Welcome back to the Beat’s weekly Box Office Preview!

Well, it’s officially 2020, and after this past weekend slowed things down from the holiday highs, we’re back to having four new movies opening or expanding nationwide.

1917 (Universal)


Cast: George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Mark Strong, Adrian Scarborough, Daniel Mays, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Richard Madden
Directed By: Sam Mendes (Skyfall, SpectreJarhead, American Beauty and more)
MPAA Rating: R

After making quite a bit of money over the holidays (over $2 million!) while being in just 11 theaters, Sam Mendes’ WWI action-thriller will be opening nationwide on Friday, and it’s likely to be a movie that many people have been waiting to see.

This war movie is a passion project for the Oscar-winning filmmaker, who last helmed the two James Bond movies,Skyfalland Spectre. His grandfather fought in the war, and hearing his stories as a kid inspired him to put together an amazing adventure story about two young soldiers sent on a dangerous mission into the German frontlines. Made to come off as a single shot movie, thanks to the glorious cinematography of Roger Deakins.

The film’s leads are played by two fairly new actors, George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman, although the trailers have leaned on the very brief appearances by the likes of Colin Firth and Benedict Cumberbatch, neither of whom are in the movie for more than five minutes.

Granted, a movie about WWI might not have the same impact as any of the many movies set during WWII, such as Roland Emmerich’s recent Midway, mainly because it had a bigger impact in Europe, but interest in the war might have intensified due to Peter Jackson’s recent doc, They Will Never Grow Old, which did quite well in its limited release.

Like with The Grudgelast week (or not), there are a ton of precursors for war movies and awards contenders getting a limited release in December but then exploding when they got a nationwide release in January. The last of these was the somewhat similar The Revenant, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, which opened with $39.2 million in January after making about $2.5 million in limited release. Granted, 1917doesn’t have as big a draw in terms of starpower as Leo, but even movies like Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down and Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty opened over $24 million after a strong

December platform release. Of course, the biggest movie on record for this sort of thing is Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, which had an $89.3 million opening in wide release, helped by having Bradley Cooper in the lead role.

Universal gave 1917a limited release into 11 theaters Christmas Day where it quickly brought in audiences based on the overwhelmingly positive reviews – you can read Kyle Pionion’s review here – as well as early awards recognition.

I highly doubt a movie about World War I would have the impact of some of those other movies about wars Americans are more familiar with, having  read about them in the headlines, but I also can’t imagine 1917 making less than $25 million this weekend with the amount of critical, awards and word-of-mouth support it’s been getting. (In case you hadn’t heard, it won the Golden Globe on Sunday, which was a shocker even to the most diehard Oscar predictor.)  Let’s  say that 1917 will make somewhere between $25 and 30 million to take the #1 spot from Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, and it will keep making money as long as it keeps getting those awards.

LIKE A BOSS (Paramount)

Like a Boss
Paramount Pictures

Cast: Rose Byrne, Tiffany Haddish, Salma Hayek, Jennifer Coolidge, Ari Graynor, Billy Porter, Jessica St. Claire, Karan Soni, Jimmy O. Yang
Directed By: Miguel Arteta (Beatriz at Dinner, The Good Girl, Youth In Revolt, Cedar Rapids and more)
MPAA Rating: R

The first R-rated comedy of the year is this high-concept movie that teams Rose Byrne with Tiffany Haddish as two female entrepreneurs whose beauty company is bought by a powerful executive, played by Salma Hayek, whose meddling into the business puts the two friends at each other’s throats.

While on the one hand, the box office could use more of an adult comedy like this, it’s not like these movies have been doing that great, going by last year’s Little ($15.4 million opening) or What Men Want ($18.2 million opening). Both of those were pretty high concept with strong female leads but didn’t really connect too well with their target audiences.

All three of Like A Boss’ main cast have done pretty well in the comedy realm, although Haddish is still riding high off her role in 2017’s Girls Trip, lining up many movie roles since. Haddish starred in Tyler Perry’s Nobody’s Fool, which was released by Paramount a year earlier than those other two movies mentioned above and didn’t do as well as Perry’s other movies. Haddish’s teaming with Kevin Hart for 2018’s Night School, which grossed $77 million, making it her biggest hit since Girls Trip. Last year’s dramatic turn in the crime-drama The Kitchen didn’t interest any of her fans.

On the other hand, Byrne was a pretty serious dramatic actor for some time, but her role in Paul Feig’s Bridesmaids in 2011 changed things up so that she would get cast in comedies like Seth Rogen’s Neighbors,  as well as starring in Paul Feig’s Spy and 2018’s Instant Family with Mark Wahlberg, all of which were quality comedies. While Hayek hasn’t been appearing in nearly as many movies, but she’s been in quite a few comedy hits like Grown Upsand its sequel, and The Hitman’s Bodyguard. She is also gearing up for her Marvel Studios debut in The Eternals later this year. The movie also stars recent Emmy winner Billy Porter, who is also becoming quite popular. 

