May 2021 Forecast
By Michael Lynderey
May 16, 2021
The summer of horror is here. On the big screen, I mean. Two of the month's three biggest films are horror (and Cruella is at least one pretty creepy chick, right?), and the genre will be dropping in almost weekly for the rest of the season as theatres really start get their groove back on. That makes sense: horror films are cheap (and fun) to make, and rarely lose money; they outlived the dinosaurs, and they'll probably outlive us. Elsewhere, Angelina Jolie and Jason Statham roll back their sleeves and get into the action once more, occupying prime May weekends left waiting for them by the departure of more expensive (if not superior) special effects filmmaking.
1. Spiral: From the Book of Saw (May 14th)
The first big movie of the summer, the uber-blockbuster, the one they all want to beat, and won't. It's the motion picture men women and children trample each other for, foot over face, in their mad though understandable rush to the theatre to see. And it's finally here.
For once, that film is not the latest of the twenty three (23) supernaturally all-"Fresh," and counting, entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe but rather the ninth and here-none-too-soon installment in the much more hearteningly entertaining Saw saga, which actually has a down-the-line Tomatoe record of all-"Rotten" (none of your dull "perfection," Marvel); the tale of an older gentleman with both too much time on his hands and remarkably improbable skills at evading the police, who one fine afternoon decided to teach civilization some important moral lessons one human at a time, but mostly just ended up killing around some 81+ people in gruesome and particularly de-humanizing ways (thanks to Slash Film for doing the hard math for me; or, as they put it, "All 81 Saw Kills Ranked").
Well, at least the man tried. I think it was worth it.
Originally scheduled for May 22, 2020, Spiral avoided the fate of two other May 2020 suspense titles, the masterful Run. and the less skillful The Woman in the Window, in finding itself shown first not on streaming but rather theatrically and on more or less its original date, but one year later, where it has a chance to - technically speaking - come in at #1 for not one but two box office weekends, a feat previously denied any other films in the series. (Saw movies always opened in late October and were then flattened by the token dull family-friendly opener in early November, and ironically, this is also the first of the Saws to pick another month).
I frankly don't want to spoil anything for myself, so the plot summary shall remain a mystery to both me and readers, although I'm sure it doesn't stray too far from the beloved old chestnut about the creatively-orchestrated and, despite their maker's proclamations, just vaguely escapable deathtrap demises of morally-adroit people (some are adulterers, others are murderers; all are equal and none shall be spared). But one thing seems clear, that John Saw/Jigsaw won't be on hand for this new sequel, and that is too bad. For me, the biggest plus of this franchise has always been Tobin Bell, the then sixty-something character actor who was quickly dispensed with in the likes of The Firm and In The Line of Fire but brought to front and center life as the series' icon, a man with such devilish matter-of-fact charisma that his face continued to adorn the posters for new movies long after his Jigsaw character had been killed off and reduced to just minutes of screen time.
No such posters hinting at more Bell have appeared for the latest installment, Spiral: From the Book of Saw, but everything else is promised to fans as much the same. Saw has always been unique in steadfastly remaining one of the few and perhaps only horror franchise that has not once focused on twentysomething teenagers but rather fairly grown men and women in police uniforms; solving crimes in the dead of night, in a seemingly endless industrial city limbed with abandoned factory sprawl and scarcely seeing any literal daylight over a good long eight films now. When the sun lights comes on here, you expect the characters to start madly squinting, near-blinded.
Not to be confused with Spiral, the recent, and underrated, Canadian horror film, the new Saw has been spearheaded by star Chris Rock, in the new tradition of comedy thespians dabbling in horror (although unlike John Krasinski and Jordan Peele, Rock doesn't direct, allowing franchise veteran Darren Lynn Bousman do the honours). The films' focus on intrigue in the law enforcement department and coroner's offices, which took up the brunt of conflict in Saw parts 2 to 8, continues here. Rock's the new police detective on the trail of evil, determined to track the latest gore to its source, all while engaging in some drama with his fellow police officer father; who happens to be played by one of America's national treasures, Samuel L. Jackson, a man who not too long ago saved the new Shaft film from irrelevance almost single-handedly (also, I dunno, Chris Rock having come from Samuel L. Jackson's loins? Not sure I believe it). Marisol Nichols and Max Minghella are others in this mad orbit, with characters who are either Saw victims, or guilty as hell.
