be fed the taste of his own medicine (and he presumably seemed cosmically more deserving of this treatment than poor Monáe, but no matter).

Had it kept its April date, in a lifetime where that was possible, Antebellum would have likely drawn an almost-typical for horror opening in the $15-20m range. As a streaming title, life's not all bad, either, and the film may assert itself as a solid option for horror seekers all the way through to October 31. As for Get Out, sure, I liked it, but give me old-school social horror like Candyman (1992) and Tales From the Hood (1995) instead, any day. (luckily, we can all soon pass judgment on the Candyman remake, assuming it keeps its October 16 theatrical date).

5. Greenland (September 25th)
Moving past the late August-early September resurgence of big movies, STX Entertainment delivers perhaps the first film of the next wave, with Gerard Butler taking another of his old-school genre outings. Almost alone among his brand of leading man, he has not agreed to be given superpowers and star in comic book blockbusters or cinematic universes (since 300, anyway), where he would probably be asked to lend heft or gravitas to younger actors. Instead, he has headlined a series of "lower"-budget ($34 million here) old-school exercises in the science fiction (Geostorm), action (Angel Has Fallen), and thriller (Hunter Killer) genres, the kind of movies that gross $30m-$70m (no, that's total box office, not the first day, silly Marvel) in the U.S. and do well overseas, where Butler is seen as an A-list draw. In my mind, I fantasize that the man is turning down superhero role after superhero role, sending away disappointed and terrified studio messenger boys with a mean and throaty growl. "I will always stick with [playing] the mortal man," he bellows.

So, then, what happens this time to put Butler in motion? As before, a massive disaster befalls the planet (that always happens where this man's around!) - with fragments of an unwieldy comet set to hit the earth, causing considerable property damage and enough global calamity to force Butler and family to seek shelter at the world's biggest island, Greenland, which is stuck way, way up there, at the high end of North America. It's Armageddon Deep Impact meets 2012 (the movie) meets 2020 (the year), as explosions ring through the streets, ice caps (from Tim Hortons) melt in your hands, horror fills the heart, and one man must save his family. Will he make it?

I choose to believe he will.

Ric Roman Waugh (Dwayne Johnson's Snitch and Butler's third Fallen movie) directs the main man again, with Morena Baccarin as the goo goo-eyed wife who will repeatedly be placed in danger though inevitably must survive (which is more than you can say for her in Deadpool 2). David Denman and Hope Davis play another, much more expendable, couple, and Scott Glenn is an old and wise man whose fate probably was also sealed with that casting.

The placement of an accented action star in a B-movie role, while not unusual, also reminds me a little of Unhinged, the bombastic Russell Crowe vehicle that's doing ok for itself out here, all things considered (it should sneak past $10m this weekend). Like a lot of current year films, Greenland has had a rocky road to freedom - it's shorne a few release dates (June 12, July 31, the works) - but it's going to make it this time. Let's wish it the best.

Opening weekend: $8 million / Total gross: $22 million

6. The Broken Hearts Gallery (September 11th)
Here's what appears to be the month's third wide theatre release, a film Sony/TriStar is putting out as a feeler for box office goods. Aimed at younger audiences, the type who may be more likely to go to the movies (whether wisely or not is another question); it stars Dacre Montgomery, a nice Australian actor who rebooted the Red Power Ranger and then played a very bad and not too rad dude on Stranger Things, and Geraldine Viswanathan, one of the girls who was seeking a virginity thief in the semi-naughty film Blockers (spoiler warning: she didn't find him).

The plot nominally revolves around a gallery for mementos of failed relationships (it seemed like a good idea at the time), and more specifically will cover the inevitable romantic coming-together of our two leads, oblivious to the strange turn of events 2020 will heave their way (or perhaps the film is set in that marvelous, very futuristic year, 2021, where everyone has a flying car, there's a woman, dwarf, president, and all is bright in the universe).

Where is Broken Hearts headed? Given the lack of competing films, much less in the same genre, it's probably going for somewhere in that Unhingedy-New Mutanty sweet spot - like maybe an open in the single digits and a couple of weekends of legs before the more imposing October films ride into town and strike it down. By the standards of the current year, well, it'll surely be a hit.

Opening weekend: $3 million / Total gross: $12 million



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