I’m more excited about the movie being directed by Miguel Arteta, making his biggest studio film yet after a number of prominent indies like Beatriz at Dinner (also starring Hayek) and Jennifer Aniston’s The Good Girl. I’m curious to see what he can do with a studio comedy like this.

Reviews are embargoed until Wednesday night so there’s no help there, but Like a Bossprobably probably won’t live or die by reviews but by whether women are interested in seeing this over other choices.  In that sense, Like A Boss is in a similar vein as Jennifer Lopez’s Second Act, which opened over the holidays in 2018 and grossed about $39 million, which isn’t great for a holiday release.  The presence of Haddish might make the studio hopeful that it will capitalize on her growing fanbase.

Like A Boss is one of the movies that will probably do moderately over the weekend as it hasn’t had time to build any sort of buzz. The lack of strong comedies in theaters should help it make somewhere in the $12 to 15 million range this weekend, but then we’ll have to see how well it’s received in terms of how long it sticks around.

JUST MERCY (Warner Bros.)

Just Mercy
Warner Bros.

Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx, Brie Larson, Tim Blake Nelson, Rafe Spall, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Rob Morgan, Rhoda Griffis
Written and Directed By: Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12, The Glass Castle, I Am Not a Hipster)
MPAA Rating: PG-13

Another movie opening wide after a platform release in New York and L.A is this crime-drama starring Michael B. Jordan as real-life defense lawyer Bryan Stevenson, who works with men on Death Row in the South to try to get them exonerated. It’s the latest adaptation by Destin Daniel Cretton, who you may know as the director of the upcoming Shang-Chi movie for Marvel Studios. Cretton previously made the well-received indie Short Term 12– one of Brie Larson’s break-out roles – and then adapted the bestseller The Glass Castle, which only made about $17 million in a moderately-wide release.

Jordanhas obviously made a name for himself with the success of Creedand its sequel, as well as playing the badguy Eric Kilmonger in Marvel Studios’ hit Black Panther movie. Both of those movies were directed by Ryan Coogler, whose Sundance hit Fruitvale Station helped put both of them on the map. Jordan has had a few missteps like the most recent Fantastic Fourmovie and the indie Kin, but otherwise, he is proving to be an actor who could be the next Will Smith or Denzel Washington with the right project. (He’s currently filming the latest Tom Clancy adaptation Without Remorse, which should add to his popularity from the “Creed” movies.) 

In the movie, Jamie Foxx plays Walter “Johnny D” McMillan, a Death Row inmate who Stevenson thinks is innocent of the crime for which he’s set to be executed. Although Foxx’s appearance in Lionsgate’s Robin Hood remake last year didn’t help much, he did have some success starring in Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver a year earlier even after his crime-thriller Sleepless bombed earlier that year. But Foxx’s career has been all over the place since winning the Oscar for playing Ray (as in Charles) with some movies doing better than others but eight of them making more than $100 million. (Foxx’s biggest hit was still his turn as Electro in The Amazing Spider-Man 2.)

Foxx and Jordan are joined in the film by Brie Larson, her third movie with Cretton, although it’s a far smaller role than their previous collaborations. Of course, Larson has achieved even more popularity since winning her Oscar for Roomby being cast as Captain Marvel in the Marvel movies. That movie made over $400 million domestically last year and then she appeared in Avengers: Endgame, which made over $2 billion worldwide. Because of that, she’s become an instant A-lister (or maybe a B+).

What the movie has in spades is star power, and all three of the main leads have been on the talk show circuit for a couple weeks pimping the movie. Larson even guest-hosted Jimmy Kimmel’s show one night. That certainly has helped raise awareness for a movie that’s kind of bland, although you couldn’t tell that from Warner Bros’ brilliant marketing campaign. Reviews have generally been positive, as well.

Like 1917, Warner Bros. also platformed Just Mercy over the holidays in just four theaters for awards eligibility, but it only made $350,000 compared to the over $2 million made by 1917. This could show less interest in general, but this weekend, Just Mercywill open in big cities like Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit and other places with a large African-American populace that might be interested in the movie.

In that sense, Warner Bros. is likely hoping that Just Mercy can perform ala Hidden Figuresin 2016, although that racked up quite a bit more money (over $2 million) before expanding into 2,471 theaters in early January to bring in $22.8 million. I just don’t see Just Mercy being nearly as strong a film, so it’s likely to fall quite short of the over $169 million Hidden Figures made domestically.

