July 2021 Forecast Part One

By Michael Lynderey

July 6, 2021

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A busy, back-to-business July gets right into action, with the first two sequels and spin-offs premiering on the weekend. And, when sequels and spin-offs comprise a whopping 6 out of the month's 9 big films, that can only mean one thing: the box office is back!

We have Shyamalan's accelerating midlife crisis; Henry Golding's rugged GI Joe facing his foe; toons failing at basketball again; Baldwin reprising as his trademark screaming toddler, then a pair of necessary horror sequels; and The Rock finally cementing himself as an indisputably worthy heir to Humphrey Bogart. At the top of the pile (and the bottom of this forecast), is the movie everyone's allegedly looking forward to, slated for July 9th at last. And standing over it all, we can finally step unto Fear Street again.

1. The Forever Purge (July 2nd)
The First Purge was just three years ago, and now we're making it forever!
I don't know if anyone ever truly believed this thing would be one-and-done, but here in 2021 we have our fifth Purge movie in eight years, quickly building up a filmography of almost one motion picture for every year the Purge took place in the far-off alternate reality of these pictures.

And remember how this sordid little tale all began? Some nasty new government won an election (while probably losing the popular vote) [as the founders had intended] and then instituted one day where all crime is legal, first, on Staten Island, and then, with the bloodshed on the island being such a screaming success, everywhere else. Poor Ethan Hawke suffered and died, and his family, they did cry. Three sequels and a prequel were to follow.

The First Purge (2018) was a prequel, so we must rewind back to 2016 (oh no!) to see where we're picking up from now. Last time I checked, a female U.S. Senator was running for President on a pledge to abolish The Purge, and somehow succeeded in winning (during a May presidential election, no less), even against repeated assassination attempts and, worse, the challenge of winning the state of Florida over to her column (of course, this was totally implausible - no female U.S. senator has ever won the state of Florida in a presidential).

But, let us suspend disbelief and assume that Madame President won election, was allowed to be sworn in to office, introduced the proper anti-purge legislation, and then finally overcame that 60 vote filibuster in the senate to fulfill her promise (perhaps Sen. Joe Manchin found it in his heart to abolish the filibuster in this alternate reality, but, I doubt that).

Either way, the Purge in America is finished. And that's all good. But there is one more single, fatal flaw with this entire premise. And that is: the last Purge movie made $69m on a budget that was quite clearly much, much less than that ($13m! jezz!), and so another Purge movie is necessitated into being made. What to do now? The action moves to Texas, where lawless instability and the Purge-style chaos apparently continue unmolested, now at intervals of 24-7, all year long, and masked hooligans of all stripes attack an innocent family of ranchers fleeing for their very lives. That should prove as sufficiently entertaining.

Among our escapees are Josh Lucas and Ana de la Reguera, who proved her action chops in Army of the Dead, while James DeMonaco, who remarkably is the sole screenwriter of this entire 5-film series, maintains that duty here. It just wouldn't be a Purge without him.

The first Purge movie was released in June, the others, all in July, with this film's original date being on exactly the same weekend in 2020. The Forever Purge seems set to gross about north of the early teens this frame, and will probably total out at roughly three times that sum, even with slightly horrendous legs. And will this be, indeed, the final installment? Maybe, but wait a minute: other than the vague implication in the title, is anyone even bothering to insist we've purged for the very last time?

Total gross: $35 million

2. Jungle Cruise (July 30th)
Emily Blunt continues her summer of a thousand silent screams with this action-adventure in the classic style. It's another adaptation of a Walt Disney theme park ride, they say, a type of picture I had assumed Disney stopped making after their 2003 Pirates of the Caribbean adaptation did well, but not nearly well enough to live up to the heft and legacy of the previous summer theme park ride film, The Country Bears.

Which of the rides are left to plunder for the movies? Davy Crockett Canoes? That ghost house one? That's where this film's director comes in: Jaume Collet-Serra moves from neat horror films and thrillers like House of Wax (2005), The Shallows, and Run All Night to direct his first special effects blockbuster, and then with next year's Black Adam (again starring Mr. Johnson) makes another.

He casts Blunt as a doctor who journeys into the darkest forest-cape of the Amazon River roughly 100 years ago. There, as all women in such movies do, she encounters a gruff old veteran of deep jungle waterboats, a man-of-all-trades who has presumably guided any number of other fair maidens to their treasure and will gladly repeat same duty here. Such gruff, grizzled, on-target, and romantically appealing-to-young-ladies wild men absolutely do exist in real life, and they are also plentiful in the movies, where they have been played by the likes of Humphrey Bogart (The African Queen), Harrison Ford (Six Days, Seven Nights), and Michael Douglas (Romancing the Stone), among many others.

Here this man is played by one Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, who I assume saw himself as a most natural successor to the type of understated dry cynicism perhaps common to Bogart. He'll make it work. Indeed, with each film, each success, each charismatic line reading, each million grossed and clearly well-earned, he is taking yet another step to becoming the greatest U.S. president the world has ever known. For now, Johnson's have to contend with the usual hazards of tropical water adventures: treacherous turns, whirlpools (there better damn be a whirlpool), pythons slithering through the trees and onto unwilling human necks, and a row of gold-hungry and malevolent character actors.

