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

With the dominance of It: Chapter Two this past weekend, September is getting off to a great start, although It is likely to remain #1 for a second weekend while still allowing a few other movies into the mix.

Maybe it’s not too big a coincidence that both of this week’s wide releases just got their World Premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) this past weekend, because that festival is often used to create buzz for upcoming studio releases.

HUSTLERS (STXfilms)

Hustlers
STXfilms

Cast: Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Stiles, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Cardi B, Lizzo, Madeline Brewer
Directed By: Lorene Scafaria (The Meddler, Seeking a Friends for the End of the World)
MPAA Rating: R

This has to be a first. A female-friendly crime-drama involving strippers! Hustlers is actually based on the true story of a group of “exotic dancers” who scam a group of sleazy rich men out of their money by drugging them and racking up large bills on their credit cards. Based on a New York Magazine article, it certainly sounds like an appealing premise and one that can attract women who might be sick of sleazy rich men getting away with murder.

Much of the draw for the film is that it stars Jennifer Lopez (aka J-Lo) in her first role since last year’s Second Act, which grossed $39 million, which is roughly on par with most of the Bronx-born actor/singer’s previous films like 2010’s The Back-Up PlanSecond Act was also distributed by STXfilms, who have a long term deal with Lopez, and that holiday release is probably about as good a gauge to determine the audience J-Lo can bring to a movie.

More importantly, this is another great showcase for Crazy Rich Asians and Fresh Off the Boat star Constance Wu, and a good test to see if her fans from those other projects follow her onto this very different venture. Crazy Rich Asians was one of the biggest success stories of 2018, grossing $174.5 million domestically on a $30 million budget, and Fresh Off the Boat is one of ABC’s more successful sitcoms, which is why it was renewed for a sixth season, something Wu wasn’t too happy about.

The movie also stars Julia Stiles —  her first major release since appearing in 2016’s Jason Bourne (Don’t worry, she isn’t a stripper); Keke Palmer from shows like Scream: the TV Series and Berlin Station;  and most importantly, popular music star Cardi B, making her movie acting debut. That’s a lot of cast bringing something to the mix and presumably some of them will be out and about promoting the film, as they were over the weekend at the movie’s TIFF premiere.

Hustlers is the third movie from director Lorene Scafaria, who has made a number of enjoyable comedies including the underrated Keira Knightley-Steve Carell movie Seeking a Friends for the End of the World. This is a very different film for Scafaria, something more like Goodfellas, but she proves to be quite skillful in switching gears so drastically.

Last year’s Ocean’s 8 could be considered a good precursor for Hustlers, as well as Widows, although Hustlers just doesn’t have the starpower of a Sandra BullockCate Blanchett or even a Viola Davis.  Bullock and Blanchett helped Ocean’s 8 open with $41.6 million before grossing $140.2 million while Widowsdid more modestly with a $12.4 million opening and $42.4 million total gross.  That’s a pretty wide gap, and in this case, STX has not had many movies that opened over $20 million, as is.

Premiering the movie at TIFF might actually help the movie, as reviews and reactions have generally been positive – there’s even been talk that J-Lo’s performance in the movie is awards worthy!?? — so those who were mildly interested this past weekend might be full-on board to go see this, maybe even with a group of girlfriends. (It’s hard to tell if this will appeal to guys who might expect actual stripping in the movie.)

Even so, STX has done a good job selling this one, so Hustlers has the potential to be the breakout hit of the weekend with roughly $20 million or more, especially because it’s appealing to an audience that might not be as interested in It: Chapter Two.

THE GOLDFINCH (Warner Bros.)

The Goldfinch
Warner Bros.

Cast: Finn Wolfhard, Ansel Elgort, Nicole Kidman, Sarah Paulson, Aneurin Barnard, Ashleigh Cummings, Luke Wilson, Jeffrey Wright, Denis O’Hare
Directed By: John Crowley (Brooklyn, Is Anybody There?, Boy A, Intermission,Closed Circuit)
MPAA Rating: R

The other movie opening wide this weekend might seem like another potential hit on paper, especially when you consider that it’s based on the best-selling Pulitzer prize-winning 2014 novel by Donna Tartt.  It’s about a 13-year-old named Theodore Decker (played by Oakes Fegley from Pete’s Dragon and later by the substantially older Ansel Elgort) who survives a terrorist attack at an art museum that kills his mother, although in its aftermath, he steals a priceless painting that offers him solace with his loss. But honestly, that’s the tip of the iceberg for a rich and complex story that feels very literary.