The previous film, Jigsaw, opened to $16m on October 26, 2017, on its way to a relatively unspooky $38m total, most of it presumably grossed before that year's Hallowe'en holiday. This time, we already know the score: the film is set to open to around $10m, which would actually be the highest weekend number for a horror film (momentarily not counting Godzilla vs. Kong) since March 2020, and in fact even bests most of the horror weekends in the pre-troubles days of January and February 2020. For this franchise, though, it's a low point, and legs for recent films haven't been very solid, surprisingly - Wrath of Man, Mortal Kombat, Godzilla - all have tumbled nimbly. Still, Saw is as Saw does, the Saw is family, and we should all be as grateful as we are to get a chance at another visit into this franchise's wonderful little world.
Opening weekend: $10m / Total gross: $18 million
2. Cruella (May 28th)
If you liked Joker...
Also, I really hope this prequel is completely accurate and faithful to the previous films' continuities...
Putting all optimistic jokes about Saw being the summer's first blockbuster aside (glares angrily), the big Memorial Day frame is clearly the one that's on target to open the summer of 2021 as it seeks normality, at least since Black Widow and her weird hobby of seducing+poisoning helpless spouses have been mercifully delayed back to July, where they belong.
For those who've somehow escaped Disney's evil cultural ubiquity, Cruella de Vil is the glamorous and evil Englishwoman whose haute couture house of designer clothes somehow requires precisely one hundred and one dalmatian skins, or perhaps she just made that whole figure up and is just f--king with us for the sake of it. Yes, it's clearly the latter.
Glenn Close has immortalized the role in pop culture, I'm sure, and now Emma Stone is cast in what is predictably a smoothed-over iteration of the character, a young and glamorous emblem of wealth who lords over hapless minions, played by Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser, an actor for whom "dognapper" appears to be the natural screen persona. Craig Gillespie (Mr. Woodcock!) directs. It's a comedy.
As expected, such an icon of villainy, if made into the hero of a film, must have a truly evil emblem to contrast herself against, supplied here by Emma Thompson as Baroness von Hellman, an even more malicious style maven whose cruel ways presumably shock even Ms. de Vil; thus making herself useful to the film much as the presumably irredeemable villain Vector did for Groot's redeemable one in Despicable Me. The Vectors and von Hellmans? These movies are rarely about that guy.
The original film grossed $144m over its many, many theatre runs (it cheated), ranging from 1961 to 1991, and I assume it's the $60m taken in during that last year's re-opening that persuaded the studio to go big with a live-action remake in 1996. The redo, with Jeff Daniels and Joely Richardson as the proud-puppy owners (yes, they remember all their names) and Glenn Close as embodiment of evil de Vil, grossed another $136m for the series' coffers, while the sequel 102 Dalmatians pulled in $66m four years later, at which point Disney decided Dalmatians 103 to 1209 were not a good idea.
My memory banks tell me that I viewed the remake in theatres with some enthusiasm, though was too old to be much interested in imperiled hordes of dalmatians by the time the sequel rolled around in 2000. Now that there's another film and the franchise is back, I'm luckily just young enough again.
With Saw only opening to $10m, that leaves it up to Disney and the next horror film (A Quiet Place Part II) to break open Memorial Day weekend. In a unique distinction, Cruella is the first and one of the only of the big summer movies that hasn't actually been delayed from 2020, though it nevertheless gets the "stream on Disney+ at some extra price" deal that Disney is scheming to permanently inflict on the moviegoing populace. (not that Avengers: Endgame shouldn't have gone straight-to-streaming in my estimate. Bad movie, bad!)
And not only does Cruella help open the summer, but, depending on Godzilla vs. Kong's slow-crawling fortunes, either Cruella or Quiet Part II may be the first film to reach $100m since Sonic the Hedgehog zipped to it back in February 2020, ending a no-100 streak of box office that's obviously unprecedented since maybe the late 1960s, before Airport took in $100m in March 1970 and then Love Story threw another $100m shrimp on the barbie in December that year. It's been a long while, but normal always wins back.
