Welcome back to the Beat’s weekly Box Office Preview!
It’s Memorial Day weekend, and while the four-day holiday used to be a bonanza for moviegoing with many $100 million plus openers, things have slowed down in recent years. Sure, last Memorial Day saw the release of Solo: A Star Wars Story, but its $100 million opening was considered a disappointment compared to Lucasfilm’s December releases. The quality of Memorial Day weekend releases can certainly be questioned when you realize that three Indiana Jonessequels were released including the abomination Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which is still the #2 biggest Memorial Day opener.
Walt Disney Pictures has generally had mixed results on the weekend from hits like Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s Endto outright bombs like Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016) and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010). Regardless, they’re giving it another go with their second animated adaptation of the year.
ALADDIN (Walt Disney Pictures)
Cast: Will Smith, Naomi Scott, Mena Massoud, Billly Magnussen, Alan Tudyk, Nasim Pedrad, Marwan Kenzari, Numan Acar, Navid Negahban
Directed By: Guy Ritchie (Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Sherlock Holmes,The Man from U.N.C.L.E.and many more)
MPAA Rating: PG
Before we get into Aladdin, let’s look at what it means to be Walt Disney Pictures in 2019. Basically, you have your Star Wars movies, you have your Marvel movies, and your live action remakes of your most beloved animated movies… oh, yeah, and Pixar sequels. So basically, if you’re looking for anything resembling original ideas and content, you’re gonna have to look elsewhere (such as the other two new movies out this weekend)
Now that we’ve gotten that out of our way, let’s look at Disney’s latest attempt to rule over the Memorial Day box office as they’ve done a few times before (see the top of this column). This time, they’re going with a live action remake of a fairly beloved animated film that was also a hit Broadway musical, one that has some bonafide star power in Will Smith and an unlikely director in Brit Guy Ritchie.
The original animated movie was released in November 1992 in a time when movies would open slowly and then make money over time. Even though it only opened with $19.3 million in 1,131 theaters – that’s actually pretty good for the early ‘90s – it went on to gross $217.3 million in North America and another $286.7 million overseas. Disney’s animated Beauty and the Beast opened a year earlier and didn’t make that much despite six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. (Alan Menken won two Oscars for Beauty and the Beast’s Original Song and Score.) What’s interesting is how the popularity of the latter movie led to the success of the 2017 live action adaptation starring Emma Watson. That grossed $1.2 billion worldwide, so Disney is hoping that those who loved the original Aladdinwill be equally drawn to a live action adaptation.
Ritchie is still best known for his ensemble crime-comedies where everyone in spoke in accents few Americans could comprehend (case in point: Brad Pitt in Snatch) but also bigger studio movies like Warner Bros’ Sherlock Holmesmovies i.e. the ones starring Iron Man and that space alien from Captain Marvel. What’s interesting is that this is Ritchie’s first attempt at a PG family film after a few missteps like 2015’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E.and 2017’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, neither which did very well in their summer releases. Sure, we can look at the success of those Sherlock Holmes movies, but Aladdinis not going to be of interest to the fans of Ritchie’s other films regardless.
What Disney and Ritchie are relying on is that Will Smith is still the major A-list star he once was. Although Smith has had his share of dud in recent years – Collateral Beauty, Concussion, Seven Pounds and more – there’s little denying that his presence as Deadshot in 2016’s Suicide Squad helped that movie gross nearly $750 million worldwide. We can’t forget that Smith used to the king of summer, but mostly over the 4thof July holiday week where he’s had back-to-back hits with Independence Dayand Men in Blackin 1996 and 1997. That was quite some time ago and things change.
The movie’s stars are relatively new with Mena Massoud playing Aladdin and Naomi Scott as Jasmine, joined by “Saturday Night Live” regular Nasim Pedrad, Disney’s frequent go-to Alan Tudyk (voicing Iago) and Billy Magnussen from Into the Woods as Prince Anders. (Early word is that Magnussen steals the movie.)
Even though there have been a number of $100 million openers over Memorial Day, most of them were sequels to blockbusters, and I’m not sure a live action remake qualifies. Steven Spielberg’s The Lost World: Jurassic Parkheld the record for the holiday for nearly ten years with $90.2 million over four days but only seven movies have surpassed that amount in the twenty years since.
The problem is that even the older fans of the original Aladdin have been dubious of this movie working, especially after seeing the first pictures of Will Smith as the Genie. Heck, the first trailer looked a bit like Prince of Persiawith Aladdin doing parkour, but Disney eventually figured out that it was the popular songs and musical numbers that was going to sell the movie, and the focus has been shifted towards them as the release drew closer. (Early reviews out of the UK are generally good so far.)
On top of that, Disney is banking on the wave of moviegoers that come out of the woodwork over the Memorial Day holiday, that is, those who don’t go to the beach or have BBQs. Fortunately, the weather is either going to be beastly hot or rainy, which means going to the movies is definitely going to be an option on the table. For those who don’t already have an opinion about how the movie looks, Aladdinshould be able to sell tickets based on the name brand alone.
In conclusion, I doubt Aladdin will perform as poorly as Tim Burton’s recent Dumbo, which opened with $46 million in late March, but I also don’t think we’ll see a Beauty and the Beast level juggernaut. This probably will do better than I figured earlier in the season but still end up somewhere in the range of 2017’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, winning the weekend with around $75 to 80 million tops. I’m not sure it will make more than $200 million domestically, not with all the stronger offerings coming out over the next few weeks.
After that, we get to a couple Memorial Day underdogs i.e. movies that normally wouldn’t open on this holiday weekend.