And it's a good cast of the latter they've gathered. There really must be treasure in them jungle greens, because the Brazilian wild has attracted the attention of no less than Jesse Plemons, Paul Giamatti, Édgar Ramírez, and Jack Whitehall (this is that British comic they keep putting into American movies, hoping for a breakout role he probably eventually will indeed receive). Some of these men will live, some will die, dragged away by a stray piranha, and all will see themselves lose that coveted treasure to Dwayne and the missus. Their post-second billing placement assures it as much as the sky is blue.

Like Blunt's pervious film, A Quiet Place II, her Jungle Cruise was delayed from last year, at one point scheduled for July 24, 2020. Now, the film lands on July 30, 2021, right into our season of rebirth, and practically insisting that it can only be rightly viewed at exactly this time in a given year.

The film also comes in wonderfully short, at 90 minutes, an affront to the grotesqueries that pass for summer blockbuster runtimes these days (2 hours and 20 minutes for Wonder Woman 2? for what purpose?). That's good for the genre; old-school pulp adventures are fun on a Saturday afternoon, and audiences most likely have not yet tired of them as they haven't for about 115 years. And sure, the movie is out on Disney + the very same day, with that nasty-ass price tag again (34 bucks), but it's the kind of picture that can open at a good clip and play pretty well for a few weeks, the way that Cruella has turned her 21 open into something approaching 85 million. Mr. Johnson takes no small steps.

Opening weekend: $26 million / Total gross: $100m

3. Escape Room: Tournament of Champions (July 16th)
It's a tumultuous time, and Escape Room 2 has been shopping for release dates like they were going out of business. It's finally set its sights on two weeks hence, adding another horror sequel to the summer's already respectable (and successful) slate. With The Purge ending(?)(!) and The Conjuring settling down, here we have another buddying horror franchise, something to carry us through the 2020s as a distraction from that evil, H20-retconning Halloween Kills (when those women in the new Halloween trailer are yelling at the speeding fire trucks to stop, do they seriously think they can hear them, or are they just trolling me?).

Two films (at least two) named Escape Room have been made in the recent past, the first going straight-to-whichever streaming and virtual and video entities would take it circa 2018 and the second arriving as the big first-of-year horror film of 2019, where it promptly opened to $18m and finished at actually a monumental $57m. My Netflix service trickishly carries both of them, and perhaps at the end of the day it doesn't matter which you watch; based on those films, escape rooms seem too broadly designed and not nearly as rewarding as, say, the average self-improvement gore trap in a Saw film.

And how did the 2019 version go? Six strangers were sent a puzzle box that lured them into a mysterious building in the kind of cool industrial nowhere that previously housed all of the Saw movies' traps; where these six then had to seek out and solve obscurist clues (hint, "you'll go down in history" - a U.S. president or Rudolph the Deer?), and after making it through the first 35 minutes began dying at a rate of roughly one per room. Two of their company survived the motion picture, though, after having braved the all-too-real escape rooms, avoided death-dealing fire and blades and sliding upside-down tables, marveled at a perfect recreation of an ice-cold frozen pond inside of an office building, and fought off some annoying German guy who pretentiously explained the background plot as to who and why did this to them; the vague way he told it, I doubt neither I nor the lead characters understood much.

In Escape Room 2, Logan Miller and Taylor Russell are again the leads, the pair of lone survivors (spoiler alert, but come on, they're on the poster), who as that film ended seemed quite intent on locating and confronting the very bad people who had organized this murderfest and handing them over to any local authorities who'll take them.

And as the new film begins, it seems they've gotten at least part of their wish fulfilled, waking up yet again in another room with four more strangers/survivors, for another battle of wits on what can only be assumed is a grander scale and a slightly higher budget alotted to them by their masters at Sony. There's a precedent in using horror film survivors as returning players in the sequel, i.e. Shawnee Smith's Amanda having that tricky little comeback in Saw II, or poor Alice meeting her fate at the beginning of Friday the 13th Part 2. Model Indya Moore, Orphan star Isabelle Fuhrman (soon reprising that role in a sequel, believe it or not), and singer Carlito Olivero are among the new contestants/entertainment sacrificial lambs, while Adam Robitel, who directed the original, has been retrieved and set upon the director's chair again.

So where are we on the box office? First time horror sequels rarely outgross the originals, though the genre has been playing very well of late (neither rain nor shine, nor a chaotic, recovering world, can hamper appetite for a horror film). As for whether we'll encounter many more escape rooms of doom, in parts 3 and 4 and beyond: yes, because it's entirely possibly these films will satisfy those people who really wanted a PG-13-rated Saw, a version of that franchise where they had the reassurance that, even if you failed your test and died in a dank, abandoned room somewhere, at least all your limbs will have been intact.

Opening weekend: $21 million / Total gross: $48 million




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4. Old (July 23rd)
The horror in this new M. Night Shyamalan story is the fear of encroaching, then instant, old age.