Opening weekend: $38 million / Total gross: $100m
3. A Quiet Place Part II (May 28th)
The earliest-scheduled major film to be pushed back due to the current troubles (it was slated for March 20, 2020) now becomes the first putative blockbuster of 2021 to be released straight-to-theatres on opening day, without the nuclear option of being available to stream on some hoity-toity service on your very tiny-screen television. It's Quiet Place 2, everybody!
In the first film, civilization was ravaged (off-screen) by ravenous alien monsters who are decidedly blind but luckily can detect any noise above a low decibel, at which point they descend on the noise-maker in packs and devour them, no matter how small or innutritious this creature may be. If it squeaks, it's edible.
How these miscreants have developed sophisticated space travel (or personally just flew over through deep space, one at a time); just how many, exactly, of the monsters arrived on earth in numbers sufficient to decimate seven billion humans; and can they eat absolutely anything that moves; are all among very intellectual questions best left to the ages here. The suspense thrill of avoiding one's natural proclivity to cause noise (especially when, as in the first movie, one has "accidentally" fallen pregnant) is the attraction.
John Krasinski returns to direct, and also in flashbacks poignantly displaying himself with the whole "isn't it awful that I'm dead now?" attitude we might expect of such a character. Other returners are Emily Blunt and children Noah Jupe and Millicent Simmons, in a world still violently beset by chaos even as the family ended the first film having learned of some kind of reasonably convoluted method to destroy these beasts.
Now, since the original film's cast was limited basically to two parents and a handful of offspring, human drama and the usual "even in an invasion of insta-killer non-diplomatically inclined aliens, man is in fact the real enemy" were not particularly big themes. This time, it's different, as Cillian Murphy and Djimon Hounsou join the cast, among others, to spice up the proceedings and add potential love interests/homicidal crazies to the action, in case you've grown tired of the non-intellectual alien invaders.
The original film was released in April 2018, but seemed more than less to be part of the horror explosion that turned 2017 into a rollickin' graveyard of almost-absurd box office for the genre: Get Out grossed $178m, Annabelle: Creation popped in with $102m (... in August), Split conjured up a decade's-best for M. Night with $138m, and then the creme-de-la-creme flattened them all, when It opened with $120m and finished with near three times that (though for 2017 horror, Happy Death Day, with its not-dismissable $55m total, will always remain my secret favourite).
Horror box office had calmed down some in 2019. Follow-ups to most of 2017's hitters (Glass, Us, It2) notched down a peg or two from their elders. A Quiet Place II, reteaming most of the original players and proudly waving flags displaying "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" and "if you liked the first...," was basically the last remaining sequel in this bunch, and was indeed probably slated to follow its original film's gameplan, where it would have found itself opening with around $60m on up to $150m or so (needless to say still a monstrously inflated total for the genre it so clearly springs from).
But the world changed. And A Quiet Place II's March 20, 2020 release date was just three days after movie theatres shut down in my neighborhood, as in most others like it. A move was necessitated, the film tried for another date - September 4, next to Conjuring 3, another film that didn't stay - and now will finally make it to the big screen, I believe, on its third and fortuitous try.
More of the same will work just fine. As before, the film will likely receive quite positive reviews (along with Mulan, it was screened for critics back in March 2020, and they seemed satisfied enough), Blunt is still a viable name with credibility as a lead in pictures like this, and the landscape for a high-profile genre action film should be pretty clear of aspiring contenders, with Saw, Mortal Kombat, and Godzilla by that point winding down to low-single digits in their respective lanes. And it's Memorial Day, for pete's sake.
Everything is here for numbers that at least resemble what A Quiet Place Part II would have carried in an alternate-universe 2020. So to borrow from another film set in a corn-ridden field, "since they built it, will they come?"
Opening weekend: $43 million / Total gross: $115 million
4. Those Who Wish Me Dead (May 14th)
...where we find Angelina Jolie as a smokejumper/wildland firefighter, watering down blazes and living the high life up there in Montana. That is, until trouble comes to her little town, and she becomes trapped between a rock and a harder rock as genres and various old films converge around her into one single, definitive plot that she will be the star of: after a teenage boy witnesses a murder, it is Jolie's assistance he needs while fleeing from hitmen with big guns in the Montana forestland, the kind of bad guys who've also decided to set some local forest fires for good measure, all the better to narrow the good guys' lanes of escape with. Don't worry, though. Within an hour and a half runtime, both threats shalt lay slain at her very feet.