BOOKSMART (U.A. Releasing)
Cast: Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Billie Lourd, Lisa Kudrow, Skyler Gisondo, Will Forte, Jason Sudeikis, Diana Silvers, Jessica Williams
Directed By: Oliva Wilde (directorial debut by an awesome actor)
MPAA Rating: R
The second offering over Memorial Day weekend is an interesting one, because it’s a raunchy R-rated comedy that has received rave reviews since it debuted at the SXSW Film Festival. It’s the directorial debut of actor Olivia Wilde – star of Disney’s Tron: Legacy oddly enough.
Booksmartis a showcase for the talents of Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein as bookish high school senior BFFs who decide to get out of their shells and go crazy at a series of graduation parties before going their separate ways. It’s a very funny movie that will more than likely be compared to a female-oriented Superbad, which is more than a little ironic since Feldstein’s brother is Jonah Hill, who got his big breakout with that Seth Rogen-produced comedy twelve years ago.
Wilde has populated the movie with a number of other strong actors, most notably scene-stealer Billie Lourd, who appeared on the TV shows American Horror Storyand Scream Queens, and she’s followed her mother, the late Carrie Fisher, into the world of Star Warswith a role in the most recent trilogy. Playing the grown-ups and teachers are comedy vets like Lisa Kudrow, Will Forte, Jessica Williams and Wilde’s own hubby Jason Sudeikis, as the school principal.
Booksmart may have one of the best marketing campaigns for a comedy with funny posters, funny trailers and even a special Instagram (or was it Snapchat?) preview screening over the weekend. It certainly won’t hurt that at the time of this writing, it’s sporting a rare 100% on Rotten Tomatoes (though I expect someone to ruin that any second now).
Booksmartshould work well as Memorial Day counter-programming, drawing in a lot of younger women and maybe even a few guys, even if there might be some crossover with those interested in seeing the musical fantasy Aladdin.
If Booksmart makes more than $10 million over the four-day weekend, it will be seen as quite an achievement, and I think it can do that even without the star power of U.A.’s other recent comedy The Hustle. Look for this to gross upwards of $40 to 50 million as word-of-mouth after this weekend should keep it going strong through June even with tons of other offerings. There’s just nothing else like it out there.
BRIGHTBURN (Screen Gems)
Cast: Elizabeth Banks, Jackson A. Dunn, David Denman, Meredith Hagner, Gregory Alan Williams
Directed By: David Yarovesky (The Hive)
MPAA Rating: R
Yes, kids. We’ve reached the part of the summer where a superhero movie is officially the underdog of the weekend. In the case of Brightburn, it’s a darker superhero movie from the minds of one of James Gunn’s brothers as well as a cousin. Gunn himself produced it with his Slither star Elizabeth Banks in the lead. She plays the mother of a boy (Jackson A. Dunn) who has superpowers that he uses in dark and deadly ways… a bit like Superboy, if he was a horror villain.
It’s directed by David Yarovesky, who has directed some music videos (including a promotional one for Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy sequel), a few shorts and a movie called The Hive (which I hvaen’t seen.)
In some ways, the best comparison for this movie might be the 2012 found footage superhero thriller Chronicle, which was both Dane DeHaan and Michael B. Jordan’s first superhero film. It opened with $22 million and grossed $126.6 million based on a $12 million budget, making it a sizable hit for Josh Trank, who would go on to make the absolutely abysmal 2015 Fantastic Four movie that was so bad, Marvel Comics cancelled the comic for years in order to avoid any association. (Okay, that’s probably not what really happened.)
Although Brightburn is opening in more theaters than Booksmart, I think there’s less going for it in terms of being a draw to a specific target audience. It will mostly be appealing to guys not interested in Aladdinor some of the other strong offerings. As of this writing, reviews haven’t broken yet so it’s hard to tell if they’ll be favorable or not. The movie certainly doesn’t have the anticipation as many other movies opening this summer.
This is Screen Gems’ first attempt at a Memorial Day release, and I can only wish them luck, because this is not the type of movie that can stack up against the normal summer holiday releases.
Brightburn probably won’t make more than $10 million over the four-day holiday weekend, and it could end up with substantially less. It just isn’t the type of movie that can fare well during the busy summer months and probably should have been released earlier in the year or saved for the slower months of September or October. I’d be shocked if this ends up grossing more than $20 million domestically.
This Week’s Box Office Predictions:
(Note: All the below are four-day predictions)
- Aladdin (Walt Disney Pictures) – $78 million N/A
- John Wick Chapter 3 – Parabellum(Lionsgate) – $34 million -40%
- Avengers: Endgame (Marvel / Disney) – $21 million -30%
- Pokemon: Detective Pikachu (Warner Bros.) – $17.5 million -31%
- Booksmart (U.A. Releasing) – $12 million N/A
- Brightburn (Sony/Screen Gems) – $8.6 million N/A
- A Dog’s Journey (Universal) – $6.5 million -19%
- The Hustle (U.A. Releasing) – $4.2 million -31%
- The Intruder (Screen Gems) – $3 million -25%
- Long Shot (Lionsgate) – $2.5 million -27%
Not a ton of limited releases of note this weekend, just Bleecker Street’s dramedy The Tomorrow Man, starring Blythe Danner and John Lithgow, basically for the over-50s only, and the docs Halston (The Orchard) and The Proposal (Oscilloscope). Nothing too significant.
Next week, May ends with a killer line-up that includes Warner Bros’ Godzilla, King of the Monsters; the Blumhouse thriller Ma (Universal), starring Octavia Spencer; plus the Elton John biopic Rocketmanfrom Paramount.
Edward Douglas has been writing about movies and other forms of entertainment for over 25 years, so he’s probably older than you.