That's a pretty great premise, so great that it was covered in a reasonably effective manner in the classic horror series Are You Afraid of the Dark? (c. 1993), which remains perhaps the best of its kind. In that episode, "The Tale of the Captured Souls," an ornery 100 year-old man-turned-teenager used his magic evil mirrors to suck the life force out of visitors to his little country inn, an extra charge not readily apparent on the bill. That didn't end well.

In the film Old, a family rests their weary barefeet down upon a dry sand beach and observe the aging process a little too closely and a little too quickly as their "young, hot bodies" (to quote Eric Cartman) deteriorate into old age and beyond, now, right now, in 2021, as opposed to 2039 or 2045 or whenever the scheduled time was for that happening anyway.

Beach of rapid-onset death, they could call it. Turning to art house stars, Gael García Bernal and Vicky Krieps (that's Mrs. Fashion Designer in Phantom Thread) are the parents, Alex Wolff and Thomasin McKenzie their children, though they may not have started out that way in the morning (finally, they can watch all those R-rated movies!). Who or what is responsible for their condition? ("what monster could have done this") Is it all a metaphor for the fleeting brittleness of life, or disastrous income inequality, or meteoric global warming, or everything else that vaguely fits?

And how does it end? Some people with long memories may still expect M. Night Shyamalan to pull a plot twist right out of somewhere, but out of his last seven films, only the brilliant ending of The Visit (2015) could be definitively described as a twist; the mid-credits scene in Split was more of a cute little "revelation" as well as a request for another sequel to be made.

Old holds a bit of a record: it is actually the first major film to see release that went through principal photography entirely "during" our current troubles. It began filming in September 2020, in the Dominican Republic for safety, actually the only time that Shyamalan has completely filmed outside his native Pittsburgh and other Pennsylvania mainstays. Whatever the expectations are, the picture should do well enough. And he'll be back there soon with another, I'm sure.

Opening weekend: $18 million / Total gross: $42 million

5. Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins (July 23rd)
After Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen rocked down movie theatres in fire, brimstone, and shock noise throughout most of the summer of 2009, grossing $402m, yet another toy line adaptation came along not long after and brutalized even more moviegoers, opening to a surprise $54m, and with its $150m total probably helping cement the impending apocalypse in a lot of impressionable older minds.

That film was G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.

Well, we survived those films, and many more like them, and by the time G.I. Joe: Retaliation had come out in March 2013 it was the general opinion that the franchise needed to recruit Dwayne Johnson (and Bruce Willis, by the way) to rescue itself from certain doom. Still, with those men on board, it netted out a not irrespectable $122m and probably many, many more across international shores. So, in the subsequent years, any numbers of part 3s and spin-offs and prequels had entered planning stages and aborted pre-production dates and all sorts of unmade havoc across the trade papers, but it was the release of Crazy Rich Asians in August 2018 that gave the franchise what it wanted.

That's Henry Golding, who played Nick the (pretty sane) billionaire in that film, and has since had choice roles in A Simple Favour and Last Christmas, putting himself up as a leading man perhaps looking to move to something more resembling a special effects franchise, as must all actors in his position. And in G.I. supporting character Snake Eyes, he seems to have found a star vehicle in an established title that was just right for him.

In these films' telling, Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow were two orphan boys raised in deepest Asia, rivals who were trained in the martial arts by the best, with the the latter working his way up to becoming an elite high-end killer/etc. while his counterpart grew into a good-guy who must eventually face him in tensest one-on-one battle, pre-ordained only their whole lives (by the way, is there a more overrepresented profession in the movies than high-end, international, untraceable assassin? How many of these f--kers are there in the world, really? About 7, and four are unemployed?).

Ray Park played Snake Eyes before, face not visible behind stern metal mask. And Golding is cast as the hero now, face to be plenty visible, of course, and is joined here by an ensemble that probably had to undergo months of rigorous training in the ancient arts of combat so they could properly instruct their stunt doubles.

Among them is one of my favourite current actresses, Samara Weaving, the beautacious and witty Australian star of any number of wonderful little B-horror comedies - check her out in The Babysitter, Ready or Not, and my beloved, Babysitter 2: Killer Queen (and she is). Here, she makes her debut in a big-budget ($130m-$155m) movie, but I bet she had more fun on the set of the horrors. Andrew Koji, recently with a lead role in martial arts show Warrior on TV, ends up in another one of these things as the yang part of yin-yang, Stormshadow, while Úrsula Corberó takes over for Sienna Miller as The Baroness, and we also have a Hard Master (Iko Uwais) and a Blind Master (Peter Mensah). It's officially a prequel/"reboot" to the other films, but complete fealty to continuity may not be guaranteed, and sadly all the many dangling plot points at the end of G.I. Joe 2 (such as - - -) will remain unresolved.

So, how receptive shall the audience of 2021 be to another G.I. film, and a prequel not centering around a Channing Tatum, Johnson, or Willis? It opens among a group of other genre films competing for revived theatre attention, but with some good critical notices and snazzy trailers (were such a situation to arise) could stand out from the pack. I know, a G.I. Joe movie with good reviews? Why not? At this point, I can believe anything.

Opening weekend: $15 million / Total gross: $44m


     


 
 

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