Jolie has a good supporting cast to play with - Nicholas Hoult and Aidan Gillen as the bad guys, Jon Bernthal as a deputy sheriff, Finn Little as the hitmen's prey. The film has been directed and co-produced by Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water, Yellowstone), who gives our star the appropriate backstory that every hero in a film like this must overcome - mistakes she has made, people she did not previously save, some perhaps coincidentally in just the same age group as the one she's fighting for now.
Jolie has been very selective in her roles since 2010 and The Tourist (though, sadly, not before The Tourist could be made and released and seen), having appeared on screen only in Maleficent ($241m total) and Maleficent 2 ($113m), along with smaller films By the Sea and Come Away, while focusing largely on her remarkable and presumably quite exhausting pantheon of non-on-camera pursuits.
Indeed, Jolie's association with Those Whose Wish Me Dead confused me at first, because the film has the sort of poetic, elegant title that is usually reserved for the subgenre of foreign-made Oscar contenders that Jolie has found herself drifting towards over the years, not as star but as director - In the Land of Blood and Honey, her 2011 film about the Bosnia Wars, and First They Killed My Father (2017), depicting the genocide in Cambodia.
But Those Who Wish Me Dead also matches the rural American action worldview of Taylor Sheridan, and is a neo-western, somewhat in the club of Wrath of Man; an action film star vehicle for an established lead - with no nasty superhero or sci-fi stylings - the type Jason Statham has been happily making for many fruitful years. And, with its reviews leaning positive, it's the sort of movie that normally opens to low double digits and totals at about $30m (nothing wrong with that), and will now have to make do with an adjusted version of that experience, for a combination of reasons. Among them is that the film will also stream on HBO Max ("at no extra cost," etc.), a strategy Warner Bros. has been undertaking since December 2020, and one which may have cost it movie screen attendees though nevertheless netted the studio the highest-grossing title for many of the months since (Wonder Woman 1984, Tom and Jerry, even Godzilla). Such fate does not await its big film for May, though it is nice to see Jolie throw out the Disney Queen duds and get down fighting into the dirt like the rest of us.
Total gross: $6m
5. Wrath of Man (May 7th)
Guy Ritchie puts aside all dancing Aladdins and portentous King Arthurs and other flights of literal fancy and returns to making another picture about tough guys who destroy each other with rapid-fire wit before letting their fists pummel what's left, the film prototype that must somehow be nearest and dearest to his heart; kind of like how I feel about movies featuring mad slashers and horror trappings terrorizing small North American towns, a subgenre I fear Ritchie not only will never dabble in but perhaps is not even aware exists.
He brings his old favourite, Jason Statham, returning with fists pumped and battle ready (just look at that poster), playing another stoic guy with a mysterious past which will become very relevant when even badder men want to use it for some ill dealings. The director's reach is far and wide, and can allot for any number of supporting actors he wishes to have participate in his rude, manly action: Josh Hartnett, the aptly-surnamed Scott Eastwood, Holt McCallany, Laz Alonso, Jeffrey Donovan (who barely avoided getting thrown off of something by Liam Neeson in the recent Honest Thief), then Eddie Marsan, a regular Ritchie victim, and also Andy García, in presumably a less baffling part than he had in Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar, which is one of the least Ritchie-esque films I have seen and enjoyed lately.
The director's previous title, The Gentlemen, was released on what seemed like the perfectly innocent weekend of January 24, 2020, less than two months before our current troubles. If that leads you to think that Wrath of Man was therefore filmed during lockdown, with Ritchie barking orders through a black face-mask while all the muscle-bound supporting henchmen patiently submitted to temperature check with thermometers in their mouths; and Statham strutting on to the set but six feet apart from any infectious passerby, sadly, you're wrong (it was filmed in November and December 2019).
Reviews are more or less in the plus column, and thanks to both itself and its own valour and probably the "only game in town" factor, the movie got off to a respectable open in the Ritchie tradition, starting off with an $8.3m not too far from The Gentlemen's $10.7m. Whether he's Gentle or Wrathful, man must strut his stuff all the same.
Total gross: $21m