That’s about all I knew about the movie other than the fact that the book was very popular, helping it to bring together a cast that includes Finn Wolfhard from Stranger Things and last week’s It: Chapter Two, Aneurin Barnard from Dunkirk, Oscar-winning actor Nicole Kidman, Golden Globe winner Sarah Paulson, as well as Westworld star Jeffrey Wright, who seems so on the edge of getting awards, he can probably taste it.

Obviously, Kidman is the biggest name in the cast, but she’s also been very sporadic in terms of bringing audiences into theaters. She had a fairly small role in The Upside earlier this year, which was more about Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston, but then she was also in Aquaman, which was a ginormous hit for Warner Bros, yet there’s no way to tell how much of that she contributed. Neither of her “awards-worthy” movies last year, Boy Erased and Destroyerhad much of an impact and she only received a Golden Globe nomination for the latter. Her role in The Goldfinchis probably fairly small and more focus will be put on her role as Gretchen Carlson in Jay Roach’s Bombshell later this year.

Ansel Elgort, on the other hand, might be able to bring in some of the younger women with his popularity from movies like Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver but also from movies like The Fault in our Starsand the three “Divergent” movies he made in the franchise that was never completed. In theory, The Goldfinchcould appeal to younger women than Hustlers, even though they’re both R-rated.

The Goldfinch is also the first film from director John Crowley since his Oscar-nominated 2015 film Brooklyn, starring Saoirse Ronan – her second of three Oscar nominations. This gives the film a bit more prestige, although it doesn’t seem like Warners has figured out how to market this movie to those who bought and loved the novel. (I’m sure the movie will look great because it’s filmed by Oscar-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins, too.)

In many ways, this movie feels a lot like the 2011 Warner Bros. release Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, based on the novel by Jonathan Safran Froer, which received two Oscar nominations despite being fairly-well panned. That movie included appearances by Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock, but only grossed $31.8 million during the holiday season.

Like HustlersThe Goldfinch premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, but it wasn’t received nearly as well. In fact, it’s been panned so badly, it makes you wonder why Warner Bros. would premiere it there less than a week before the movie’s release rather than doing the usual thing of screening the movie Weds night in hopes enough tickets have already sold before word gets out. The movie’s 2 and a half hour runtime also won’t help, as it means it won’t receive nearly as many showings per theater.

Because of this, I’m not sure The Goldfinch can make more than $9 million this weekend, even though it will still open in third place just because all the other movies will have already dropped below the $4 million mark.  This also should help smaller movies get into the top 10 as The Peanut Butter Falcon was able to do this past weekend.

Amazon Studios has been advertising that it will expand the comedy Brittany Runs a Marathon,starring Jillian Bell, nationwide on Friday, although as of this writing, I don’t know how many theaters it will get. Either way, with the entry point in the top 10 being around a million, I can totally see it breaking into the lower end since Amazon has been giving the movie a healthy push. The only question is whether expanding wide against another female-centric film like Hustlers is the best move.

This Week’s Box Office Predictions:

  1. It: Chapter Two (New Line/WB) – $35 million -62% (down $3.2 million)*
  2. Hustlers (STXfilms) – $28.5 million N/A (up $4.7 million)*
  3. The Goldfinch (Warner Bros.) – $8.5 million N/A (down .1 million)
  4. Angel Has Fallen (Lionsgate) – $3.2 million -47%
  5. Good Boys (Universal) – $3 million -45%
  6. The Lion King (Walt Disney) – $2.6 million -40%
  7. Overcomer (Sony/Affirm) – $2.4 million -35%
  8. Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw (Universal) – $2.2 million -44%
  9. The Peanut Butter Falcon (Roadside Attractions) – $1.6 million -35% (up .1 million)*
  10. Brittany Runs a Marathon (Amazon) – $1.5 million +50% (fully dependent on theater count)

*UPDATE: I’m seeing a ton of sell-outs for Hustlers already, so it’s definitely going to be a big opener and might be closer to dethroning It: Chapter Two in its second weekend than I first expected. Either way, I’ve adjusted my numbers slightly since yesterday morning. Also, Peanut Butter Falcon is adding more theaters so maybe it will get into the top 10 this weekend for REAL this time.

Because this coming Friday is Friday the 13th, there are a few cool horror films worth checking out including Larry Fessenden’s thriller Depraved,  Zach Lipovsky and Adam Stein’s sci-fi thriller Freaks – look for my interview with those directors later this week – plus the Japanese zombie comedy One Cut of the Dead, which will be released in New York and L.A. Friday before getting a one-night release in other cities next Tuesday and finally be on Shudder. I mention all of this because it’s an absolutely must-see if you’re a fan of zombies and horror-comedy.

Next week, Brad Pitt has his second movie of the year with James Gray’s Ad AstraSylvester Stallone is back as Rambo in Rambo: Last Blood, and the characters from the popular PBS series Downton Abbey are back for a feature film.

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