At the same time, Just Mercyreminds me a bit of the recent movie Brian Banks, which made less than $5 million domestically, but it also harks back to the Denzel Washington movie Roman J. Israel, Esq., which only made $11.9 million domestic. The 2017 courtroom drama Marshall (as in Thurgood) made even less than that.

None of those comparisons bode particularly well for Just Mercy, although it should still be good for somewhere between $10 and 12 million in its first full weekend of wide release based on the cast alone.

UNDERWATER (20thCentury Fox)

20th Century Fox

Cast: Kristen Stewart, T.J. Miller, Jessica Henwick, Vincent Cassel, John Gallagher Jr., Mamoudou Athie, Gunner Wright
Directed By: William Eubank (The Signal, Love)
MPAA Rating: PG-13

It might be somewhat hard to believe that a deep-sea sci-fi thriller, starring Kristen Stewart, might be the underdog of the weekend. After the underperformance of last year’s Charlie’s Angel, we really need to start wondering if Stewart’s proclivity for indie films may have deteriorated the popularity she achieved with The Twilight Saga. Charlie’s Angels made less than $18 million domestically, making it one of 2019’s biggest bombs.

Even so, this movie seems to be one of the leftovers in production by Fox before Disney bought the studio and brought the hammer down on future productions, so this might be in a similar boat as 2019 bombs Stuber and Dark Phoenix.

Although Stewart will probably be the primary draw, another star of the movie to keep an eye on is Jessica Henwick from Game of Thrones and Iron Fist, who has booked quite a few big movies coming out over the next few years, including Godzilla vs Kong, out later this year, and the fourth The Matrix movie, due in 2021.

Particularly problematic might be the fact the movie co-stars T. J. Miller, one of the many comedians who has been targeted as part of the #MeToo movement due to inappropriate behavior. In fact, Miller has mainly been inactive since leaving HBO’s Silicon Valley, and his voice was even replaced in last year’s How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden Valleyas DreamWorks tried to distance themselves from the comic. Oddly, it also stars another “Cloverfield” vet in John Gallagher, Jr.

Otherwise, the movie looks to be in the vein of reminiscent of 80’s schlock like Leviathan or more recent dogs like Stephen Sommers’ Deep Rising and Barry Levinson’s Sphere, both from 1998. The latter was a famed dud at the time, although the $37 million it made might be more than Underwater makes.  Because of the January release, I don’t expect too many critics to be fair.

That said, Underwater is definitely my sort of movie in concept, even if I just can’t imagine it opening with more than $10 million when there’s so many stronger offerings in theaters over the weekend.

This Week’s Box Office Predictions:

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker will finally lose its first place to 1917, which will be cashing in on its Golden Globe wins on Sunday, The other new releases are going to be fighting against those two movies, Jumanji: The Next Level, and each other, so 1917 might be the only movie this weekend to break out with more than $20 million. Last week’s The Grudge is very likely to drop right out of the top 10 with all the new movies entering the marketplace. 

  1. 1917 (Universal) – $30 million +4,610% (up 1.5 million)*
  2. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Lucasfilm/Disney) – $15.5 million -55%
  3. Jumanji: The Next Level (Sony) – $14.5 million -45%
  4. Just Mercy (Warner Bros.) – $13.2 million +1,440% (up 2.7 million)*
  5. Like a Boss (Paramount) – $12.4 million N/A (up .1 million)*
  6. Underwater (20th Century Fox) – $8.6 million N/A
  7. Little Women (Sony)  – $8.2 million -40%
  8. Frozen II (Disney) – $6.5 million -45%
  9. Spies in Disguise (20th Century Fox) – $6.0 million -43%
  10. Knives Out (Lionsgate) – $5.6 million -37%

*UPDATE: The biggest change from Weds. is that Just Mercy has been getting a ton of celebrities buying out screenings of Just Mercy, which should give it a nice bump this weekend to end up doing slightly better than the poorly-reviewed Like a Boss. Either way, it should be an interesting weekend. Also, 1917  tickets seem to be selling well enough to hit $30 million, helped by its Golden Globe wins.

Not too many limited releases this weekend, although the French selection for the Oscars’ International Film category, Ladj Li’s police thriller Les Miserables(Amazon Studios), is getting a limited release. Jon Avnet’s Three Christs (IFC FIlms), starring Richard Gere, Peter Dinklage and Walton Goggins will also get a limited release, as will the British crime flick The Corrupted (Saban Films), starring Timothy Spall and Sam Claflin, although they’ll mostly be focused On Demand.

Next week, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday weekend sees the release of two new movies: Will Smith and Martin Lawrence reuniting for the Sony action-comedy Bad Boys for Life, plus Robert Downey, Jr. stars in his first non-Iron Man role in a very long time, playing the title character in Universal’s Dolittle (as in “Doctor Dolittle”).